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Northrop launches International Space Station cargo mission

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, lifts off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Saturday afternoon. NASA Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/UPI
The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, lifts off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Saturday afternoon. NASA Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Northrop Grumman successfully launched its Cygnus cargo capsule to the International Space Station from Virginia on Saturday without a hitch. Liftoff of the Antares rocket came on time at 3:21 p.m. EST.

The Cygnus capsule is carrying 8,000 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies and hardware. The company postponed a launch attempt Friday due to strong high-altitude winds, which can knock a rocket off its course as it ascends.

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The company's Antares rocket will carry a disposable capsule on Northrop's CRS-13 mission from Pad 0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

A previous launch attempt on Sunday had been scrubbed less than three minutes before liftoff time because of "off-nominal data" from sensors on the ground, according to NASA.

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Northrop and NASA said crews had replaced the ground sensors and tested the replacements. Crews also refreshed critical science equipment on board that has a limited shelf life.

The weather on Saturday is 85 percent favorable for launch, according to local forecasts. If liftoff occurs at the planned time, that would result bring the capsule to the space station about 2:30 a.m. EST Tuesday, with docking about 6 a.m.

As with all launches to the space station, the launch window is instantaneous, meaning any problems can cause a postponement to the next day or a future date.

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Northrop designed the Cygnus capsule to accept trash from the space station after delivering cargo and burn up in the atmosphere after leaving.

The capsule carries equipment for multiple science experiments. Examples include tissue culturing, a demonstration of a new miniature scanning electron microscope and an experiment to study fires aboard spacecraft.

Because the last leg of the unmanned Cygnus is doomed, anyway, NASA researcher Gary Ruff said it is "the perfect vehicle for us to do what we really want to do, which is burn larger samples. ... It goes away and nobody's on it."

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