Exploration Systems Development (ESD)

Building Deep Space Exploration Systems

Partners & Suppliers in America text written over a U.S. map with stars representing partner and supplier locations
Human space exploration is critical to the space economy – fueling new and supporting industries, job growth, and demand for a highly skilled workforce. This interactive map illustrates partners and suppliers in 47 states building America’s new deep space exploration systems.
› Explore the Interactive Map   

Monthly Highlights

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Each month, the Orion, Space Launch System and Ground Systems Development and Operation teams make tremendous progress designing and building capabilities to explore a variety of deep space destinations.
› Read about this month's progress

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Watch NASA's Progress

About Exploration Systems Development

An artist's concept of the Space Launch System and Orion Spacecraft Stacked in the Vertical Assembly Building
Artist’s conception of an integrated SLS and Orion inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC

NASA's Exploration Systems Development is building the agency’s crew vehicle, next generation rocket, and ground systems and operations to enable human exploration throughout deep space — a capability the world has not had for more than 40 years.

The Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) and a modernized Kennedy spaceport will support missions to multiple deep space destinations extending beyond our Moon, to Mars and across our solar system. This innovative approach aligns with NASA’s bold new mission to design and build the capability to extend human existence to deep space.

The Spacecraft – Orion

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion crew module is prepared for testing.

Astronaut Anna Fisher observing the Orion Crew Module / Service Module mating operations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s Orion crew capsule is the first spacecraft in history capable of taking humans to multiple destinations within deep space.

Orion’s versatile design will allow it to safely carry crew, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during long-duration missions and provide safe reentry from multiple destinations in the solar system. Orion’s first flight test, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida in fall, 2014. The next mission, Exploration Mission-1, will have an uncrewed Orion atop the SLS and will be the first fully integrated mission of the deep space program.

› Follow the progress of the Orion spacecraft

The Rocket – Space Launch System

Close up of contractors working on the Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans

A 5-percent scale model, including solid rocket motors, of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is ignited to test how low- and high-frequency sound waves will affect the rocket on the launch pad

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first rocket and launch system capable of powering humans, habitats and support systems to deep space — providing new opportunities for human and scientific exploration far beyond low-Earth orbit.

SLS will carry the Orion spacecraft, as well as cargo, equipment and scientific payloads into deep space. It will evolve from the 70 metric ton capability to an enhanced 130 metric ton capability, creating the world’s largest payload lifting launch vehicle of any previously manufactured in the United States.  SLS has produced flight hardware in support of the 2014 Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that will be on the rocket to launch Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

› Follow the progress of Space Launch System 

The Multi-User Spaceport – Ground Systems Development and Operations

Ogive panels for the Orion spacecraft uncrated inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The Mobile Launcher is being modified and strengthened to accommodate the weight, size and thrust at launch of NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, and Orion spacecraft

NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) is modernizing Kennedy’s spaceport with the capabilities to launch spacecraft built and designed by both NASA and private industry.

Building adaptable and versatile operations transforms Kennedy into a next generation, multi-user spaceport. GSDO is defining and implementing new ways to safely execute launches, improve processes, streamline operations, adopt and apply new tools and techniques, and simplify designs while meeting the requirement of evolving space operations as determined by NASA and commercial partners.

› Follow the progress of Ground Systems Development and Operations

Exploration Systems Development Overview

 A deeper purpose. A bolder mission.
NASA’s Exploration Systems Development teams are working together to build the agency’s crew vehicle, next generation rocket, and ground systems operations to enable NASA’s bold new mission to extend human existence to deep space.

Where is Deep Space?

 Where is Deep Space?
Deep space is the vast region of space that extends beyond our Moon, to Mars and across our solar system.

What’s Next?

An artist's concept of NASA's EFT-1 mission launching in 2014.
NASA’s Orion crew capsule will embark on its first voyage into deep space in 2014. The uncrewed Orion will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth’s surface—beyond low-Earth orbit, more than 15 times farther than the International Space Station. The two-orbit, four-hour uncrewed flight test will help engineers evaluate the systems critical to crew safety including the heat shield, parachute system and launch abort system.
› Watch the EFT-1 Animation
› Orion Recovery Operations (Fact Sheet)

Progress & Mission Videos

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Media Contacts

Joshua Buck
Rachel Kraft
Stephanie Schierholz

NASA Headquarters

Page Last Updated: August 1st, 2014
Page Editor: Carlyle Webb