September 1, 2006 Yesterday NASA awarded the contract to design, develop, and build Orion, the primary next generation vehicle for human space exploration. Lockheed Martin got the approximately US$4 billion gig and now has the enviable task of creating the Orion - an advanced crew capsule design that will succeed the Space Shuttle in transporting human explorers to and from the International Space Station, the Moon, and eventually to Mars and beyond. Orion will be capable of transporting four crewmembers for lunar missions and later supporting crew transfers for Mars missions. Orion could also carry up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. There is an excellent overview article on the NASA site here and an extensive image library here.
The first Orion launch with humans onboard is planned for no later than 2014, and for a human moon landing no later than 2020. Orion will form a key element of extending a sustained human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to advance commerce, science and national leadership.
The contract with Lockheed Martin is the conclusion of a two-phase selection process. NASA began working with the two contractor teams, Northrop Grumman/Boeing and Lockheed Martin, in July 2005 to perform concept refinement, trade studies, analysis of requirements and preliminary design options. Lockheed Martin will be responsible for the design, development, testing, and evaluation (DDT&E) of the new spacecraft.
Manufacturing and integration of the vehicle components will take place at contractor facilities across the country. Lockheed Martin will perform the majority of the Orion vehicle engineering work at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, and complete final assembly of the vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. All 10 NASA centers will provide technical and engineering support to the Orion project.
Post-development spacecraft delivery orders may begin as early as Sept. 8, 2009, through Sept. 7, 2019, if all options are exercised. The estimated value of these orders is negotiated based on future manifest requirements and knowledge gained through the DDT&E process and is estimated not to exceed $3.5 billion.
Sustaining engineering work will be assigned through task orders. The work is expected to occur from Sept. 8, 2009, through Sept. 7, 2019, with an estimated value of $750 million, if all options are exercised.