window to deep space

Space is big. Unfathomably, intimidatingly, excitingly big. But after 2018, when the groundbreaking Space Launch System (SLS) is projected to enter operation, it will get just a little smaller. The most powerful rocket ever built, the SLS is going to take international crews and scientific equipment farther and in less time than was ever possible before. In a variety of configurations that can accommodate missions from our moon to Jupiter, the SLS will expand the edges of human knowledge, capability, and exploration.

Lunar Surface Mission

destination: The moon

lift capacity: 45 tons

about the mission: The SLS is going to take us back to the moon, with the lift capacity to carry both the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, its crew, and all the necessary cargo in a single mission, reducing mission time and costs.

benefits: Global Collaboration, Human Exploration

Lunar Sample Return

destination: The moon

lift capacity: 39.2 tons

about the mission: In a single launch, the SLS can transport both Orion and a robotic sample collector to the far sides of the moon to collect geological samples that promise insights into cosmic history and solar wind.

benefits: Planetary Science, Human Exploration

Lunar Radio Telescope

destination: The moon

lift capacity: 39.2 tons

about the mission: The SLS has the capability to take both a radio telescope and a human crew to the far side of the moon, where it’s quiet enough to detect the the faint, low-frequency signals emitted when stars lit up in the early universe.

benefits: Astrophysics, Human Exploration

Deep Space Habitat

destination: Deep lunar space

lift capacity: 25 tons

about the mission: The SLS has the capacity to deliver a self-sufficient living module that can sustain long-term human habitation between Earth and the moon, which would enable longer, more in-depth moon-exploration missions.

benefits: Public-Private Partnerships, Human Exploration

Mars Surface Mission

destination: Mars

lift capacity: 50 tons

about the mission: If Mars once supported life, the SLS will help us find that out, transporting Orion and additional cargo to the red planet and making humans a two-planet species for the first time in history. Given its impressive lift capacity, the SLS will be able to fulfill this mission with fewer launches and shorter travel times than would have been possible before.

benefits: Global Collaboration, Human Exploration

Europa Clipper

destination: Jupiter & its moon, Europa

lift capacity: 4 tons

about the mission: The SLS can launch spacecraft directly to Jupiter, cutting previous mission time in half and allowing for investigation of Europa’s ice shell and whatever lies beneath it.

benefits: Planetary Science

Uranus Orbiter

destination: Uranus

lift capacity: 5 tons

about the mission: By delivering a probe into the planet’s atmosphere, the SLS will permit exploration of the system’s atmosphere and the search for nearby satellites. Use of the SLS will reduce travel time to Uranus by a full four years.

benefits: Planetary Science


Other missions proposed for the SLS will take us where we’ve never been before. It could launch a high-powered telescope into the space between the sun and earth, allowing scientists to learn more about super-massive black holes and investigate the nature of dark matter. In time, it could bring us to all the unexplored planets in our solar system. Whatever the mission, the SLS will take astronauts and scientists farther, faster, and at less cost than was ever thought possible toward the goal of all expeditions into space: to extend the frontiers of human knowledge and the terrestrial boundary of human life.