Cygnus Supply Mission Launch: Orbital Sciences' Spacecraft Will Dock With ISS On Sunday [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on September 20, 2013 4:09 PM EDT

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft will bring 1,300 pounds of clothing and food (including chocolate) to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (Photo: Reuters)

Orbital Sciences Corporation launched a commercial cargo ship on Wednesday, the company's first supply mission to the International Space Station. Cygnus will bring 1,300 pounds of food, clothing and other items to astronauts aboard the ISS. With Wednesday's launch, Orbital has become one of only two private suppliers to the ISS, the first being SpaceX.

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"If you needed more tangible proof that this is a new era of exploration, it's right here, right now in Virginia," said NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot at a news conference after the launch. Cygnus launched from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the site of last month's LADEE take-off; Orbital Systems also had a hand in that event, as LADEE launched into space aboard Orbital's Minotaur 5 rocket.

The launch of Cygnus was a "demonstration" mission to prove to NASA that Orbital is capable of successfully supplying the ISS. While the launch went perfectly, Cygnus will have to be able to autonomously dock to ISS, so Cygnus is not out of the woods yet. The docking will take place on September 22, and event which will be broadcast live on NASA TV (embedded below).

Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to launch eight supply missions over four years. The first of those launches is scheduled for December, with Orbital bringing 2,800 pounds of supplies. (Wednesday's launch was not part of the eight-mission contract.)

Cygnus is not a reusable spacecraft. After 30 days docked aboard the ISS, astronauts will fill Cygnus up with garbage and release it into space, with the craft burning up in the cold and indifferent universe.

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