Russia Launches Robotic Supply Ship to International Space Station

Progress 64 Freighter Launches, July 16, 2016
A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the robotic Progress 64 cargo spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 16, 2016. (Image credit: NASA TV)

An unmanned Russian cargo ship launched to the International Space Station on Saturday (July 16) on a mission to deliver three tons of food, supplies and fuel to the orbiting laboratory.

The resupply ship Progress 64 launched into orbit atop a Soyuz rocket at 5:41 p.m. EDT (2141 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the local time was early Sunday morning. Progress 64 will journey for two days in space before arriving at the space station on Monday night (July 18). You can watch Progress 64 arrive at the space station here, courtesy of a NASA webcast. Docking is set for 8:22 p.m. EDT (0022 July 19 GMT).

Progress 64 is one of two cargo ships launching this weekend in near back-to-back flights. On Monday (July 18), as the Russian craft is en route to the station, the U.S.-based spaceflight company SpaceX will launch an unmanned Dragon cargo ship carrying a cornucopia of science experiments and gear as part of a resupply deal with NASA.

Russia's unmanned Progress spacecraft are the workhorse delivery ships of the country's space fleet. See how Russia's Progress cargo vehicles work in this infographic. (Image credit: Karl Tate, Contributor)

SpaceX's Dragon will launch to the space station at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT) on Monday from a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. It will arrive at the orbiting lab early on Wednesday (July 20), with NASA webcasting the subsequent docking.

Traditionally, Russia’s Progress launches are welcomed by the astronauts because they carry a few items that astronauts miss on Earth, such as fresh fruit. Since the International Space Station does not have a fridge to store food, most of the things astronauts eat must be shelf-stable (like tortillas) or rehydrated.

The launches also replenish the space station's stock of freeze-dried food and coffee, and provide supplies for the space station's toilets, filters and other areas that might need replacing. A Progress spacecraft typically remains at the space station for about six months and departs with a load of trash of up to three tons. The spacecraft then burns up in the Earth's atmosphere.

The Progress line of disposable automated spacecraft have flown more than 140 flights in three decades. Only two of these spacecraft have not reached their destination, including one Progress flight in 2015. That flight reached Earth orbit, but spun out of control before flying on to the space station. It eventually burned up in the atmosphere.

Progress is one of a small fleet that supplies the International Space Station. The other main providers are two private companies — SpaceX (which flies Dragon spacecraft) and Orbital ATK (which flies Cygnus spacecraft) — as well as Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicles. The European Space Agency also flew five supply missions to the space station using its own Automated Transfer Vehicle.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: