HomeAboutOur History70 Years 
70 years APL
  • 1942
    • APL begins operations to address the critical challenge of defending Navy ships from enemy air attacks; develops proximity fuze
  • 1943
    • Fuze achieves first combat success as the USS Helena guns down two enemy aircraft in the Pacific
  • 1944
    • To increase fuze effectiveness, APL develops the MK 57 gun director and fire-control system, which is installed on the USS Missouri
    • Fuze is used in Europe at the Battle of the Bulge
    • The Navy assigns APL its second wartime critical challenge: counter threats from guided missiles
  • 1945
    • APL's pioneering "Bumblebee" guided missile program demonstrates first successful ramjet flight and first acceleration of a ramjet vehicle to supersonic speed in free flight; solid-rocket-propelled Supersonic Test Vehicles (STVs) are also developed
  • 1946
    • APL begins a high-altitude research program using captured German V2 rockets and APL's own Aerobee rocket
    • Solid-rocket motor launch of a fixed-wing control test vehicle lays the foundation for guidance, flight-stabilization, and aerodynamics of high-speed missiles
  • 1947
    • APL demonstrates roll stabilization at supersonic speeds with STV-2 launch at a Navy test site
  • 1948
    • The first photo of Earth from space is made by an APL camera on a V2 rocket (printed in National Geographic magazine, October 1950)
    • The "Big Bang" theory on the origin of the universe is proposed by an APL staff researcher in collaboration with colleagues
    • An Aerobee rocket test flight provides data on cosmic rays
  • 1949
    • To answer the Navy's urgent need for a tactical missile while ramjet research continued, STV-3 is rapidly converted to a Terrier missile; APL is named Technical Director
  • 1950
    • APL uses wind tunnel testing and early computers for simulated missile flight trajectories and data reduction
    • APL pioneers telemetering technology; achieves a success rate of 99.4% for flight tests
    • Terrier missile is put into production
  • 1951
    • First successful flight of a ramjet guided missile and first target kill lead to prototype design of Talos missile
  • 1952
    • To solve production problems, APL leads the Terrier improvement program; develops a systems engineering approach, proving that sectionalization increases production efficiency; tests on the USS Mississippi
  • 1953
    • APL researchers design a modulated molecular beam mass spectrometer to study chemical reactions; used for first detection of H2O free radical
    • First successful Talos flight test with a simulated nuclear warhead
  • 1954
    • APL develops a homing guidance system for Terrier
    • First successful test of a tail-controlled missile
    • APL begins move to Howard County
  • 1955
    • APL begins development of Tartar, a semi-active homing missile for small ships
    • Talos missile begins production
    • APL leads a consortium of academic and industrial organizations developing and producing 3T missiles; lays foundation for Standard Missile program
  • 1956
    • Terrier is operational aboard the USS Boston, the world's first guided missile ship
  • 1957
    • The Navy assigns APL a major role in Polaris system evaluation; first flight test analyses are performed
    • APL tracks Soviet Sputnik by analyzing Doppler signals, converting them into precise orbital data
  • 1958
    • APL invents Transit, the world's first Doppler-based, all-weather, satellite navigation system
  • 1959
    • APL developed the Air Battle Analyzer for naval anti-air warfare issues: first computer-supported air defense planning tool
    • Talos is operational aboard the USS Galveston; remains in fleet until 1980
    • First APL Transit satellite (1-A) is completed in 23 months
  • 1960
    • First Transit satellites are launched
    • APL supports the first launch of Polaris from a submerged SSBN
  • 1961
    • APL significantly advances U.S. space technology: the first satellites to carry solid-state particle-detectors in space, have electronic memory, and use radioisotope power are launched within months of each other
    • Tartar missile is operational aboard the USS Charles Adams
  • 1962
    • APL's testing and evaluation role in the Polaris missile system is expanded; first submarine patrol system data analysis
    • APL builds the first geodetic research satellites, Army–Navy–NASA–Air Force (ANNA) 1A and B
  • 1963
    • APL's Battle Simulator facility tests decision-making in combat situations
    • Transit 5A-3 is the first spacecraft to be gravity-gradient stabilized in orbit
  • 1964
    • APL develops the Beacon Explorer satellite for NASA
    • The complete Terrier MK 76 fire-control system is operated on-site for testing and evaluation
    • Transit system is operational
  • 1965
    • A collaborative biomedical program between APL and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions begins
    • The first of three APL-built GEOS geodetic research satellites is launched
  • 1966
    • APL begins testing and evaluation of the Pershing land-based strategic ballistic missile system
    • Redesigned Terrier and Tartar become Standard Missiles used in the Aegis weapon system
  • 1967
    • APL designs and builds DODGE (Department of Defense Gravity Experiment) spacecraft for defense research
    • APL develops a concept for an automated detection and tracking radar system
  • 1968
    • APL begins an expanded civilian research program: automated mass transit, fire research, energy, prosthetics
  • 1969
    • APL is named principal technical agent for a new SSBN Security Program to ensure survivability of the strategic submarine fleet
    • Advanced Multifunction Array Radar (AMFAR) phased-array design for tracking multiple targets is demonstrated
  • 1970
    • APL demonstrates an experimental Automatic Detection and Tracking system using radar video tracks of a Vietnam air attack to show superiority over manual tracking; basis for AN/SYS-1
