Orbital Sciences Corp., one of NASA's two private-sector partners in the space cargo business, launched its first mission to the International Space Station.

The rocket carrying the Cygnus freighter lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia's Wallops Island.

Both Cygnus and the two-stage Antares booster were built by Orbital Sciences.

The company, which successfully tested the rocket in April, has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the ISS.

NASA's other corporate partner, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), already has several missions to the ISS under its belt.

The U.S. space agency has turned to the private sector in the wake of the 2011 retirement of NASA's space shuttles.

The Cygnus is expected to approach the ISS on Sunday, when astronauts will deploy the station's robotic arm to maneuver the capsule into docking position.

While it is only carrying 700 kilos (1,541 lbs.) of supplies on its inaugural journey, the Cygnus's maximum capacity is 2,100 kilos, Orbital Sciences said. EFE