Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address questions fundamental to human and robotic exploration of the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators from a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts.

Mission Statement

SSERVI fosters collaborations within and among competitively selected domestic teams, the broader exploration science community, and multiple international partners in order to:

  • Advance human exploration of the solar system through scientific discovery;
  • Conduct cross-disciplinary research between the science and exploration communities;
  • Provide scientific, technical, and mission-defining analyses for relevant NASA programs, planning, and space missions as requested by NASA;
  • Explore innovative ways of using information technology for scientific collaboration and information dissemination across geographic boundaries;
  • Train the next generation of explorers and encourage global public engagement.

SSERVI Science and Exploration Research

The Institute is based on the premise that exploration and science are fundamentally intertwined: exploration enables science, and science enables exploration. SSERVI is an innovative, virtual research organization that leverages knowledge and expertise from the science and human exploration communities to support NASA’s goals in lunar and planetary science and human exploration of the Solar System. The Institute catalyzes collaborative research that fosters cross-disciplinary partnerships within, and between, the science and exploration communities, complementing the scope supported by traditional Research and Analysis (R&A) grants.

SSERVI provides scientific, technical and mission-defining analyses for relevant NASA programs, planning and space missions, including:

  • Innovative observations that will advance our understanding of the fundamental physical laws, composition, and origins of the Universe
  • The role of the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), Phobos & Deimos in revealing the origin and evolution of the inner Solar System
  • Moon, NEA, and Martian moon investigations as windows into planetary differentiation processes
  • Near-Earth asteroid characterization (including NEAs that are potential human destinations)
  • Regolith, structure and composition of Target Body(s)
  • Geotechnical properties, geochemistry, and sample science (including simulants)
  • Dust and plasma interactions, radiation and space weathering
  • Volatiles (in its broad sense) and other potential resources on Target Body(s)
  • Analogue and Robotic exploration
  • ISRU, Prospecting and Surface Operations (including operability and hazard analysis)
  • Technology and instrumentation development (including AR/VR)
  • Human health and performance (including transit)

Organization of SSERVI


SSERVI, supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, is composed of:

  • A central office located at NASA Ames Research Center is responsible for administration of research teams, support of virtual (IT) aspects of SSERVI, community development tasks (eg. Exploration Science Forum, Workshops Without Walls, Director’s Seminars, etc.), and management of NASA’s Solar System Treks Project and other related efforts. The SSERVI central office forms the organizational and collaborative hub for the domestic and international teams.
  • Peer-reviewed, multi-institutional domestic teams addressing a variety of scientific and technical topics
  • International partners collaborating with SSERVI domestic teams and each other, addressing key topics of mutual interest

The Institute brings interdisciplinary teams together, each with their own areas of expertise and capabilities, to address science and exploration problems. The Institute achieves broad representation across both the domestic and international science and exploration communities by partnering with industry and international, academic, and government research organizations. Teams are expected to collaborate across team lines, as well as within their team, to increase and accelerate the overall scientific return of the Institute and explore new areas of complementary research.

The SSERVI teams are supported through multiple year cooperative agreements with NASA; each team is comprised of multiple institutions, with coordinated research elements managed by a Principal Investigator. International partners, selected through proposals approved by NASA headquarters, collaborate on a wide variety of projects and activities on a no-exchange-of-funds basis.

Virtual Institutes address complex, multi-faceted questions, using a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) as the mechanism through which teams are funded. A CAN leverages NASA’s investment through in-kind contributions from a Principal Investigator’s institution including facilities, faculty hires, non-NASA funded labor etc., as well as offering flexibility in direction as research projects evolve. Teams are funded for five years, providing stability for students (our future workforce), with CANs issued every 2-3 years to allow overlap between generations of institute teams. This timescale also allows quick response to any change in NASA direction. Each SSERVI CAN is developed jointly by NASA Headquarters and the SSERVI Central Office.

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In addition, SSERVI’s international partners (including other space agencies), form a core part of the Institute and work closely with domestic teams in a wide variety of scientific, exploration, programmatic, and public engagement activities. The current international partners are: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Japan. These international collaborations provide critical interdisciplinary scientific and technical expertise to the Institute, as well as collaborative research opportunities for all members of the international lunar and planetary science community. The Institute encourages collaborations between international partners and domestic teams. Given the collaborative structure of the Institute, proposed activities that support the development and strengthening of relationships with current and potential future Institute international partnerships are highly encouraged. Further information, including the contacts for current international partners and the application process for those interested in becoming a new international partner, may be obtained at https://sservi.nasa.gov/internationals/.

The prime product of the Institute is research, disseminated through professional publications, workshops, conferences, and other communication methods. In addition, providing analyses, perspectives, and approaches for human exploration projects and systems are valued contributions. The Institute sponsors conferences and activities focused on science and exploration, develops programs to train the next generation of space explorers. and supports public engagement of teachers, students, and the public, while advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility initiatives.

SSERVI is a leader both within and outside of NASA in developing approaches to virtual collaboration and virtual meetings. Having held such meetings throughout its existence, SSERVI was well-poised to both continue its operations and assist the broad community when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. SSERVI has strategic interests in improving approaches to hybrid meetings that will continue to broaden the participation of those whose funding or circumstances don’t allow them to participate in person. The impact of the pandemic on the next generation has been profound, and SSERVI seeks ways to mitigate that while developing and promoting exceptional young exploration scientists.

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