MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia launched its first unmanned space flight to supply the International Space Station Sunday since an August crash left a half-sized crew on the orbital outpost and raised concerns over Moscow's role as the sole space flight provider.
The Progress freighter blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as scheduled at 6:11 a.m. EDT, carrying supplies to the station, a $100 billion project funded by 16 nations currently orbiting about 240 miles above Earth.
"The vehicle is reported to be going by the book, it is on the money," NASA TV said on its website www.nasa.gov.
It showed the freighter take off under bright sunshine in the Kazakh steppe, carrying nearly 3 tons of food, fuel and supplies including oxygen and clothes and even iPads.
It is expected to dock Wednesday at the station, which is as large as a five-bedroom house and took the United States more than 10 years to build. It is used to conduct research and test new technologies in the unique environment of microgravity.
All Russian space flights were suspended after the Progress failure, leaving a half-size, three-member crew on the space station consisting of U.S. station commander Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japan's Satoshi Furukawa.
A new crew is now expected to fly to the outpost on November 14, arriving two days later.
Since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttles this summer, Russian Soyuz capsules are the only ships capable of flying crews to the station, a service that currently costs NASA about $350 million a year.
NASA is seeking $850 million this year to help U.S.-based private companies develop space taxis, with the goal of breaking Russia's monopoly on station crew ferry flights before the end of 2016.
(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Sophie Hares)