A Russian Soyuz craft has launched into the morning skies over Kazakhstan, carrying three astronauts on their way to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will quickly start preparing for a frenzy of incoming traffic.
NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and Japan's Akihito Hoshide are set to travel for two days before joining three colleagues already at the permanent space outpost.
Families and colleagues watched the launch on Sunday from an observation platform in the Russian-leased cosmodrome in the dry southern steppes of this sprawling Central Asian nation.
Lift-off took place at the scheduled time of 8.40am local time (12.40pm AEST), sending a deafening roar as the craft gained height.
Despite intense G-force pressure, the three astronauts looked relaxed in televised footage as they performed a series of routine operations.
The Soyuz jettisoned three rocket booster stages as it was propelled into orbit, which takes just over nine minutes.
At that stage, a doll given to Malenchenko as a mascot by his daughter and suspended over the three astronauts floated out of view on television footage, indicating the craft had escaped the Earth's gravitational pull.
The shell that surrounds the capsule during the launch phase also peeled away, soaking the astronauts in bright yellow sunshine pouring through the viewing hatches.
The solar arrays that deployed on the Soyuz after orbital entry will provide the craft with the power it needs during its two-day trip.
Williams, tightly squeezed into the cramped craft, gave a thumbs-up sign and waved to onboard cameras as Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin congratulated the crew over radio control.
Malenchenko, who is piloting the Soyuz, is one of Russia's most experienced astronauts and is making his fifth voyage into space.
Williams is on her second mission and will further extend the record for the longest sojourn in space for a female astronaut. The 46-year-old, who is of Indian-American heritage, spent 195 days at the space station in 2006-07.
Sunday's launch took place on the 37th anniversary of the landmark Apollo-Soyuz mission during which crafts from the US and the Soviet Union docked in space, setting a precedent for scientific co-operation between the then Cold War foes.
The Soyuz is scheduled to dock with the space station at 8:52am Moscow time (2.52pm AEST) on Tuesday.
Russians Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and US astronaut Joseph Acaba have been working at the space station since mid-May.
The space station, which orbits up to 410km above the Earth, is braced to handle an unprecedented level of traffic.
Japan's HTV3 cargo ship will dock with the space station next week and will be the first of nine craft making contact with the orbiting satellite over a 17-day span.