Exploration Systems Design (Systems Engineering), PhD

Exploration Systems Design (Systems Engineering), PhD

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Student Handbook

The School of Earth and Space Exploration systems engineering program combines the creative strengths of science, engineering, and education to prepare students for professional and academic careers in exploration.

Students interested in artificial intelligence, human factors engineering, the mechanics of smart materials and structures, or modeling and control of robots work in an interdisciplinary environment with faculty specializing in the natural sciences, instrumentation design, and systems engineering.

The PhD program in exploration systems design offers students an advanced systems approach for developing scientific exploration technologies in a wide range of demanding environments on the Earth, planets, moons and in space.
This transdisciplinary degree program provides a unique platform to train systems engineers targeting technological development for exploration science.

The program is a collaboration between the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering that allows students to specialize in topics related to planetary exploration, astronomical instrumentation, robotics, sensors and sensor networks.

The curriculum will integrate the School of Earth and Space Exploration's science, instrumentation and systems engineering core courses with related coursework from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

At the School of Earth and Space Exploration we're leading NASA and NSF space missions, designing, building, and testing instruments in our labs, and using them to explore the Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond.

50 Tenure/Tenure Track Faculty
40 Labs and Research Facilities
4-5 Years to Degree

Degree Overview

Students must select a concentration as part of this degree program. Concentrations are available in systems engineering, instrumentation, and sensor networks. The degree requires 84 credit hours, a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive exam, a prospectus, and a dissertation.

How to apply

The majority of SESE’s admissions are for the fall semester. Spring admissions occur under special circumstances. Graduate admission to SESE consists of the following application dates for full consideration of funding and campus recruitment activities. Applications are encouraged before these dates. Applications received after these dates will still be considered, but generally at a lower priority for funding and visitation.

January 15 of the current year for fall admission
October 1 of the previous year for spring admission

To be eligible for admission to SESE’s graduate program applicants must:

  • have a bachelor’s degree
  • have at least a 3.0 GPA
  • demonstrate English proficiency via the TOEFL or IELTS, if necessary. More information regarding English proficiency and required scores can be found at https://students.asu.edu/graduate/proficiency

Most applicants will have a degree in an area related to the graduate degree they are seeking, although this is not a requirement. 

Click here to learn more about how to apply


The School of Earth and Space Exploration combines the strengths of science, engineering, and education to design missions that explore the great unknowns of our solar system and the universe beyond. We seek to teach students to understand both the languages of science and engineering to ensure mission success.

— Paul Scowen, Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration


To earn the systems engineering PhD degree, students must complete 84 credit hours at the graduate level, a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive exam, a prospectus, and a dissertation. Students must take one core course, 61 credit hours in elective courses or research, one credit hour of colloquium, 9 credit hours in their concentration subject, and 12 credit hours of culminating experience (dissertation).

Requirements and electivesCredit hours
Core courses1
Electives or research61
Other requirements1
Culminating experience12
Total hours required84

Additional Curriculum Information
When approved by the student's suervisory committee and the Graduate College, this program allows 30 credit hours from a previously awarded master's degree in a related field to be used for this degree. Related fields include, but are not limited to, engineering, computer science, geological sciences or physics.

As part of the electives or research, students will take two science courses selected from the SESE graduate course catalog (GLG, SES, or AST prefixes). Substitutions may be made per academic unit approval.

Substitutions for Other Requirements may be made per department approval.

Courses and electives

The system engineering PhD degree uses a research-based model and includes a written thesis and an oral defense after completion of a comprehensive examination. A minimum of 84 credit hours is required for the degree. Students submit a plan of study that details their elective course selections after conferring with the supervisory committee. All students admitted to this program are also required to take one core course and one colloquium course, each earning 1 credit hour.

SES 502 Exploring SESE Research (1 credit hour)

Students can take any 500+ level course with GLG, SES, or AST prefixes. Students should work with their faculty advisor to select courses that work best for their program of study. A full list of electives is available here. Course offerings may vary by instructor availability. Students are encouraged to work with their advisor or refer to the class search for semester offerings.

SES 501 SESE Colloquium (1 credit hour)

Systems Engineering students must take three of the following eight courses (3 credit hours each):

CSE 571 Artificial Intelligence
CSE 574 Planning and Learning Methods
IEE 547 Human Factors Engineering
IEE 552 Strategic Technological Planning
IEE 572 Design Engineering Experiments
IEE 573 Reliability Engineering
MAE 525 Mechanics of Smart Materials and Structures
MAE 547 Modeling and Control of Robots

SES 799 Dissertation (12 credit hours)

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