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Russia launches space station cargo flight, setting stage for SpaceX crew launch Friday

Moving on from the Luna-25 moon lander crash, Russia launched a Progress cargo ship to the International Space Station on Tuesday, two-and-a-half days before a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to take off from Florida with four station-bound crew members on board.

Kicking off an exceptionally busy day in space, NASA's Crew-7 fliers strapped in atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center early Tuesday for a dress-rehearsal countdown to help clear the way for launch Friday on the agency's seventh operational SpaceX ferry flight.

The crew of NASA's next flight to the space station strapped in early Tuesday for a dress-rehearsal countdown. Left to right: cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov, the third Russian to fly aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon; European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen; mission commander Jasmin Moghbeli; and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. SpaceX

A few hours later, SpaceX engineers at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California launched 21 Starlink internet satellites using a Falcon 9 with a first stage booster making its 15th flight. The satellites were released to fly on their own about an hour after liftoff, boosting the total number of Starlinks launched to date to 4,983.

Back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, meanwhile, engineers followed up the practice countdown by test firing the first stage engines of the booster that will help propel the Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit Friday. Telemetry showed the booster performed as expected in the last major hurdle before launch.

Following the countdown rehearsal and Starlink launch, SpaceX test fired the first stage engines of the Crew-7 Falcon 9 rocket Tuesday to verify its readiness to launch. The test went well and the flight remains on track for liftoff at 3:50 a.m. Friday. William Harwood/CBS News

The Russian federal space agency Roscosmos then launched the Progress MS-24/85P cargo ship from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:08 p.m. EDT.

While the Progress is chasing down the space station, India's Chandrayaan-3 robotic probe will attempt to land on the moon Wednesday morning U.S. time, four days after Russia's Luna-25 lander crashed to the lunar surface after a thruster firing went awry.

Chandrayaan-3 is a follow on to an earlier Indian moon mission that crashed to the surface in 2019. The Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, said Tuesday the spacecraft was operating smoothly and ready for landing at 8:34 a.m. Wednesday.

"The mission is on schedule," the Indian space agency tweeted. "Systems are undergoing regular checks. Smooth sailing is continuing. The Mission Operations Complex (MOX) is buzzed with energy & excitement!"

The Progress, loaded with 2.7 tons of propellant, water, crew supplies and other equipment, is expected to catch up with the space station Thursday night, moving in for an automated docking at 11:50 p.m.

The Russians capped an exceptionally busy day in space by launching a Progress cargo ship loaded with 2.7 tons of supplies and equipment bound for the International Space Station. NASA/Roscosmos

Four hours later, at 3:50 a.m. Friday, the SpaceX Crew-7 mission is scheduled for blastoff from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Crew-7 commander Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov are replacing four other station fliers who were launched to the lab last March aboard another Crew Dragon.

After a five-day "handover" to familiarize their replacements with station operations, Crew-6 commander Stephen Bowen, pilot Woody Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will undock and return to Earth to close out a 184-day mission.

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