Applied Physics Laboratory

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, commonly known as simply the Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, located in Howard County, Maryland, near Laurel and Columbia, is a not-for-profit, university-affiliated research center (or UARC) employing over 6,000 people. The Lab serves as a technical resource for the Department of Defense, NASA, and other government agencies. APL has developed numerous systems and technologies in the areas of air and missile defense, surface and undersea naval warfare, computer security, and space science and spacecraft construction.[2] While APL provides research and engineering services to the government, it is not a traditional defense contractor, as it is a UARC and a division of Johns Hopkins University. APL is a scientific and engineering research and development division, rather than an academic division, of Johns Hopkins.

Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering offers part-time graduate programs through its Engineering for Professionals program. Courses are taught at seven locations in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area, including the APL Education Center.[3]

Applied Physics Laboratory
JHU APL logo
Research typeUnclassified/classified
DirectorDr. Ralph Semmel
LocationLaurel, Maryland, U.S.
Operating agency
Johns Hopkins University


APL was created in 1942 during World War II under the Office of Scientific Research and Development as part of the Government's effort to mobilize the nation's science and engineering expertise within its universities. Its founding director was Merle Anthony Tuve. The Laboratory succeeded in developing the variable-time proximity fuze[4] that played a significant role in the Allied victory.[5] In response to the fuze's success, the APL created the MK 57 gun director in 1944. Pleased with the APL's work, the Navy then tasked it with the mission to find a way to negate guided missile threats. From there on, the APL became very involved in wartime research.[6] Expected to disband at the end of the war, APL instead became heavily involved in the development of guided missile technology for the Navy. At governmental request, the University continued to maintain the Laboratory as a public service.

APL was originally located in Silver Spring, Maryland in a used-car garage[7] at the former Wolf Motor Company building at 8621 Georgia Avenue.[8] APL moved to Laurel beginning in 1954, with the construction of a two million dollar building and a $700,000 wing expansion in 1956.[9] The final staff transitioned to the new facility in 1975.[7][10] Before moving to Laurel, APL also maintained the "Forest Grove Station", north of Silver Spring on Georgia Avenue near today's Forest Glen Metro,[11] which included a hypersonic wind tunnel. The Forest Grove Station was vacated and torn down in 1963 and flight simulations were moved to Laurel.

The Laboratory's name comes from its origins in World War II, but APL's major strengths are systems engineering and technology application. More than three quarters of the staff are technical professionals, and 25% have computer science and math degrees. APL conducts programs in fundamental and applied research; exploratory and advanced development; test and evaluation; and systems engineering and integration.

Wartime contributions

During the 1950s and the 1960s APL worked with the US Navy in the Operation Bumblebee Program on the Talos missile, Tartar missile, Terrier, and RIM-2 Terrier Surface to Air Missile systems. The follow-on RIM-50 Typhon Missile Project, based on improved Talos and Tartar Missiles, while successful, was cancelled in 1963 due to high costs and was eventually developed into the now well known Aegis Combat System based on an improved Terrier. In 1965, the US Army contracted with APL to develop and implement a test and evaluation program for the Pershing missile systems.[12] APL developed the Pershing Operational Test Program (OTP), provided technical support to the Pershing Operational Test Unit (POTU), identified problem areas and improved the performance and survivability of the Pershing systems.[13]

In 1990, APL became involved with Operation Desert Storm and was involved in the Gulf Crisis Room among other efforts. In the same decade (1992), APL, along with Johns Hopkins University, developed an algorithm that allowed for automatic mammogram analysis.[6]


The modern Applied Physics Laboratory is located in Laurel, Maryland, and spans 453 acres with more than 20 buildings on site. Additional auxiliary campuses exist in the surrounding areas.[14]


APL is also home to a Johns Hopkins graduate program in engineering and applied sciences, called Engineering for Professionals.[15] Courses are taught at seven locations in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area, including the APL Education Center.[3]


As of APL's 70th anniversary in 2012, there were over 600 projects in progress, spanning from those in APL's more traditional areas of work, including air defense, undersea warfare precision engagement and strategic systems to newer types of projects, including those in homeland security and cyber operations.[6] Due to the nature of the APL's work, many of its projects' details are kept confidential.


The U.S. Navy continues to be APL's primary long-term sponsor. The Laboratory performs work for the Missile Defense Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence agencies, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and others. The Laboratory supports NASA through space science, spacecraft design and fabrication, and mission operations. APL has made significant contributions in the areas of air defense, strike and power projection, submarine security, antisubmarine warfare, strategic systems evaluation, command and control, distributed information and display systems, sensors, information processing and space systems.


