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 48 states building America’s new deep space exploration systems.
› Explore the Interactive Map   

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.

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

Fact Sheet

ESD Fact Sheet Thumb
NASA’s Exploration Systems Development programs are working together to build the crew vehicle, evolvable rocket, and ground systems and operations that will enable the agency’s bold new missions to extend human existence beyond the moon, to an asteroid, to Mars and across the solar system.

Learn more about Exploration Systems Development (PDF)

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Watch NASA's Progress

About Exploration Systems Development

Artist’s conception of an integrated Orion and Space Launch System stacked and on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

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 Orion Spacecraft

A view of Orion’s parachutes deploying from top hatch window of the spacecraft during first flight test on December 5, 2014.

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) launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida on December 5, 2014. The next mission, Exploration Mission-1, will have an uncrewed Orion atop the SLS and will launch from a newly refurbished Kennedy Space Center, making it the first fully integrated mission of NASA’s deep space program.

› Follow the progress of the Orion spacecraft


Space Launch System

The RS-25 engine fires up for a 500-second test Jan. 9, 2015 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

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 is the world’s most powerful rocket ever built, and will launch larger payloads farther in our solar system, faster than ever before possible. 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 Orion’s first flight in December 2014. Orion’s next flight will be atop the SLS rocket during Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

› Follow the progress of Space Launch System

Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center

Ogive panels for the Orion spacecraft uncrated inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The Orion crew module being moved
to transfer vehicle by NASA and U.S. Navy support teams before overland trip back to Kennedy Space Center.

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


New NASA App Shares Excitement for Deep Space Missions


Smartphone and tablet users can experience the excitement of standing on the launch pad beneath NASA's massive new rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS, with a new interactive app from NASA that previews the starting point for the nation's journey to Mars. Click here.

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 stacked atop a 70 metric ton Space Launch System rocket will launch from a newly refurbished Kennedy Space Center in 2018. The uncrewed Orion will travel into Distant Retrograde Orbit, breaking the distance record reached by the most remote Apollo spacecraft, and then 30,000 miles farther out (275,000 total miles).  The mission will last 22 days and will test system readiness for future crewed operations.
› Watch the EM-1 Animation
› About Space Launch System (Fact Sheet)

Progress & Mission Videos

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Media Contacts

Joshua Buck
Rachel Kraft
Stephanie Schierholz

NASA Headquarters

Page Last Updated: April 22nd, 2016
Page Editor: Carlyle Webb