Planetary Sciences, MSc

Planetary Sciences, MSc


The MSc Planetary Sciences has been designed to address the skills and knowledge gap in the field of planetary exploration and research.

Planned and delivered by the University of Aberdeen’s ground-breaking planetary sciences team, this MSc provides an informed understanding of planetary atmospheres and landforms, space environment, remote sensing, data analysis, astrobiology and space systems engineering and instrumentation, giving students with a springboard for a career in the rapidly expanding space sector.

Study Information

At a Glance

Learning Mode
On Campus Learning
Degree Qualification
12 months or 24 months
Study Mode
Full Time or Part Time
Start Month
Location of Study
Subject marketing image

We live in a time of unprecedented investment and collaboration in space exploration led by the ‘big six’ space agencies – NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, CNSA, ISRO and JAXA – and an ever-growing list of national space agencies and private companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, who are keen to compete in the rapidly expanding spaceflight sector.

The ambitious plans for the following decades include sending humans back to the moon, establishing a colony on Marrs, searching for life near Saturn, sending missions to probe the metalcore of a dead planet, and exploring the hidden ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa.

These plans pose significant scientific and technological challenges which can only be overcome through an interdisciplinary approach. This MSc, therefore, draws on the diverse expertise and experience of the planetary sciences team at the University of Aberdeen to provide you with a detailed understanding of the pioneering research and technological developments that will guide the future development of space exploration.

You will begin from the observation and exploration of Earth to other objects of the solar system such as the Moon, Mars and exoplanets, to understand the critical steps of formation of these objects, including the physics of atmospheres, magnetic fields, geomorphology of the surface, isotopic differentiation and the formation of habitable environments before moving on to focus on developing the key technical research skills needed for deep space exploration.

Our aim, therefore, is to educate, to an advanced specialist level, a new generation of geologists, physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers of all disciplines.

The interdisciplinary training included in this programme will provide you with the skills to tackle other problems outside of space exploration, such as instrument design, geology, microbiology and environmental sciences, planetary sciences and data analysis in remote sensing.

What You'll Study

Stage 1

Compulsory Courses

Comparative Planetology and the Atmosphere of Earth (GL5062)

15 Credit Points

In this course, we will cover how studies of the other planets of the solar system have helped us understand Earth's atmosphere. We will review the fundamental physical and chemical processes in planetary atmospheres, and we will provide an up-to-date overview of modelling, observation methods and missions to study planetary atmospheres.

Basics of Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis (GL5063)

15 Credit Points

This course will provide an overview of planetary remote sensing principles and methods. The students will be trained on performing geospatial integration and analysis of different spatial datasets. This course introduces the students to the theoretical problems and practice of data capture, handling and methods of analysis of spatial data.

Spectroscopy, Radiative Transfer and Retrieval (GL5064)

15 Credit Points

Spectroscopy, radiative transfer and retrieval methods are rapidly growing fields with extreme importance in atmospheric and planetary science. They are fundamental to study weather, climate, air quality on Earth, the evolution of greenhouse gases and biogeochemical cycles on Earth. They provide information about the physics and evolution of the atmospheres of the solar system planets and exoplanets at a larger scale. This course will provide the fundamental knowledge to a depth that will leave a student with the background to perform quantitative research on atmospheres. It spans across principles through applications, with sufficient background for students without prior experience in spectroscopy or radiative transfer.

Instrumentation, Design and Data for Planetary Exploration (GL5065)

15 Credit Points

This course gives an overview of the main aspects of the development and exploitation of instrumentation for space exploration. In this course the student will get introduced to the main stages of design of space exploration mission and its instrumentation, the constraints that must be satisfied, and how the data are produced and released. The training will be focused on practical cases, using when possible online tools. Students will get some basic training on project management in space projects, structural and thermal modelling and will get familiarized with the ECSS standards and the planetary data archive.

