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Russia Launches Progress 73 Cargo Ship on Speedy Flight to Space Station

A new Russian Progress cargo ship launched into orbit Wednesday (July 31) to make a successful (and speedy) delivery mission for astronauts on the International Space Station. 

The Progress 73 cargo ship, packed with nearly 3 tons of supplies for the station's crew, lifted off atop a Soyuz rocket from Site 31 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:10 a.m. EDT (1210 GMT). It arrived at the station just over 3 hours (and two orbits around Earth) later, docking at 11:29 a.m. EDT (1529 GMT) as both vehicles soared high above northwestern China, NASA officials said. 

Progress 73 is carrying 5,411 lbs. (2,454 kilograms) of supplies for the station crew. That includes: 110 lbs. (50 kg) of oxygen; 926 lbs. (420 kg) of water; 1,764 lbs. of propellant and 2,611 lbs. (1,184 kg)  of dry supplies like food, clothing and other gear. 

Related: How Russia's Progress Cargo Ships Work (Infographic)

The Progress spacecraft is an uncrewed freighter that looks similar to the crewed Soyuz spacecraft used by Roscosmos (Russia's space agency) to fly crews to and from the International Space Station. But instead of a crew return capsule, Progress vehicles carry cargo and propellant to keep the station stocked with supplies. 

Progress vehicles are also disposable. At the end of each mission, the vehicle is packed with trash and unneeded items, undocks and then intentionally burns up in the Earth's atmosphere over a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. 

That's exactly what happened to Progress 73's predecessor, Progress 72, on Monday (July 29).

To prepare for Progress 73's arrival, the station crew packed Progress 72 with trash and bid farewell to the cargo ship, which arrived at the orbiting lab four months ago. Progress 72 burned up in dazzling form

"It looked like a big firework that lasted minutes — flickering, sparking, and pulsing with brightness before it faded into the darkness," NASA astronaut Nick Hague wrote on Twitter. Hague is part of the station's current six-person Expedition 60 crew and watched Progress 72's demise from space.

Progress 73 follows on the heels of another cargo ship, a U.S.-built SpaceX Dragon supply ship, which arrived at the space station Saturday (July 27), two days after its own launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

The International Space Station is kept stocked with supplies by an international fleet of robotic spacecraft. In addition to Progress and Dragon cargo ships, Northrop Grumman's Cygnus and Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicles fly regular resupply flights.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:50 p.m. EDT (1750 GMT) to note the successful docking of Progress 73 at the International Space Station. 

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom and Facebook. 

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Tariq Malik
Editor-in-Chief

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.