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 two distinct content areas: the Planetary Science Summer School focuses on planetary exploration, and the Heliophysics Mission Design School, a new pilot experience, focuses on heliophysics-science missions. See dates for each in the details section below.

Each session begins with 10 to 11 weeks of online preparatory sessions roughly equivalent to the workload of a rigorous, 3-hour graduate course. 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 culminating week is hosted onsite at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calfornia, 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 (Heliophysics Mission Design School applicants may be up to 10 years beyond their Ph.D.), postdocs and junior faculty. 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.) Participants cannot be employed by or attending a foreign institution. 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 and evening sessions) during the culminating week at JPL.


2020 Session Dates:

Planetary Science Summer School 2020 - Session 1

  • Preparatory Sessions: May 18 - July 17
  • Culminating Week at JPL: July 20-24

Planetary Science Summer School 2020 - Session 2

  • Preparatory Sessions: May 18 - July 31
  • Culminating Week at JPL: August 3-7

Heliophysics Mission Design School 2020 – Session 1

  • Preparatory Sessions: June 22 - August 28
  • Culminating Week at JPL: August 31 - September 4

Heliophysics Mission Design School 2020 – Session 2

  • Preparatory Sessions: September 7 - November 6
  • Culminating Week at JPL: November 9-13

How to Apply:

The application deadlines for the 2020 sessions have passed. Check back for information about future opportunities.

Contact Info:

Program Manager:
Leslie Lowes
(818) 393-7734

Program Support:
Joyce Armijo
(818) 354-2337