Space Accomplishments Highlight NRL's 75 Year Celebration


6/15/1998 - 24-98r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541


The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has a long and diverse history in space. NRL has pioneered the space frontier since the 1940s - from cosmic ray experiments carried aloft on captured V2 rockets (the genesis of the Navy's space program) to the 1990s Clementine success story that gave the world unparalleled images of the moon.

NRL's earliest achievements in satellite technology, such as the success of Vanguard I, launched in March, 1958, and Vanguard II, placed in orbit in 1959, left a formidable legacy. Vanguard II, which was the first satellite designed to observe and record the cloud cover of Earth, was the forerunner of future meteorological satellites. In 1959, all assets of the Vanguard Project, including more than 200 NRL scientists and engineers were transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This group of NRL researchers helped start NASA on its highly successful missions.

Space research has continued to flourish at NRL in the years since through the development and use of satellites, expendable launch vehicles and sounding rockets, and hundreds of sensor experiments. From NRL-developed experiments on rockets, balloons and shuttle payloads, the Laboratory has recorded many milestone observations and discoveries.

Through the years, NRL has achieved many noted space "firsts," especially in the areas of ultraviolet and x-ray imaging. These first include the first far-ultraviolet spectrum of the Sun, the first X-ray photograph of the Sun, the development of the first manned observatory on the moon (a camera deployed on the moon by Apollo 16 astronauts), and the detection of radioactive cobalt in supernova 1987a, which provided the first direct experimental evidence that supernovae are the principal sources of heavy elements such as iron.

The roots of some of today's most outstanding technology can be traced back to NRL. Such developments include Minitrack, a satellite tracking system for Vanguard I that was the forerunner of another NRL system called NAVSPASUR, which is operational today and a major producer of spacecraft tracking data, and the TIMe and navigATION (Timation) project, which was conceived by NRL engineer Roger Easton and has been recognized with honors as the foundation of the Global Positioning System.

Recent projects like NRL's Clementine mission tested new materials and sensors in space while putting into practice the notion of "faster, cheaper, better" and forging a new paradigm throughout the space technology community. Other projects like NRL's current work on the Interim Control Module for NASA's International Space Station continue to demonstrate NRL's capability for quick response to tight schedules and will help keep this major international program on track.

And, NRL is applying its intellectual and technological resources to critical environmental issues through satellite-based sensors that measure global atmospheric change, monitor ozone depletion, and further study the effects of solar physics on our Earth. Experiments now under development will continue to search for answers to questions about the physical processes that have impact on naval systems and affect the world we live in.

Currently, NRL has three hubs of space research activity that work both independently and collaboratively:

·The Space Science Division, which conducts ongoing research in solar physics, upper atmospheric physics, gamma and cosmic ray astronomy, and solar terrestrial relationships;

·The Naval Center for Space Technology, a world-class satellite and space technology development center with experience on 83 satellites and 34 launches; and

·The Remote Sensing Division, which develops environmental sensors, data and signal processing technologies, conducts fundamental investigations in ocean, atmospheric and astrophysical sciences, and models and simulates environmental processes.

These groups are made up of scientists, engineers and technology leaders whose enabling technologies, conceptual development, operational systems, and data collection experiments will define NRL's place in space history for many years to come.

 Space Technology Milestones

 Discoveries and Observations

 Missions, Payloads & Launches



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About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is the Navy's full-spectrum corporate laboratory, conducting a broadly based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to meet the complex technological challenges of today's world. For more information, visit the NRL homepage or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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