A Russian Soyuz rocket boosted an unmanned Progress supply ship into orbit Wednesday, kicking off a six-hour rendezvous with the International Space Station.
With a sky-lighting burst of flame, the Progress M-22M/P-54 spacecraft climbed away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:23 a.m. EST (GMT-5, 10:23 p.m. local time) at roughly the moment Earth's rotation carried the launch complex into the plane of the space station's orbit.
The space station passed 260 miles above Kazakhstan within a few minutes of liftoff, giving the lab's crew a glimpse of the rocket's fiery climb go space.
"We got a pretty good view of the first stage," flight engineer Rick Mastracchio told NASA flight controllers in Houston. "After (stage) separation, we pretty much lost it, but it was a good show for a few seconds."
The climb to space went smoothly and the Progress supply ship slipped into its planned preliminary orbit, with a high point of around 150 miles and a low point of roughly 120 miles, about nine minutes after liftoff. A few moments later, the spacecraft's solar panels and antennas deployed as expected.
"We have confirmation of separation of the Progress vehicle (from the Soyuz booster) and also deployment of the solar arrays and the appendages associated with the automated rendezvous and docking system," commentator Kyle Herring reported from NASA's mission control in Houston.
If all goes well, the cargo ship will carry out an automated four-orbit rendezvous with the space station, gliding to a docking at the Earth-facing Pirs module at 6:25 p.m. As usual, Russian cosmonauts aboard the lab complex planned to be standing by in the Zvezda command module to remotely take over manual control of the approaching Progress if necessary.
The spacecraft is loaded with 2.8 tons of equipment and supplies for the station's six-man crew, including 2,897 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and general supplies, 1,764 pounds of propellant, 926 pounds of water and 110 pounds of oxygen.
The next space station resupply mission will be carried out by a commercially developed SpaceX Dragon supply ship launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Liftoff is expected in mid March.