The 13-story rocket lifted off its seaside launch pad on Wallops
Island, Virginia, at 1:07 p.m. EST/1807 GMT, putting the Cygnus
freighter on track for an early Sunday rendezvous with the station.
"We're in good shape," Orbital Sciences Executive Vice President
Frank Culbertson told reporters after launch.
The launch, which was broadcast live on NASA Television, was delayed
twice this week, first by cold weather and then by high space
radiation due to a massive solar flare on Tuesday. Both conditions
could have affected critical rocket systems.
Orbital Sciences is one of two firms hired by the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration to fly cargo to the station, a
$100 billion project of 15 nations, following the retirement of the
space shuttles in 2011.
Privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is
preparing for its third supply run on February 22 from Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Thursday's launch was the third for Antares, a medium-lift rocket
that Orbital Sciences also is marketing for satellite launches.
"We are negotiating with people with other payloads besides the
Cygnus spacecraft and intend to fly more cargo out of Wallops,"
Culbertson told reporters before the launch. He declined to
elaborate on prospective customers.
The company holds a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to fly eight
Cygnus cargo ships to the station, a permanently staffed research
outpost that flies about 250 miles above Earth.
SpaceX has a separate 12-flight NASA contract worth $1.6 billion.
Both companies expect to benefit from the Obama administration's
decision on Wednesday to keep the station flying to at least 2024, a
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Technically, the station is expected to remain structurally sound
until at least 2028, according to a study by prime station
"It does give us a chance to think long-term, be innovative ...
maybe invest in some improvements in how we can do this to make it
more cost-effective and efficient," Culbertson said.
In addition to their station resupply contracts, Orbital Sciences
and SpaceX previously received a combined $686 million from NASA to
help develop their rockets, capsules and launch sites.
Orbital Sciences' Antares rockets fly from a commercial space port
carved out of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. SpaceX's
NASA missions launch from Cape Canaveral.
Orbital Sciences debuted its Antares rocket in April 2013 and made a
successful test run to the space station five months later. It
planned to start flying cargo in December, but NASA delayed the
launch to tackle a high-priority repair to the station's cooling
Cygnus is loaded with 3,221 pounds (1461 kg) of equipment and
supplies for the station, including science experiments, computers
and replacement parts for NASA's spacesuits.
The capsule also holds food, fresh fruit and belated Christmas gifts
for the crew. "We haven't changed them out for Valentine's cards,"
The freighter is due to arrive at the station shortly after 6 a.m.
EST/1100 GMT on Sunday.
(Editing by Kevin Gray, Stephen Powell and Jonathan Oatis)
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