European cargo craft heads for space station

Image: Ariane 5 ES-ATV rocket blasted-off from French Guiana
The Ariane 5 ES-ATV rocket takes off from a launch pad from the European Space Agency's space center in French Guiana early Sunday, lofting the Jules Verne ATV cargo craft toward the international space station.Decollage Toucan/ Esa / EPA
/ Source: news services

An unmanned Ariane rocket blasted off from French Guiana early Sunday in Europe's first mission to carry supplies to the international space station, space officials said.

The modified Ariane-5 launcher lifted off at 1:03 a.m. local time (11:03 p.m. ET Saturday) from Europe's spaceport in Kourou on the northeast coast of South America with a cargo module on the top of the rocket. The launch, originally scheduled for Saturday, was pushed back to after midnight local time on Sunday to allow for more checks on the launch pad.

The module, dubbed "Jules Verne" in honor of the visionary 19th-century French science fiction writer, is the first Automatic Transfer Vehicle that Europe has committed to its participation in the space station program.

"The first part of the Ariane 5 mission has reached an end," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the Arianespace launch company. "The upper stage and the ATV are now to fly over Europe, the southeast of Asia and Australia."

The ATV will remain in a "parking orbit" and then is scheduled to dock with the ISS on April 3.

The cargo carrier is bringing 21 tons of supplies for the space station, including food, oxygen, water and equipment, according to Arianespace, the commercial arm of the 13-country European Space Agency. It is the first of nine missions that Arianespace has arranged to service the station over the next several years.

The European Space Agency said it has so far spent nearly $2 billion on the ATV program.

This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.