Nasa has selected US-based technology company Lockheed Martin as the main contractor to design, develop and build its latest spaceship for its next generation of exploration.
The Orion spaceship will be able to carry four crew members for lunar missions and at a later stage will be able to support crew transfers for Mars missions.
Orion will also be able to carry up to six passengers to and from the International Space Station.
Nasa hopes that its first moon landing will take place no later than 2020, and missions with humans onboard are expected from 2014.
It argues that the spaceship is "a key element of extending a sustained human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to advance commerce, science and national leadership".
Although manufacturing and integration of the vehicle components will take place at contractor facilities across the US, Lockheed Martin will carry out the majority of Orion vehicle engineering work at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
Florida's Kennedy Space Centre will complete the final assembly of the spaceship.
Design, development, testing, and evaluation work is expected to total $3.9 billion (£2 billion) and will take place between September this year to September 2013.