The unmanned Cygnus spacecraft was launched atop the Antares rocket, also built by Orbital Sciences, at 1:07 pm EDT (1707 GMT) from the US space agency's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia.

"Liftoff!" Orbital Sciences said in a tweet. "Love feeling the roar of a launch."

The mission began the company's first contracted cargo delivery flight to the station through a USD 1.9-billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. Orbital Sciences will fly at least eight cargo missions to the Space Station through 2016.

"Today's launch demonstrates how our strategic investments in the American commercial spaceflight industry are helping ... keep United States the world leader in space exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

"American astronauts have been living and working continuously in space for the past 13 years on board the International Space Station, and we're once again sending them supplies launched from US soil," Bolden said.

The spacecraft is carrying 2,780 pounds (1,260 kg) of supplies to the Space Station, including food, spare part and science experiments, 23 of which are from US and Canadian students. These experiments address life sciences topics ranging from vaccine effectiveness and amoeba reproduction to calcium loss in bones and liquid behaviour in space, the US company said.

If all goes well, Cygnus is expected to arrive at the Space Station on early Sunday, where it will be captured by astronauts using the orbiting outpost's robotic arm. It will depart the station in February and burn up during reentry in Earth's atmosphere.


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