Commercial cargo ship reaches International Space Station


* Orbital Sciences freighter on trail run to outpost

* Slated to begin resupply flights in December

* Rival SpaceX preparing to test new rocket

By Irene Klotz

Sept 29 (Reuters) - An unmanned U.S. commercial cargo shipflew itself to the International Space Station on Sunday,completing the primary goal of its debut test flight beforesupply runs begin in December.

After a series of successful steering maneuvers, the OrbitalSciences Cygnus freighter parked about 39 feet (12meters) from the station at 6:50 a.m. EDT/1050 GMT as the shipssailed 260 miles (420 km) above the Southern Ocean south ofAfrica.

Ten minutes later, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano andNASA's Karen Nyberg used the station's robotic arm to pluck thecapsule from orbit and prepared to attach it to a berthing slip.

"That's a long time coming, looks great," radioed astronautCatherine Coleman from NASA's Mission Control in Houston.

Cygnus' arrival had been delayed a week - first by asoftware glitch and then by the higher priority docking of aRussian Soyuz capsule ferrying three new crewmembers to the $100billion outpost, a project of 15 nations.

Orbital Sciences' new unmanned Antares rocket blasted off onSept. 18 from a new launch pad on the Virginia coast to putCygnus into orbit.

NASA contributed $288 million toward Antares' and Cygnus'development and awarded Orbital Sciences a $1.9 billion contractfor eight station resupply missions, the first of which istargeted for December.

The U.S. space agency also provided $396 million toprivately owned Space Exploration Technologies to help developthe Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship. The firm, known asSpaceX, holds a $1.5 billion NASA contract for 12 cargo runs tothe station, two of which already have been completed.

On Sunday, SpaceX was poised to test an upgraded version ofits Falcon 9 rocket. Launch from a new complex at Vandenberg AirForce Base, located just north of Lompoc on the centralCalifornia coast.

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