Last night Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched its first operational satellite from its pad in Marshall Islands. This is the first time that a privately funded liquid fuel rocket has achieved this milestone.

This was the fifth launch of the Falcon 1 rocket and the second time it succeeded in reaching orbit (the last payload was of a dummy satellite).

It’s another vindication of SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s plan to revolutionize space access with cheaper, more routine access to space, and it couldn’t come at a better time–as the independent Human Space Flight Review Committee prepares to advise the White House on the future of America’s national space program.

SpaceX’s next launch will be a test flight of its Falcon 9 rocket. Powered by 9 Merlin engines, one of which drives the Falcon 1, the Falcon 9 is designed for nothing less than human space flight, with a potential crew of seven astronauts.

The company is already working under a $1.6 billion contract to deliver cargo to the International Space Station after the space shuttle retires next year (Orbital Sciences Corporation has a similar contract).

SpaceX hopes to go beyond mere cargo flights to the station, however. As I saw on a recent visit to SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, CA, all of the company’s Dragon crew capsules–even those intended for cargo–will have windows….