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 Catalina Sky Survey, under the direction of Eric Christensen, 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, Tim Swindle, and Tom Zega.
- Research into the orbital evolution of the Main Asteroid Belt and the Kuiper Belt in the groups of professor Renu Malhotra.
- LPL also has a long tradition of research into comets, which continues with research by Associate Professor Walter Harris and Professor Emeritus Uwe Fink.