CANOGA PARK, Calif.-- In the first planet-hunting mission of its kind, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne boosted NASA's Kepler spacecraft into orbit to help scientists in their quest to find Earth-like planets circling distant suns in the Milky Way galaxy. The Kepler spacecraft was launched today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) company, powered the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with an RS-27A engine. It was the 227th flight boosted by the RS-27 family of engines.
The Kepler spacecraft is part of NASA's mission to find orbiting planets that could contain water and harbor life. For four years, Kepler will observe the brightness of more than 100,000 stars in the Milky Way to detect periodic dimming. Such dimming could occur when a planet passes in front of its parent star, momentarily blocking the starlight seen from Earth. Kepler contains a lens, primary mirror and a charge-coupled device array for collecting light. After it is launched, Kepler will pass the moon's orbit and orbit the sun, trailing Earth. It is the first space mission of its kind to search for small, orbiting planets that may harbor life in our galaxy.
"All previous planet-hunting expeditions have used land-based telescopes, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is proud to be part of a mission that brings us closer to finding other Earth-like planets," said Elizabeth Jones, RS-27 program manager, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. "This mission is another example of the key role that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne plays in the advancement of scientific research in space."
The Kepler spacecraft is equipped with a specially designed photometer that can simultaneously focus on more than 100,000 stars with the precision required to detect orbiting planets.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Inc., a part of Pratt & Whitney, is a preferred provider of high-value propulsion, power, energy and innovative system solutions used in a wide variety of government and commercial applications, including the main engines for the space shuttle, Atlas and Delta launch vehicles, missile defense systems and advanced hypersonic engines.
Pratt & Whitney is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines, space propulsion systems and industrial gas turbines. United Technologies, based in Hartford, Conn., is a diversified company providing high technology products and services to the global aerospace and commercial building industries.