Applied Physics Lab

Applied Physics Lab (APL)

Applied Physics Lab (APL)

Applied Physics Lab (APL) develops a variety of special instrumentation and tools for answering specific vehicle processing and GSE requirements including focus areas in optics, acoustics, capacitance, NDE and other technologies. The APL specializes in technology response with applied physics.  The laboratory receives problems from the Orion/SLS, Expendable Launch Vehicle, International Space Station/Payloads, and future programs and works to solve them using concepts at technology readiness levels 3 and 4.  Laboratory personnel take demonstrated concepts that can solve a problem and ultimately turn them into field-worthy hardware.  Primary areas of expertise are electromagnetic radiation (mainly ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and millimeter), ultrasonics, sensor development, mechanical system design, electromagnetics, atmospheric electricity, lightning physics, lightning interaction with aerospace vehicles, and lightning protection.  Work focuses on advanced sensors and systems for measurement and leak visualization and detection, nondestructive evaluation of flight hardware and ground support equipment, flight hardware positioning systems, and cryogenics.  The APL works closely with several contractor-operated laboratories that help take the demonstrated concepts forward to operational hardware.  The lab is also capable of developing lunar mission capable flight avionics & software for instruments/payloads with mission operations ground control software.


  • Variety of lasers and light sources
  • Optical tables, mounting equipment, and a range of optics, as well as optical spectrometers, Blackbody system, and Novocontrol Broadband Dielectric Spectroscopy Systems
  • Wide assortment of electronics and mechanical components used to fabricate prototype systems to meet field problems
  • Mathematica, LabVIEW, COMSOL, Matlab and other software packages used to perform modeling and system analysis
  • Avionics hardware and software simulation/emulation tools
Prototype device to indicate H2 leakage or fire at the flanged joint
Non-intrusive thermal flow meter for orbiter windows 
A hollow aluminum sphere hanging by a thin steel wire in a Helmholtz coilApplied Physics Lab SW/Avionics

Applied Physics Lab Flight Payload and Instrument Software and Avionics Development

  • The APL develops innovative, comprehensive ground and flight software systems supporting throughout project lifecycle from basic instrument development through space flight mission operations
  • The APL develops low-cost, terrestrial and space-ready radiation tolerant avionics systems for individual instruments as well as payload systems for space flight operations

APL Capabilities, Software

  • Generic payload embedded flight software architecture & development – automation, instrument control, compatible with Core Flight System
  • Ground control system software architecture & development – displays, gateway, ground processing (LCC Firing Room, etc)
  • Lab support software for instrument or subsystem development – displays, control, logging
  • Architecture, infrastructure and process to provide fully flight-forward payload embedded and ground system software for lab support for instrument development/test/ops – no throwaway lab software!
  • Remote integration of subsystems/instruments from around KSC to across the country
  • Support a variety of flight processors
  • Web interfaced database for Data Distribution Service logging, retrieval & data viewing tool
  • Database design & development – Master Measurement List for cmd & telemetry
  • Instrument/subsystem real-time modeling down to signal level
  • Automated testing – software and hardware

APL Tools, Software

  • Enterprise Architect, Magic Draw
  • Embedded Linux & Ubuntu Linux
  • Data Distribution Service – interfacing w/C++, LabVIEW, web-based logging & retrieval tool
  • C++
  • JavaScript, Node.js
  • Virtual Machine Language (VML)
  • Labview – Windows, Real-Time & FPGA
  • Mathworks – Simulink, Matlab, Simscape, xPC & Speedgoat
  • C – Instrument firmware
  • Trac – Issue tracking, Wiki
  • Jenkins – Build system
  • Subversion – Configuration management
  • Windows Visual Studio
  • Various database applications
Instrument control software
RP15 payload control node in LCC
RP15 payload on JSC Rover

APL Capabilities, Avionics

  • Flight payload/instrument control systems
  • Radiation tolerant electrical design (circuits, controls)
  • Controls development and testing
  • Design of Shop Aides and Ground Support Equipment
  • Software/firmware design, development and test
  • Support variety of DSPs, micro and embedded processors
  • FPGA development
  • VHDL & HDL
  • Power supply design

APL Tools, Avionics

  • Altium
  • Spice
  • LabVIEW
  • FPGA development tools
  • Microcontroller development tools
  • Matlab
  • Mathcad
PCB board design and development