Johns Hopkins APL Space Scientist Tapped to Lead NASA’s Heliophysics Division

Joseph Westlake, a space physicist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, has been named director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division.

Westlake, whose research focuses on planetary magnetospheres as well as understanding the structure and processes that produce our local space environment, will assume his new leadership role within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate on Jan. 16, 2024.

“Joe has made impactful contributions to the design and development of NASA heliophysics and planetary science missions while a staff member at APL,” said Bobby Braun, head of APL’s Space Exploration Sector. “He is the ideal person to grow the heliophysics community and expand public awareness of the importance of this science domain to society. I look forward to working with him in this new capacity.”

Westlake has held a number of roles in his 12 years at APL, most recently as project scientist for the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission that will discover the processes responsible for the structure and dynamics of the heliosphere. He’s also the principal investigator for the Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) on the Europa Clipper spacecraft, which will study the density, temperature and flow of plasma near Jupiter’s moon Europa — all key to determining critical characteristics of the frozen surface and subsurface ocean on the icy satellite.

“It has been a privilege to work on exciting missions with amazing people during my time at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab,” said Westlake. “I am very excited to work with the heliophysics community from the outstanding institutions around the globe.”

APL scientists conduct cutting-edge research in almost every area of solar and heliospheric physics. Through operating missions such as Parker Solar Probe and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), or missions in development such as the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer (EZIE) and IMAP, APL researchers are using spacecraft, ground-based observations and simulation tools to understand the fundamental physics of the Sun, the heliosphere, and the drivers of space weather and long-term space climate. APL is also the home of the Center for Geospace Storms, which is developing predictive models that can provide a stronger grasp of space weather events and their potential impacts before they happen.

Learn more about APL’s space science and engineering initiatives and expertise at