CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —
The successful arrival means Orbital Sciences can start making good on a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for more Cygnus deliveries, each one carrying more and more cargo. The next one could fly by Christmas.
“We have a big incentive ahead of us,” said Culbertson, a former astronaut who lived on the space station a decade ago.
John Holdren, assistant to President Barack Obama for science and technology, said Sunday’s success validates the president’s goal of focusing NASA on deep-space exploration and leaving station cargo and astronaut hauls to private industry.
“Space history was made again today,” Holdren said in a statement.
Sunday’s operation culminated several years of effort for Orbital Sciences, which was hired by NASA along with SpaceX — formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — to keep the space station well stocked in this post-shuttle era.
SpaceX has been launching its supply ships, called Dragon, from Cape Canaveral for more than a year. It’s also working on a possible manned capsule that would ferry U.S. astronauts to the space station, rather than having them hitch rides on Russian rockets. The cargo contract alone, with NASA, is worth $1.6 billion.
From Southern California on Sunday, as Orbital Sciences celebrated its own victory, SpaceX launched a beefed-up Falcon 9 rocket with a Canadian science satellite. The demo flight appeared to go well.
Unlike the SpaceX Dragon that can return items to Earth, the Cygnus is designed to burn up upon descent. Once unloaded of its 1,300 pounds worth of food, clothes and other items, it will be filled with trash and cut loose on Oct. 22. That’s how the Russian, European and Japanese supply ships end up as well: self-destructing garbage cans.
The latest Cygnus delivery — also a test flight — included student experiments and, almost certainly, chocolate for the crew. That’s what astronaut Karen Nyberg was expecting, anyway, from her astronaut-husband and 3-year-old son.