Getting Started at the University of Aberdeen (PD5006)

This course, which is prescribed for all taught postgraduate students, is studied entirely online, takes approximately 5-6 hours to complete and can be taken in one sitting, or spread across a number of weeks.

Topics include orientation overview, equality and diversity, health, safety and cyber security and how to make the most of your time at university in relation to careers and employability.

Successful completion of this course will be recorded on your Enhanced Transcript as ‘Achieved’.

Stage 2

Compulsory Courses

Earth and Planetary Surface and Internal Processes (GL5561)

15 Credit Points

Data sets derived from remote sensing, meteorites and samples retrieved from the Lunar surface will be integrated to inform understanding of geological processes that play within and upon the surface of terrestrial planets. This course will develop essential geologically based reasoning skills through diverse data sets, building upon and contributing to the students’ wider understanding of Planetary Sciences.

Astrobiology, Biogeochemistry and Geobiology for Explorers (GL5563)

15 Credit Points

This course will explore the origins and likely extent of life on Earth and in the Solar System. We will begin by discussing the elements and building blocks of life and processes that can make precursors of life (e.g. amino acids). We will then discuss how microbial life may be fossilised and how to identify ancient and extra-terrestrial signs of life. We will make use of our excellent analytical facilities to show how biotic signals can be distinguished from abiotic effects, including exploring organic carbon biomarkers, and using examples of fossilisation of microorganisms by siliceous and carbonate minerals from lakes, streams, hot-springs and oceans. From there, we will be able to explore potentially habitable environments of our Solar System, and learn about current and future astrobiological exploration missions (Martian rovers and orbiters, asteroid, comets, sample return, ocean worlds…)

Sustainable Deep Space Exploration and Planetary Protection (GL5564)

15 Credit Points

This course provides practical training on some of the most challenging issues of space exploration. In this course, the student will overview the present and future challenges of space exploration, including in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), sample return missions and planetary protection (PP).

Space Weather and Radiation for Planetary Exploration (GL5562)

15 Credit Points

Space weather describes the varying conditions in the space environment between the sun and Earth. Phenomena associated with space weather have the potential to impact systems and technologies in orbit and on Earth. For example, solar energetic particles can penetrate satellite electronics and cause electrical failure. These energetic particles also block radio communications at high latitudes during solar radiation storms. Each phenomenon of space weather impacts a different technology.

In this course, we will review Space Weather on Earth, and we will use the lessons learned to understand the impact of the space environment on planetary exploration.

Stage 3

Compulsory Courses

Planetary Sciences Dissertation (GL5966)

60 Credit Points

The student will select, undertake and complete a research-based dissertation project. In choosing and approving a suitable topic, consideration will be given to the student's background and skills, their career interests, suitable data availability, and the possibility of an external placement.

We will endeavour to make all course options available; however, these may be subject to timetabling and other constraints. Please see our InfoHub pages for further information.

Fee Information

Fee information
Fee category Cost
EU / International students £21,100
Tuition Fees for 2022/23 Academic Year
Home / RUK £9,400
Tuition Fees for 2022/23 Academic Year

Additional Fee Information

  • In exceptional circumstances there may be additional fees associated with specialist courses, for example field trips. Any additional fees for a course can be found in our Catalogue of Courses.
  • For more information about tuition fees for this programme, including payment plans and our refund policy, please visit our InfoHub Tuition Fees page.


Eligible self-funded international Masters students will receive the Aberdeen Global Scholarship. Visit our Funding Database to find out more and see our full range of scholarships.

Why Study Planetary Sciences?