  • 1971
    • APL guidance experiments for the Tomahawk cruise missile program improve the accuracy of the TERCOM terrain-contour-matching system
  • 1972
    • Civilian technology applications include an "accelerating walkway," harbor traffic control system, and power plant siting
    • APL begins SSBN sonar evaluation work
  • 1973
    • AN/SYS-1 is successfully tested on the USS Somers and installed in Navy guided missile destroyers
    • APL's rechargeable pacemaker is first implanted in a human subject
  • 1974
    • APL's Engineering Development Model of the AN/SPY-1 computerized radar system for Aegis is successfully tested on the USS Norton Sound
    • APL acquires a second oceanographic research vessel from the Navy for increased submarine research and development
  • 1975
    • APL's GEOS C spacecraft demonstrates first satellite-to-satellite tracking
  • 1976
    • APL microprocessor applications include a mechanical arm for quadriplegics, submarine data processing, and a radar altimeter; APL holds a "Personal Computer" symposium
  • 1977
    • The APL-built Low Energy Charged Particle instrument launches aboard Voyager to explore the outer planets
    • APL demonstrates methane recovery from landfills as an energy resource
  • 1978
    • A prototype Integrated Automatic Detection and Tracking (IADT) system is demonstrated on the USS Towers
    • APL air defense work is expanded to coordination of multiple ships; APL is named technical direction agent for the Navy Battle Group Anti-Air Warfare Coordination program
  • 1979
    • APL and a contractor build Sonar Program Analyzer (SPAN), a programmable acoustic signal processor
    • APL conducts a 6-week submarine technology research experiment, first R/V onboard data processing
  • 1980
    • First use of a satellite link in the Standard Aries oceanography experiment; 1,000 Airborne Expendable Bathythermograph (AXBT) ocean sensors are launched
  • 1981
    • The first Aegis ship, the cruiser Ticonderoga, is launched; APL is technical advisor for Aegis
    • APL hosts the first major Warfare Analysis Laboratory (WAL) exercise: electronic countermeasures jamming for battle groups
  • 1982
    • The Navy appoints APL as Tomahawk technical direction agent for engineering support
    • Biomedical program milestone is reached: 100 instruments and devices built
  • 1983
    • APL's Digital Data Converter demonstrates an auto-gridlock system on the USS Kennedy; milestone for data exchange to enable coordinated actions, basis for Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC)
  • 1984
    • APL's Charge Composition Explorer spacecraft launches as part of the Active Magnetic Particle Tracer Explorer (AMPTE) mission, a three-nation, three-spacecraft effort to study plasma phenomena in near-Earth space
  • 1985
    • APL demonstrates distributing sensor and weapons data, first stage of Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC)
    • APL begins the Delta 180 series of quick-response, space-based defense experiments
    • APL's GEOSAT radar altimeter advances space geodesy
  • 1986
    • APL is appointed lead laboratory for Critical Sea Test, beginning a 10-year active acoustic test program to improve the performance and stealth of submarines
    • The Delta mission advances strategic defense with the first space intercept of a thrusting vehicle
    • APL develops the disposable, single-use syringe
  • 1987
    • APL receives a presidential commendation from President Reagan for the Delta 180 program
    • APL is appointed technical direction agent for the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) program
  • 1988
    • The APL-invented ingestible temperature "pill" is licensed
    • APL develops the Arc Fault Detector System to prevent damaging high-power arcing faults in submarine switchboards
  • 1989
    • APL accuracy evaluations aid development of a new Trident II (D5) missile
    • APL operates the integrated sensor module in Delta 183, paving the way for the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX)
    • The Galileo spacecraft carries an APL particle detector on a mission to Jupiter
  • 1990
    • APL activities during Operation Desert Storm include a "Gulf Crisis Room" in the Warfare Analysis Laboratory (WAL), Transit, Aegis, and Tomahawk systems support
    • The Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) is successfully demonstrated in Milestone 90 at-sea tests
  • 1991
    • The USS Arleigh Burke, the first Aegis destroyer, enters the fleet with upgrades from APL's Combat Systems Evaluation Laboratory
    • APL's temperature pill with a built-in radio transmitter is used by Space Shuttle astronauts
  • 1992
    • APL and JHU develop pattern-recognition algorithms to automate mammogram analysis
    • The Surveillance Towed Array Sensor Systems experiment investigates passive acoustics
  • 1993
    • APL develops an Army Tactical Control System for the Defense Satellite Communications System
    • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-sponsored Maritime Theater of War Modeling and Simulation exercise is hosted in the Warfare Analysis Laboratory (WAL)
  • 1994
    • The Treasury Department establishes a Securities Technologies Institute at APL to protect U.S. currency
    • Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) is tested in the Eisenhower Battle Group
  • 1995
    • APL hosts a virtual operating environment for "Kernel Blitz," a major exercise combining live action with a pioneering test of computer technology
  • 1996
    • Two spacecraft are launched: Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX), APL's largest, and Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), the first NASA Discovery mission
  • 1997
    • Standard Missile with a prototype infrared seeker intercepts its target in a missile defense flight test; APL is technical direction agent
