Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy announced May 30 it had shipped the first Cygnus space station cargo transport module to Orbital Sciences Corp. for a planned launch aboard Orbital’s Taurus 2 rocket in December from the new Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Thales Alenia Space’s Turin, Italy, plant contracted with Dulles, Va.-based Orbital in June 2009 to deliver nine Cygnus pressurized cargo modules, starting with a standard version capable of carrying 2,000 kilograms of payload. The final five deliveries will be of the enhanced Cygnus version, which can carry 2,700 kilograms of cargo.

The June 2009 contract was valued at 180 million euros, or $259 million at current exchange rates. At the time, a March 2011 inaugural launch was planned.

Orbital’s first Cygnus launch is being performed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The eight additional flights will be part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Service contract.

Orbital is building the Cygnus service module, which is attached to the Thales Alenia Space-provided cargo module and launched as a unit to the space station.

“[W]e want to highlight that the [cargo module] delivery clearly reflects a new trend in the space business, namely the private sector’s engagement to fulfill critical services on a commercial basis — a segment in which our company is playing a major role,” Luigi Maria Quaglino, general manager of the Turin space infrastructures and transportation business unit, said in a May 30 statement.