* Orbital Sciences freighter on trial 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 to the International Space Station on Sunday, completingthe primary goal of its test flight before supply runs begin inDecember.
After a series of successful steering maneuvers, the OrbitalSciences Cygnus freighter parked about 39 feet (12 meters) fromthe station at 6:50 a.m. EDT/1050 GMT as the ships sailed 260miles (420 km) above the Southern Ocean south of Africa.
Ten minutes later, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano andNASA's Karen Nyberg used the station's robotic arm to pluck thecapsule from orbit and guide it to a berthing slip on thestation's Harmony connecting node.
"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.
"We learned a lot on this one," Orbital Sciences executivevice president Frank Culbertson told reporters after launch.
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 company, known asSpaceX, holds a $1.5 billion NASA contract for 12 cargo runs tothe station, two of which already have been completed.
Unlike SpaceX's Dragon capsule, Cygnus is not designed toreturn to Earth. After astronauts unload more than 1,500 pounds(680 kg) of food, clothing and supplies that were packed aboardCygnus, it will be filled with trash, detached from the stationand flown into the atmosphere for incineration.
Thales Alenia Space, a consortium led by Europe's largestdefense electronics company, France's Thales, is a primecontractor on the capsule.
For now, NASA is the only customer for Cygnus, but OrbitalSciences expects additional business as the United States andother countries launch exploration initiatives beyond the spacestation's orbit.
- Orbital Sciences
- International Space Station