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Soyuz launch with Progress
Russia’s Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending a Progress cargo ship to the International Space Station. (Roscosmos / NASA via YouTube)

Russia successfully launched an uncrewed Progress cargo spaceship today to the International Space Station, using a Soyuz rocket similar to the one that malfunctioned last month.

No issues arose during the craft’s ascent to orbit from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, boosting mission managers’ confidence that the malfunction had been addressed and that a crewed Soyuz launch planned for next month could proceed.

“A perfect 8-minute, 45-second flight on a brisk day over in Baikonur,” NASA launch commentator Gary Jordan said after the 10:14 a.m. PT launch.

The Soyuz rocket failure on Oct. 11 triggered an abort sequence that forced NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin to make a ballistic descent back to Kazakhstan. The pair landed safely, but the incident sparked a temporary suspension of Soyuz launches.

Over the weeks that followed, Russian investigators determined that a sensor had been damaged during assembly of the rocket. As a result, one of the first stage’s side boosters didn’t separate cleanly from the rest of the rocket, throwing off the ascent.

Three uncrewed Soyuz launches have now been executed successfully since the findings were announced — on Nov. 3, Nov. 6 and today. Those successes have cleared the way for Dec. 3’s launch of NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko.

The three spacefliers currently aboard the station — Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev, NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Germany’s Alexander Gerst — are due to head back down to Earth on Dec. 20. Thus, the success of today’s launch and the scheduled arrival of the three fresh crew members on Dec. 3 are key to keeping the space station occupied without any schedule disruptions.

The Progress craft is packed with 3 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the station. It’s due to link up with the station on Sunday.

Early Saturday morning, another uncrewed cargo transport — Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spaceship — is scheduled for launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility atop an Antares rocket. If all goes according to schedule, the space station’s crew would use the orbital complex’s robotic arm to pull in the Cygnus for its berthing on Monday.

Postscript added 1:35 p.m. PT Nov. 18: Russia’s Progress cargo ship hooked up to the space station’s Russian-built Zvezda service module as planned at 11:28 a.m. PT Nov. 18.

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