NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- A NASA contractor says it will ferry supplies from Virginia to the International Space Station in late September in what the company hopes will be the first of many resupply missions.
Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corp. says its Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch sometime between Sept. 14 and 19, and dock with the International Space Station on Sept. 22.
The company had hoped to launch its unmanned spacecraft on a demonstration flight to the International Space Station sooner than that. But a notice on the company's website says the NASA facility it launches from on the Eastern Shore of Virginia has another high-profile launch already scheduled for early September. If there are delays with that other launch - the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment Explorer mission - Orbital says it will be prepared to launch as early as late August.
In April, Orbital successfully test-launched the rocket that will carry the spacecraft from Wallops Island, Va. The company is now in the process of integrating and testing the launch vehicle for the September launch.
Orbital is one of two companies with contracts to resupply the International Space Station after NASA ended its three-decade-old shuttle program in 2011. The space agency turned to private companies for the job, saying it would focus on getting manned flights to asteroids and to Mars. The U.S. also plans to turn to private companies to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station, but that's still several years away. Until then, the U.S. must rely on hitching expensive rides with the Russians.
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., was awarded a $1.6 billion contract by NASA in 2006 to make a dozen restocking missions. SpaceX launches its cargo ship from Florida and has linked up with the space station three times. Its Dragon capsule doesn't burn up in the atmosphere upon return and the company wants to repurpose it so it can also carry astronauts.
In 2008, Orbital jumped in and was awarded a $1.9 billion contract for eight deliveries. Orbital has said it wasn't cost effective to design a cargo ship capable of re-entry. The September mission is technically a demonstration flight to prove its cargo ship can dock with the space station, but company officials agreed to deliver cargo as long as it was going there anyways. SpaceX did the same thing with its unmanned Dragon capsule.
Orbital officials hope to make their first contract-delivery from Wallops Island later this year.
The Cygnus spacecraft is already fueled and loaded with about 1,300 pounds of cargo, including food, clothing and spare parts. Another 250 pounds of supplies will be added at a later date.
After delivering its supplies, the Cygnus spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere upon its return.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis