Draper History

Innovating since 1934

Draper's Heritage

The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., is named after its founder, Dr. Charles Stark Draper, the “father of inertial navigation.”

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Doc Draper founded a teaching laboratory in the 1930s that by the 1950s grew into the sophisticated engineering organization that designed and developed the world’s most accurate and reliable guidance systems and instruments for intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as the highly precise, ultra-reliable guidance and control systems needed to guide the first astronauts to the moon and back safely to Earth in 1969. That laboratory became an independent not-for-profit in 1973. Since becoming independent, Draper has sustained its preeminence in guidance, navigation and control technology and has expanded its expertise in other areas, including microelectromechanical systems and electronics packaging. It continues its long service to the U.S. Navy and NASA while providing solutions to problems of national importance for and with many other organizations in government, industry and academia.

Click To Expand Each Decade

2010s

  • 2012

    The first flight test of the Draper-designed MK6 MOD 1 guidance system for the Navy’s Trident missile occurred; the upgrade replaced all the sensors and electronics and rearchitected the system.

  • 2012

    The Draper-developed Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (GENIE) performed its first free flight on Terrestrial Test Rocket. This testbed will enable terrestrial testing of space payloads.

  • 2011

    A commercial version of the chip-scale atomic clock reached market, based on a project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that produced the world’s smallest and lowest power atomic clock. Draper provided the physics package.

  • 2011

    Draper’s guided parafoil guidance, navigation, and control software was deployed in Afghanistan on the Joint Precision Airdrop System. The Draper flight software is now supplied as government-furnished equipment for new precision guided airdrop systems of all weight classes.

  • 2010

    Draper Laboratory was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame for developing aircraft digital fly-by-wire flight control technology in collaboration with the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

  • 2010

    Draper Laboratory received the Collier Prize as part of the International Space Station Team, sharing the award with NASA and other industry partners.

  • 2010

    Draper iUHD modules were first delivered.

2000s

  • 2009

    Draper received its first externally funded energy project from Progress Energy to develop a prototype automated system that measures the combustion efficiency of coal power plants.

  • 2006

    Draper demonstrated on orbit the Zero Propellant Maneuver capability it designed to conduct large-angle maneuvers of the International Space Station without the use of its thrusters. This reduced the number of fuel resupply missions.

  • 2006

    The Draper-designed Inertial Stellar Compass became fully operational onboard the TacSat-2 spacecraft -- the first use of a Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) gyro in space as part of a stellar package for spacecraft attitude determination.

  • 2006

    The Joint Precision Airdrop Mission Planner was rapidly deployed in Afghanistan, operating on a laptop onboard Air Force cargo planes. The mission-planning software determines release points for dropping cargo, via either unguided parachutes or guided airdrop systems, for precision landing.

  • 2006

    The integrated ultrahigh density (iUHD) platform concept was introduced. This packaging process exploits commercial semiconductor process equipment to create 3D stacked systems that are customizable and compatible with multiple materials and substrates.

  • 2006

    Draper received its first grant as a principal investigator from the National Institutes of Health for the Bioengineering Research Partnership for Intracochlear Drug Delivery with Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

  • 2005

    Multichip module (MCM) technology at Draper completed its essential transition from a promising laboratory technique to an economically viable production process. Key to this advance were the application of machine vision or laser-drilled via hold alignment and the implementation of known-good-die testing after thinning.

  • 2005

    A belt-mounted Personal Navigation System demonstrated the ability to determine location without GPS using a MEMS inertial measurement unit and a miniature Doppler velocity sensor, both developed by Draper.

  • 2005

    Draper-designed software enabling the autonomous collection of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data via an unmanned undersea vehicle was demonstrated in ONR’s Maritime Reconnaissance Demonstration program.

  • 2003

    Draper began an expanded role as both the programs and systems integrator for the entire U.S. Navy Trident II (D5) Missile Guidance Program. It initiated the development of the MK6 MOD 1 Guidance System Life Extension Program, the first strategic missile guidance system employing solid-state gyros.

