The field in the commercial race to the International Space Station is about to get a little more crowded.

Poor weather and a technical issue delayed the launch of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft Tuesday, but the company has been cleared for takeoff from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at about 10 a.m. today.

The technical issue delaying the mission, a problem with communication between ground equipment and the Antares flight computer, has been resolved, and Orbital is all clear to launch, NASA said Tuesday.

The space agency will broadcast the launch on its website, www.nasa.gov, and is set to begin coverage at about 9:15 a.m.

The craft is still scheduled to rendezvous with the space station early Sunday after several days of demonstration maneuvers and testing.

The test flight is the culmination of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, Orbital Sciences Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson said in a news conference Tuesday.

Orbital is set to become the second company to send a cargo craft to the station. SpaceX has conducted three flights to resupply astronauts on orbit.  

The craft is named after the late George David Low, a NASA astronaut and Orbital executive.

The solar-powered, unmanned ship will be filled with about 1,300 pounds of supplies, mostly food and clothing. It will spend about 30 days docked with the space station. Astronauts will empty it, fill it with trash and send the vehicle to be destroyed by the Earth’s atmosphere.

If the demonstration mission is successful, NASA’s $1.9 billion contract with the company calls for eight cargo flights to the station.

The agency’s goal is to have Orbital and SpaceX split resupply missions to the station, allowing NASA to focus on deeper-space exploration, said Alan Lindenmoyer, program manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo program.

The agency also hopes to encourage innovation and growth in the commercial space industry.

“It’s some good healthy competition as the market for space service is growing,” Lindenmoyer said.

Contact reporter Alex Macon at 409-683-5244 or alex.macon@galvnews.com.

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