JPL Director Charles Elachi

There's never a dull day at JPL, but recent ones have been especially exciting and rewarding.

Years of hard work are paying off as a series of flight projects are being sent aloft. The most recent set began this spring, with an experiment called OPALS that was sent to the International Space Station. The package was designed to show how lasers can be used to beam vastly larger quantities of data to Earth from spacecraft and satellites. More importantly, it is a special project designed to make use of the talents of new JPL staff and introduce them to everything involved in creating a flight project. Both technically and in these human terms, it's been a terrific success.

Then, as June turned into July, we had two highly exciting, back-to-back events. A test vehicle shaped like a flying saucer called the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator had a very productive flight test in the skies near Kauai, Hawaii. The test went well in that it didn't work entirely. Does that sound strange? Not really, because the purpose of a test is to shake out bugs and problems. Everything worked epically with the exception of the vehicle's parachute, which shredded. It just goes to show, even with high-tech machinery, we can still be challenged by something as old-fashioned as a parachute. The project eventually will enable new ways of landing large payloads at Mars.

Even before we caught our breaths from that event, attention turned to the skies over central California, where the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite took to space. Thick fog at 3 a.m. didn't keep hundreds of enthusiastic guests from turning out for the launch, which went off without a hitch. The satellite will give us crucial data on carbon and its role in climate change.

With that launch, JPL has 19 spacecraft and nine major instruments conducting active missions - ranging from the Curiosity rover on Mars and Cassini orbiting Saturn, to the Dawn spacecraft heading to the dwarf planet Ceres and the Spitzer Space Telescope viewing distant galaxies.

And while summer usually means vacations, at JPL it means summer students - many hundreds of them. This year we are setting a record with some 700 college and high school students from all over the country who are getting a taste of working in a wide variety of disciplines. They will be the next generation of explorers who help shape JPL and NASA across the 21st century.

If that isn't enough, there are more launches coming this summer and fall. Stay tuned to this website to keep on top of all of these exciting developments.

Dr. Charles Elachi
Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

  • Earth

    A look at our home planet

    Three Earth missions launching in 2014 will take a closer look at our home planet to study various processes and their link to climate change. The Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, spacecraft will measure soil moisture from space. ISS-RapidScat will measure ocean winds from its perch aboard the International Space Station and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, will study carbon dioxide from space.

  • Dawn  mission to Vesta and Ceres

    Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres

    Having finished its exploration of Vesta in September 2012, capturing stunning views of the giant asteroid’s surface, Dawn is currently on its way to its second destination, Ceres. Dawn is the first spacecraft designed to orbit two different bodies after leaving Earth, a feat enabled by its ion thrusters, which are much more efficient than a typical spacecraft engine.

  • Juno mission to Jupiter

    Juno mission to Jupiter

    The Juno spacecraft, on target for a 2016 arrival at Jupiter, is designed to study the gas giant to better understand its origins and evolution, . Because of its mass, Jupiter still holds much of its original composition. By peering beneath Jupiter’s thick cloud cover and investigating its core, intense magnetic field, auroras and atmospheric composition, scientists hope to collect important clues about the formation of the solar system.

  • Voyager 1 in interstellar space

    Voyager 1 in interstellar space

    Launched in 1977 – shortly after its twin, Voyager 2 – the Voyager 1 spacecraft has spent more than 35 years journeying through the solar system. It surpassed Pioneer 10 in 1998 to become the most distant human-made object. And in August 2012 it became the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space, a newly defined region of the solar system described as “the space between stars.”

  • Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover

    Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover

    After a nail-biting landing on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity, the largest and most technologically advanced rover yet, got straight to the goal at hand: searching for signs that the Red Planet could have once supported life. Not even a year later, an analysis of a rock sample collected by the rover showed that ancient Mars could have, in fact, supported living microbes. The mission, which is designed to operate until the summer of 2014, is currently continuing its exploration of Mars.

  • NuSTAR x-ray telescope

    NuSTAR x-ray telescope

    Since the mission’s first light in June 2012, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has begun sussing out black holes, supernova explosions and active galaxies using a first-of-its-kind telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures. The observations could help astronomers crack unsolved mysteries about black holes.

  • Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif.

    Deep Space Network

    Serving as the world’s premier spacecraft communications and navigation system for more than 50 years, the Deep Space Network, or DSN, consists of giant antennas stationed at 120-degree intervals around the world – in Goldstone, Calif., Madrid and Canberra, Australia. The network’s 230-foot (70-meter) antennas are capable of interpreting even the tiniest spacecraft signals from billions of miles away. The network also works as a science instrument in its own right by using radio signals to study the composition of planets and track the trajectories of near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets.

  • Nanotechnology research to help diagnose and treat brain tumors

    Nanotechnology research to help diagnose and treat brain tumors

    Technologies originally developed for space missions often find their way to Earth to improve the quality of day-to-day life. As one example, JPL researchers have partnered with the City of Hope to explore the potential of carbon nanotubes -- used in various space applications to help produce electrons -- to diagnose and treat brain tumors. Initial studies on mice have shown that the tubes are an effective and non-toxic means of transporting cancer-fighting agents to the brain.

  • Aerial view of JPL's main facility near Los Angeles

    Aerial view of JPL's main facility near Los Angeles

    About twice the size of California's Disneyland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a 177-building campus situated in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In addition to a mission control center and 9,600 square-foot clean room, the lab is home to a simulated Mars landscape called the Mars Yard, as well as a 25-foot space simulator.