Photo: Dragon (SpaceX)
A Falcon 9 rocket of the SpaceX company blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying into orbit the unmanned cargo spacecraft Dragon, which will dock at the International Space Station on Sunday.
The rocket took off Friday at 1925 GMT from Launch Complex 40 on the Atlantic Coast.
This is the third resupply mission undertaken by the private SpaceX firm.
The unmanned space freighter, which with a full load weighs some 6 tons, is designed to transport equipment, food and crew members, and up to now is the only one produced by the private sector that can return to Earth for reuse.
On Sunday, astronauts Rick Mastracchio amd Steven Swanson, crew members on the ISS, will grapple the Dragon capsule with a 17-meter (56-foot) robotic arm and dock it on the port side.
The spacecraft, which measures 4.4 meters (14.4 feet) high and 3.66 meters (12 feet) in diameter, carries a chamber for growing plants called Experiment Veg-01, or “Veggie,” which could increase food production in orbit.
The research will focus on growing plants from seeds like romaine lettuce while orbiting at some 385 kilometers (239 miles) from Earth at around 27,000 kilometers (16,800 miles) per hour.
“Veggie” is a low-cost seedbed that uses red, blue and green LED lights to grow plants and allow astronauts to observe the process.
NASA is now focused on long missions of exploration that require astronauts to grow their own food in outer space.
NASA has signed contracts with SpaceX and its competitor Orbital Sciences to develop unmanned cargo craft that can continue the resupply and return of equipment, food, scientific experiments and astronauts between Earth and the ISS.