CAPE CANAVERAL (Reuters) – An unmanned Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday to deliver a cargo ship to the International Space Station for NASA.
The 208-foot (63-metre) tall booster, built and launched by privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, bolted off its seaside launch pad at 1.52 am EDT/0552 GMT, slicing the night-time sky with a bright plume of light as it headed into orbit.
Ten minutes later, the Dragon cargo capsule perched on top of the rocket was released to begin a two-day journey to the space station, a $100 billion research complex that flies about 260 miles (420 km) above Earth.
The spaceship is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) of equipment, supplies and science experiments, including 20 live mice for medical experiments, a prototype 3-D printer and an instrument to monitor ocean wind speeds.
The mission, which was delayed one day by poor weather, is the fourth under the company’s 12-flight $1.6 billion NASA contract for cargo delivery services.
Sunday’s launch was the second in two weeks for California-based SpaceX, the fastest turnaround between missions since Falcon 9 rockets began flying in June 2010.
“We are ramping up for that launch rate, and actually even more than that,” Hans Koenigsmann, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) vice president of mission assurance, told reporters at a prelaunch news conference.