A powerful Ariane 5 rocket carrying the European Space Agency's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ship roared to life and climbed away from French Guiana Tuesday, kicking off a two-week flight to deliver more than seven tons of equipment and supplies -- including cappuccino and tiramisu -- to the International Space Station.
Shattering the overnight calm at ESA's jungle launch site, the Ariane 5's hydrogen-fueled Vulcain first stage engine ignited with a flash at 7:47 p.m. EDT (GMT-4), throttling up to full power an instant before a pair of large solid-fuel boosters ignited with a rush of exhaust.
The towering rocket quickly climbed away from its launching stand on the northeast coast of South America, arcing out over the Atlantic Ocean into the plane of the space station's orbit.
The ascent appeared to go smoothly, with the strap-on boosters falling away as planned two minutes and 24 seconds after launch. Six-and-a-half minutes after that, the Ariane 5 first stage fell away and the rocket continued the climb to space on the power of its single second-stage Aestus engine.
The second stage shut down 17 minutes after launch, putting the spacecraft into a preliminary parking orbit. A second 55-second firing was planned 42 minutes later to put the spacecraft in a circular 162-mile-high orbit.
The ATV-5 spacecraft, named after the Belgian priest and astrophysicist Georges Lemaitre, was expected to be released from the Ariane 5's second stage one hour after liftoff. Solar array deployment was expected about a half hour after that.
The flight plan calls for the cargo ship to execute a series of carefully planned rocket firings to catch up with the space station, flying below the outpost before looping up and over, dropping back to a point directly behind and below the lab complex. From there, the spacecraft will move in for docking at the aft port of the Zvezda command module around 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 12.
The ATV-5 vehicle is the heaviest payload ever launched by an Ariane 5, the European Space Agency's fifth and final station cargo flight. Station resupply now will depend solely on Russian Progress spacecraft, Japanese HTV cargo ships and commercial freighters built for NASA by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp.