NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena/La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles County
(AD-43, SD-25)

Michael Watkins, PhD, Director

Patty Rhee, Government Affairs | (818) 393-4585


The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) traces its roots to the 1930s, when students at Caltech — collectively known as the “Suicide Squad” — gathered to test rocket engines near Pasadena, California.

During the 1940s and 1950s, JPL grew as it developed rockets and other technologies for the U.S. Army. JPL designed, built, and operated America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, launched in 1958. Explorer 1 also delivered the first science finding from space — the discovery of Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. Later that year, Congress established NASA, and JPL was transferred to the space agency.

Since then, JPL has sent robotic spacecraft to all of the planets in the Solar System, and is responsible for all four rovers that have explored the surface of Mars. In addition, JPL conducts significant programs in earth sciences, space-based astronomy, and technology research and development.


  • No. of Employees: 6,769
  • PhD Scientists and Engineers: 1,052
  • Annual Budget: $2.3 billion (2017)
  • Annual Payroll: $652 million (2017)
  • Procurements to CA Businesses: $317 million (2017)
  • Contracts to Small Businesses: $115 million (2017)
  • No. of Patents Registered: 141 (since 2007)


Home to Mars rovers, space telescopes and an array of Earth-orbiting satellites, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is one of NASA’s premier research facilities. Beginning in the 1950s, JPL made news as it created America’s first satellite and sent the first robotic spacecraft to other planets. As of 2017, JPL is responsible for 19 spacecraft and 10 major instruments carrying out active missions. In addition, JPL developed and manages NASA’s Deep Space Network, a worldwide system of antennas that communicate with interplanetary spacecraft.

As a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC), JPL is staffed and managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). This unique relationship creates an intellectual fusion with a university campus whose faculty and alumni have garnered 31 Nobel Prizes, 53 National Medals of Science, and 12 National Medals of Technology.

This Caltech-JPL synergy is boosted by cooperative initiatives, dedicated research seed funding, and joint-faculty appointments. Furthermore JPL’s research is conducted in 1,138 laboratory or technical rooms in 76 buildings on the main campus and extends into outer space with 29 currently active missions.


JPL’s expertise is of particular potential benefit to California in two broad areas: 1) regional decision support systems based on Earth observations and models, and 2)advanced technology and earth science. Resources include airborne and spaceborne instruments that remotely:

  1. Measure ground subsidence due to aquifer discharge and recharge or natural events.
  2. Provide multi-decade observations of sea level rise.
  3. Measure changes in coastal regions due to erosion and changes in plant health.
  4. Detect and help quantify greenhouse gas emissions and characterize ozone sources.
  5. Quantify with high accuracy water stored as snow.
  6. Assess the health of forest ecosystems for post-fire land management restoration decisions.
  7. Detect changes and threats to critical infrastructure such as the Bay-Delta levees.
  8. Provide information on damage extent for emergency response teams following natural disasters.

JPL is advancing technology in the areas of energy systems, robotics, miniaturized sensors, artificial intelligence, autonomy, and remote sensing. These advances in natural hazards, climate change, and ecosystems science will offer deep insights for California policymakers.


Initially developed at JPL, the FDA-approved ArterioVision software is helping doctors diagnose and monitor treatments for hardening of the arteries in its early stages, before it causes heart attacks and strokes. ArterioVision software converts standard ultrasound data of blood flow and plaque within the carotid artery into a measure of arterial thickness — an early indicator of atherosclerosis. ArterioVision has been licensed by Caltech to Medical Technologies International, Inc. of Palm Desert, California, via JPL’s Innovative Partnership Program.


The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) named three scientists at JPL as recipients of its Remote Sensing and Drought Science Service award. The award recognizes ongoing assistance provided by researchers who have been working closely with the department on drought or climate science projects. The researchers used remote sensing data to map the ongoing sinking of land in California’s San Joaquin Valley caused by groundwater extraction. The scientists found that some parts of the valley sank more than a foot during the 2014 irrigation season alone.

“DWR is pleased to recognize the work that these scientists have performed in developing new methodologies for monitoring land subsidence in response to our multi-year drought,” said then DWR Director Mark Cowin.


“Technology deployed on JPL space missions is applied here on Earth, benefiting the lives of everyday Americans. I’m proud that these innovations are made possible by the thousands of JPL employees and contractors in the 25th Senate District.” — Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge)

“In meeting the challenges of robotic space exploration, JPL brings new knowledge to California that keeps our state a world leader in science and technology. JPL’s research and talented workforce are an asset to the 43rd Assembly District and greatly enhance our economic vitality.” —Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale)


Alongside academic powerhouses such as the University of California campuses, Stanford, and Caltech, Californians can take pride in our unrivaled collection of federal laboratories and research centers. CCST helps facilitate links across the capabilities and talents of these labs and centers through its Federal Laboratory Affiliates program — convening their expertise to deliver impartial science advice in response to the Governor, the Legislature, and other state entities. Learn more about the federal labs and science centers benefiting California at

Find the California Council on Science and Technology on Facebook at, on Twitter @CCSTorg, and on LinkedIn. Learn more about CCST at

Updated: 2018.02.13