Kepler Mission Design, Realized Photometric Performance, and Early Science
The Kepler Mission, launched on 2009 March 6, was designed with the explicit capability to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of solar-like stars using the transit photometry method. Results from just 43 days of data along with ground-based follow-up observations have identified five new transiting planets with measurements of their masses, radii, and orbital periods. Many aspects of stellar astrophysics also benefit from the unique, precise, extended, and nearly continuous data set for a large number and variety of stars. Early results for classical variables and eclipsing stars show great promise. To fully understand the methodology, processes, and eventually the results from the mission, we present the underlying rationale that ultimately led to the flight and ground system designs used to achieve the exquisite photometric performance. As an example of the initial photometric results, we present variability measurements that can be used to distinguish dwarf stars from red giants.