WASHINGTON — After a 37-day stay, Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus cargo tug detached from its berth at the international space station Feb. 18, marking the beginning of the end of the company’s first paid delivery-and-disposal mission to the outpost.

“We’ve departed,” Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said in a Feb. 18 email. “Everything is going according to plan.”

In the first of eight flights Orbital owes NASA under a $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract awarded in 2008, Cygnus delivered about 1,300 kilograms of cargo to the station after its Jan. 9 launch. After the cargo was unloaded, the barrel-shaped vessel was filled with trash, which will be destroyed along with the craft when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time Jan. 19, Beneski said.

Counting a demonstration cargo mission completed back in October, Cygnus capsules have now paid two visits to the station. The first of those was a demonstration mission to prove that Cygnus and its carrier rocket, Antares, were ready to begin routine cargo services. 

The next Cygnus run to the space station is slated to launch May 1 from the Virginia-operated Mid-Atlantic Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va.

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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...