Update – April 2, 2021: Applications for the 2021 PSSS sessions have closed. Thank you for your interest.

Update – March 24, 2021: Some potential applicants have been as of yet unable to return to the U.S. because of Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions, even though they are otherwise eligible to apply to PSSS. Based on this fact, we are allowing applications from otherwise eligible individuals under that condition as long as (1) *prior* to March, 2020, the applicant’s residence was in the United States, (2) the applicant will be returning to the United States as soon as pandemic conditions allow, (3) the applicant is actively attending a U.S. university or working for a U.S. based company, (4) the applicant briefly explains this in their essay application, and (5) the Letter of Recommendation includes a statement from the advisor or supervisor affirming that conditions (1), (2), and (3) are accurate.

Update – March 22, 2021:

  • A recording of the March 4 informational webinar about the Planetary Science Summer School application process is now available – download MOV. This webinar was available to all, and directed at both potential applicants and their advisors who are new to applying to the program.
  • We are especially interested in applications from a diverse group of eligible students. We strongly encourage students from diverse backgrounds to apply.
  • Due to on-going Covid-19 pandemic conditions, it is likely that each culminating week in August 2021 will be held virtually (as they were in 2020). Check this page for the latest updates as they become available.

NASA Science Mission Design Schools are 3-month-long career development experiences for doctoral students, recent Ph.D.s, postdocs and junior faculty who have a strong interest in science-driven robotic space exploration missions. Participants learn the process of developing a hypothesis-driven robotic space mission in a concurrent engineering environment while getting an in-depth, first-hand look at mission design, life cycle, costs, schedule and the trade-offs inherent in each.

The Science Mission Design Schools are designed to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers for participation and leadership in space science missions of the future. In 2021, we are offering two sessions of the Planetary Science Summer school, which focus on planetary exploration. See dates for each in the details section below.

Each session begins with 10 to 11 weeks of online preparatory sessions (two per week) plus group and individual worktime. During this time, participants act as a mission science team – assuming principal investigator and science team roles - and select their mission and science goals from options based on those defined as high priority by the scientific community. Guided by mentors, they begin the development of an early mission concept study in response to a recent NASA Science Mission Directorate announcement of opportunity, including mission-science hypotheses, science traceability, instrumentation suites and data sufficiency requirements.

The full-time culminating week is typically hosted onsite at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where participants finalize their mission concept design and present it to a review board of NASA Headquarters and NASA center experts. Participants assume engineering roles, such as project manager and systems and subsystem engineers and work alongside mentors from JPL’s Advance Projects Design Team, or “Team X”.


  • Doctoral candidates, recent Ph.D.s (up to three years beyond their Ph.D.), postdocs and junior faculty. Engineering Masters-level students within six to nine months of graduation and not planning to pursue a Ph.D. will be considered on a space-available basis.
  • Open to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents (LPRs) and a limited number of foreign nationals living within the U.S. at the time of application and during the full session. (Preference will be given to U.S. citizens and LPRs. We are restricted to a maximum of two eligible foreign nationals per session.) Participants cannot be employed by or attending a foreign institution nor can they be living abroad. Due to security issues, citizens of U.S. State Department designated countries are not eligible.
  • Participants must be available for webinars and work sessions during the preparatory weeks and full time (for both daytime sessions and some evening work) during the culminating week at JPL.


  • The Science Mission Design School is roughly equivalent in workload to a rigorous, 3-hour graduate course, requiring an average effort of 9 hours per week. Time commitments vary by week and ramp up significantly over the length of the course. Additionally, pre-course reading and assignments will be required.
  • To better prepare your application, please view the program video, and review the learning goals and training objectives.
  • There is no registration fee. Limited funds are available to provide partial support for travel and lodging for participants who request it in advance and meet the requirements.

2021 Session Dates:

Planetary Science Summer School 2021 - Session 1

  • Preparatory Sessions: May 24 - August 6
  • Culminating Week at JPL: August 2-6

Planetary Science Summer School 2021 - Session 2

  • Preparatory Sessions: May 24 - August 20
  • Culminating Week at JPL: August 16-20

How to Apply:

Click the "Apply Now" button below to submit an application for either Planetary Science Summer School session.

You will need:

A statement of interest and applicability that demonstrates:

  1. A clear intention to do future NASA sponsored work, with details on envisioned contributions, supported by prior interest through a clear progression of experiences.
  2. An understanding of the Science Mission Design School experience to which you are applying and its value to your educational, research and career goals, providing several concrete examples of how you will benefit.
  3. Experiences that provide clear evidence of your drive, commitment and/or readiness for mission-design experiences, as well as an explanation of any barriers to attaining such experiences.
  4. Commitment to a career and leadership in research/exploration in planetary science or a related science or engineering field of interest to NASA, and clear articulation of your skills that contribute to their current work and future leadership endeavors in the field.

A graduate advisor, postdoc supervisor, university department head, branch chief or similar individual must provide a signed letter of recommendation* on letterhead that, at a minimum, addresses:

  1. The applicant’s likelihood of a future career and leadership doing NASA work in fields appropriate to the content of the chosen school (planetary science or mission engineering fields of interest to NASA).
  2. How PSSS will benefit the applicant.
  3. What characteristics the applicant possesses that make them suitable to the Science Mission Design School.

*Ensure your advisor provides a letter of recommendation to Joyce.E.Armijo@jpl.nasa.gov by the deadline.

Planetary Science Summer School

The application deadline of April 1, 2021 has passed. Applications for 2021 PSSS are now closed.

Notice of Acceptance: By April 26

Contact Info:

Program Manager:
Leslie Lowes
(818) 393-7734

Program Support:
Joyce Armijo
(818) 354-2337