Wires

SpaceX rocket blasts off for space station

* Flight restores U.S. access to orbital outpost

* SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying 882 pounds (400 kg) ofhardware

* Slated to reach space station on Wednesday By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Oct. 7 (Reuters) - An unmanned,privately owned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule blastedoff from Cape Canaveral on Sunday on a mission to restore a U.S.supply line to the International Space Station after theretirement of the space shuttle.

Powered by nine oxygen and kerosene-burning engines, the157-foot (48-meter) tall rocket, built by Space ExplorationTechnologies, lifted off from its seaside launch pad at CapeCanaveral Air Force Station at 8:35 p.m. (0035 GMT Monday).

The Falcon booster, flying for the fourth time, streakedthrough balmy, partly cloudy skies as it headed east over theAtlantic Ocean toward the station's orbit, some 250 miles (400km) above Earth.

If all goes as planned, the capsule will reach the $100billion space station, a project of 15 nations, on Wednesday.

The company, also known as SpaceX, made a successfulpractice run to the station in May, clearing the way for it tobegin working off a $1.6 billion, 12-flight contract to delivercargo for NASA.

The Dragon cargo capsule carries about 882 pounds (400 kg)of food, clothing, science experiments and supplies for thestation. The gear includes a freezer to transport medicalsamples, and a rare treat for the station crew - chocolatevanilla swirl ice cream.

With the retirement of the space shuttles last year, NASAturned to the private sector to develop and fly station freightand is looking to do the same for crew transportation.

"We're thrilled that we are again launching to the spacestation from Florida," NASA deputy administrator Lori Garversaid shortly before the launch.

Unlike the Russian, European and Japanese freighters thatservice the station, Dragon is designed to return to Earthintact, rather than burn up in the atmosphere, so it can bringback research and equipment from the station. That returncapability has been missing since the shuttle's retirement.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the station on Oct. 28 and tosplash down into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

SpaceX has a separate NASA contract to upgrade its Dragoncapsule to carry humans as well. Boeing and privately ownedSierra Nevada Corp also have NASA backing for space taxi designwork.

In addition to SpaceX, NASA has also hired Orbital SciencesCorp to fly cargo to the station. Orbital's Antares rocket isexpected to make a debut flight later this year.

(Editing by David Brunnstrom)

((Irene Klotz@thomsonreuters.com and spacebirds@gmail.com))

Keywords: SPACE SPACEX