  • The MSc Planetary Science is a fascinating and diverse programme. You will study planets, moons, and planetary systems and the technology that helps us understand the processes that form them.
  • This is a cross-discipline programme, with a diverse range of topics of interest to students from a broad range of backgrounds – from geoscientists to physicists to chemists and biologists.
  • According to the latest industry survey, Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2020, the UK space sector is growing rapidly. Scotland alone is now home to 173 space organisations, with 1,951 space companies in total supporting a total of 126,300 jobs across the UK supply chain.
  • The Department of Planetary Science is part of current and future missions to Mars: we have an instrument on the NASA curiosity rover on Mars, we are co-Investigators in the ESA Trace Gas Orbiter, and we have developed an instrument that will go to Mars in 2022, in the ExoMars mission.
  • This device is called HABIT (HabitAbility: Brines, Irradiation and Temperature) and, among other things, will produce liquid water on Mars, to support future exploration of the planet.
  • The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that it is suitable for students from across the sciences, including geology, biology, physics, and engineering planetary science, building new STEM skills based on its interdisciplinary nature.
  • For students with a science background, the course will provide the needed spacecraft design and engineering exposure. At the same time, for the engineers, it will encourage an appreciation for space science and research, and the supporting technologies for robotic and human space exploration and instrumentation.
  • As the programme teaches key transferable skills and knowledge including instrument design, geology, microbiology and environmental sciences, planetary sciences and data analysis in remote sensing, it is also a suitable programme for students interested in a wider set of careers, outside of planetary science research.

Entry Requirements

It is a program designed for students with a science or engineering background who are interested in interdisciplinary planetary research.


The information below is provided as a guide only and does not guarantee entry to the University of Aberdeen.

2:1 (upper second class) UK Honours degree, or an Honours degree from a non-UK institution which is judged by the University to be of equivalent worth, in Geosciences, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences or Engineering.

Please enter your country to view country-specific entry requirements.

English Language Requirements

To study for a Postgraduate Taught degree at the University of Aberdeen it is essential that you can speak, understand, read, and write English fluently. The minimum requirements for this degree are as follows:

IELTS Academic:

OVERALL - 6.5 with: Listening - 5.5; Reading - 5.5; Speaking - 5.5; Writing - 6.0


OVERALL - 90 with: Listening - 17; Reading - 18; Speaking - 20; Writing - 21

PTE Academic:

OVERALL - 62 with: Listening - 59; Reading - 59; Speaking - 59; Writing - 59

Cambridge English B2 First, C1 Advanced, C2 Proficiency:

OVERALL - 176 with: Listening - 162; Reading - 162; Speaking - 162; Writing - 169

Read more about specific English Language requirements here.

Document Requirements

You will be required to supply the following documentation with your application as proof you meet the entry requirements of this degree programme. If you have not yet completed your current programme of study, then you can still apply and you can provide your Degree Certificate at a later date.

Degree Transcript
a full transcript showing all the subjects you studied and the marks you have achieved in your degree(s) (original & official English translation)
Personal Statement
a detailed personal statement explaining your motivation for this particular programme


The UK space industry is booming. Findings from the latest ‘Size and Health of the UK Space Industry’ report reveal growth in jobs and income - with more than 3,000 jobs created as the space sector grows across the UK.

The Space Sector Skills Survey 2020 from the UK Space Agency showed that the recent growth in the space industry has, however, placed stress on skills supply, i.e. the growth in the number of people with the required skills has not kept pace with growth in demand.

Employers need graduates with technical skills, supported by qualifications at the post-graduate level, which is what this programme is designed to provide.

Our Experts

The Department of Planetary Science is focused on the study of Earth and planetary sciences and the development of instruments for Earth and planetary exploration. We are part of current and future missions to Mars: we have an instrument on the NASA curiosity rover on Mars, we are co-Investigators in the ESA Trace Gas Orbiter, and we have developed an instrument that will go to Mars in 2022, in the ExoMars mission.

Programme Coordinator
Javier Martin-Torres

Information About Staff Changes

You will be taught by a range of experts including professors, lecturers, teaching fellows and postgraduate tutors. Staff changes will occur from time to time; please see our InfoHub pages for further information.

Get in Touch

Contact Details

Student Recruitment & Admissions
University of Aberdeen
University Office
Regent Walk
AB24 3FX