Home / Science / NASA taps Lockheed Martin to build six more Orion Crew capsules – Spaceflight Now

NASA taps Lockheed Martin to build six more Orion Crew capsules – Spaceflight Now

Artistic representation of an Orion spaceship on the moon. Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA announced Monday that it will order at least six Orion reusable capsules for $ 4.6 billion from Lockheed Martin to fly astronauts close to the Moon in the 2020s 2030 on 12 Orion vehicles.

The Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) is establishing a production line for Orion spacecraft to support NASA's Artemis program, which plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. The Trump administration earlier this year.

"This agreement secures Orion's production over the next decade and shows that NASA is committed to a sustained presence on the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for the deployment of astronauts to Mars," NASA said -Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. "Orion is a high-performance, state-of-the-art spacecraft designed specifically for astronaut space missions, and is an integral part of the NASA infrastructure for Artemis missions and future solar system exploration."

The Orion vehicles transport astronauts to a mini-space station or gateway in orbit around the moon, where crews transfer to another spaceship to bring them to the lunar surface. The lander will return the astronauts to the Gateway once their surface missions are completed. Astronauts leave the gateway in their Orion spaceship and return to Earth to land at sea.

Following the first moon landing of the Artemis program, NASA is planning a series of follow-up missions at the rate of about one per year and advanced exploration capabilities to demonstrate technologies and techniques for a future human expedition to Mars.

The Orion space probe is at the heart of NASA's moon exploration program, along with the Space Launch System, a Grumman heavy-duty missile built by Boeing and Northrop. The SLS will bring the capsules of the Orion crew to the Moon.

NASA selected Lockheed Martin to develop the spacecraft Orion in 2006, when the capsule was part of the Constellation Moon program launched by President George W. Bush. The Constellation program was discontinued in 2010, but the Orion spacecraft survived and became part of a new space exploration initiative under the Obama administration focused on a human mission to Mars.

Sometimes referred to as a "multipurpose crew vehicle," the Orion. The spacecraft and its SLS launcher were aligned with the moon under the Trump administration.

Before the new agreement was announced on Monday, NASA commissioned Lockheed Martin to build two Orion spaceships that could fly to the moon. The first moon-ready Orion spacecraft will be launched on the Artemis 1 mission, a pilot-less test flight designed to launch on the first flight of the heavy-lift Space Launch System.

The Artemis 1 mission is expected to be ready in 2021. It was followed by the Artemis 2 flight 2022 or 2023 with four astronauts on board. Artemis 2 starts on a trajectory that leads the Orion crew around the moon and back to Earth.

The first of the new batches of Orion Crew Capsules is launched on the Artemis 3 mission tapped by NASA for the first attempt. The astronauts have landed on the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. Mike Hawes, Orion Program Manager for Lockheed Martin, said on Monday the company's new contract with NASA will include crew modules, complete launch-stop systems and adapters for connecting the Orion crew with their modules manufactured in Europe service modules. The contract also includes parts of Lockheed Martin's European service modules, such as auxiliary rocket motors and network interface cards.

The construction of the European service modules themselves is funded separately by the European Space Agency. Airbus Defense and Space is the prime contractor for the Orion service module.

By purchasing Orion vehicles in groups of three, Lockheed Martin and its suppliers can achieve production efficiency and cost savings.

"The contract is structured as follows: What NASA calls IDIQ, indefinite delivery / indefinite quantity, so they can order as many as they think fit," Hawes said. "Three were what could show that NASA was a good turning point in achieving good cost savings by ordering at the same time." come with an average cost of $ 900 million each. NASA plans to order three more Orion vehicles for $ 1.9 billion or $ 633 million per mission in the 2022 fiscal year.

"I am pleased that Administrator Bridenstine has followed my calls and is taking important steps to ensure that Johnson continues to grow with the exciting future of manned exploration that lies ahead," said Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas in a statement. "More needs to be done, and I'm looking forward to ramping up production in the coming weeks and months and providing more opportunities for NASA."

NASA's announcement of the Orion Manufacturing Agreement contained statements from Cruz and other Texas legislators, who praised the role of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where NASA manages the Orion program. Lockheed Martin's Orion production line is located in the Operations and Checkout building of Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The Orion spacecraft for the mission Artemis 1, a test flight around the moon expected to start in 2021, is currently being fully equipped at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida before being shipped to Ohio for environmental testing later this year. Credit: NASA / Radislav Sinyak

"We will reuse all components from flight to flight and reuse complete structures and vehicles," Hawes said. "Some things, such as the crewmode adapter, which are located on the service module and are thrown away on every flight, are new on every flight and the launch abort system, being discarded on every flight, is new on every flight. But one of the advantages we have in this second order is that reusability and price drop significantly. "

According to NASA, internal computers and electronics as well as crew seats and switchboards from the Orion spacecraft of the Artemis 2 mission will be revived flew on Artemis 5. The entire Artemis 3 crew module will be reused on Artemis 6.

