Summer School Alpbach 2023: Exoplanets - Understanding alien worlds in diverse environments

11. - 20. July 2023
Alpbach/Tyrol, AT

Sixty European engineering and science students will be selected to participate in a ten-day learning opportunity. Participants will be engaged in an in-depth learning experience, attending stimulating lectures on relevant aspects of space science and engineering, and working intensely within four groups to define and design a space mission under the supervision of noted scientific and engineering experts.


  • Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG)
  • European Space Agency (ESA)
  • Austrospace

Content Description

The topic of the Summer School Alpbach 2023 is: "Exoplanets: Understanding alien worlds in diverse environments".

Dedicated programmes with the CoRoT, Kepler and TESS space missions in tandem with ground based observations enabled the identification of more than 5000 planets outside our solar system, and led to the conclusion that on average every star hosts at least one planet. 

These alien worlds are incredibly diverse, from large ultra-hot gas giants with ionised atmospheres on the day side and sparkling crystalline clouds on the night side, to Earth-sized rocky bodies orbiting ultra-cool red dwarf stars eroding their atmospheres with high-energy radiation.

The detection of exoplanets even led to the discovery of a completely new kind of planets, named mini-Neptunes or super-Earths, for which there is no counter-part in the Solar-System. These super-Earths themselves appear to show a large diversity in terms of atmospheric content and interior composition. To constrain planetary interior compositions, the graveyards of planetary systems orbiting white dwarfs are being explored.

This plethora of alien worlds poses a challenge to answering the question of whether we are alone in the universe as well as challenging our understanding of how planets form and evolve. Therefore, life – if it evolved on such worlds – must have faced very different conditions and challenges than the life on Earth. Yet, we still lack the capability of finding, and most importantly of characterizing in detail, the majority of habitable zone planets.

You will be exposed to real-life challenges, such as long working days (before proposal submission) and an expectation that you are able to immediately apply knowledge and techniques that you have only recently been exposed to.

You will also have to handle the trials of establishing and maintaining an international and multi-disciplinary team composed of both scientists and engineers. You will need to balance the mission's scientific objectives and requirements with the realistic constraints of mission-design, spacecraft-design, technology and mission cost.

On the final day of the Summer School, each team presents their mission proposal to a jury of experts (and to all Summer School participants). Occasionally, some designs have actually gone on to represent a real space mission in ESA.

As expected learning outcomes and benefits for Summer School Alpbach participants:

  • Will view space as an exciting and challenging enterprise
  • Will be challenged to overcome the trials and reap the rewards of working in an international and multi-disciplinary team
  • Will be exposed to a range of scientific and engineering topics relevant to designing space missions
  • Will learn to balance scientific objectives and requirements with the realistic constraints of mission-design, spacecraft-design, and mission cost
  • Will develop the ability to work together as a team towards the common goal of preparing presentations and reports under incredible time constraints
  • Will forge long-term friendships that might eventually evolve into professional collaborations later in life
  • Will enjoy the unique and enriching "Alpbach experience".

The Alpbach Summer School is complemented by the Post-Alpbach Summer School Event, which will take place in winter of 2023 (date tbd) in the ESA Academy's Training and Learning Facility at ESEC-Galaxia in Belgium.

Target Audience

The Summer School is open to 60 selected young science and/or engineering students and graduates from among the member, associate and cooperating states of the European Space Agency (ESA)*).

*) ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Associate Members are: Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania

Five other states have Cooperation Agreements with ESA: Canada, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Malta

Participant Information

The working language of the Summer School will be English.

To be eligible for participation, you need to be:

  • a citizen from an ESA member state or from one of the European associate and cooperating countries
  • enrolled as a student (Bacherlor, Master or PhD) in a university

Selection criteria are:

  • qualification, academic grade
  • experience and background
  • expertise in the specific topic of the Summer School
  • science and/or engineering expertise
  • skills valuable for a space summer school
  • diversity as regards gender, nationality & member states, age, across universities
  • Confirmation of acceptance or non acceptance will be given by FFG based on the recommendations from the national points of contact.

Application deadline: February 28, 2023

More information on participation


A registration fee of € 450,- will be charged. This fee covers working material, free access to copying and computer, e-mail and internet facilities at the School House, coffee breaks and dinner vouchers (including one free drink per evening) throughout the period of the Summer School including the weekend.

Contact Address

Konstanze FILA
Tel.: +43 (577) 55 3312