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Video: Orbital Sciences begins contracted cargo flights to space station

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Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. has officially begun contracted cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) with the successful launch of their Cygnus spacecraft Thursday. Dozens of new science experiments and supplies are packed aboard the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft for the crew aboard the station.

Cygnus was launched into Earth orbit from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Va. at 1:07 p.m. EDT by Orbital's Antares rocket.

“The Orbital-1 mission began the company's first contracted cargo delivery flight to the station through a $1.9 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract,” the space agency said in a press release following the launch. “Orbital will fly at least eight cargo missions to the space station through 2016.”

“The Orbital-1 mission is carrying 2,780 pounds of supplies to the station,” NASA said. “This cargo includes vital science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and other hardware. One NASA experiment will study the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight.” Another will examine how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could help in future design for spacecraft materials.

Cygnus will be grappled at 6:02 a.m. Sunday by Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA, who will use the station's robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. “Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will support Hopkins in a backup position,” NASA added. “Wakata will serve as the primary crew member to berth the spacecraft to the station. NASA's Rick Mastracchio will support him in a backup position. The capsule is scheduled to depart the station in February and burn up during reentry in Earth’s atmosphere.

The ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In that time, it has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft.”

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