"We performed qualification tests on internal components for five uses," Hawes told Spaceflight Now in an interview. "Things like avionics, the flight computers , the communication equipment and things we expect to receive five applications, the primary structure, certainly two (use and we will continue to work with NASA to demonstrate the data we receive from our flight experience. I think we will continue to revise the extent to which we can use the structures. But we are planning at least two. "

" That's the theme, "he said," as soon as we demonstrate the ability, then three flights later, that vehicle could fly again. "

The spacecraft Orion can accommodate up to four astronauts for single missions from up to 21 days, missions docking at a target in space such as the Gateway could take longer.

NASA could order hardware for 12 Orion missions at Lockheed Martin under the new production contract, but Hawes said that was not The 12 means crew modules are being built.

"NASA is talking about a total of 12 missions," Hawes said. "This sentence is a little nuanced because we're using the reuse plan that we have for the entire time we spent on this […]

will use the full range of reuse functions, "he said." So these missions, for which NASA contracts m It is characterized as easy reuse, ie the components, towards heavy reuse, ie the structure. We assume that, when we receive the call for proposals for these follow-up missions, we will actually assume what the reuse (the plan) will look like for each of these missions. "

NASA orders the first six Orions vehicles through a" Cost Plus Incentive Fee "system, a type of contract still treating the Orion spacecraft as in progress. NASA announced that it will negotiate "fixed-price" contracts for subsequent Orion missions once the spacecraft stabilizes and production processes have matured.

"One of the challenges we face is that we have this first mission. We have to make it at this time to meet the Artemis 3 timeline, but we have not completed some of the critical systems, like the full one Life support and crew control, "Hawes said," These are the biggest pieces added, and then, in 2022, we expect the second … three mission order … but we'll most likely still be did not fly Artemis 2.

"So that's really the risk factor of those first few flights, we just have not completed and demonstrated the entire development task," Hawes said. "And then, from that point on, we're seeing a reuse good (cost) reduction on this second order, and then follow-up orders will be fixed price, and we continue to expect price savings

"We did a lot of things with the vehicle to bring down the price," Hawes said. "Bulk orders are one of the big things we've been working on, we've kept working on advanced technologies and more 3D printing, we're now using Augmented Reality in some of our build processes, many things we've learned in recent years Actually, we are fully implementing this new contract. "

Airbus has delivered the first European service module for the Artemis 1 mission, and production of the second module for Artemis 2 is well on track, with ESA having Airbus with the procurement commissioned by Hardware for a third Orion service module for the Artemis 3 mission, and European officials have expressed interest in providing additional service modules well into the 2020s.

The service modules provide propulsion, propellant, electricity and water, oxygen , Nitrogen and Heat Control for the spacecraft Orion.

In a hearing in Congress in the past A week later, a senior NASA official said the agency plans to complete a similar space launch system production contract in about a year.

] Since launching the program under the administration of George W. Bush, NASA has spent more than $ 16 billion on the development of Orion spacecraft. When NASA announced Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor of Orion in 2006, the first Orion mission with people on board was scheduled in 2014, followed by a crew-landing moon in 2020.

The space launch system began in 2011. At this At the time, NASA announced that the first SLS test flight could start in late 2017.

However, political diversions, technical problems, poor contractor performance, and mismanagement by NASA have slowed progress on the SLS and Orion programs.

In a report released in June, the Government Accountability Office wrote that "the past performance of the contractors (in relation to the SLS and Orion programs) has not yielded desirable program cost and timeline results." The GAO identified also "significant differences" between contractors' performance and contracting fees NASA paid to Boeing and Lockheed Martin despite ongoing delays and cost increases.

GAO has also determined that NASA has made programmatic decisions – including: • Building low cost and deadline reserves, adhering to aggressive schedules, and not following established Earned Value Management practices – has aggravated the technical challenges facing inherently complex and difficult acquisitions are expected on a large scale. "

" As a result, NASA has promised too much from a cost and scheduling perspective, "the GAO reported.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1 .

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