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Russian cargo ship docks with space station

An unmanned Russian cargo ship docked with the International Space Station to deliver three tons of supplies to the outpost's crew, including a tiny satellite and birthday gifts for the orbiting lab's commander.
Image: Progress
A photo taken from the International Space Station shows the approach of a Russian Progress cargo spaceship on Saturday.ESA / NASA
/ Source: Space.com

An unmanned Russian cargo ship docked with the International Space Station to deliver three tons of supplies to the outpost's crew, including a tiny satellite and birthday gifts for the orbiting lab's commander.

The automated Progress 41 space freighter, which blasted off from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday, hooked up with the International Space Station at 9:39 p.m. ET Saturday (5:39 a.m. Sunday Moscow time).

There's a wealth of goodies packed aboard the Progress 41 spacecraft for the space station's six-person crew. The station is currently home to three Russians, two Americans and one Italian astronaut.

In addition to fuel, oxygen and books, the spacecraft is carrying birthday gifts for the space station's commander — American astronaut Scott Kelly — who will celebrate his 47th birthday in space on Feb. 21.

The miniature Earth Artificial Satellite "Kedr" is also aboard Progress 41. It weighs a mere 66 pounds (30 kilograms) and is packed in a box about 22 inches (55 centimeters) per side. The name "Kedr" comes from the call sign used by the first person to fly in space, Yuri Gagarin, who made the historic first human spaceflight nearly 50 years ago on April 12, 1961.

Also known as RadioSkaf-V in Russia and ARISSAT-1 in the United States, the satellite is part of an amateur radio experiment by the Radio Amateur Satellite Corp., NASA and the Russian aerospace company RSC Energia.

"It will transmit its signal at 145.95 MHz, with the amateur radio call sign RS1S," Russia's Federal Space Agency officials said in a statement. 

The satellite, which will be tossed overboard by Russian cosmonauts during a spacewalk set for Feb. 16, is designed to transmit 25 greeting messages in 15 different languages, as well as photos of Earth and telemetry, officials with Russia's Federal Space Agency said.

About 1,918 pounds (870 kilograms) of propellant for maneuvering thrusters, 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of oxygen, 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water, and 3,080 pounds (1,400 kilograms) of dry cargo were also ferried to the space station on Progress 41.

The docking of Progress 41 comes just after the arrival of another cargo ship at the space station — Japan's robotic Kounotori 2 space freighter — which hooked up to the station early Thursday.

Yet another cargo ship, this one built by the European Space Agency, is due to be launched toward the space station on Feb. 15 ahead of NASA's next shuttle mission on the shuttle Discovery, which will blast off no earlier than Feb. 24 for the same destination.

Russia's 24-foot (7.3-meter) Progress spacecraft are similar in appearance to the three-module Soyuz space taxis that ferry cosmonauts and astronauts to and from the space station.

Both vehicles have a propulsion and orbital module; however, Progress vehicles do not have a crew-carrying module like the Soyuz ships. Instead, Progress vehicles are equipped with a propellant module to store fuel for the space station's maneuvering thrusters.

You can follow Space.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @TariqJMalik. This report was updated by msnbc.com.