SpaceX has launched the first of a dozen planned missions to supply the International Space Station, after having successfully tested its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket earlier this year.
Thewas designed to see whether the Dragon could successfully reach and dock with the ISS, but Sunday's launch marked the beginning of SpaceX's true commercial operations. The , so it now has to rely on private enterprises to carry cargo to and from the inhabited satellite.
The unmanned Dragon, which is carrying crew supplies and space station hardware, took off from Cape Canaveral at 8:35pm Eastern Time on Sunday, or 1:35am on Monday in British Summer Time.
"We are right where we need to be at this stage in the mission," SpaceX chief Elon Musk, the PayPal and Tesla Motors founder, said in a statement. "We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon's approach to the space station. But the launch was an unqualified success."
Dragon is due to attach to the ISS on Wednesday and hang around for two weeks, before coming back to Earth on 28 October — it is currently the only space station cargo craft that can bring back a "significant amount" of supplies with it, and will return with space station hardware and scientific materials.
SpaceX's ISS cargo contract with NASA is worth some $1.6bn (£1bn). At some point in the future, the company hopes its craft will be able to carry people, too.