Payload for international space station launched

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A European Space Agency rocket blasted off Wednesday bearing a 20-tonne supply ship destined for a rendezvous with the manned International Space Station.

The super-charged Ariane 5 ES rocket departed from Kourou, French Guiana just shy of 2151 GMT after a first attempt the day before was scratched at the last minute due to a minor technical glitch with the fueling system.

The liftoff had to take place at that time and no other. "As we are going to the ISS so we have to leave the ground at a specific instant, so there is no launch window," explained Arianespance Chairman Jean-Yves Le Gall.

The Johannes Kepler -- named for the 16th century German astronomer -- is the second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that Arianespace will have delivered to the ISS, which is in low orbit around Earth. The first was launched in March 2008.

Weighing in at more than 20 tonnes, this will be by far the heaviest payload ever launched by the European space programme, nearly 15 times heavier than the pencil-thin trailblazer catapulted into space by ESA in 1979.

The automated vehicle is designed to supply the ISS with life-sustaining air, food, spare parts and experimental hardware, and to reposition the sprawling station into its optimal orbit.

After separating from the launch vehicle, the ATV will be autonomous, using its own systems for energy and guidance in liaison with the control centre in Toulouse, southwestern France.

If successful, the mission will be the 200th in the European space programme.

© 2011 AFP

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