Engines made by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will propel an Atlas V rocket carrying the Curiosity rover for an eight-month flight to Mars.
The launch scheduled for Nov. 26 is the 14th and final space mission of the year in which the Canoga Park-based manufacturer has provided the engines. Among those missions were the last three flights of the Space Shuttle.
Fourteen flights made for a fairly busy year for the company, and even without the shuttle, next year is shaping up to be strong as well, primarily with launches of Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, said Steve Bouley, vice president, launch vehicles and hypersonic systems for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.
“It is a fairly full manifest for 2012,” Bouley said.
The Atlas V rocket taking Curiosity to Mars uses the RD 180 engine developed between Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Russian aerospace company, NPO Energomash, and the RL10 engine in its upper stage.
The RL10 engine dates back to 1959 and is one of the most, if not the most, reliable upper stage engines ever built, Bouley said.
“It has a long history of product and development and is a well understood engine,” Bouley said.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is owned by United Technologies. The parent company’s Hamilton Sunstrand Rocketdyne division also contributed to the rover program. Hamilton Sundstrand shares space with Pratt & Whitney at its DeSoto Avenue campus.
Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne developed the power source for the rover that captures heat from degrading plutonium and converts it into electricity, Bouley said.
This is different from the previous two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which used solar panels that produced a limited amount of power, Bouley said.
“(Curiosity) can run as long as there is plutonium left to decay,” Bouley added. “It does not have to worry about the sunshine.”
Curiosity is designed to operate for at least one Martian year, or 686 Earth days. The vehicle’s mission is to determine if Mars was capable of sustaining life by analyzing soil and rock samples.