  • 2001

    Draper report on its work won the first artificial blood vessel network demonstrated using MEMS technology at the MicroTAS 2001 Conference.

1990s

  • 1998

    Draper upgrades to the on-orbit flight control system it developed for the Space Shuttle were utilized for the first International Space Station assembly flight. Draper-developed upgrades provided robust stability, improved control, and operational simplifications.

  • 1998

    The first prototype of a micromachined Differential Mobility Spectrometry (DMS) system was fabricated and tested. The scope of these works led to miniaturizing DMS technology.
    The effort was part of a collaboration with
    New Mexico State University.

  • 1997

    Draper delivered the tactical hardware and software of the Integrated Control and Display System for the Advanced SEAL Delivery System to the U.S. Navy.

  • 1997

    The first submarine digital autopilot began sea trials on SSN21 Seawolf. Draper developed the two fault-tolerant ship control computer hardware and redundancy management software for the Seawolf class.

  • 1996

    The first all-silicon sensor-based inertial measurement unit, designed by Draper, was gun-launched on the Extended-Range Guided Munitions Demonstration Program.

  • 1996

    Under the Precision Guided Airdrop System (PGAS) program, a first-of-kind autonomous guidance, navigation and control capability for parafoils was demonstrated. PGAS was able to navigate via an onboard combination of an inertial navigation system and GPS.

  • 1995

    The first docking of the Space Shuttle and the Russian Space Station Mir on June 29, 1995 successfully demonstrated work begun a year earlier by Draper to redesign the Shuttle’s on-orbit flight control system for that mission.

  • 1995

    The W.M. Keck Foundation awarded $4.5M to fund a 3-year collaboration among Draper, MIT, and Mass. Eye & Ear Infirmary, establishing the Keck Neural Prosthesis Research Center. This became a cornerstone of Draper’s future biomedical engineering activity.

  • 1994

    Draper MCMs were first delivered; Draper began its work on MCMs in 1987, interested in the technology’s potential to miniaturize systems through more compact packaging of integrated circuits.

  • 1993

    The navigation system for the USS Dolphin, a deep-diving U.S. Navy research and development submarine, was delivered. Draper later upgraded the system.

  • 1992

    Draper demonstrated the first micromachined silicon tuning-fork gyroscope, with noise of 500 degrees/hour per square root Hertz. This success stimulated research that led to military and commercial applications.

  • 1990

    The U.S. Navy Trident II (D5) fleet ballistic missile was deployed with the Draper-designed MK6 guidance system. The MK6 had been flight tested successfully aboard a Trident II missile in 1987.

  • 1990

    The first of two Draper-designed unmanned undersea vehicles began at-sea testing for DARPA. These autonomous testbeds were designed around Draper’s fault-tolerant processor and vehicle control architecture and were used to test mission packages.

1980s

  • 1988

    The Charles Stark Draper Prize was established in memory of Draper’s founder by the National Academy of Engineering to increase public awareness of the contributions of engineering to society’s wellbeing.

  • 1987

    Draper was the first to measure angular rate with a silicon MEMS double-gimbal gyro, a MEMS Foucalt gyroscope.

  • 1984

    As a key member of the Delta-180 team, Draper Laboratory analyzed navigation, sensor filtering, guidance design and software that enabled demonstration of the first kinetic energy intercept of a ballistic missile during its boost phase.

  • 1984

    The first kinetic kill intercept of a mock ICBM reentry vehicle occurred in the exoatmosphere. Draper, which had provided interdependent analysis throughout the program to the government, led a review committee for the Homing Overlay Experiment program before this test flight.

  • 1983

    The first test flight occurred of the U.S. Air Force MX Missile, later deployed as Peacekeeper, with a Draper-designed Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere as the inertial measurement unit in the guidance system.

  • 1981

    The first launch of a NASA Space Shuttle occurred with a Draper-designed guidance, navigation and control system and backup flight system. Draper later upgraded the system for mission needs (e.g., Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission in 1993).

