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Orbital becomes second private firm to send cargo craft to ISS

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The mission is the first for one of two private companies involved in carrying frieght to the ISS
  • This ship will be loaded with trash and sent toward Earth, where it'll burn up on re-entry
  • The trip is part of a $1.9 billion contract
  • Next up will be a SpaceX mission in late February

(CNN) -- The first commercial supply mission by Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft has docked at the International Space Station, NASA said Sunday.

Crew members on the ISS will open the hatch Monday and unload 2,780 pounds of supplies and experiments, the news release said.

With the mission, Orbital officially joins SpaceX as a resupply carrier to the space station. Orbital successfully tested a spacecraft with a smaller payload in mid-September.

"From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares (rocket) and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer, and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts," said David W. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orbital, in a written statement from the company.

The experiments sent up to the six ISS crew members include one that will study how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could help designers select future spacecraft materials.

The ship took off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia on Thursday aboard an Antares rocket. A previous attempt at launch was scrubbed in December because the ISS crew needed time to conduct spacewalks for repairs.

It took two hours Sunday morning for the crew to grab the spaceship and attach it to the ISS.

The Cygnus craft will be berthed for 37 days before being loaded with trash and sent back to Earth, Orbital said. It will burn up during re-entry over the Pacific Ocean, officials said.

Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to make eight flights to the space station under the space agency's commercial supply program.

NASA hired Orbital and SpaceX to start making cargo runs to the space station after retiring its fleet of space shuttles and turning much of its focus toward exploring deep into the solar system.

SpaceX has so far made two of its 12 scheduled flights to the ISS under a $1.6 billion contract. According to NASA's 2014 launch calendar, its next flight is due to launch on February 22 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Orbital's next mission is scheduled for May 1.

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