LPL has long been a leader in research into the small bodies of the solar system. Active research includes:
- Two world-renowned asteroid survey programs: Spacewatch, directed by Dr. Robert McMillan, claims a number of firsts in hunting for small bodies, many related to being the first to use CCD-scanning routinely; and the Catalina Sky Survey, under the direction of Steve Larson, has led the world in asteroid discoveries each year since 2005. Dr. McMillan has also been part of the Near-Earth Object portion of the WISE spacecraft mission.
- The first American asteroid sample-return mission. OSIRIS-REx, with Professor Dante Lauretta as the Principal Investigator, is scheduled for launch in 2016.
- Several groups active in meteorite research, led by professors Lauretta, Swindle, and Zega.
- Research into the orbital evolution of the Main Asteroid Belt and the Kuiper Belt in the groups led by professors Richard Greenberg and Renu Malhotra.
- LPL also has a long tradition of comet research, which continues with research by Associate Professor Walter Harris and Professor Emeritus Uwe Fink.