An unmanned U.S. commercial
cargo ship flew to the International Space
Station on Sunday, completing the primary
goal of its test flight before supply runs
begin in December.
After a series of successful steering
maneuvers, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus
freighter parked about 39 feet from the
station at 6:50 a.m. EDT/1050 GMT as the
ships sailed 260 miles above the Southern
Ocean south of Africa.
Ten minutes later, Italian astronaut Luca
Parmitano and NASA's Karen Nyberg used
the station's robotic arm to pluck the capsule
from orbit and guide it to a berthing slip on
the station's Harmony connecting node.
"That's a long time coming, looks great,"
radioed astronaut Catherine Coleman from
NASA's Mission Control in Houston.
Cygnus' arrival had been delayed a week -
first by a software glitch and then by the
higher priority docking of a Russian Soyuz
capsule ferrying three new crewmembers to
the $100 billion outpost, a project of 15
Orbital Sciences' new unmanned Antares
rocket blasted off on September 18 from a
new launch pad on the Virginia coast to put
Cygnus into orbit.
"We learned a lot on this one," Orbital
Sciences executive vice president Frank
Culbertson told reporters after launch.
NASA contributed $288 million toward
Antares' and Cygnus' development and
awarded Orbital Sciences a $1.9 billion
contract for eight station resupply missions,
the first of which is targeted for December.
The U.S. space agency also provided $396
million to privately owned Space Exploration
Technologies to help develop the Falcon 9
rocket and Dragon cargo ship. The company,
known as SpaceX, holds a $1.5 billion NASA
contract for 12 cargo runs to the station, two
of which already have been completed.
Unlike SpaceX's Dragon capsule, Cygnus is
not designed to return to Earth. After
astronauts unload more than 1,500 pounds
(680 kg) of food, clothing and supplies that
were packed aboard Cygnus, it will be filled
with trash, detached from the station and
flown into the atmosphere for incineration.
Thales Alenia Space, a consortium led by
Europe's largest defense electronics
company, France's Thales, is a prime
contractor on the capsule.
For now, NASA is the only customer for
Cygnus, but Orbital Sciences expects
additional business as the United States and
other countries launch exploration initiatives
beyond the space station's orbit.