The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) and the Department of Planetary Sciences (PtyS) is an academic institution with approximately 250 faculty, research and staff scientists, graduate and undergraduates, research associates, and support staff. LPL 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.
Most years, about 30% of PTYS graduate students are funded with fellowships awarded in national competitions.
LPL is leading the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, an $800 million mission that will return samples in 2023.
LPL faculty have served as either principal or co-investigators on many spacecraft instruments and missions, beginning with the Ranger missions to the Moon in the 1960s. PtyS/LPL faculty are deeply involved in Parker Solar Probe, Juno (Jupiter), MRO (Mars), WISE, MAVEN, LRO, 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 mission to Mars.
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; combined, they have discovered approximately half of the known near-Earth asteroids.
External funding from all sources exceeded $35M 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.
According to the National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey, UA (primarily LPL and Steward Observatory) annually ranks first among the national’s universities in research expenditures in Astronomy.