    • The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) flyby of the asteroid Mathilde returns the mission's first science data
    • The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft is launched
  • 1998
    • APL develops an innovative joint theater air and missile planning/coordination tool, Area Air Defense Commander (AADC)
    • APL supports the Joint Biological Remote Early Warning System test
    • In collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the University of Maryland, APL develops a family of miniature mass spectrometers for counter-proliferation and biomedical applications
  • 1999
    • APL's innovative Advanced Natural Gas Vehicle begins field tests
    • APL is awarded the NASA Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission to Mercury
  • 2000
    • The success of the Area Air Defense Commander in the largest-ever maritime exercise leads the Navy to recommend "expedited" development
    • APL demonstrates strike control of a simulated Tactical Tomahawk missile from a P-3 aircraft
  • 2001
    • Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) completes its extraordinary science mission with a bonus soft landing on an asteroid surface
    • Final operational testing clears Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for production
    • The APL spacecraft TIMED (Thermosphere–Ionosphere–Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) launches
  • 2002
    • The Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-Based Epidemics (ESSENCE), a disease surveillance program, is developed as an early-warning system
    • First successful intercept of a ballistic missile target by Aegis Standard Missile-3
    • Mail and package screening technology is developed to protect against terrorist attacks
  • 2003
    • APL provides new electronic jamming technology for overseas combat operations
    • A suitcase-size time-of-flight mass spectrometer is developed to detect threat substances
    • The Special Sensor Ultraviolet Spectrographic Imager (SSUSI) is developed to study the upper atmosphere's response to the Sun
    • Prototype barrier systems for waterfront security are transitioned to operational use at submarine bases
  • 2004
    • MESSENGER, the first Mercury-orbiting spacecraft, is launched
    • APL fielded the Multi-Function Towed Array for anti-submarine warfare
    • Tactical Tomahawk achieves initial operational capability
    • Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense 3.0E is deployed in response to a presidential directive for initial capability
    • Deployment of the Standard Missile-2 Block IIIB upgrade for engaging highly maneuvering threats
  • 2005
    • The first Trident II Sea-Launched Ballistic Missile test in the Pacific Ocean
    • A sonar data compression algorithm is operational for maritime surveillance systems
    • Molecularly imprinted polymer explosives detection technology is developed
  • 2006
    • The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft launches on a mission to image the Sun in 3-D
    • An improvised explosive device jamming system effectively counters insurgent attacks
    • The New Horizons spacecraft launches onto a Pluto-bound trajectory
    • A sea-based demonstration of a modified Standard Missile-2 Block IV for endo-atmospheric, terminal phase intercept of ballistic missiles
    • APL's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument looks for water on Mars
  • 2007
    • Operational readiness evaluation of the Tactical Trident SSGN submarine
    • Materials breakthroughs enhance Standard Missile and hypersonic missile thermal/structural performance
    • First successful intercept of a ballistic missile target by Standard Missile-3 fired from a Japanese Aegis warship
    • A multifunctional test bed is developed for evaluation of bio-aerosol agent sensor technologies
  • 2008
    • The Burnt Frost mission brings down an Earth-bound errant satellite with a Standard Missile-3
    • An APL information assurance facility demonstrates cyber warfare capabilities/counter techniques
    • An Advanced SEAL Delivery system trainer supports the first docking evolutions aboard the USS Michigan
    • APL develops eye drops that clear postoperative laser surgery haze
    • APL demonstrates a single-step approach to separating DNA and proteins from environmental contaminants
  • 2009
    • The first 26-degree-of-freedom prosthetic arm is developed
    • Dynamic Time-Critical Warfighting Capability demonstrates upstream data fusion
    • The Ocean Surveillance Initiative is successfully tested and deployed
    • APL's Mini-RF instrument on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft maps the Moon's poles
    • APL completes the analysis supporting the stealth requirements of the Ohio-class submarine follow-on
    • APL develops and tests a system for detecting and tracking chemical and biological threats at a distance
  • 2010
    • Foliage-penetrating lidar technology is operational
    • The first multi-mission bus nanosats are developed for low-cost use in critical missions
    • APL's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument points NASA's Mars Rovers to mineral deposits
    • Periscope detection radar enters service aboard the USS George Washington
    • APL develops a chamber for testing chemical warfare agent sensors in operationally realistic environments
  • 2011
    • The Persistent Ground Surveillance System is developed and deployed to Afghanistan
    • The MESSENGER spacecraft goes into orbit around Mercury
    • Standard Missile-6 beyond-the-horizon air defense capability is field-tested
    • TacSat-4 is launched from Kodiak Island
    • First Standard Missile-3 Launch-on-Remote Intercept of an intermediate-range ballistic missile target
    • Modular disease surveillance software tools are developed for use in resource-limited countries

