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SpaceX orbits first commercial satellite

Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 1 orbited its first commercial payload, the Malaysian Razaksat satellite, on its fifth and last flight as the next launch in 2010 will be carried out by the new 1e version.

The 13 July commercial flight was from the US Army's Reagan test site on the Kwajalein Atol in the Pacific Ocean at at 20:35 local time.

SpaceX's published flight manifest gives launch dates out to 2015 and shows a 1e non-commercial maiden flight in 2010 and its first revenue launch for Swedish Space Corporation in the same year. The 1e with its 1,010kg (2,220lb) to a 185km circular orbit capability has more than double the payload capacity of the Falcon 1. The 1e's mass is 62% greater at 44,985kg and it has a thrust capability 60% higher, at 120,000lb (556kN).

SpaceX's Falcon 9 uses the same engines, subsystems and materials as Falcon 1 and the two consecutive successes of the smaller rocket will enhance the company's confidence in its larger sister vehicle. Falcon 9's maiden flight is planned for later this year and it will be used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under a NASA contract from 2010.

SpaceX's Falcon 1 achieved its first successful orbit with its September 2008 fourth flight after three attempts that began in March 2006. Of the first four launches the third, which also failed, would have deployed institutional payloads from NASA and the US military. SpaceX would not confirm whether these were paid for.

Despite this fifth flight success SpaceX appears to have lost its Hylas payload to European launch provider Arianespace. SpaceX was to launch Hylas on its Falcon 9 rocket next year for the UK- based satellite comunications provider Avanti Communications. Arianespace has confirmed to Flight International that it has negotiated a launch for Hylas on either its EADS Astrium Ariane 5 or Samara Space Center Soyuz launchers. SpaceX declined to comment on its contract and Avanti has not been available for comment.

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