06/05/2013 19:24 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Albert Einstein space cargo ship launches

The unmanned European space cargo ship named Albert Einstein is set to blast off today, carrying a massive load of propellant, supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

The ship, named after the early 1900s scientist who came up with the theories of general and special relativity, lifted off aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 5:52 p.m. ET Wednesday.

The 20-tonne spacecraft is the heaviest ever launched by Europe and is hauling the largest load of dry cargo ever carried by unmanned space cargo ship to the space station, the ESA said in a news release.

The more than 1,400 items on board include spare parts, water, food, clothing, gases and equipment for scientific experiments.

The ship is also carrying propellant that will be used to boost the space station up to a higher orbit, as it tends to fall over time due to drag from the Earth's atmosphere.

The Albert Einstein won't arrive at the space station until June 15, after 10 days of orbital manoeuvres. It will remain there for five months, providing extra living space for the astronauts and boosts to the space station.

This marks the fourth unmanned cargo ship launched by Europe. The station has also been supplied in recent years by similar ships from the Russian and Japanese space agencies. They are all designed to burn up in the atmosphere after use.

In the past year, a private U.S. company, SpaceX, has also started sending its unmanned cargo ship, Dragon, to the station last as part of a commercial re-supply contract with NASA. Unlike the others, Dragon is reusable and returns to Earth after each mission.