The Atlantis space shuttle, which was launched yesterday, continued to sail smoothly as it headed towards the International Space Station for the long-awaited delivery of a European laboratory.

Earlier on Friday, there were concerns about suspected damages on the ship's heat shield after the launch but NASA officials confirmed that there were no significant damage although they never ruled out the possibility of some small damage.

The shuttle is expected to arrive at the station on Saturday, where it will attach the European Space Agency's Columbus module.

The launch of Columbus was delayed in 2002 due to several occurrences including the destruction of shuttle Columbia in 2003 that led NASA to suspend flights for 2.5 years.

The $1.9 billion Columbus module will be the first permanent laboratory Europe will own and operate in space.

Ten countries are participating in the program with high hopes of the space research to innovate new technologies, such as water purification techniques as well as more efficient turbine engines coupled with advancements in pharmaceuticals and biological science.

The Atlantis is scheduled to return to Earth on February 18.