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Cygnus debuts its space delivery service

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA's newest delivery service made its first-ever shipment to the International Space Station on Sunday, another triumph for the booming commercial space arena that has its sights set on launching astronauts.

Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned cargo ship, the Cygnus, pulled up at the orbiting lab with a half-ton of meals and special treats for the station astronauts who assisted in the high-flying feat.

With the smooth linkup, Orbital Sciences of Virginia became only the second company to accomplish such a far-flung shipment. The California-based SpaceX company took the lead last year.

NASA officials along with White House representatives declared it a historic day.

“It was just a very, very impressive job ... I just couldn't be happier and more proud,” said the NASA manager overseeing the commercial effort, Alan Lindenmoyer.

Now that the space station has two U.S. private companies capable of delivering goods, he noted, “it's certainly relief and something we're ready to celebrate.”

All this was a week late in coming.

The Cygnus — named after the swan constellation — should have arrived last Sunday, four days after its launch from Virginia on Sept. 18. But a discrepancy in navigation data between the capsule and the space station led to a frustrating standoff. A simple software repair was carried out by ground controllers. Then the Cygnus had to wait for a Russian spacecraft to bring three new astronauts.

The wait involved “some hair-pulling and heartache,” said Orbital Sciences Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson. But in the end, the company's patience was rewarded with a perfect rendezvous demonstration.

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