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Orbit successfully launches rocket in third attempt

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 6:09 p.m.

ATLANTIC, Va. — A company contracted by NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station successfully launched a rocket on Sunday in a test of its ability to send a cargo ship aloft.

About 10 minutes after the launch from Wallops Island on Virginia's Eastern Shore, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles declared the test a success after observing a practice payload reach orbit and safely separate from the rocket.

The launch occurs after two previous attempts were scrubbed. A data cord that was connected to the rocket's second stage came loose minutes before the rocket was set to lift off on Friday, and company officials said they were easily able to fix the problem. A second attempt on Saturday was scrubbed because of wind.

The company from the Washington suburb of Dulles was one of two, along with California-based competitor SpaceX, chosen to supply the space station after NASA ended its three-decade-old shuttle program in 2011. The space agency turned to private companies for the job, saying it would focus on getting manned flights to asteroids and to Mars.

SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 billion contract by NASA in 2006 to make a dozen missions to restock the space station. Orbital got into the mix in 2008 when it was awarded a $1.9 billion contract for eight deliveries.

“We've been playing catch- up, but we're about caught up,” Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's Advanced Programs Group, said on Tuesday. “By the end of next year, we should have an additional four or five cargo missions under our belt, so we're going to be moving fast.”

This summer, Orbital plans to launch a rocket carrying its Cygnus cargo ship to find out whether it can safely dock with the space station. During the scheduled demonstration flight, the cargo ship would carry about 1,600 pounds of supplies.

Those supplies aren't part of the company's contract. But the company agreed to ferry supplies because it was going there much as SpaceX did on its first demonstration flight in May 2012, when it dropped off 1,000 pounds of food, clothes, batteries and other provisions.

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