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U.S. cargo ship blasts off with supplies for space station

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla (Reuters) - - An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp Antares rocket blasted off from a seaside launch pad in Virginia on Sunday, sending a Cygnus cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station, a NASA Television broadcast showed.

The 133-foot-tall (41-meter-tall) rocket lifted off at 12:52 p.m. EDT/1652 GMT from a commercially operated launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility on the Virginia coast.

Perched on top of the rocket was a Cygnus spacecraft, built by Orbital Sciences in partnership with Italy’s Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture of Thales SA and Finmeccanica SpA.

The freighter was loaded with more than 3,660 pounds (1,660 kg) of food, science equipment and supplies for the space station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 264 miles (425 km) above Earth. The capsule was slated to reach the orbital outpost on Wednesday.

The mission is the second of eight station cargo runs by Orbital Sciences under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA.

Orbital Sciences made its first cargo run to the station in January. It has not yet announced other customers for its medium-lift Antares rocket, a two-stage booster that relies on Russian-built AJ-26 engines to power its first stage.

Orbital Sciences named the Cygnus ship launched on Sunday the SS Janice Voss, a tribute to Voss, a five-time shuttle astronaut and former Orbital Sciences engineer who died of breast cancer in 2012.

The capsule is expected to remain berthed at the space station for about a month. Once unloaded, it will be filled with garbage and items no longer needed by the station crew and redirected into the atmosphere for incineration.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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