NASA extends contract with Boeing for SLS rocket, paving the way for up to 10 Artemis missions

NASA has a new contract extension in place with Boeing, which will cover rocket stages for its Space Launch System (SLS) beyond Artemis I and Artemis II, the missions covered under the current contract it holds with the aerospace company. The new contract includes production of the core stage of the rocket for Artemis III, which is the mission set for 2024 that NASA intends to bring the first American woman and next American man to the surface of the Moon.

The contract also includes permission for Boeing to place orders for key “long-lead materials” to be used in the building of future SLS core rockets, including as many as 10 to be used in missions beyond Artemis III. The goal is to give Boeing time and opportunity to secure better pricing for parts it can order in bulk, and also to ensure it can lock down parts that are in short supply or require a longer head’s up period to ensure production happens in time with delivery requirements and deadlines.

NASA and Boeing will still have to finalize the full and final details of the contract that will cover the remaining balance of the core stages (up to 10) and as many as eight Exploration Upper Stages (EUS). The EUS is a second-stage rocket that will be fueled by liquid oxygen and hydrogen, and will be used to send payloads launched aboard SLS beyond low-Earth orbit, with the first targeted to fly on Artemis VI, with the ultimate aim of using it to propel cargo to deep space destinations.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has been on a cross U.S. whistle-stop tour in the past couple of months, checking in on various key manufacturing facilities and supplier sites for those involved in both Artemis and the commercial crew launch program. This week, he presented the new xEMU and Orion Crew Survival spacesuit designs for the first time. Meanwhile, NASA Acting Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Ken Bowersox said at a presentation on October 10 that NASA’s first SLS mission could slip from the end of next year to the middle of 2021, which would put more pressure on that 2024 target for the first Artemis Moon landing mission.