Orbital Sciences Corporation’s unmanned Cygnus spaceship is on track to berth with the International Space Station on Sunday, marking its second trip to the research outpost, the company says.
Once Cygnus approaches nine metres from the orbiting lab, the space station’s robotic arm will reach out and grab the incoming cargo carrier.
The rendezvous is scheduled for 2202 AEDT, Orbital and NASA said on their websites Saturday.
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and his US colleague Mike Hopkins will be operating the space lab’s 17-metre Canadian-made mechanical arm, known as the Canadarm.
“The crew then will use the robotic arm to guide Cygnus to its berthing port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node for installation,” NASA said.
The mission is the first official resupply trip for Orbital’s cargo ship, coming on the heels of the company’s successful demonstration flight and berthing at the ISS in September.
Cygnus is delivering 1260kg of supplies to the space station, including hardware, food and science experiments.
The spacecraft will be unloaded soon after arrival, then packed with disposable items. It will remain at the station until mid-February.
After Cygnus detaches, it will burn up on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere and will disintegrate over the Pacific Ocean.
SpaceX is due to send its Dragon capsule to the ISS shortly afterward, for yet another cargo mission.
Both Orbital and SpaceX have contracts with NASA worth more than $US1 billion ($A1.13 billion) each to supply the space station over multiple trips, restoring US access to the ISS after the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Cygnus’s berthing at the ISS on Sunday marks the fifth mooring of a private vessel at the space station in two years.