Research course

Planetary and Space Sciences

Open University · School of Physical Sciences

Entry requirements

PhD: Entry requirements vary according to the research topic and/or specific studentships. The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or masters degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK. You should also have experience of academic research in the previous four years, normally in the form of either a masters degree in research methods, an undergraduate degree with a research element in the final year, or work-related experience with evidence through research reports. If you have a qualification from outside the UK, or you are not sure if you meet the entry requirements, please contact us by email before applying.

MPhil: Applicants should normally hold, or be expecting to obtain, a bachelors degree with at least first or upper-second class honours, or an equivalent qualification. However, entry requirements differ between academic areas, and sometimes a taught masters degree is also required. The research topic pages (in the menu on the right of our Research areas page) give details of specific entry requirements, and provide contact details to discuss your suitability for the MPhil with a member of academic staff.

Astrobiology and habitats for life; Comets and asteroids; Planetary formation and evolution; Planetary surfaces and atmospheres; Solar System formation.

Months of entry

October, February

Course content

Research in planetary and space science (PSS) covers a wide range of Solar System science and exploration. We investigate the origin and evolution of the Solar System, through the physical, geological, chemical and biological processes that drive it. We use laboratory and space mission experiments, remote observation, environmental simulation and modelling to investigate the surfaces and atmospheres of the terrestrial planets, the Moon, asteroids, comets and extraterrestrial materials.

Research activity in PSS is funded mostly by the UK Science & Technology Funding Council (STFC), the European Space Agency and European Union, but also draws in support from other research councils, charities and industry.

PSS has a long history of involvement in major Solar System exploration missions through the exploitation of instruments developed at the OU, such as on Cassini Huygens, Stardust, Genesis, Rosetta and ExoMars, and through international collaborative teams. PSS members are active in the development of new mission proposals and studies with ESA, other space agencies and national programmes. In addition we make use of international ground- and space-based observatories as well as in-house laboratory and simulation facilities. Research students are involved in all aspects of PSS research.

Key facts

  • We provide an interdisciplinary environment with around 50 staff including more than 20 postgraduate students
  • We were part of the UoA7 submission from The Open University, which achieved 6th in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework power ranking (reflecting the quality and cohort size), with 77 per cent of our outputs achieving 3*/4* grades
  • Student access to unparalleled laboratory facilities for analysis of extraterrestrial samples
  • Many large grants from a wide range of funding agencies
  • Studentships funded by STFC available each year


Our extensive laboratory facilities are broadly subdivided into those used to characterise the chemistry and isotopic composition of matter in the Solar System or the simulation of Earth and Planetary processes. Instruments include state-of-the-art commercially sourced (e.g. NanoSIMS;FIB-SEM; laser Raman microprobe; MS and GC-MS) as well as unique instruments developed in-house (e.g. ‘Finesse’ mass spectrometer; Mars atmosphere and surface simulation chambers; Cometary surface simulation chamber; All-Angle Light Gas Gun). These are backed up by clean rooms and sample preparation facilities, instrument development laboratories and an extensive meteorite collection. Students also have access to analytical facilities across the faculty, as well as the University research computer cluster.

See individual entries for each of: planetary formationand evolution; comets and asteroids; solar system formation; planetary surfaces andatmospheres; astrobiology and habitats for life for more information.

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website

Qualification and course duration


part time
72 months
distance learning
variable months
full time
36 months


full time
15 months
part time
24 months
distance learning
variable months

Course contact details

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 659036