Antares launch from Wallops Island, Va.: An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket with the Cygnus cargo freighter launches from NASA's Wallops Island, Va., facility. NASA-TV.
(FLORIDA TODAY) - A new U.S. cargo carrier is closing in on the International Space Station, setting the stage for a final approach and capture by the outpost Sunday morning.
"Spacecraft remains healthy and performing well," an Orbital Sciences Corp. Twitter message said Saturday of the company's unmanned Cygnus freighter. "Hope to see @AstroKarenN and @astro_luca tomorrow."
That's Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, who will monitor the Cygnus' approach and attempt to capture it with the station's 58-foot robotic arm around 7:25 a.m.
NASA TV coverage begins at 4:30 a.m., and we'll be tweeting regular updates (see @flatoday_jdean).
The ISS Mission Management Team on Saturday morning gave its "go" to proceed with the rendezvous operations.
Since launching Wednesday from Virginia, Orbital' Cygnus has reported no problems as it has gradually chased down the station and completed the first of 10 required system demonstrations.
Those tests will continue early Sunday as the Cygnus climbs up directly beneath the station to the capture point.
Mission controllers at Orbital's headquarters in Dulles, Va., and in Houston will confirm the spacecraft is communicating with the ground and station, able to calculate its position and closing rate.
The Expedition 37 crew, also including Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, will command the Cygnus to hold and retreat, confirming they could abort the approach if necessary.
If all goes well Parmitano, sitting in the station's windowed Cupola 260 miles above Earth, will perform the capture as both spacecraft orbit at 17,500 mph, then proceed to berth the Cygnus to the Harmony node to start its month-long visit.
The Cygnus is carrying 1,300 pounds of food, clothing and other supplies on the demonstration for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.
The demonstration mission is the final step before Orbital begins to execute a $1.9 billion resupply contract and joins SpaceX as one of NASA's two commercial resupply partners.