NASA gave Oceaneering International Inc. an interim letter contract for the next-generation American spacesuit.

Oceaneering, of Houston, will begin work on designing, developing and producing a new spacesuit system for the Constellation Program that is creating the next-generation Orion space capsule, Altair lunar lander and Ares rocket family for missions to space.

That spacesuit will protect astronauts during voyages to the International Space Station and exploration of the lunar surface.

The letter contract requires Oceaneering to begin work on the basic period of performance while NASA and the company negotiate the contract’s final terms.

NASA disclosed that the current award amount is limited to $9.6 million. It will become effective March 2 and be in effect until the full contract is defined, no later than Aug. 29.

That defined contract will include the same basic period of performance and contract options as those in the contract awarded last June.

The project schedule has been updated to align with the latest Constellation Program schedule. Changes also were made to include Federal Acquisition Regulation and NASA Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement updates. The schedule updates result in a basic period of performance of March this year to September 2015. Extension of the period of performance is required to support the Constellation Program schedule.

Option 1 covers completion of design, development, test and evaluation for the moon surface suit components.

It has been adjusted to begin in October 2011 and run through September 2020, the year the United States is slated to return to the moon for the first time since the Apollo missions ended in the 1970s.

Option 2, for the suit astronauts will wear in the Orion crew module, provides for production, processing and sustaining engineering under a cost-plus-award fee or a firm- fixed-price, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract structure. It will begin at the end of the basic performance period in October 2015 and run through September 2020.

The spacesuit and support systems will provide protection against the launch and landing environment and spacecraft cabin leaks. The system offers the ability to conduct contingency spacewalks. For short trips to the moon, the suit design will support a week’s worth of moon walks. The system also must be designed to support multiple spacewalks during potential six-month lunar outpost expeditions.

Suits and support systems will be needed for as many as four astronauts on moon voyages and as many as six space station travelers.

Animation of the new designs and more information about Constellation are available online at: on the Web.