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Nasa shipper Orbital ATK launches space station supplies

The Antares rocket set off from Wallops Island in Virginia en route for the International Space Station.

One of Nasa’s prime shippers, Orbital ATK, has launched a fresh load of supplies to the International Space Station.

The Antares rocket blasted off from Wallops Island, Virginia, before dawn on Monday, treating early risers along the East Coast to a cosmic light show wherever the skies were clear.

The 7,400lb shipment – a third of it relating to research – should reach the orbiting lab on Thursday.

The Cygnus capsule contains a student cement-mixing experiment, as well as an atom-cooling chamber from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that uses lasers to get temperatures colder than even space itself. There is also equipment for a spacewalk next month.

Named after the swan constellation, the Cygnus is making Orbital ATK’s ninth contracted delivery for Nasa. SpaceX is Nasa’s other supplier.

This particular Cygnus is called the SS JR Thompson, in honour of the former NASA and Orbital ATK executive, who died in November.

Launch controllers wore dark suits, white shirts and red ties in memory of Mr Thompson, who dressed that way on the job.

The space station is currently home to three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese. Three of them will return to Earth at the beginning of June, followed by the launch of three new crew members from Kazakhstan.

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