PICTURES: SpaceX Falcon 9 makes orbit on first attempt

Washington DC
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SpaceX launched its first Falcon 9 booster from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1445 EDT today, reporting that the vehicle successfully delivered its payload, a qualification version of the company's Dragon capsule, into low-Earth orbit.

The Falcon 9 is one of two vehicles NASA is funding as part of its commercial orbital transportation system (COTS) program for hauling cargo to and from the International Space Station. The other booster is the Taurus II and its Cygnus capsule, built by Orbital Sciences. Orbital plans its first launch next year.

Today's Falcon 9 launch followed one abort earlier in the four-hour launch window, when the countdown was halted just seconds before launch due to a computer problem. The launch team recycled the procedure at launch minus 15 minutes.

 
 ©SpaceX

Onboard video shows the full 3 minute burn of the nine-engine first stage, followed by separation and ignition of the single-engine second stage, which was expected to burn for five minutes before reaching orbit altitude of 250km (135nm).

 
 ©SpaceX
 Views of first stage burn
 
 ©SpaceX
 Second stage Merlin engine in operation