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A huge European cargo ship linked up with the International Space Station today (Feb. 24), delivering tons of supplies for the outpost's crew just hours before NASA's planned launch of the shuttle Discovery.

The robotic spacecraft, which is the size of a double-decker bus, docked with the space station at 10:59 a.m. EST (1559 GMT) as the two vehicles soared high over the Atlantic Ocean. Known as the Automated Transfer Vehicle 2, or ATV-2, the hefty space freighter is packed with 7 tons of supplies for the station's six-person crew.

"Contact confirmed, capture confirmed," Russian cosmonauts on the station radioed mission control after the successful docking.

The ATV-2 is named the Johannes Kepler and is the second robotic cargo spacecraft built by the European Space Agency to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. It launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket on Feb. 16.

Beating NASA's space shuttle

The cargo ship hooked up with the space station less than six hours before the space shuttle Discovery's planned launch toward the orbiting laboratory, clearing the way for the orbiter's flight, NASA officials said.

NASA had already fueled Discovery for a 4:50 p.m. EST (2150 GMT) launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., at the time of the docking in space. The six astronauts set to launch on Discovery were apparently keeping track of the ATV-2 docking even as the geared up for their own flight.

"ATV docking complete! ISS just got bigger," Discovery astronaut Nicole Stott wrote in a Twitter post. "Congrats to ESA and all the station partners around the world!

If Discovery launches on time, the shuttle will arrive at the International Space Station on Saturday (Feb. 26). It is the final flight of space shuttle Discovery before the orbiter is retired later this year.

When NASA's shuttle Discovery docks at the station, spacecraft and robotic arms from all five of the major international space agencies building the $100 billion space station will be at the orbiting laboratory at the same time.

NASA and its Russian Federal Space Agency partners are discussing the possibility of staging a photo session to capture the space station scene. That idea would send station crewmembers on a flight around the orbiting lab inside a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, from which they would snap photos.

A final decision on whether to go ahead with the photo op is expected during Discovery's mission, NASA officials have said.