Lockheed Martin and NASA Prepare Next Orion Spacecraft for Artemis III and IV Missions

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, is currently in production for the Artemis III and IV lunar landing missions. The company is also finalizing assembly of the Artemis II vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of the Orion program is to deliver one spacecraft every year for future Artemis missions.

The Artemis III mission will be the first to demonstrate full rendezvous and docking operations when it meets up with SpaceX’s Starship lunar lander in cislunar space. NASA aims to fly Artemis III as soon as December 2025, with Artemis IV following closely behind.

Lockheed Martin builds the crew module and crew module adapter for the Orion spacecraft at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Final assembly of the spacecraft with the European Service Module takes place in the industrial operations zone of the building. While assembly and testing of the Artemis II spacecraft is underway, hardware for the next two spacecraft is being assembled simultaneously.

Several factors drive production for Artemis III, including the docking system and environmental control and life support system components from subcontractors. Integration of hardware and delivery of the European Service Module for Artemis III are also key considerations.

Assembly of the spacecraft begins with the structure, followed by tubing for fluids and propellant. Wiring harnesses are then installed, along with spaceflight equipment. The spacecraft undergoes testing and checkout before it is delivered to Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) for launch preparations.

The European Service Module for Artemis III is currently in its final integration steps in Germany. The main storage tanks and equipment are installed, with testing underway.

For Artemis IV, structural assembly of the crew module and crew module adapter is in progress. The crew module structure recently completed its proof pressure test. Secondary structure installation, mainly brackets, is ongoing.

Lockheed Martin and NASA are refining plans for reusing crew modules and hardware, starting with Artemis III. Lessons learned from the recovery and refurbishment of the Artemis I spacecraft are informing these plans. The timeline for refurbishing components and the condition of the returned equipment are being assessed. The reuse plan is evolving as the companies gather more information from suppliers and subcontractors.

The goal of the Orion program is to deliver the Artemis III spacecraft to EGS in spring 2025 and the Artemis IV spacecraft in early 2026. NASA and Lockheed Martin are working towards an annual delivery cadence for future Artemis missions.

Despite uncertainties and challenges, NASA is emphasizing the importance of meeting established delivery dates and keeping options open. The program is focused on delivering spacecraft and maintaining a production schedule. Plans for reuse and refurbishment are being developed, taking into account factors such as cleaning out propellant and working with suppliers.

Overall, the production of Orion spacecraft for the Artemis missions is progressing, with simultaneous assembly and testing becoming the norm. The program is working towards its goal of delivering one spacecraft per year, supporting NASA’s ambitious plans for lunar exploration.