APL has built and operated many spacecraft, including the TRANSIT navigation system, NEAR, Geosat, ACE, TIMED, CONTOUR, MESSENGER, Van Allen Probes,[16] the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Parker Solar Probe mission to the outer corona of the Sun[17], and STEREO.[16] In 2017, APL proposed Dragonfly, now a finalist for the fourth NASA New Frontiers mission.[18] Dragonfly is a lander, using rotors in a dual-quadcopter configuration to change its location on Saturn's moon Titan.

The asteroid 132524 APL was named in honor of APL after a flyby by the New Horizons spacecraft.


In 2014, APL made history with the successful use of the Modular Prosthetic Limb — a fully artificial articulated arm and hand — by a bilateral shoulder-level amputee. APL used pattern recognition algorithms to track which muscles were contracting and enable the prosthetics to move in conjunction with the amputee's body.[19]

Similar technology was used in 2016 for a demonstration in which a paralyzed man was able to "fist-bump" Barack Obama using signals sent from an implanted brain chip.[20] The limb returned sensory feedback from the arm to the wearer's brain.


The APL researches and produces unmanned aerial vehicles for the US military.[21] One of its most recent projects is an unmanned aerial swarm that can be controlled by a single operator on the ground.[22]

See also


  1. ^ "About APL". Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "APL Education Center". Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Retrieved October 15, 2008.
  4. ^ Simpson, Joanne (April 2000). "The Funny Little Fuze with Devastating Aim". Johns Hopkins Magazine. Johns Hopkins University.
  5. ^ "Our History". JHU APL. Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c "APL at 70". JHU APL. 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Archived September 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ McCoy, Jerry A; Society, Silver Spring Historical (November 2005). "Historic Silver Spring". ISBN 978-0-7385-4188-4.
  9. ^ "Johns Hopkins Lets Contract in Md". The Washington Post. March 27, 1955.
  10. ^ The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 25, 2002
  11. ^ Google Maps
  12. ^ Mentzer, Jr., William R. (1998). "Test and Evaluation of Land-Mobile Missile Systems" (PDF). Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest. Johns Hopkins University.
  13. ^ Lyman, Donald R. (May–June 1977). "POTU: Testing Pershing in Europe and CONUS" (PDF). Field Artillery Journal: 15–17.
  14. ^ "About: JHU|APL".
  15. ^ "JHU Graduate Program in Engineering and Applied Sciences". JHU APL. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  16. ^ a b "Space Press Releases". JHU APL. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  17. ^ "Parker Solar Probe: A Nasa Mission to Touch the Sun". JHU APL. March 18, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2017.
  18. ^ Finalists in NASA’s Spacecraft Sweepstakes: A Drone on Titan, and a Comet-Chaser. Kenneth Chang, The New York Times. 20 November 2017.
  19. ^ "Amputee Makes History with APL's Modular Prosthetic Limb". JHU APL. December 16, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  20. ^ "Watch Obama fist bump a robotic arm powered by a brain chip". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-07-21.
  21. ^ "Drone Research and Robotic Warfare: The Hopkins Connection". Today's Announcements. Johns Hopkins University. April 20, 2012. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  22. ^ Manufacturing Group (August 13, 2012). "Demonstrating Expanded Control of UAV Swarm". Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. Boeing and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) have demonstrated that an operator on the ground, using only a laptop and a military radio, can command an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) "swarm." Despite limited flight training, the operator was able to connect with autonomous UAVs, task them and obtain information without using a ground control station. [...] The demonstrations are conducted under a collaborative agreement between Boeing and JHU/APL, a University Affiliated Research Center and a division of Johns Hopkins University that has been addressing critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology for nearly 70 years. It maintains a staff of about 5,000 on its Laurel, MD, campus.

External links

Coordinates: 39°09′55″N 76°53′50″W / 39.16528°N 76.89722°W

(486958) 2014 MU69

(486958) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is a trans-Neptunian object located in the Kuiper belt. It is a contact binary 31 km (19 mi) long, composed of two joined bodies 19 km (12 mi) and 14 km (9 mi) across that are nicknamed "Ultima" and "Thule", respectively. With an orbital period of 298 years and a low inclination and eccentricity, it is classified as a classical Kuiper belt object. With the New Horizons space probe's flyby at 05:33 on 1 January 2019 (UTC time), 2014 MU69 became the farthest and most primitive object in the Solar System visited by a spacecraft, both bodies being planetesimal aggregates of much smaller building blocks.2014 MU69 was discovered on 26 June 2014 by astronomer Marc Buie using the Hubble Space Telescope as part of a search for a Kuiper belt object for the New Horizons mission to target in its first extended mission; it was chosen over two other candidates to become the primary target of the mission. Its nickname, a Greco-Latin term for a place beyond the known world, was chosen as part of a public competition in 2018. The New Horizons team plans to submit a proper name to the International Astronomical Union when the nature of the object is better understood.


88P/Howell is a periodic comet in the solar system. It was discovered on 29 August 1981. In 1975 the comet's perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) was 1.9 AU, But a close approach to Jupiter in 1978 perturbed the perihelion distance closer to the Sun.

