Hours after liftoff today, Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft is flying at 17,500 mph as it races to rendezvous with the International Space Station.
Loaded with 1,300 pounds of supplies, including food and clothing for the astronauts, the unmanned spacecraft launched 10:58 a.m. ET from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. It is set to rendezvous with the space station, which flies about 260 miles above Earth, on Sunday.
Shortly after launch, the spacecraft separated from the Antares rocket that carried it aloft and its two power-generating solar arrays successfully deployed.
"This is just the beginning of what we can do to support human space flight," Orbital Sciences tweeted Frank Culbertson, its executive vice president and former NASA astronaut, as saying earlier today.
If all goes well with the resupply mission, NASA will have two commercial companies that it can tap to carry supplies to the the space station.
NASA's long-running space shuttle fleet is officially retired, and the space agency is dependent on a young commercial space industry to ferry supplies, and eventually astronauts, to the space station.
In May, SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch a spacecraft that docked with the space station. The company launched its own test flight in 2012 and was approved to run regular resupply missions.
If all goes well for Orbital Sciences, based in Dulles, Va., it will be similarly approved.
Several of the spacecraft's systems and capabilities will be tested during Cygnus' journey to the space station. When the space station flight control team verifies the test results, Cygnus will be cleared to approach the orbiter.
Once it's within close range of the space station, an astronaut will use the station's robotic arms to grab the Cygnus and then dock it.
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