The Department of Planetary Sciences/Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is an academic institution that pursues scholarly research and education across the broad discipline of planetary and solar systems science through use of theoretical studies and data analysis, laboratory and field investigations, numerical modeling, telescopic observations, remote sensing, spacecraft instrumentation, and space mission development and operations.
PTYS/LPL is a community of approximately 250 faculty, research and staff scientists, graduate and undergraduate students, research associates, and support staff.
Most years, about 30% of PTYS graduate students are funded with fellowships awarded in national competitions.
Approximately 80% of PTYS graduates are still active in the field of solar system sciences or astronomy, many in roles of leadership in national organizations and NASA advisory boards.
LPL is leading the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, an $800 million mission that launched in 2016 and is scheduled to return samples in 2023.
LPL faculty have served as either principal or co-investigators on many spacecraft instruments and missions. PtyS/LPL faculty are deeply involved in Cassini (Saturn), Parker Solar Probe, Juno (Jupiter), MRO (Mars), WISE, MAVEN, LRO, Dawn, and Mars Odyssey, as well as OSIRIS-REx.
LPL successfully led and managed surface operations for the PHOENIX Mars mission, becoming the first university organization to manage a planetary mission
LPL’s SPACEWATCH® was the first program to discover an asteroid using electronic detection, and LPL’s Catalina Sky Survey has discovered most of the near-Earth asteroids found since 2005. The two programs combined have discovered more than half of the known near-Earth asteroids.
External funding from all sources exceeds $33M for the most recent fiscal year, roughly 10 times the amount of money LPL receives from the state of Arizona.
According to recent (May 2011) Thomson Reuters data, the UA (primarily LPL) was the top-ranked research university in the world for planetary exploration with regard to publications and citations in the scientific literature for the period 2001-2011.