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Russia launches new Progress 81 cargo ship to International Space Station

Russia launched a new robotic cargo mission to the International Space Station early Friday (June 3) on the country's first resupply mission to the orbiting lab since it invaded Ukraine earlier this year. 

The uncrewed Progress 81 freighter launched into a clear, blue afternoon sky atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket at 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the local time was 2:32 p.m. in the afternoon. 

"It was a perfect launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome," NASA spokesperson Sandra Jones said during live launch commentary from the agency's Mission Control center in Houston.  

Related: How Russia's Progress spaceships work (infographic) 

Photo of the Russian Soyuz rocket launching Progress 81 in a clear sky.

A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying the uncrewed Progress 81 cargo ship launches into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 3, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Russia remains a partner in the International Space Station (ISS) program despite its ongoing war on Ukraine, even though its chief Dmitry Rogozin has repeatedly threatened to leave the program, which is a collaboration of five different space agencies and 15 countries. In late March, just weeks after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the country returned NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to Earth as scheduled on a Soyuz spacecraft. That landing followed the launch of three cosmonauts to the station as part of its Expedition 66 and 67 missions.

"NASA TV provides operational cover of all International Space Station launches in order to provide transparency and allow mission support personnel to maintain situational awareness necessary for safe and sustained operation of the International Space Station," Jones said. 

Progress 81 orbited the Earth twice on its way to the space station, with the spacecraft ultimate docking itself at the aft end of the Russian-built Zvezda module at 9:02 a.m. EDT (1302 GMT) as the two spacecraft sailed high above the Philippines, east of Manila. 

The Russian Progress 81 cargo ship is seen with a bright blue Earth in the background as it approached the International Space Station during docking operations on June 3, 2022.  (Image credit: NASA TV)

Many of Russia's space partnerships have fallen apart in the wake of the nation's ongoing invasion of Ukraine

Soyuz rockets no longer launch from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, for example, and Russia stopped selling Russian-made rocket engines to American companies. But Russia remains an integral part of the ISS program, as the Progress 81 launch shows.

Progress 81 is carrying 5,551 pounds of supplies for the station's seven-person Expedition 67 crew. That includes about 3,214 pounds of dry cargo like food, clothing and gear; 1,323 pounds of propellant, 926 pounds of water and 80 pounds of nitrogen, Jones said.

The launch follows the departure of a previous Russian cargo ship at the space station. Progress 79 undocked from the station on Wednesday (June 2) and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, carrying with it a load of trash and unneeded items, Jones said.

A view of the Earth from Russia's Progress 81 cargo ship after its successful launch into orbit on June 3, 2022. One of the spacecraft's solar arrays is visible unfolded at left. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Progress 81 will be followed in relatively short succession by another cargo flight — SpaceX's robotic CRS-25 mission, which is scheduled to launch next Friday (June 10). And the ISS was recently visited by another uncrewed spacecraft as well — Boeing's Starliner capsule, which conducted a crucial test flight to the orbiting lab from May 19 to May 25.

That May mission, called Orbital Test Flight 2 (OFT-2), was likely the last big hurdle that Boeing had to clear before NASA certifies Starliner to carry astronauts. The capsule's first crewed flight could come before the end of the year, provided analysis of OFT-2 data turns up nothing worrisome, Boeing and NASA officials have said. 

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 3 with the results of the Progress 81 cargo ship launch and docking. A new target launch date of June 10 for SpaceX's CRS-25 cargo mission was added on June 2.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.