NASA will fund six more Artemis missions as it plans return to the moon

The space agency has taken the next steps for the construction of more SLS boosters.

NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA has started preparing for the possibility of launching six more Artemis missions on top of the three it has already confirmed. The space agency has revealed that it has agreed to “provide initial funding and authorization to Northrop Grumman to order long-lead items” for the construction of twin boosters for the next six Space Launch System (SLS) flights. The SLS is slated to become become NASA’s most powerful rocket yet, designed to enable human exploration beyond the Lower Earth Orbit.

The details of the contract aren’t finalized yet, but it has a potential value of $49.5 million and will extend through December 31st, 2030. It’s “expected to support booster production and operations for SLS flights 4-9.” Bruce Tiller, manager of the SLS Boosters office at Marshall, said in a statement:

“We’re ready to process and stack the boosters for the Artemis I mission, and we are making great progress producing boosters for the Artemis II and III missions. NASA is committed to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon, and this action enables NASA to have boosters ready when needed for future missions.”

NASA hasn’t revealed any details about potential missions 4 to 9, but Artemis I is scheduled to take place in November 2021 and is expected to be the first flight with both the Orion capsule and the SLS. Meanwhile, Artemis II will be the program’s first crewed mission. It’ll perform a lunar flyby before heading back to Earth when it launches in 2023. Finally, Artemis III is planned for 2024 and is expected to land the next man and first woman on the Moon.