Building a new future in space: deep space exploration systems

NASA

NASA is going back to the Moon to stay, in a measured, sustainable fashion, and we are keeping our eyes on Mars.  Take a peek at the rocket, spacecraft and ground systems in development that will enable NASA and partners to achieve this bold, ambitious, and exciting challenge and make human exploration of deep space a reality.

NASA is leading an innovative and sustainable program of exploration to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.

For 20 years, the International Space Station has helped us discover and advance solutions for better lives on Earth and in space.

Now it’s time to push human space exploration forward to the Moon and beyond.

By doing so, we can identify and pioneer new solutions that cannot be discovered or engineered here on Earth.

The President’s direction from SPD-1 galvanizes our return to the Moon and builds on our progress on SLS and Orion, our efforts with commercial and international partners, and what we have been learning from our current robotic presence at the Moon and Mars.

NASA’s powerful Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, and Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will enable human and robotic missions in unexplored regions of space.

All eyes will be on the historic Launch Complex 39B when Orion and the Space Launch System lift off for the first time and make way for deep space. The mission will demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond.

NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, will be the only rocket with the power and capabilities to launch humans and robotic missions to deep space in a single launch.

Drawing from more than 50 years of spaceflight development and operations, NASA's Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts to the Gateway in lunar orbit, keep them healthy and safe from launch and on return to Earth under high-speed re-entry conditions.

Exploration Ground Systems is transforming NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with modern capabilities to process and launch the next-generation of rockets and spacecraft designed to achieve America's goals for deep space exploration.

Some of the major milestones, progress, and real hardware being built every day in America and Europe – powerful engines, massive fuel tanks, transporter vehicles, work platforms, and other engineering marvels that propel America’s deep space exploration programs.

The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will come together in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

Nearby, workers upgrade the dock area to accommodate the huge core stage of the SLS rocket when it arrives for integration by barge from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

NASA will test the SLS liquid hydrogen tank to ensure it is ready for the extreme forces of launch and ascent.

The tanks will feed 733,000 gallons of super-cooled propellant to four engines, producing 2 million pounds of thrust at the base of the core stage.

In a lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers simulated conditions that astronauts in space suits would experience when the Orion spacecraft is vibrating during launch atop the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket on its way to deep space destinations.

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers completed the installation of 10 levels of dynamic, evolvable work platforms that will surround NASA's Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft in the Vehicle Assembly Building and allow processing for missions.

RS-25 engines will help power the SLS, with a pair of solid rocket boosters.

NASA ran eight RS-25 engine tests in 2017 and completed preparations for 4 liquid fuel engines to help power SLS on its first mission.

Engineers are already testing engines for the second mission that will carry crew.

Thermal protection system tiles are installed on Orion at the Operations and Checkout building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

These tiles will protect Orion during re-entry as the capsule returns to Earth from tens of thousands of miles past the Moon.

The tower on the Mobile Launcher platform has with several connections, called launch umbilicals, that will connect to the SLS core stage and twin solid rocket boosters, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and the Orion spacecraft.

They will provide power, communications, coolant and fuel.

NASA’s crawler-transporter 2, has carried rockets and spacecraft to the launch pad for 50 years.

The crawlers are being modified to carry NASA's SLS and Orion spacecraft on the Mobile Launcher, and potential commercial vehicles to their pads to begin space exploration missions.

NASA made a test version of the Space Launch System engine section at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and shipped it to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama aboard the specially made Pegasus barge so it could be pushed, pulled, twisted and bent in tests.

At the Johnson Space Center, engineers and technicians test the spacesuit astronauts will wear on the first crewed SLS and Orion flight.

The suit is connected to life support systems before the air is removed from a thermal vacuum chamber to provide conditions similar to that of a spacecraft.

In Sandusky, Ohio, engineers used a wall of highly specialized speakers to replicate, at full scale, the acoustics and vibrations Orion will experience during its missions in space.

The ogive panels protect the crew module from harsh acoustic and vibration environments during launch.

In 2017, NASA successfully conducted three tests in the desert of Yuma, Arizona to qualify Orion’s parachute system for flights with astronauts to help the agency safely return crew to Earth.

Each test simulated a possible failure scenario that may occur with the parachute system.

All five major parts of the SLS are ready for testing. They'll be connected to form the 212-foot-tall core stage.

To build the two largest core stage structures, the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks, NASA welded the thickest structures ever joined using self-reacting friction stir welding.

The Space Launch System rocket's core stage pathfinder is similar in size, shape and weight to the 212-foot-tall core stage so NASA can test new shipping and handling equipment and procedures from the manufacturing site to the test site to the launch site to reduce risk.

Engineers have conducted several wind tunnel tests with Space Launch System models, using distinct pink pressure-sensitive paint to understand the aerodynamic forces the rocket may experience on the launch pad and during flight.

During crew egress testing in the Gulf of Mexico, teams evaluated how the crew will get out of the capsule with assistance and by themselves.

If the capsule lands upside down or turns over in high waves, uprighting bags are responsible for turning Orion right side up.

A structural test version of the intertank for SLS will undergo critical testing as engineers push, pull and bend the hardware with millions of pounds of force to ensure it can withstand the forces of launch and ascent.

Orion's European Service Module will provide power and propulsion to the Orion spacecraft as it travels 40,000 miles past the Moon on Exploration Mission-1.

Here, technicians at the Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany are installing the fuel tanks.

Engineers redesigned the Pegasus barge to accommodate the SLS rocket's massive, 212-foot-long core stage – the backbone of the rocket – and other flight hardware.

The 310-foot barge will ferry the flight core stage from Michoud to other NASA centers for tests and launch.

NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft is capable of transporting the large parts of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to the pad.

It has a unique hinged nose that opens more than 200 degrees and a 25x25x111-foot cargo compartment that can carry more than 26 tons.

Final assembly of the Orion spacecraft takes place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center where Orion will be prepared for flight using a variety of test stands and processing bays for hardware such as thermal protection panels to protect the capstule from the heat of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA is leading the design and development of the Gateway in lunar orbit, which will be a temporary home and office for astronauts farther in space than humans have ever been before. This orbital outpost will be important to building a sustainable human presence on the Moon.

Follow along for updates related to Exploration Mission-1, and the deep space exploration systems that will send humans to the Moon and beyond.

Exploration Mission-1

The Orion spacecraft

The Space Launch System rocket

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