Washington (ISJ): The first-ever unmanned cargo ship Cygnus was launched by Orbital Sciences Corp (OSC) to International Space Station, ISS. The robotic vessel was lifted off atop an Antares rocket from the Wallops Spaceport in Virginia, US on Wednesday (Sept. 18). Antares will put the freighter in an orbit more than 240 kilometres above the earth. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the Expedition 37 crew, said NASA in a press release.
?This is just the beginning of what we can do to support human space flight,? Orbital Executive Vice-President Frank Culbertson.
Orbital Sciences Corp is one of the two private entities authorized by NASA to meet resupply requirement of ISS, after de-commissioning of the space shuttles. Based on the success of the demonstration mission, OSC will carry out a series of operational cargo flights to ISS.
Cygnus will park itself under the orbiting lab by Sunday. The astronauts onboard the platform will then reach out to grab the freighter with a robotic arm to unload the cargo a day later. On its return flight after a stay of one month in the orbit, Cygnus will bring the station waste.
NASA plans to hand over routine human spaceflight operations in low-Earth orbit to commercial operators. The freight operation is the first service outsourced by NASA and based on its success, transport of astronauts is planned to be handed over to outside players. NASA hopes to save money on transport, while investing it on explorations to Mars or asteroids.
OSC was awarded the 1.9 billion US dollar contract by NASA covering eight sorties to ISS. California?s SpaceX is the second private agency engaged by NASA to carry out space missions like development of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.