WASHINGTON – Orbital Sciences Corp. on Sunday launched its unmanned Cygnus cargo carrier on a journey to resupply the astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.
The spacecraft lifted off from Wallops Island, Virginia, at 12:52 p.m. aboard a gleaming white Antares rocket.
A NASA commentator described the launch as a “flawless 10-minute ride to orbit.”
The spacecraft is packed with 3,653 pounds (1,657 kg) of food, equipment, science experiments and tools, Orbital Sciences Corp. said.
The launch marks the second of eight missions the company has contracted with NASA, and is the third journey by Orbital to the International Space Station after a successful demonstration trip last year.
This mission, known as Orb-2, was initially supposed to launch in May, but a Russian-built rocket engine in the Antares rocket failed during a prelaunch test, causing a delay.
A new flock of satellites, food and supplies for the crew, experiments for growing arugula in space, and a pump for the Japanese module to replace one that failed are among the items on board the spacecraft.
The Cygnus should arrive at the orbiting outpost on Wednesday.
American astronaut Steve Swanson and crewmates aboard the station will reach out with the ISS’s robotic arm to grab the cargo ship, aided by NASA mission control in Houston, Texas. The capture is scheduled for 6:37 a.m. and the berthing of the ship to the station is set for 8:45 a.m.
Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are the two private U.S. companies that have won major contracts with NASA for multiple missions to carry supplies to the International Space Station.
Orbital’s deal is worth $1.9 billion and SpaceX’s contract is $1.6 billion.
Orbital’s cargo ships burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, unlike SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which makes an intact splash landing in the ocean.
Orb-3 is scheduled to launch in November, and three more Cygnus missions are planned for 2015.
NASA lost its capacity to reach the space station after the 30-year space shuttle program ended in 2011.
SpaceX and Orbital now make regular resupply journeys with their unmanned cargo ships. Europe and Russia also have their own spaceships that can tote equipment and provisions to the research outpost.
In order for astronauts to get there, nations must buy seats aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, at a cost of $70.7 million each. The spaceship carries three people at a time.
Several American companies are competing to be the first to complete a crew vehicle that will restore U.S. access to the station in the next few years.