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Orbital Science

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Orbital Science, The number of private cargo ships in space just doubled.A rocket from Orbital Sciences successfully blasted off Wednesday at 10:58 a.m. EST, carrying the second private cargo craft ever on a supply mission to the International Space Station.

“Go Antares, go Cygnus,” mission control whispered in the moments before the Antares rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility in Virginia, carrying the Cygnus craft and 1,300 pounds of food, clothes and other items — including chocolate for the astronauts aboard the station.

The rocket quickly reached 10,000 miles per hour, ultimately topping 16,700 miles per hour before slowing a touch on its way to a a planned Sunday delivery.

If this latest mission succeeds, Orbital Sciences will start launching more Cygnus cargo ships under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. The commercial effort began more than five years ago.

The California-based SpaceX is already shipping goods from Cape Canaveral, Fla., under a separate $1.6 billion contract. Its first trip was in May last year.

Formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk of PayPal fame has the only unmanned vessel capable of returning space station items to Earth. The SpaceX Dragon parachutes into the Pacific off the Southern California coast.

The smaller Cygnus capsule from Orbital Sciences Corp. will be filled with space station trash following its month-long visit and burn up upon descent. That’s the same fate as the Russian, European and Japanese supply ships.

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