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Russian cargo ship launched to space station

MOSCOW — A Russian cargo ship was launched successfully to the International Space Station on Sunday, clearing the way for the next manned mission and easing concerns about the station's future after a previous failed launch.

The unmanned Progress M-13M blasted off as scheduled from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said.

"It was a perfect launch," Lyndin said, adding that the ship successfully reached a designated orbit and will dock at the station Wednesday. A new crew will be launched to the space outpost on Nov. 14, he said.

A Progress launch failure in August, which was blamed on an "accidental" manufacturing flaw, cast doubts about future missions to the station, because the upper stage of the Soyuz booster rocket carrying the cargo ship to orbit is similar to that used to launch astronauts.

The next Soyuz launches were delayed pending the outcome of the inquiry. NASA said the space station — continuously manned for nearly 11 years — will need to be abandoned temporarily if a new crew cannot be launched by mid November.

NASA space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier congratulated Russia on the successful Progress launch. "Pending the outcome of a series of flight readiness meetings in the coming weeks, this successful flight sets the stage for the next Soyuz launch, planned for mid November," Gerstenmaier said in a statement.

The station's crew, which has been reduced to three astronauts after the failed launch in August, will be restored to six in December when another trio of astronauts will be sent, he added.

The Russian spacecraft serve as the only link to the station after NASA retired the space shuttle in July.

Sundays' mission was the second successful launch of a Soyuz booster rocket after the August accident. Earlier this month, another Soyuz rocket launched the first two satellites of the European Union's Galileo navigation system from the Kourou launchpad in French Guiana. The launches followed inspections of the rocket engines by their manufacturers.

Russian cargo ship launched to space station 10/30/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 30, 2011 9:45pm]

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