Russian Soyuz rocket heads to International Space Station, breaking string of failures

The Russian Progress-M spacecraft is ready to be lifted on its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, July 1, 2015. A Russian Soyuz rocket blasted off on Friday, breaking a string of launch failures.
The Russian Progress-M spacecraft is ready to be lifted on its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, July 1, 2015. A Russian Soyuz rocket blasted off on Friday, breaking a string of launch failures.PHOTO: REUTERS

CAPE CANAVERAL (Reuters) - A Russian Soyuz rocket blasted off on Friday to deliver a cargo ship loaded with food, water and equipment to the International Space Station, breaking a string of launch failures, a Nasa TV broadcast showed.

The Progress capsule, carrying more than 2,700kg of supplies, was expected to reach the orbiting outpost on Sunday following launch at 12.55am Eastern Daylight Time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. "All of the systems on the Progress (are) in excellent shape," said Nasa launch commentator Rob Navias.

Friday's lift-off came five days after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded after launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The accident destroyed a Dragon capsule carrying about 2,200kg of food, science experiments and equipment, including a docking system for two new space taxis under development by SpaceX and Boeing.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

On April 28, a Russian Progress capsule failed to separate properly from the upper-stage of its Soyuz launcher, dooming the mission. Unable to reach its intended orbit, the capsule incinerated as it re-entered the atmosphere on May 8.

Another launch accident on Oct 28 by Orbital ATK destroyed a Cygnus cargo capsule bound for the station, a US$100 billion (S$135 billion) research laboratory that flies about 418km above Earth. A final report on that accident is still pending, said Orbital spokesman Barry Beneski.

The failures cast a shadow over the still emerging space transport industry, but experts said they had not exposed any fundamental flaws.

The accidents, involving three different rockets, had nothing in common "other than it's space, and it's difficult to go fly," Nasa Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier told reporters after the SpaceX failure.

The station, a joint project involving 15 nations which is staffed by a crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts, currently has a four-month supply of food and water, Nasa said.

The arrival of the Russian cargo ship, and the planned launch of a Japanese HTV freighter in August, should replenish the station's pantries through the end of the year, Nasa said. Friday's successful launch clears the way for three new crew members to fly to the station later this month.

Nasa astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan's Kimiya Yui had been preparing for a May 26 blast-off, but Russia delayed the flight while engineers analyzed the Soyuz rocket problem. The booster that botched the April cargo ship is similar to one used to fly the Russian Soyuz crew capsules.