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Rocket launch hopes to boost ISS supplies

Progress spacecraft carrying 3 tons of cargo to space station

photo

Five days after SpaceX's failed launch of International Space Station cargo from Cape Canaveral, Russian space officials are taking another turn trying to deliver needed supplies to the outpost.

A Progress cargo ship launched early Friday morning on board a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. NASA reported no problems with the launch. Docking at the ISS is now scheduled for Sunday morning.

The robotic Progress freighter hopes to ease the strain on "consumables" that has resulted from three unsuccessful resupply missions over the past eight months, including the most recent Progress in April, which spun out of control upon separating from its rocket in orbit.

NASA says the station crew is fine, but the outpost's four months of food is two months below preferred levels. The Progress would extend food reserves from October to November.

"Our Russian colleagues have loaded the Progress up with food and water and other crew provisions, and that's really very important to us as a collective," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's ISS program manager. "Overall, we're in very good shape on orbit."

In addition to restoring one of the station's critical cargo vehicles to service, a successful mission would clear the way for another three-person crew to launch July 22 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, doubling the Expedition 44 crew to six people.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui had planned to launch in late May.

The launch was postponed by the loss of the last Progress, which shares some common components with their Soyuz spacecraft and launches on a similar rocket.

Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA's human spaceflight programs, said the Soyuz-U rocket set to launch the Progress this time would use a different third stage than the last flight, an older version that has flown more often. The rocket and Progress rolled to their launch pad Wednesday.

If this next mission fails, it would further delay the next crew's launch and increase concerns about how to supply the station.

A Japanese cargo vehicle is scheduled to fly in August, and Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft by the end of the year — its first flight since an explosion just after liftoff last October in Virginia.

For now, said Gerstenmaier, "We have sufficient research, we have sufficient consumables on orbit that the crew is safe and things are fine."