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Russian supply ship heads for ISS, space garbage crashes into Pacific

Vittles, manoeuvring fuel up: Rubbish bins down

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A Russian "Progress" supply ship has successfully lifted off bound for the International Space Station orbiting the Earth, even as another departed the station crammed with rubbish destined for fiery destruction during re-entry above the Pacific.

Progress 46 took off in chilly winter weather from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 5:06 AM local time on 26 January, and is now en route to the ISS, where it is expected to dock with the station's Pirs module tomorrow. The ship is laden with 2.9 tons of supplies – including food and equipment for the 'nauts crewing the outpost and manoeuvring fuel which will help maintain the station's orbit and/or move it out of the way of incoming space debris.

The previous cargo ship, Progress 45, meanwhile, departed the ISS on Tuesday loaded with rubbish and surplus kit from the station. Having deployed a mini-satellite, the Progress then completed its final mission in the role of space garbage truck, ploughing into the atmosphere with its unwanted cargo to destruction.

As their rubbish exploded in a fireball above the Pacific and fresh supplies roared upward through the atmosphere toward them, the ISS' Expedition 30 crew kept busy. In particular the station commander, Dan Burbank (recruited by NASA, unusually, from the US Coast Guard) practiced his robotic grappling skills ahead of the hoped-for new era in which the USA will no longer be totally dependent on Russia to supply and man the ISS.

Burbank was preparing for the upcoming arrival of the commercially built and operated "Dragon" capsule from upstart American firm SpaceX, planned to haul another load of supplies to the ISS imminently. The Dragon is reusable, and is being upgraded for use carrying people as well as supplies. ®

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