Student Features

Advanced Space Transportation Program
12.09.03
A Solar Electric Transfer Vehicle
Solar Electric Transfer Vehicle
The Marshall Space Flight Center's Advanced Space Transportation Program (ASTP) is NASA's "Technology Central" for future space transportation systems.

The ASTP is developing innovative technologies needed for ultra low-cost space transportation systems as safe and reliable as today's airliners. Intense research efforts and technology development are aimed toward accelerating breakthroughs that will make it possible for ordinary people to live, work and play on the space frontier.

New-Generation Launch Vehicles

The program's primary emphasis is on technologies for 3rd Generation RLVs that could be operational in a 2025 timeframe. The goal is to develop space transportation systems that would be 100 times cheaper and 10,000 times safer than today's launch vehicles. These true spaceliners of the future could take off from aero-space ports that will accommodate both air and space vehicles.

Air-breathing propulsion, magnetic levitation, highly integrated airframe structures that morph in flight, and intelligent vehicle health management systems are some of the technologies being considered for a 3rd Generation RLV.

The ASTP is also investigating technologies for a 4th Generation RLV that could be operational in the 2040 timeframe. The goal is to make space travel 20,000 times safer and 1,000 times cheaper than today's systems. Then, passenger space travel would become routine.

Dramatic improvements in our access to space will enable exciting new space markets, including:

  • Space adventure tourism and travel

  • Space business parks

  • Clean, solar electric power beamed from space to Earth's population

  • Space hospitals for treatment of chronic pain and disabilities

  • Asteroid mining of high-value minerals

  • Worldwide, two-hour express package delivery
Beyond Earth's orbit

The ASTP is developing technologies to decrease the trip times and reduce the weight of the propulsion systems required for planetary missions - and even bolder missions to the edge of our solar system and beyond. Electrodynamic tethers, space sails, aeroassist and high-power electric propulsion are just a few of the technologies being developed to achieve the goals.

The ASTP is also conducting fundamental research on the cutting edge of modern science and engineering, including fission, fusion and antimatter propulsion, and breakthrough physics theories that might enable thrusting against space-time itself and faster-than-light travel.

ASTP team

The ASTP leads a team of NASA centers, U.S. Government agencies, industry and academia focused on products and developing a variety of propulsion and vehicle technologies. Technology development is concentrated in the areas of hypersonic transportation, travel beyond low-Earth orbit, and advanced concepts research.