Miami (AFP) - An unmanned Orbital ATK cargo ship rocket packed with food and supplies for the astronauts living at the International Space Station blasted off Tuesday from a NASA launch pad.
The barrel-shaped Cygnus spacecraft, nestled atop a white Atlas V rocket, soared into the blue sky over Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:11 am (1511 GMT).
"Liftoff of the Atlas V rocket with Cygnus and the S.S. John Glenn, extending the research legacy for living and working in space," said US space agency commentator George Diller.
The cargo ship was named after John Glenn, the famed astronaut who was the first American to orbit the Earth and who died last year at age 95.
"Cygnus is healthy and both solar arrays are deployed," Orbital ATK said in a statement later in the day.
The mission is the company's seventh as part of a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to ferry supplies to the orbiting outpost.
SpaceX also has a cargo contract with NASA worth $1.6 billion.
The Cygnus spacecraft is loaded with 7,626 pounds (3,459 kilograms) of crew supplies, hardware and dozens of experiments aimed at studying fire, growing food and cancer therapies.
- Plants and fire -
It contains the Advanced Plant Habitat, which will help astronauts grow food and practice techniques for sustaining themselves on future long duration flights.
The spacecraft is also carrying 38 small satellites called Cube Sats, which will be deployed later on.
The Cygnus should arrive at the station on April 22, after the scheduled docking Thursday of a Russian Soyuz spaceship carrying cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and American astronaut Jack Fischer.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson of NASA will operate the space station's robotic arm to grab the Cygnus and bring it in to berth at the lab at 6:05 am (1005 GMT) on Saturday, NASA said.
After the astronauts unpack the Cygnus, they will reload it with trash that will burn up along with the spacecraft upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere on July 25.
But before its mission comes to a fiery end, Cygnus will spend a couple of hours running an automated experiment to see how a large-scale fire acts in microgravity.
"While in space, after traveling a safe distance from the station, the fire is lit and data is collected before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere," said a statement from NASA.
Known as Saffire-III, the experiment is the third in a series and aims to better understand how fire acts in space in order to safeguard future space missions.
"The experiment lasts about two-and-a-half hours, of which 20 minutes is the actual burn of a fabric panel measuring 0.4 meters (yards) wide by one meter long."
A 360-degree live stream of the launch was broadcast on http://youtube.com/nasatelevision