Orbital Sciences Corp. completed its first attempt to fly an unmanned commercial craft to the International Space Station.
Cygnus, the cargo spacecraft, landed this morning just before 8:45 a.m. New York time, Orbital said today in a statement. The capsule was carried by the company’s Antares rocket, which lifted off from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore on Sept. 18.
The successful mission means Orbital can now start making regular cargo deliveries under its $1.9 billion NASA contract. NASA is counting on private companies such as Orbital and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to resupply the space station after retiring its fleet in 2011.
“Today, with the successful berthing of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo module to the ISS, we have expanded America’s capability for reliably transporting cargo to low-Earth orbit,” Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, said today in a statement. “It is an historic milestone as this second commercial partner’s demonstration mission reaches the ISS.”
The Orbital spacecraft had been expected to reach the station on Sept. 22. Completion of the flight was postponed due to a mismatch in data format that required fixing and because it had to wait for the arrival of the Soyuz space crew.
“A small data format discrepancy was addressed and patched,” Barron Beneski, a spokesman for Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital, said today in an e-mail. “So today was our first opportunity to rendezvous and it went flawlessly.”