The 45th Space Wing Feb. 11 launched a rocket carrying the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a NASA spacecraft, out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle carried the observatory from Space Launch Complex 41. United Launch Alliance is a joint venture formed by Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA].

The spacecraft will allow NASA scientists to study and photograph sunspots and solar flares using the high-powered onboard telescopes. By better understanding the sun and how it works, scientists hope to better predict “space weather,” providing earlier warnings to protect astronauts and satellites.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne provided the RD AMROSS RD-180 booster engine and the RD AMROSS RL10 upper-stage engine for the Atlas V rocket, the company said in a press statement. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is a unit of United Technologies [UTX].

“Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is pleased to provide power for the first mission in this exciting NASA program to learn more about the sun’s impact on our solar system and the Earth,” said Jim Maus, the director of expendable propulsion programs for the company. “This first launch of the RL10 in 2010 is the 407th production model RL10 to fly, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with United Launch Alliance in this coming decade.”

The Atlas V Centaur upper stage is powered by a single RL10A-4-2 engine that delivers 22,300 pounds of thrust, according to Pratt & Whitney, and has been used in the U.S. space program for 46 years. The Atlas V Common Core booster is powered by the RD-180 engine delivering nearly 1 million pounds of thrust. The RD-180 is the only liquid oxygen- kerosene fueled engine with an oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle used by the United States today.