  • 1981

    Carrier phase GPS interferometry was first demonstrated providing centimeter-level accuracy. This measurement was enabled by comparing the outputs received by pairs of GPS antennas to measure the distance between two points defined by their phase centers.

1970s

  • 1979

    U.S. Navy Fleet Ballistic Missile Trident I (C4) containing the Draper-designed MK5 guidance system was deployed aboard submarines.

  • 1973

    Skylab began two years of space experiments, including three manned flights to Skylab employing Apollo Command Modules. Draper developed the algorithms used for Skylab’s guidance and control package.

  • 1973

    The Laboratory became an independent, not-for-profit corporation, The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc.

  • 1972

    The first successful flight test of an aircraft completely under the control of an electronic digital fly-by-wire control system, designed by Draper and NASA Dryden, was accomplished.

  • 1972

    The third of four satellites of NASA’s Orbiting Astronomical Observatory went into orbit; it was the first to feature an Instrumentation Laboratory-designed inertial reference unit containing three floated beryllium gyros (2FBGs).

  • 1971

    The U.S. Navy Poseidon C3 ballistic missile using the Draper-designed MK3 guidance system was deployed on the USS James Madison.

  • 1971

    U.S. Navy’s Special Projects Office (SP) gave Draper overall design and development responsibility for the guidance system for the Trident I missile. The new design would use a star-tracker system to improve accuracy.

  • 1970

    MIT President Howard Johnson announced the divestment of Draper.

  • 1970

    Draper delivered the Integrated Control and Display system to the U.S. Navy for the first of two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRVs) that launched that year.

  • 1970

    The Instrumentation Lab was renamed The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, a division of MIT.

  • 1970

    The Apollo 13 crew was rescued after an onboard explosion. Draper-developed contingency autopilot software in the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) computer ensured stable control of the combined LEM and Command and Service Module during the trajectory correct maneuver to return to Earth.

  • 1970

    Draper was asked to provide designs for the Space Shuttle avionics system; a contract was received in 1971 from NASA. Over time, Draper’s role grew into sole responsibility for design of the Space Shuttle’s on-orbit flight control system and its backup flight control software.

1960s

  • 1969

    Apollo 11 made the historic first manned moon landing using the onboard computer guidance, navigation and control systems designed by the Instrumentation Lab for both the Command Module and the Lunar Module.

  • 1968

    The Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon in a craft using a guidance and control system designed by the Laboratory.

  • 1968

    The Poseidon (C3) fleet ballistic missile, the successor to Polaris for U.S. Navy, was first flight tested with Lab-designed MK3 guidance system.

  • 1964

    The Polaris A3 fleet ballistic missile was deployed aboard USS Daniel Webster (SSBN 626) with the Instrumentation Laboratory-designed MK2 guidance system. The missile’s range was 2,500 nautical miles.

  • 1964

    Submarine Inertial Navigation System (SINS) MK IV MOD 2 was tested at sea. In development since 1960, it had improved technology from the prototype SINS.

  • 1963

    The first flight of the U.S. Air Force Minuteman II missile with an NS-17 guidance system containing a Pendulous Integrating Gyroscope Accelerometer (PIGA) designed by the Instrumentation Laboratory occurs.

  • 1962

    The Polaris A2 Fleet Ballistic Missile was deployed. Its guidance system, designed by the Instrumentation Laboratory, enabled the missile to reach a target 1,500 nautical miles away from launch point.

  • 1962

    The first research at the Instrumentation Laboratory into strapdown navigation systems was reported on in a student's ScD thesis: Theoretical Analysis of Gimballess Inertial Equipment Using Delta-Modulated Instruments by Thomas Wiener.

  • 1961

    The U.S. Air Force Titan II missile is successfully tested. Its inertial system was built by industry based on a prototype Instrumentation Lab design. MIT’s guidance system for Titan was a development from Thor’s IRBM system.

  • 1961

    President John F. Kennedy commits the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Draper received the first major contract awarded by NASA for the Apollo project, which was for the guidance, navigation and control system.

