A private space capsule has launched on a mission to resupply the International Space Station for the first time.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral early on Monday morning.

The unmanned capsule will bring 400kg of supplies to the ISS.

The supplies will include food, clothes and experiments, and is the first of 12 missions that Space X will eventually fly to the space station.

It will return with about twice as much cargo as it left with, mostly scientific research and hardware. Crucially it will be able to return frozen samples, which is a big boon to the scientific community.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp (Space X) has a contract with Nasa that is worth a total of $1.6bn, and is the current replacement for the retired Space Shuttle previously used to restock the ISS.

The company built both the rocket and the resupply capsule for the Commercial Resupply Services mission.

Loading Slideshow...
  • This time exposure photo shows the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifting off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The rocket is carrying supplies to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

  • The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The rocket is carrying supplies to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

  • The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The rocket is carrying supplies to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

  • The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The rocket is carrying supplies to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

  • This framegrab image from NASA-TV shows the SpaceX Dragon capsule, center, the U.S. Destiny lab, left and the Japanese Kibo module, right just after the Dragon capsule was dematted from the International Space Station Thursday May 31, 2012. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • This framegrab image from NASA-TV shows the SpaceX Dragon capsule, center, the U.S. Destiny lab, left and the Japanese module Kibo module, right as the International Space Station travel over Africa Thursday May 31, 2012. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • This framegrab image from NASA-TV shows the SpaceX Dragon capsule just after the capsule is backed away from the International Space Station and being repositioned for release later Thursday morning May 31, 2012. The Dragon capsule is scheduled for splashdown at 11:44 a.m. EDT Thursday in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • This framegrab image from NASA-TV shows the SpaceX Dragon capsule just after the capsule is released from the Canadarm2 at 5:49 a.m. EDT Thursday morning May 31, 2012. The Dragon capsule is scheduled for splashdown at 11:44 a.m. EDT Thursday in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • This image provided by NASA shows the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft just prior to being released by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm (top center) on Thursday May 31, 2012 as it heads toward a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • This image provided by NASA shows the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft just prior to being released by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm (top center) on Thursday May 31, 2012 as it heads toward a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • Elon Musk

    SpaceX CEO Elon Musk answers questions in front of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft Wednesday June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The spacecraft recently made history as the first commercial vehicle to visit the International Space Station. The California-based SpaceX is the first private business to send a cargo ship to the space station. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune-Herald, Duane A. Laverty)

  • Elon Musk

    SpaceX CEO Elon Musk answers questions in front of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft Wednesday June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The spacecraft recently made history as the first commercial vehicle to visit the International Space Station. The California-based SpaceX is the first private business to send a cargo ship to the space station. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune-Herald, Duane A. Laverty)

  • Charles Bolden, Elon Musk

    NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, right, answer questions in front of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft Wednesday June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The spacecraft recently made history as the first commercial vehicle to visit the International Space Station. The California-based SpaceX is the first private business to send a cargo ship to the space station. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune-Herald, Duane A. Laverty)

  • This undated computer generated illustration provided by SpaceX shows a Dragon Crew spacecraft in Earth orbit showing solar panels in the process of deploying. NASA has picked three aerospace companies to build small rocketships to take astronauts to the International Space Station. This is the third phase of NASA's efforts to get private space companies to take over the job of the now-retired space shuttle. The space agency is giving them more than $1.1 billion. Two of three ships are capsules like in the Apollo era and the third is a lifting body that is closer in design to the space shuttle. (AP Photo/SpaceX)

  • In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 photo made available by NASA, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule attached begins a rollout demonstration test in Cape Canaveral, Fla. On Sunday night, Oct. 7, 2012, the private space company will attempt to launch another capsule full of food, clothes and science experiments for the astronauts at the space station. The company hopes to repeat the success of its test flight in May 2012. (AP Photo/NASA, Jim Grossmann)

  • The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands on space launch complex 40 ready for launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Launch is scheduled for 8:35 PM Sunday on a supply mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

  • In this image provided by NASA the Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, Falcon 9 rocket with it's Dragon capsule attached on top is seen at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Oct. 2, 2012. The coming mission is the first under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA that calls for a dozen resupply flights by SpaceX, essential in the post-shuttle era. The liftoff is planned for Sunday morning, Oct. 7, at 8:35 p.m. EDT. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands on space launch complex 40 ready for launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Launch is scheduled for 8:35 PM Sunday on a supply mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Another company - the Orbital Sciences Corporation - has a $1.9bn contract also to deliver cargo to the station, if a test mission scheduled unofficially for next year goes ahead as planned.

Nasa eventually wants to outsource human transport to space as well, and SpaceX are currently working on systems to do just that.

"Just over one year after the retirement of the space shuttle, we have returned space station cargo resupply missions to US soil and are bringing the jobs associated with this work back to America," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said.

"The SpaceX launch tonight marks the official start of commercial resupply missions by American companies operating out of US spaceports like the one right here in Florida."