The Federal Aviation Administration has granted Orbital Sciences Corp. a license to launch a demonstration flight to the International Space Station early next year, the company announced today.
The first launch of Orbital's Cygnus cargo module atop a Taurus II rocket is tentatively planned in late February from Wallops Island, Va.
A first test flight of the Taurus II is planned late this year, and Orbital said an expanded FAA license covering that launch was expected soon.
Dulles, Va.-based Orbital is one of two U.S. companies, along with Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, on which NASA is relying to deliver cargo to the station after the shuttle's retirement.
SpaceX hopes to launch its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft on a demonstration flight to the station Nov. 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The schedule for both demonstration flights will depend on NASA's ability to keep the space station staffed beyond this fall following last week's failed Russian resupply mission.
New crews won't be able to fly to the station until a Russian commission completes an investigation of the failure, which involves a Soyuz rocket similar to the one that launches astronauts and cosmonauts.
IMAGE: Artist rendering of Taurus II Launch. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.