Updates – Nov. 4, 2021:

  1. The application deadline has been extended for the Heliophysics Mission Design School (HMDS) spring 2022 session. The deadline is now Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Details about future Planetary Science Summer School (PSSS) sessions are forthcoming.
  2. Applications for the Heliophysics Mission Design School (HMDS) spring 2022 session are now open. Details about future Planetary Science Summer School (PSSS) sessions are forthcoming.
  3. The HMDS Application Information Session (50 minutes) is available for viewing – download MOV. Applicants are encouraged to watch before applying.
  4. We are especially interested in applications from a diverse group of eligible students. We strongly encourage students from diverse backgrounds to apply.
  5. Due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic conditions, it is possible that the HMDS culminating week (March 28 - April 1) will be held virtually (as has been the case for all sessions since 2020). Watch this website for updates.

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 (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 dates for each 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. 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”.


  • Education and career experience requirements:
    • HMDS: Postdocs and early career researchers (up to 10 years beyond their Ph.D.)
    • PSSS: Doctoral candidates (requires advancement to candidacy), 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.


  • Each 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 up to the culminating week, which requires full-time, dedicated participation. 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.

2022 Session Dates:

Heliophysics Mission Design School 2022

  • Session Duration: January 18 – April 1
  • Culminating Week: March 28 – April 1

Planetary Science Summer School 2022

  • Dates coming soon.

How to Apply:

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 the applicable Science Mission Design School will benefit the applicant.
  3. What characteristics the applicant possesses that make them suitable to the applicable Science Mission Design School.
  4. For Heliophysics Mission Design School applicants only: A statement from the author that the applicant will be supported to commit to, fully attend, and participate in the entire length of the session.

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

Heliophysics Mission Design School

2022 Application Deadline: Friday, Nov. 19, 2021

Apply Now

Notice of Acceptance: By Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021

Planetary Science Summer School

Check back for more information.

Contact Info:

Program Manager:
Leslie Lowes
(818) 393-7734

Program Support:
Joyce Armijo
(818) 354-2337