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National Space Technology Applications Program Office

About the National Space Technology Applications Office

After World War II, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s advanced technologies helped position the nation to enter the Space Age with jet and rocket propulsion, navigation and guidance, ground-based tracking techniques, and instruments for extreme environments. Throughout the 1960s, JPL — by then part of NASA — built on its U.S. Army heritage to become one of the world’s premier laboratories for robotic space research, development, and applications, yielding many space “firsts.”

Over the subsequent half century, our specialized expertise has proven valuable to many sponsors apart from NASA who are faced with technical challenges of national priority. Non-NASA applications are encouraged by JPL’s charter as NASA’s only Federally Funded Research and Development Center. This is particularly so if the efforts on the two fronts are synergistic and allow technologies developed for one to benefit the other. This work enables NASA to participate appropriately in the work of peer agencies, it hones our edge in advanced technologies, and it “spins” JPL technology into the commercial sector. The non-NASA work now constitutes 15 percent of our total budget.

Always On Call for the Nation


JPL innovations broadened significantly in the 1960s to include instruments, navigation, communications, and lighter-than-air platforms. By the 1970s, energy, biomedicines, the environment, and ground transportation came to the fore. Three decades ago, JPL designed and produced hydrogen fuel cells and even electric cars, in conjunction with the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, and Detroit car makers. We developed energy conversion techniques and evaluated solar-thermal, photovoltaic, geothermal, and alternative-fuel approaches.


In the 1980s, under Director Dr. Lew Allen and working with NASA and Caltech, JPL took on the largest program in our history: the Army’s All Source Analysis System, which took a range of intelligence data inputs from many different sources and fused them into a coherent information product. In that same decade, JPL supported the Strategic Defense Initiative by establishing our Microdevices.


The 1990s brought successful development of several space missions for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and its partner sponsors. The Army funded construction of two powerful 34-m beam-waveguide antennas at our Deep Space Network complex at Goldstone, California. The decade culminated with the space shuttle flying our C- and X-band radars on a 60-m boom. By the end of the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, we had mapped 80 percent of Earth.


Our long tradition of providing specialized help to customers in the civil, commercial, and national security domains continues. In 2011, over 150 tasks of non-NASA work constituted 15 percent of JPL’s business portfolio, and we aim to increase that over the next decade to as much as 20 percent. Today, the Laboratory has hundreds of cleared personnel who work closely with non-NASA partners.

Over the next decade, we will concentrate in several technical areas in robotics, large infrared focal plane arrays, and cyber science and research. We will apply lightweight adaptive optics to persistent-surveillance missions, unique image processing to land-use-pattern and change-detection missions, and ground-penetrating radar and airborne instruments to a variety of Earth-observing missions.