Los Angeles - An unmanned US commercial cargo ship flew itself to the International Space Station on Sunday, completing the primary goal of its debut test flight before supply runs begin in December.
After a series of successful steering manoeuvres, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus freighter parked about 12m from the station at 06:50 EDT (10:50 GMT) as the ships sailed 420km above the Southern Ocean south of Africa.
Ten minutes later, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and Nasa's Karen Nyberg used the station's robotic arm to pluck the capsule from orbit and prepared to attach it to a berthing slip.
"That's a long time coming, looks great," radioed astronaut Catherine Coleman from Nasa's Mission Control in Houston.
Cygnus' arrival had been delayed a week - first by a software glitch and then by the higher priority docking of a Russian Soyuz capsule ferrying three new crewmembers to the $100bn outpost, a project of 15 nations.
Orbital Sciences' new unmanned Antares rocket blasted off on 18 September from a new launch pad on the Virginia coast to put Cygnus into orbit.
Nasa contributed $288m toward Antares' and Cygnus' development and awarded Orbital Sciences a $1.9bn contract for eight station resupply missions, the first of which is targeted for December.
The US space agency also provided $396m to privately owned Space Exploration Technologies to help develop the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship. The firm, known as SpaceX, holds a $1.5bn Nasa contract for 12 cargo runs to the station, two of which already have been completed.
On Sunday, SpaceX tested an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 rocket. The unmanned rocket blasted off from California to test upgrades needed for planned commercial launch services.
The Falcon 9 blazed through clear blue skies out over the Pacific Ocean, aiming toward an orbit that flies over Earth's poles. Perched on top of the rocket was a small science and communications satellite called Cassiope, built by MDA of Canada.
The upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 has engines that are 60% more powerful than previous versions, longer fuel tanks, new avionics, new software and other features intended to boost lift capacity and simplify operations for commercial service.
Privately owned SpaceX has contracts for more than 50 launches of its new Falcon 9 and planned Falcon Heavy rockets.