The space agency on Wednesday unveiled the Obama administration's general plan for its rocket design called the Space Launch System.
Animation provided by NASA shows what could be the world's most powerful rocket.
The rocket resembles those NASA relied on before the space shuttle, but even its smallest early prototype will have 10 percent more thrust than the Saturn V that propelled Apollo astronauts to the moon.
When it is built to its fuller size, it will be 20 percent more powerful, officials said. That bigger version will have the horsepower of 208,000 Corvette engines.
It may also eventually carry Americans into space. The first mission is still about 10 years off, if all goes as planned.
Unmanned test launches are expected from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in six years.
"Private companies are preparing to take over transportation to the International Space Station and lower Earth orbit," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden . "Satellites are on their way to Jupiter and the moon, and plans for human mission to an asteroid and on to Mars are taking shape."
NASA said the Space Launch System will also be used as a backup for transportation to the International Space Station.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.