Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket had its first successful launch today, carrying a mock cargo ship into orbit before the rocket burned up in the atmosphere. It comes after two delays, for both weather and mechanical failure, but resulted in a strong showing for the Antares' two-stage booster engine, which utilizes a combination of liquid and solid fuels. Once testing is complete, the rocket is expected to take over resupply and crew launches to the International Space Station. The dummy cargo ship, which weighed over four tons, included three small Phonesat satellites as part of a NASA research experiment, as well as a larger Dove-1 satellite carried on behalf of telecom company Cosmogia.
It's part of a longterm shift at NASA from public missions to private contracts, which has also seen billion-dollar contracts for Elon Musk's SpaceX project project and a gradual phase-out of NASA's own space shuttle project. As one Nasa administrator told Space.com, "This is the culmination of a plan that we've been on for several years." With this successful launch behind them, Orbital Sciences is planning subsequent launches every three to six months, with two more scheduled for 2013 and at least one more mock-launch before they start ferrying actual cargo.