Lockheed Martin has secured a $4.6bn contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) to build at least six Orion spacecraft that will take astronauts to the Moon.

The space agency’s indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) Orion production and operations contract (OPOC) includes a commitment to order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, with an ordering period through 30 September 2030.

The contract covers $2.7bn for the first three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III-V and an additional $1.9bn for another three in fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI-VIII.

Artemis III will be the first spacecraft to be delivered on the contract and carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon in 2024.

Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating Nasa’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars.”

Orion is a critical part of the Nasa’s Artemis programme to build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface and to prepare to move on to Mars.

Through the Artemis programme, Nasa seeks to use innovative new technologies and systems to explore more of the Moon than ever before.

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The agency is collaborating with its commercial and international partners to establish sustainable missions by 2028.

Lockheed Martin Space Orion programme manager Mike Hawes said: “We have learned a lot about how to design and manufacture a better Orion such as designing for reusability, using augmented reality and additive manufacturing, and we’re applying this to this next series of vehicles. Driving down cost and manufacturing them more efficiently and faster will be key to making the Artemis programme a success.”

In July, Lockheed Martin completed Nasa’s Orion spacecraft capsule for Artemis 1 uncrewed mission to the moon.

Work on the spacecraft for the Artemis II mission, the first crewed flight to the Moon, is underway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.