Moscow - An unmanned Russian spacecraft on Thursday docked with the International Space Station after making the trip from Earth in record time, reports quoted officials as saying.

A new approach manoeuvre allowed the Progress M16-M vessel to reach the space station, 350 kilometres above the Earth, after fewer orbits, taking a total six hours, compared to the usual two days.

The cargo ship took off on board a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:35 am Thursday (1935 Wednesday GMT), carrying 2.6 tons of supplies, fuel, scientific equipment and gifts for the space station's crew.

It docked successfully at 0118 GMT Thursday after four orbits round the Earth and a few minutes ahead of schedule, several reports in Russian media quoted mission control as saying.

After further testing, the new approach could also be used for manned Soyuz capsules, cutting time and expense.

“If you can get the crew to orbit in six hours and onboard the International Space Station, that could be a tremendous benefit over the two-plus days it takes today,” Dan Harman, Nasa's space station manager of operations and integration, told reporters last week.

The station is currently manned by three Russian cosmonauts, two US astronauts and a Japanese astronaut.

It is also hosting two other cargo vessels, Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle-3 and Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle-3, or Edoardo Amaldi. - Sapa-dpa