A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans

Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.

NASA’s planning is divided into three phases, beginning with the testing of life support and other systems on the International Space Station and continuing with operations in cislunar space. The final stage involves the exploration of Mars.

NASA’s NextSTEP program has begun to lay the groundwork for deep-space exploration with a series of contracts examining concepts for habitats to be used in conjuction with the Orion spacecraft.

The habitat module would be part of a proposed Deep Space Gateway that would operate in cis-lunar space. NASA is talking to nations who are already partners in the International Space Station about these plans.

The government is providing a number of technologies for the prototype habitats the companies are building.

The space agency is also exploring propulsion and power options to support its deep-space exploration plans.

The PPE module would be the first element of the Deep Space Gateway. NASA has let five study contracts to industry.

NextSTEP is funding advanced electric thruster development.

The space agency hopes that public-private partnerships will significantly reduce the cost of these efforts.

The NextSTEP program includes several efforts to developed advanced environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS).

Advanced in-space manufacturing, which has already begun on the International Space Station (ISS), is also being pursued.

A series of spacecraft fire safety experiments known as Saffire has been conducted aboard Cygnus resupply ships after they left ISS.

The space agency is also exploring the use of in-situ resources to reduce the cost of shipping materials up from Earth.

One experiment known as MOXIE, which seeks to produce oxygen from the martian atmosphere, is scheduled to launch aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.

NASA is also developing the Resource Prospector mission to conduct the first mining operations on another world. The rover will search for lunar volatiles and demonstration ISRU processing of lunar regolith.

Another aspect of NASA’s deep-space planning is Lunar CATALYST, a program under which it is working with three companies that want to deliver experiments and payloads to the lunar surface.

The Lunar CATALYST contracts have been extended by two years with expectations that the landers will be flying in 2018 to 2020.


The preceding is merely a sampling of presentations delivered last month. To learn more, you can download the complete PowerPoint presentations here.