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Russian cargo ship rockets toward space station

A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the Progress 28 cargo ship
A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the Progress 28 cargo ship to the International Space Station on Tuesday. RSC Energia
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An unmanned Russian cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday to deliver fresh supplies for the orbiting laboratory's astronaut crew.

The Progress 28 freighter launched into orbit at 8:03 a.m. ET atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome, beginning a three-day run toward the ISS.

Tucked aboard the automated cargo ship are more than 2.5 tons of food, air, water and other vital supplies for the station and its three-astronaut Expedition 16 crew. The spacecraft is due to arrive at the station's Russian Pirs docking compartment on Thursday at 9:38 a.m. ET, just a few hours before NASA's space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch its own mission to the ISS.

Russia's disposable Progress spacecraft are similar in appearance to its astronaut-carrying Soyuz vehicles, but are outfitted to make periodic deliveries of fresh supplies, equipment and vital rocket propellant to the space station.

Progress 28 is carrying about 100 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water and some 2,925 pounds of dry supplies like food, clothing and equipment. About 1,165 pounds of propellant is stored in the spacecraft's tanks.

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The new supply ship is the first of a series of visiting spacecraft bound for the ISS over the next few months. Its predecessor, Progress 27, departed the space station early Monday with a load of trash and unneeded items for fiery disposal by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Following Progress 28's arrival on Thursday, NASA hopes to launch the Atlantis shuttle and its STS-122 crew to the space station, where astronauts will deliver the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory. Atlantis is slated to dock at the ISS on Saturday.

Progress 28, meanwhile, is scheduled to leave the station on Feb. 15, NASA officials said. A new European Space Agency cargo ship, the Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne, will follow with a launch as early as Feb. 22 and dock as early as March 15, ESA officials have said.

Two more visiting shuttle missions and a Soyuz spacecraft carrying a new Expedition 17 crew are also expected to arrive at the station by the end of April.