A Russian Soyuz rocket launched an unpiloted cargo ship toward the International Space Station today (Feb. 13), kicking off a two-day delivery mission to the orbiting laboratory.
The Soyuz 2.1a rocket and the cargo ship Progress 69 lifted off at 3:13 a.m. EST (0813 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying about 3 tons of supplies for space station astronauts. The successful launch came two days after an unspecified problem triggered an abort in the final minute of an earlier launch try Sunday (Feb. 11).
"Less than 10 minutes after launch, the resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned," NASA officials said in a statement. [How Russia's Progress Cargo Ships Work (Infographic)]
The Progress 69 cargo ship is now on track to arrive at the International Space Station early Thursday (Feb. 15). The spacecraft is scheduled to dock at the aft end of the station's Russian-built Zvezda Service Module at 5:43 a.m. EST (1043 GMT) Thursday.
Russia's Roscosmos space agency initially tried to launch Progress 69 on Sunday and attempt a new superfast flight plan that would send the cargo ship to the space station in just 3.5 hours. But an automated abort in the last minute of the countdown prevented that launch try. A similar abort prevented a previous cargo ship, Progress 68, from attempting the fast-track flight last October.
In recent years, Russia's Progress vehicles and Soyuz crew capsules have typically taken about 6 hours to reach the space station due to the orbital mechanics of those flights. Earlier in the station's history, Soyuz and Progress flights regularly took two days. That two-day flight profile is the one Progress 69 is following for its mission.
Progress 69 is packed with food, science gear and other vital supplies for the six-person Expedition 54 crew on the International Space Station. That cargo includes 3,128 lbs. (1,418 kilograms) of spare parts and other supplies; 1,940 lbs. (880 kg) of propellant; 53 lbs. (24 kg) of air; and 48 lbs. (21 kg) of oxygen.
NASA will webcast Progress 69's arrival at the space station Thursday. You can watch that webcast live here, courtesy of NASA, beginning at 5 a.m. EST (1000 GMT).