February 27, 2009

Kepler To Launch March 6 Aboard Delta II Rocket

Launch of NASA's Kepler telescope is targeted for no earlier than Friday, March 6, from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There are two launch windows, from 10:49 - 10:52 p.m. and 11:13 - 11:16 p.m. EST.

Kepler is a spaceborne telescope designed to search the nearby region of our galaxy for Earth-size planets orbiting in the habitable zone of stars like our sun. The habitable zone is the region around a star where temperatures permit water to be liquid on a planet's surface.

Liquid water is considered essential for the existence of life as we know it. The vast majority of the approximately 300 planets known to orbit other stars are much larger than Earth, and none is believed to be habitable. The challenge for Kepler is to look at a large number of stars in order to statistically estimate the total number of Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars in the habitable zone. Kepler will survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy.

Engineers are reviewing all common hardware between the Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler telescope and the Taurus XL launch vehicle. On Tuesday, a Taurus carrying NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to reach orbit. Managers want to confirm there will not be similar issues with Kepler's Delta II.

Kepler's original March 5 target launch date was moved one day later to accommodate the additional time for analysis. The March 6 target date still must be confirmed by the U.S Air Force, which manages the eastern launch range. Kepler's Flight Readiness Review is on Monday, March 2.

NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is responsible for the launch of Kepler aboard a Delta II 7925-10L rocket. United Launch Alliance is conducting the launch for NASA. NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is the home organization of the principal science investigator and is responsible for the ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is responsible for the spacecraft and the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation of Boulder, Colo., is responsible for developing and building the Kepler spacecraft and supporting mission operations.

Prelaunch News Conference

Thursday, March 5: A prelaunch press conference will be held at the Kennedy Space Center news center at 1 p.m. Participants will be:

  • Ed Weiler, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Omar Baez, NASA launch director and launch manager, Kennedy Space Center
  • Vernon Thorp, program manager, NASA Missions, United Launch Alliance
  • Jim Fanson, Kepler project manager, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • John Troeltzsch, Kepler program manager, Ball Aerospace Corporation
  • Joel Tumbiolo, U.S. Air Force Delta II launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Mission Science Briefing

Immediately following the prelaunch news conference, a Kepler mission science briefing will be held. Participants will be:

  • Ed Weiler, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
  • Bill Borucki, science principal investigator, Ames Research Center
  • Natalie Batalha, co-investigator, San Jose State University
  • Gibor Basri, co-investigator, University of California at Berkeley


Image Caption: The Kepler spacecraft is moved inside a protective container out of the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla., to begin its trek to Launch Complex 17 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. There, it will be hoisted atop the Delta II rocket that is to send it into space. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller


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