APL at 70

APL’s original headquarters—a converted auto dealership in Silver Spring, Maryland—is long gone, as are many of the storied scientists and engineers who secretly and “temporarily” came together in 1942 to develop the proximity fuze that revolutionized air defense and helped turn World War II for the Allies.

Yet time hasn’t stolen our drive to serve the nation and solve its toughest technical problems. That spirit thrives, even seven decades later, in our halls, offices, and laboratories. Of course, an expansive, bucolic campus replaced Silver Spring’s busy 8621 Georgia Avenue location when the Laboratory moved north to Howard County in 1954, and staff numbers now spill over the 5,000 mark. But some things haven’t changed: As the Laboratory marks its 70th birthday, we’re still dedicated to keeping our nation safe and doing it in remarkable ways.

“Making critical contributions to critical challenges is why we exist,” says APL Director Ralph Semmel. “It’s what we did when the Lab was formed, and it’s what we’re doing as we move ahead.”

The challenges are many—APL’s roster of 600-plus projects addresses traditional areas such as air defense, undersea warfare, precision engagement, strategic systems, and space systems, as well as newer areas such as homeland protection, cyber operations, and special operations—but so are the contributions toward solving them. Sharp minds and agile programs are making a difference now just as they did 70 years ago.

“As has been the case so many times in our past, we face daunting global challenges. Our foundation—being where we are needed and providing the technical leadership and tools to help keep our nation safe and moving forward—is serving us well,” Semmel says. “But we cannot sit on our laurels. We always have to be reaching for the next innovation that transforms the ways things are done.”

Each APL generation has found its critical role, be it advances in anti-aircraft weaponry, missile accuracy, satellite navigation, or sensor networks. Today’s transformational advances include sensors, networking, data fusion, autonomous operations, and applied neuroscience—with all sectors and mission areas taking creative, innovative yet practical approaches to solving problems.

“Turning 70 is a time to reflect on how the Lab has responded to incredible challenges across every decade, and achieved some amazing things,” Semmel says. “We look forward to extending our 70-year heritage of trusted technical leadership through continued transformative innovation in national security and space.”