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An earlier Russian ship, Progress 39, pictured from the ISS An earlier Russian ship, Progress 39, pictured from the ISS

Russian Progress spacecraft launches with cargo for the ISS

Sen— The latest Russian space freighter to service the International Space Station was launched yesterday laden with supplies.

Progress 47 blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, carrying 2.8 tonnes of food, fuel and other goods for the crew of the orbiting outpost.

It was the latest in more than 130 launches by the unmanned cargo ship since 1978 and helps puts the programme back on track following the crash of a Progress after launch last August.

Following lift-off, NASA mission control commentator Rob Navias in Houston said: "A flawless launch. Progress is now in its preliminary orbit, headed for the International Space Station."

The spacecraft reached orbit less than ten minutes after launch and began two days of manoevres that will bring it in line to dock automatically with the space station on Sunday (April 22).

The automated docking, which uses a radar-based system called Kurs, will be monitored by the Russian Mission Control Center located just outside Moscow and by the astronauts aboard the space station.

It will connect with the ISS's Pirs docking compartment, replacing another cargo ship, Progress 46, that undocked on Thursday, full of unwanted rubbish, and will be sent to burn up in a fireball over the Pacific within days.

Following the latest Progress's arrival, the six-man Expedition 30 crew aboard the space station will begin to unload its cargo of fresh fruit and vegetables, canned fish, water, fuel, books, gifts and essential equipment.

Yesterday's launch was the third of a Progress since the disaster last August which happened after a rocket engine shut down too soon and its third stage failed to separate.

The mishap severely threatened the space programme because Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, which are currently the only ones that can ferry astronauts to the ISS, are made to a similar design.

As well as delivering supplies and helping with rubbish disposal, the Progress can be used to lift the space station's altitude and change its orientation by firing its thrusters.

The Progress spacecraft dock using an automated, radar-based system called Kurs, though there is also a separate back-up system called TORU.

Following retirement of the Space Shuttle, and until private U.S. company SpaceX begins its Dragon flights, the only spacecraft other than Russian rockets to service the ISS are Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) and Japan's H-11 Transfer Vehicle (HTV). The third ATV, named Edoardo Amaldi, is currently docked with the space station having delivered supplies in March. Japan's second HTV mission completed in March 2011, and a third is due in July 2012.

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