It last came to perihelion on 6 April 2015; the next occurrence will be in 2020. In 14 September 2031 the comet will pass 0.074 AU (11,100,000 km; 6,900,000 mi) from Mars.In response to New Frontiers program call for Mission 4, a team from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) submitted a mission concept proposal called Comet Rendezvous, Sample Acquisition, Investigation, and Return (CORSAIR) that would perform a sample return from comet 88P/Howell.

Alice Bowman

Alice Bowman (born 1960) is the Mission Operations Manager for the New Horizons mission to Pluto. She is the first woman to fill that role at the Applied Physics Laboratory, taking on the position in 2002 specifically for the duration of the three billion-mile space journey.

Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station

The Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station 2007 (APLIS07) is a U.S.A. and Japanese laboratory dedicated to the study of global climate change, located about 300 km south of the Arctic Circle, Alaska on the West Ridge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Ben Bussey

Ben J. Bussey is an American planetary scientist.

He earned a Ph.D. in planetary geology at University College London, England. In 2001, during his post-doctorate work at the University of Hawaii, he joined the ANSMET (Antarctic Search for METeorites) expedition to recover meteorites from the Antarctic glaciers. He worked at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston and the European Space Agency, before joining the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and becoming a senior staff scientist at that facility.

Bussey is specialized in the remote sensing of the surfaces of planets. He participated in the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker (NEAR) mission as a research scholar at Northwestern University, and co-authored an atlas of the Moon based on data and images from the Clementine mission. He has a particular interest in the lunar poles, using the Clementine images to locate crater cold traps for hydrogen deposits and mapping the peaks of eternal light.

He is married to Dr. Cari Corrigan.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a planned space probe that will demonstrate the kinetic effects of crashing an impactor spacecraft into an asteroid moon for planetary defense purposes. The mission is intended to test whether a spacecraft impact could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

A demonstration of an asteroid deflection is a key test that NASA and other agencies wish to perform before the actual need of planetary protection is present. DART is a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and it is being developed under the auspices of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

In August 2018 NASA approved the project to start the final design and assembly phase.

Dragonfly (spacecraft)

Dragonfly is a proposed spacecraft and mission that would send a mobile robotic rotorcraft lander to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, in order to study prebiotic chemistry and extraterrestrial habitability at various locations where it would perform vertical-takeoff and landings (VTOL).Titan is unique in having an abundant, complex, and diverse carbon-rich chemistry on the surface of a water-ice-dominated world with an interior water ocean, making it a high-priority target for astrobiology and origin of life studies. The mission was proposed in April 2017 to NASA's New Frontiers program by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and it was selected as one of two finalists (out of twelve proposals) in December 2017 to further refine the mission's concept.

Elizabeth Turtle

Elizabeth Turtle is a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer

The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) is a space-based telescope operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. FUSE was launched on a Delta II rocket on 24 June 1999, as a part of NASA's Origins program. FUSE detected light in the far ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, between 90.5-119.5 nanometres, which is mostly unobservable by other telescopes. Its primary mission was to characterize universal deuterium in an effort to learn about the stellar processing times of deuterium left over from the Big Bang.

FUSE resides in a low Earth orbit, approximately 760 km (410 nmi) in altitude, with an inclination of 25 degrees and just less than a 100-minute orbital period. Its Explorer designation is Explorer 77.

On 12 July 2007, FUSE's final reaction wheel, which is required for accurately pointing a spacecraft, failed and efforts to restart it were unsuccessful. An announcement was made on 6 September that because the fine control needed to perform its mission had been lost, the FUSE mission would be terminated.

International Arctic Buoy Program

The International Arctic Buoy Program is headquartered at the Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, in Seattle, Washington, United States. The program's objectives include to provide meteorological and oceanographic data in order to support operations and research for UNESCO's World Climate Research Programme and the World Weather Watch Programme of the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization.

IABP participating countries include Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, and the United States. Together, they share the costs of the program.

The IABP has deployed more than 700 buoys since it began operations in 1991, succeeding the Arctic Ocean Buoy Program (operational since 1979-01-19). Commonly, 25 to 40 buoys operate at any given time and provide real-time position, pressure, temperature, and interpolated ice velocity. In support of the International Polar Year, the IABP will deploy over 120 buoys, at over 80 different locations, during the period of April-August 2008.The organization's annual meeting provides discussion on instrumentation, forecasting, observations, and outlook.

