Michael Murphy © 2024

Writing a Proposal for Space Research

2 months ago

Writing any kind of research proposal can be a daunting task. Writing a proposal for a project that will take place in space might seem even more frightening, but it really follows the same rules. 


Below, I will outline how to write a proposal for an Analogue Space Mission focused on exploration, like Space Health Research’s MEILI-I and II. Most of this will carry over into best practices for any proposal writing, but as always, make sure you know what is expected. NASA has [loads of helpful resources], a [guidebook], a [checklist], and a [launchpad]. The research body that you are applying to will likely have just as many guidelines and requirements. Read them all. 


Luckily, applying to do research on a Space Health Research analogue is much more streamlined. 



In order to conduct research, you must have approval from a research ethics body. You can still propose a study without ethical approval and identify the institutional review board / ethics board that you will apply to, but you must gain approval before the analogue begins. That means that most of the questions and topics below will already have been addressed. Use the following as guidelines, but ethics approval is essential before conducting research. 


Considerations before you write:

  • What is your research gap, and why does it need to be addressed in Space Exploration? 

  • How will your findings benefit you? How will they make a significant and original contribution to your field? How will they benefit the science research institute?

  • Why conduct this research? 

  • Why conduct this research now?

  • Why are you uniquely suited to lead this research?

  • If there are more than one of you, who is on your team and what are their strengths? 

  • What will astronauts be required to do, and can you train them to do it in a very short time? 

  • Use figures if you can. 

  • The first line of each paragraph should summarize the whole paragraph. 

  • What are your specific outputs? 

You will probably develop a 20-30 page proposal just from answering these prompts alone. This is excellent for working through each detail of your project. Fear not though, Space Health Research applications only have six big questions that you’ll need to answer: 


1. What is your proposal overview? 

Think of this as an abstract section. Broadly, what question are you addressing, how are you going to address it, why is this mission the right fit, what will be required, and what will come from it?


2. What is the purpose of your study?

What is the justification? Why is this important? Try to contextualize your project with background information that leads us up to this point. What research has come before, what gaps are there, and how will you expand on this? Are there inconclusive or controversial findings in previous studies? Why does this research need to be done in space or on an analogue?


3. Funding

It is important to disclose both your acquired funding for the project and any anticipated funding that has not been finalized. Because analogues take a great deal of planning, we will need to know what contingencies you may have in the event that one or more sources of funding fall through. This is also a good place to outline any commitments that you have made in exchange for funding so that we can discuss them together and make sure they can be built into the mission plan. On the other hand, a study during a Space Health Research analogue mission can also be a pilot to provide proof of concept for a large grant application. Researchers can also run research programmes over multiple analogues, so there are many options. 


4. Ethics

Research ethics are an essential part of an application. Your research project must be approved and supported by a research ethics board–usually, this will be part of your university or organization. In brief, tell us what ethical considerations you have taken onboard, what challenges you anticipate, and what mitigation strategies you’ve put in place. What consent will be required, and what are participants (astronauts, mission control, other?) consenting to? What information will you be taking, how will it be stored, and what will it be used for?


5. Impact

What will the greater impact of your research proposal be, and how will you achieve it? In this section, the more commitments and certainty you can acquire before research starts, the better. The research may result in an academic article or contribute to a manuscript, in which case a timeline will be useful. If you have media commitments (podcasts, magazines, video), who have you contacted and what arrangements are in place? Where do you plan to present your research in talks or conferences? Essentially, what is your roadmap for taking the information that you’ve gathered and turning it into an output that audiences can consume and respond to?


6. Research Proposal

Finally, give us the proposal itself. Tell us what methods you will use, what data will be gathered, how it will be analyzed, and how that contributes to a greater understanding. If each of the other questions was setting the stage for your research, this is the actual ‘how’ of the proposal. Try to write in a sequential order that takes us through each step of the research process from start to finish. This will give us a clear understanding of your program and how each different part connects to form a cohesive study. 


And there you go! You’ve now completed a research proposal and you are ready to send it in to a space exploration research company. We look forward to your application!