The U.S. space agency NASA says it will keep the International Space Station operating for an additional four years, until 2024.
The $100 billion orbital station has been in service for 15 years, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had been planning to keep it running until 2020.
Separately, NASA said Wednesday that a scheduled supply flight to the space station on Thursday was in doubt, due to possible effects on communications of a strong storm on the surface of the sun that will send billions of tons of highly charged particles through the solar system this week.
Orbital Sciences Corp. said the size of the solar storm could interfere with electronic equipment aboard the unmanned supply rocket, especially during the critical launch sequence. However, the firm said later Thursday that the launch from NASA’s Wallop Island flight facility in Virginia took place at 1:07 p.m. local time.
The Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft went into orbit in 10 minutes, and engineers confirmed that reliable communications had been established and that the solar arrays were fully deployed, providing the necessary electrical power to command the spacecraft, the company said
NASA says the solar activity poses no threat to the astronauts now on board the space station.
A rotating crew of six scientists and fliers from the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan mans the station.
Since NASA retired its fleet of Space Shuttles, the agency is using Orbital Sciences and another private American company, SpaceX, to keep the space station stocked, with additional support by Russia.
Flight crews are ferried up to the space station three at a time aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.