Since the dawn of the space age, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has been at the center of innovative space exploration science and engineering. From placing cameras on rockets to capture the first pictures of Earth from space, to crafting the first low-cost mission to the outer planets, APL has been the nation's foremost pioneer for delivering innovative, low-cost planetary science.
Leveraging expertise developed while creating the world's first satellite-based navigation system called Transit for the U.S. Navy in the 1970s and 1980s, APL led efforts in the 1990s to shape NASA's Discovery and New Frontiers programs to complement larger, more expensive "flagship" exploration missions.
In February 1996, APL's NASA-funded Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft became the first mission to launch as part of the Discovery Program. And in January 2006, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which was designed, built, and operated by APL, launched toward Pluto as the first mission of the medium-class New Frontiers Program.
In the past two decades, APL has led some of NASA's most innovative and challenging missions, including MESSENGER, which has "rewritten the book" on Mercury; the Van Allen Probes, which currently provide valuable information regarding Earth's radiation belts and space weather; the twin STEREO spacecraft, which provided the first-ever 360-degree view of our Sun; the New Horizons mission to Pluto, which since July 2015 has been returning the first scientific information from the most distant objects explored in our solar system. In 2019, New Horizons flew by a distant Kuiper Belt object more than 4 billion miles from Earth.
In all, APL has designed and built 70 spacecraft and nearly 300 specialized instruments that have visited every planet in our solar system and collected information critical to expanding humankind's understanding of the universe.
A university affiliated research center, APL complements the capabilities of larger NASA centers with our proven capability to lead a mission from design and build through operations and data delivery. By leveraging expertise and advanced technologies developed through our national security research and development programs, APL provides the nation with a significant return on its investment in applied science and technology.
APL's competence, commitment, and dedication to discovery, engineering, sensor technology, and information systems have been proven over many years to deliver outstanding science on time and within budget.
Design, Build, and Operate Model
APL is one of the few not-for-profit organizations in the nation with the experience, knowledge, and capability to design, build, and operate spacecraft, support mission operations, and return valuable scientific data to Earth from the farthest reaches of our solar system. To do so, we also leverage our expertise in advanced sensors, communications, microelectronics, and autonomous systems and apply it in innovative ways to lower the cost of delivering high-quality science.