( Reuter )- An unmanned Ariane rocket blasted-off from French Guiana early on Sunday in Europe's first mission to carry supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), space officials said.
The modified Ariane-5 launcher lifted-off at 1:03 a.m. (11:03 p.m. EST on Saturday) from Europe's spaceport in Kourou on the northeast coast of South America with a 20 metric tonne cargo module on the top of the rocket.
This first module, dubbed 'Jules Verne' in honor of the visionary 19th century French science fiction writer, is the first Automatic Transfer Vehicle that Europe has committed to its participation in the ISS program.
"The first part of the Ariane-5 mission has reached an end," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the Arianespace launch company. "The upper stage and the ATV are now to fly over Europe, the southeast of Asia and Australia."
The module was carrying nine tonnes of freight.
Jules Verne is scheduled to separate from the Ariane rocket at 0535 GMT (12:35 a.m. EST) and reignite its propulsion system 30 minutes later.
The ATV will remain in a 'parking orbit' and then is scheduled to dock with the ISS on April 3. The European Space Agency said it has so far spent nearly $2 billion on the ATV program.