Advanced Exploration Systems

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About Advanced Exploration Systems

NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program is pioneering new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities, and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. AES activities are uniquely related to crew safety and mission operations in deep space, and are strongly coupled to future vehicle development.

The AES program consists of about 20 small projects that target high-priority capabilities needed for human exploration such as advanced life support, deep space habitation, crew mobility, and extra-vehicular activity (EVA) systems. Early integration and testing of prototype systems will reduce risk and improve affordability of exploration mission elements. The prototype systems developed in the AES program will be demonstrated in ground-based test beds, field tests, underwater tests, and flight experiments on the International Space Station (ISS). In addition to developing building blocks for future missions, the AES program is exploring innovative ways to drive a rapid pace of progress, streamline project management, and use limited resources and the NASA workforce more effectively.

Advanced exploration systems development is focused in four main areas: Crew Systems, Vehicle Systems, Operations, and Robotic Precursor Activities.

Crew Systems

The capabilities being developed in this focus area will enable crew mobility systems, advanced space suits, and deep space habitats.
Concept image of Space Exploration Vehicle

Crew Mobility Systems: This project is developing a prototype crew excursion vehicle to enable exploration of Near Earth Asteroids and planetary surfaces.
› About the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV)

Extravehicular Activity Technology: This project develops component technologies for advanced space suits to enable humans to conduct "hands-on" surface exploration and in-space operations outside habitats and vehicles. Technology development includes portable life support systems, thermal control, power systems, communications, avionics, and information systems, and space suit materials.
› About NASA's Advanced Space Suits

Habitat Demonstration Unit in the field

Deep Space Habitat: This project is developing concepts and prototype subsystems for a habitat that will allow the crew to live and work safely in deep space.
› About the Deep Space Habitat project

Concept image of life support system

Life Support Systems: This project is improving the reliability of water recycling, air revitalization, and environmental monitoring systems using ground test beds.

Artist's image of radiation components

Radiation Protection: This project is developing radiation shielding, radiation analysis tools, and advanced dosimetry sensors to protect the crew against the harmful effects of space radiation.

Microgravity flame image

Fire Safety: This project is developing a large-scale fire experiment to understand the propagation and suppression of fires in microgravity.


Vehicle Systems

The capabilities being developed in this focus area will enable heavy lift launch vehicles, advanced in-space propulsion stages, and small robotic landers.

Concept image for liquid propulsion systems

Liquid Propulsion Systems: This project is developing, modeling, and testing components for LOX-RP staged combustion rocket engines for heavy lift launch vehicles.

Concept image of nuclear cryogenic propulsion stage

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion: This project is developing system concepts, ground test approaches, and reactor fuel elements for nuclear thermal propulsion.

Composite structures for heavy lift launch vehicles

Composite Structures: This project is developing manufacturing processes for large composite structures for heavy lift launch vehicles.

Precision landing system

Autonomous Precision Landing Systems: This project is developing optical sensors, and navigation and control algorithms to enable the capability for autonomous precision landing on the moon or Mars. 
› About the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology Project

Morpheus lander

Morpheus Vertical Test Bed: This project is developing a small lander test bed to demonstrate autonomous precision landing, LOX-methane propulsion, and other vehicle systems. 
› About Project Morpheus

High-efficiency space power systems

Power Module: This project is developing modular batteries, fuel cells, and power systems for exploration flight systems.
› About fuel cell development and testing


The capabilities being developed in this focus area will enable more efficient mission and ground operations to support human exploration.

International Space Station

Autonomous Mission Operations: This project is reducing crew dependence on ground-based mission control by automating flight dynamics and consumables management on ISS.

Connection system

Ground Operations Systems: This project is demonstrating zero-loss cryogenic storage, health monitoring, and advanced connection systems to reduce launch operations costs.

Concept image of logistics module

Logistics: This project is reducing logistics storage volume and repurposing trash to reduce launch mass.

NASA diver in analog mission

Analogs: This project is demonstrating prototype systems and operational concepts for exploration of Near Earth Asteroids and Mars in simulations, desert field tests, underwater environments, and ISS flight experiments.
› About analog missions and field testing

Robotic Precursor Activities

The capabilities being developed in this focus area will enable robotic precursor missions and instruments to characterize potential destinations for human exploration.

Image of near-Earth asteroid

Imaging Near Earth Asteroids: This project is using the Goldstone radar to image and characterize Near Earth Asteroids at 4-meter resolution.

Lunar precursor robot

Prospecting for Lunar Ice: This project is developing a prototype in-situ resource utilization experiment to characterize lunar volatiles in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency.

Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD)

Measuring the Mars Surface Radiation Environment: This project is supporting operations of the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) on the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
About the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD)

Concept image of joint robotic precursor mission

Joint Robotic Precursor Activities: Partnership with NASA's Science Mission Directorate to develop instruments for missions of opportunity and acquire strategic knowledge related to potential destinations for human exploration.



Page Last Updated: August 19th, 2015
Page Editor: Erin Mahoney