Update – Sept. 12, 2023:

  • The due date for applications for the 2024 Heliophysics Mission Design School (HMDS) has been changed to Oct. 26, 2023. See below for more information.
  • The informational webinar and Q&A about HMDS has been changed to Monday, Oct. 2 at 12:30 p.m. PDT. We’ll describe the HMDS program, discuss tips, and learn best practices for submitting an application to this competitively-selected experience. Registration is required.

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. Experiences are focused on three distinct content areas:

  • The Astrophysics Mission Design School (AMDS) focuses on astrophysics science missions.
  • The Planetary Science Summer School (PSSS) focuses on planetary science and exploration.
  • The Heliophysics Mission Design School (HMDS) focuses on missions to study the Sun and its influence on the rest of the solar system.

See upcoming session dates in the details section below.

Each Science Mission Design School begins with 10 weeks of online preparatory sessions (two per week) plus group and individual worktime, with an additional 3-hour architecture study during the final month. 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”.


  • Applicants with the following education and career experience are eligible:
    • HMDS:
      • Doctoral candidates (requires advancement to candidacy)
      • Postdocs or early career researched within 10 years of receiving their Ph.D.
      • Junior faculty within 10 years of receiving their Ph.D. and with a continuous teaching faculty role in that period
      • Non-research Engineering Master-level students within six to nine months of graduation who are not planning to pursue a Ph.D. will be considered on a space-available basis.
    • PSSS and AMDS:
      • Doctoral candidates (requires advancement to candidacy)
      • Recent Ph.D.s, up to three years beyond their Ph.D.
      • Postdocs and junior faculty with a Ph.D. within the last five years and a continuous teaching faculty role in that period
      • Non-research Engineering Master-level students within six to nine months of graduation who are 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.


  • Each Science Mission Design School is roughly equivalent in workload to a rigorous, 3-credit 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 session up to the culminating week, which requires full-time, dedicated participation. Pre-session reading and assignments will also 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 for partial support are available for travel and lodging. Participants must request support in advance and meet the requirements.


For more information about eligibility and requirements, see our frequently asked questions doc.

Upcoming Sessions:

Heliophysics Mission Design School 2024

  • Session Duration: February 12 – April 26
  • Culminating Week: April 22-26

Schedule for required weekly webinars

  • TBD. Likely to be Thursday mornings (PDT) for both formulation webinars and science webinars.

How to Apply:

Click the "Apply Now" button below to submit an application.

Note: We strongly encourage applications from a diverse group of eligible students. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are of utmost importance to us. We strive to create a welcoming environment where participants’ contributions and unique perspectives are valued.

You will need:

  • A statement of interest and applicability that demonstrates:

    1. Your clear intention to do future NASA sponsored work, with details on envisioned contributions through a clear progression of experiences.
    2. Your understanding of the Science Mission Design School experience to which you are applying and its value to your career, providing several concrete examples of how the SMDS relates to your educational, research, and career plans.
    3. Clear evidence of your drive, commitment and/or readiness for mission-design experiences through engagement in the field.
    4. Your commitment to a career and leadership in research/exploration in the related science and engineering topics of the SMDS to which you are applying, and a clear articulation of your skills that contribute to current work and future leadership endeavors.
    5. How technical challenges have presented themselves in your collaborative work, with details on how solutions were implemented.

    Note: The statement of interest and applicability will be the primary factor in assessing your application.

  • For those at the current education level of Ph.D. or beyond, you will need to enter the date of your advancement to candidacy.

  • Additionally, a graduate advisor, postdoc supervisor, university department head, branch chief or similar individual must provide a signed letter of support* on letterhead that, at a minimum, states:

    1. The advisor has read the program description and understands the student’s workload commitment if accepted.
    2. The applicant will be supported to commit to, fully attend, and participate in the entire length of the session.
    3. For applicants who are currently in doctoral programs, the advisor lists the date of advancement to candidacy of the applicant.

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

Heliophysics Mission Design School

2024 Application Deadline: Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023

Apply Now

Notice of Acceptance: By Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023

Planetary Science Summer School

Not currently accepting applications. Check back for more information about future sessions.

Astrophysics Mission Design School

Not currently accepting applications. Check back for more information about future sessions.

Contact Info:

Program Manager:
Leslie Lowes
(818) 393-7734

Program Support:
Joyce Armijo
(818) 354-2337