WASHINGTON — Orbital Sciences Corp. mated its Cygnus space capsule to its Antares rocket in preparation for the first of eight planned cargo delivery missions to the international space station through 2016.

The scheduled Dec. 18 launch, from a state-owned launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Faculty on Wallops Island, Va., will be the third for Antares and the second for Cygnus, which delivered its first cache of cargo to the station in a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration mission that wrapped up in October.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital, like fellow NASA cargo hauler Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), developed its logistics hardware in part with COTS funding and with advances on the Commercial Resupply Services contact it got from NASA in 2008. Orbital’s contact is worth $1.8 million. SpaceX’s 12-flight deal is worth $1.6 million.

NASA advanced the companies only a portion of the fee owed for each flight. The remainder of the fee can be collected only after a successful mission.

Follow Dan on Twitter: @Leone_SN

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...