WASHINGTON, (PNA/Xinhua) — A new privately owned U.S. spaceship carrying food, clothing and other cargo blasted off Wednesday on a demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Cygnus spacecraft, built by U.S. space firm Orbital Sciences Corp., was launched atop the company’s Antares rocket at 10:58 a.m. EDT (1458 GMT) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island off the U.S. east coast.
“Look out ISS, here we come,” Orbital said in a tweet after Cygnus’s successful separation from the rocket. Cheers could be heard inside the launch control area, NASA TV showed.
“Today marks a milestone in our new era of exploration as we expand the capability for making cargo launches to the International Space Station from American shores,” Charles Bolden, head of the U.S. space agency, said in a statement.
“Orbital’s extraordinary efforts are helping us fulfill the promise of American innovation to maintain our nation’s leadership in space,” Bolden said.
It was the maiden flight of Cygnus, which carries 1,300 pounds (589 kg) of various supplies, and the second flight of Antares, which made a successful debut in April.
The goal of the mission is to demonstrate the capability of Orbital’s cargo transportation system to deliver cargo to the space station.
The Cygnus spaceship is now traveling 28,000 km per hour in Earth’s orbit. It will carry out a series of tests and maneuvers over a four-day period in a bid to demonstrate its readiness to rendezvous and berth with the station, planned for Sunday.
“We are very pleased with the early operations of the COTS ( Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) demonstration mission, ” David Thompson, Orbital’s president and chief executive officer, said. “There is clearly still a lot of work in front of us, but the mission looks like it is off to a great start.”
If everything goes as planned, the Virginia-based company plans to begin regularly scheduled cargo supply missions under its 1.9- billion-U.S.-dollar Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA later this year.
Orbital is currently scheduled to launch the first of eight CRS missions to the space station as early as December. All CRS flights will originate from Wallops Island, which is geographically well suited for space station missions and can also accommodate launches of scientific, defense and commercial satellites to other orbits.
Another U.S. company, California-based SpaceX, made history in a May 2012 test flight when its Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle in history to deliver cargo to the space station and safely return cargo to Earth.
Dragon has already made three trips to the space station and it still need to complete another ten to fulfill its 1.6-billion- dollar contract with NASA.
Before Dragon’s liftoff, flights to the space station have always been a government-only affair. Until their retirement, U.S. space shuttles carried most of the gear and many of the astronauts to the orbiting outpost. Since then, American astronauts have had to rely on Russian capsules for rides.
NASA is looking to the private sector, in this post-shuttle era, to have American astronauts launched from U.S. soil. It will be at least four to five years before the country’s private operators are capable of flying astronauts.