NASA Orders Three More Lockheed Martin Orion Spacecraft, Artemis I Still Marooned on Earth

Orion Spacecraft 25 photos
Photo: Lockheed Martin (Outer Image) NASA (Inner Image)
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As of late October 2022, NASA's SLS rocket carrying the Artemis I Orion Spacecraft had its launch scrubbed no less than three times. But of all the flight hardware purported to be on the fritz with NASA's first Mission to carry human-rated spacecraft around the Moon, the Orion capsule is not one of the offending parties. At least in terms of launch scrubs.
That's why recent reports that Lockheed Martin, the Orion Capsule's primary manufacturer, is now under contract with NASA to build three more state-of-the-art space vehicles for the slew of Artemis missions slated to commence between now and the decade's end. By the time these three orders are delivered, as many as six Orion capsules will be ready for operation. With missions to the Moon and potentially even Mars on the horizon, it's a very welcome sign indeed.

"Lockheed Martin is honored to partner with NASA to deliver Orion spacecraft for NASA's Artemis missions. This order includes spacecraft, mission planning, and support, and takes us into the 2030s," said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager for Commercial Civil Space, Lockheed Martin. "We're on the eve of a historic launch kicking off the Artemis era, and this contract shows NASA is making long-term plans toward living and working on the Moon while also having a forward focus on getting humans to Mars."

Under the umbrella program referred to as the Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC), each Orion capsule's flight hardware will be fine-tuned and optimized wherever possible. If all goes to plan, the Orion capsule could be a substantial percent cheaper to manufacture by the time Artemis III is ready to roll out than it costs to complete for Artemis I. By Lockheed Martin's own estimates, NASA could reduce the costs per vehicle by as much as 50 percent between Artemis III through V.

Concrete evidence on the exact expenditures needed to get Orion to where it stands today is not always forthcoming. But it's important to understand that its entry into operational service has been a prime NASA objective since long before the Artemis Program was even founded. In fact, Orion is the sole surviving remnant of NASA's previous Constellation initiative set to use the canceled Ares series of rockets.

Orion Spacecraft
Photo: NASA
If you figure Orion's investment under that program before its restructuring into Artemis and add everything that added up until 2022, one can't help but think the number at least matches the $23.011 billion cost of operation for the Artemis SLS booster rocket. That said, NASA watchdogs within the agency have unearthed clues about some of the more pressing details regarding Orion's cost breakdown.

As reported by Eric Berger of, NASA's Inspector General Paul Martin's team has been able to surmise that at least on the private contractor side of things, the performance from SLS, Orion, and Artemis as a whole has been in his own words"very poor." When appearing before Congress' House Science Committee hearing, Berger and his colleagues revealed the cost to manufacture one Orion capsule as being in the range of $1 billion and $300 million for its accompanying ESA European Service Module.

Though rocket science is never cheap, that's a figure that people from the civilian and the industrial side find unsustainable. But in spite of all of this, it's important not to errantly blame the brilliant engineers who brought the Artemis program to the brink of fruition.

Orion rendering
Photo: NASA/ESA/Airbus
As NASA personnel will tell you, the agency likes to test as they fly. So to say, they'd rather test, retest, scrub launches, test some more, and scrub launches again than allow a program-poisoning catastrophic failure to occur in the first place. This style of engineering has been especially crucial in light of the tragic losses of Space Shuttle orbiters Challenger and Columbia. Since Columbia's loss in 2003, not a single crewmember has been lost on a space mission.

That style of engineering doesn't come cheap. But as NASA's second Chief Flight Director Gene Kranz once famously said, "Failure is not an option." This appears to be the true cost of adhering to the Gene Kranz Dictum.
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