  • 1960

    A Polaris A1 missile was launched successfully for the first time from a submerged submarine deployed with the MK1 guidance system designed by the Instrumentation Lab. The Polaris A1 had a range of 1,200 nautical miles.

1950s

  • 1959

    The Mars probe concept developed by the Instrumentation Lab led to a NASA contract. The breadboard model developed later became the baseline for the Apollo computer’s architecture and function, including navigation and control.

  • 1957

    A sole-source contract to develop the guidance and on-orbit control system for the WS-117L satellite vehicle based on the MIT Instrumentation Lab SINS was received. That program ultimately led to the first U.S. reconnaissance program and the Corona spacecraft.

  • 1957

    Development of the Floated Inertial Measurement Ball (FLIMBAL) began, which would place all the inertial instruments and the associated electronics of a self-contained all-attitude system inside a floated sphere.

  • 1957

    Sped up by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite, the first successful test flight of a U.S. Air Force Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile with all-inertial guidance was held later that year. The Instrumentation Lab provided inertial guidance design and consulting support to industry.

  • 1957

    The U.S. Navy issued a contract to design, model, test and document an all-inertial guidance system for the Polaris missile, beginning the long relationship between the Laboratory and the Navy Strategic Programs Office.

  • 1955

    Optical horizon sensors developed by the MIT Instrumentation Lab for a satellite reconnaissance system succeed in balloon tests. Optical observation of the horizon in all directions to derive “down” provided information needed to correct for gyro drift during launch acceleration or in orbit.

  • 1955

    The Instrumentation Laboratory delivered an experimental SINS to the Bureau of Ships. The SINS was intended for submarines that would carry Polaris missiles.

  • 1954

    The Lab developed an inertial guidance mechanization, including new guidance theory and equations, which offered a superior, nonjammable system to control ballistic missiles autonomously without broadcasting their positions. It was used first in the Thor Intermedate Range Ballistic Missile.

  • 1954

    The Marine Stable Element (MAST) system, a gyroscopic compass and a stable vertical unit combined into one instrument, was tested at sea. Some of MAST’s technology later would be incorporated into the SINS and missile guidance system designs.

  • 1953

    Space Inertial Reference Equipment (SPIRE) guided the first coast-to-coast airplane flight without the aid of a pilot – the first working implementation of “inertial navigation” for a cross-country trip.

  • 1953

    Dr. Hal Laning developed the first compiler program written to translate mathematical notation into a usable program for a computer. He began the effort in 1952 and achieved an operational program 1953.

1940s

  • 1949

    The first celestial-aided inertial navigation system, FEBE, was demonstrated by the Instrumentation Laboratory in an Air Force B-29 aircraft. A predecessor to SPIRE, FEBE used stars as reference points to improve navigational accuracy.

  • 1947

    The Instrumentation Laboratory developed the single-degree-of-freedom, rate integrating, floated gyroscope. It enabled a stabilized platform and led to the start of high-performance gyros for ballistic missile guidance, Apollo, SINS and satellites.

  • 1944

    The Laboratory began to work actively on the A-1 aircraft gun-bomb rocket sight; ultimately, it became the A-4 gunsight used in the Korean War on F-86 Day Fighters.

  • 1942

    The Mark 14 gunsight first was used by anti-aircraft gunners aboard the USS North Carolina during the battle of Stewart Island. It was the first of Draper’s designs that used the “disturbed-line-of-sight” principle.

  • 1940

    Charles Stark Draper’s early work on fire control led to his first experiments in inertial navigation, detailed in an 1940 MIT doctoral thesis by Walter Wrigley, one of Draper’s students.

1930s

  • 1933

    Charles Stark Draper, Research Associate at MIT, led work at the Aeronautical Instrumentation Laboratory credited as notable contributions in the field in the MIT President’s Report for 1933–34.

  • 1930

    Draper’s roots date to the 1930s when Doc Draper created a teaching laboratory at MIT to develop the instrumentation needed to make precise measurements of angular and linear motion.

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