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Cygnus cargo ship flies to space station

Antares launch
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket lifts off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, sending a robotic Cygnus cargo capsule into orbit. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

Almost four tons of supplies, hardware and science payloads are heading to the International Space Station after today’s launch of a robotic Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship.

The spacecraft, dubbed the SS Roger Chaffee in honor of one of the astronauts killed in the 1967 Apollo 1 launch-pad fire, was sent into orbit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast at 4:46 p.m. ET (1:46 p.m. PT) atop Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket. The afternoon launch could be seen from a wide area of the East Coast’s mid-Atlantic region.

Cygnus’ 7,600-pound shipment includes experiments aimed at manufacturing high-quality optical fiber in zero-gravity, as well as nanoparticles that could someday be used for drug delivery. A host of nanosatellites are on board and due for deployment either from the space station or from the cylindrical Cygnus craft itself.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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