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NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology


National Space Technology Applications Program Office

Defense and Intelligence Applications

Oceangoing Robot

Oceangoing Robots

JPL has extensive experience developing and implementing autonomy for surface and subsurface navigation for the Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vehicle and Unmanned Underwater Vehicle units, along with sensing systems for hazard detection and avoidance.

Currently, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) seeks to develop the capability to trail potentially hostile submarines with minimal guidance for up to 70 days. JPL has partnered with multiple companies to support this Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel. Our partnerships are demonstrating autonomous interactions with other water vessels and developing the platform’s autonomy software and navigational sensors.

JPL’s work in aquatic robots helps us prepare to explore exotic places like Titan, Ganymede, and Europa.

Infrared Detector

Infrared Detectors

JPL is a leader in advanced technology for mid- and long-wavelength infrared detectors.

A state-of-the-art detector concept we demonstrated called complementary barrier infrared detector is now used throughout the Missile Defense Agency’s program for fast focal plane arrays. Next-generation work includes mid-wavelength infrared detectors with tailorable wavelength cutoff for high-temperature applications.

Solar Sail

Spaceflight Technologies

JPL infuses NASA technology into other agencies’ programs. Under NASA’s New Millennium Program, ATK Space Systems developed a lightweight deployable boom called SAILMAST (Scalable Architecture for the Investigation of the Load Managing Attributes of a Slender Truss). JPL adapted this technology as the basis for two 40-m-long, high-voltage, low-frequency antennas the Air Force Research Laboratory needed for its Demonstration and Science Experiments space mission. We modified the existing boom and fabricated a second one; designed and fabricated additional structure, electronics, and antenna assemblies; and qualified the system for flight, which included 15 kV plasma vacuum testing.

Spectrometer-generated image

Imaging Spectrometers

Hyperspectral imaging is a powerful technique for surveillance — not just for science investigations at other planets but also for understanding Earth scenes imaged from space. Future needs for persistent surveillance will be met by spaceborne spectrometers that weigh less and last longer.

JPL has developed a breadboard spectrometer, the Electro-Optic Hyperspectral Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer, based on innovating a completely nonmechanical time-delay mechanism. This sensor technology enables cost-effective, continuous observation of fully dynamic targets — those whose location and composition vary over time. Identifying, characterizing, and tracking materials like wood, concrete, metal, plastic, composites, and fabric from space will prevent U.S. intelligence collection from being countered.

SOLO-TREC in the ocean


Monitoring the changing conditions throughout Earth’s vast oceans is a daunting but important need. SOLO-TREC (Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangian Observer–Thermal Recharging) is the first robotic underwater vehicle powered completely by renewable energy: natural ocean temperature differences.

At its heart is a special phase-change material that changes volume by about 13 percent at 10 °C. The expansion–contraction cycling acts on a high-pressure oil to drive a hydraulic motor, generating electricity that recharges SOLO-TREC’s battery. The vehicle dives up to four times per day to 500-m depths, producing about 1.6 watt-hours of energy on each dive to operate its sensors, GPS receiver, and communications.

In December 2009, after five years of research and development funded by JPL and the Office of Naval Research, a team of scientists and engineers from JPL and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography deployed SOLO-TREC southwest of Hawai‘i.