Io Volcano Observer

Io Volcano Observer (IVO) is a robotic space exploration mission concept that, if approved and launched, would orbit Jupiter and perform at least nine flybys of Jupiter's moon Io. IVO has been proposed to NASA by the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory as a Discovery-class mission in 2010 and 2015. IVO can also be a contestant for the New Frontiers program. IVO was originally part of NASA's Discovery & Scout Mission Capability Expansion (DSMCE) concept-study program in 2009.IVO is a low-cost, outer-planet mission that would explore Io's active volcanism and impact on the Jupiter system as a whole by measuring its global heat flow, its induced magnetic field, the temperature of its lava, and the composition of its atmosphere, volcanic plumes, and lavas.

Merle Tuve

Merle Anthony Tuve (June 27, 1901 – May 20, 1982) was an American geophysicist who was the founding director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He was a pioneer in the use of pulsed radio waves whose discoveries opened the way to the development of radar and nuclear energy.

New Horizons

New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA's New Frontiers program. Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S. Alan Stern, the spacecraft was launched in 2006 with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015, and a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) in the decade to follow, which as of 2019 includes 2014 MU69. It is the fifth space probe to achieve the escape velocity needed to leave the Solar System.

On January 19, 2006, New Horizons was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by an Atlas V rocket directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 km/s (10.10 mi/s; 58,500 km/h; 36,400 mph). It was the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth. After a brief encounter with asteroid 132524 APL, New Horizons proceeded to Jupiter, making its closest approach on February 28, 2007, at a distance of 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles). The Jupiter flyby provided a gravity assist that increased New Horizons' speed; the flyby also enabled a general test of New Horizons' scientific capabilities, returning data about the planet's atmosphere, moons, and magnetosphere.

Most of the post-Jupiter voyage was spent in hibernation mode to preserve on-board systems, except for brief annual checkouts. On December 6, 2014, New Horizons was brought back online for the Pluto encounter, and instrument check-out began. On January 15, 2015, the spacecraft began its approach phase to Pluto.

On July 14, 2015, at 11:49 UTC, it flew 12,500 km (7,800 mi) above the surface of Pluto, making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet. On October 25, 2016, at 21:48 UTC, the last of the recorded data from the Pluto flyby was received from New Horizons. Having completed its flyby of Pluto, New Horizons then maneuvered for a flyby of Kuiper belt object (486958) 2014 MU69 "Ultima Thule", which occurred on January 1, 2019, when it was 43.4 AU from the Sun. In August 2018, NASA cited results by Alice on New Horizons to confirm the existence of a "hydrogen wall" at the outer edges of the Solar System. This "wall" was first detected in 1992 by the two Voyager spacecraft.

Parker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe (previously Solar Probe, Solar Probe Plus, or Solar Probe+, abbreviated PSP) is a NASA robotic spacecraft launched in 2018 and currently en route to probe the outer corona of the Sun. It will approach to within 9.86 solar radii (6.9 million kilometers or 4.3 million miles) from the center of the Sun and by 2025 will travel, at closest approach, as fast as 690,000 km/h (430,000 mph), or 0.064% the speed of light.The project was announced in the fiscal 2009 budget year. The cost of the project is US$1.5 billion. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed and built the spacecraft, which was launched on August 12, 2018. It became the first NASA spacecraft named after a living person, honoring physicist Eugene Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.A memory card containing the names of over 1.1 million people was mounted on a plaque and installed below the spacecraft's high-gain antenna on May 18, 2018. The card also contains photos of Parker and a copy of his 1958 scientific paper predicting important aspects of solar physics.On 29 October 2018 at about 1:04 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft became the closest ever man-made object to the Sun. The previous record, 26.55 million miles from the Sun's surface, was set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976.

Pete Nanos

George Peter Nanos is a retired vice admiral in the United States Navy and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding

The Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) is a Faraday cup based instrument that will fly on board the Europa Clipper orbiter to explore Jupiter's moon Europa. PIMS will measure the plasma that populates Jupiter's magnetosphere and Europa's ionosphere.The Principal investigator is Joseph Westlake, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

Ralph Asher Alpher

Ralph Asher Alpher (February 3, 1921 – August 12, 2007) was an American cosmologist, who carried out pioneering work in the early 1950s on the Big Bang model, including big bang nucleosynthesis and predictions of the cosmic microwave background radiation.


The TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) is an orbiter mission dedicated to study the dynamics of the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere (MLT) portion of the Earth's atmosphere. The mission was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on December 7, 2001 aboard a Delta II rocket launch vehicle. The project is sponsored and managed by NASA, while the spacecraft was designed and assembled by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. The mission has been extended several times, and has now collected data over an entire solar cycle, which helps in its goal to differentiate the Sun's effects on the atmosphere from other effects.

Van Allen Probes

The Van Allen Probes, formerly known as the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, are two robotic spacecraft being used to study the Van Allen radiation belts that surround Earth. NASA is conducting the Van Allen Probes mission as part of the Living With a Star program. Understanding the radiation belt environment and its variability has important practical applications in the areas of spacecraft operations, spacecraft system design, mission planning and astronaut safety. The probes were launched on 30 August 2012.

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