What Went Wrong With the Launch of the Secretive Zuma Satellite?

SpaceX Launch

Zuma was built by the defence contractor Northrop Grumman, though it is unknown which United States agency would have been using the satellite. During launches for commercial satellite customers, SpaceX typically returns to the webcast to confirm that the payload has separated from the second stage, but Zuma was a classified mission so the lack of further messages wasn't surprising.

Asked to comment, SpaceX - which is based in Hawthorne and whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - issued a statement Monday afternoon: "We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally".

So if there was a problem, who's at fault? If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Both the Wall Street Journal and Reuters quoted unnamed officials as saying the satellite did not separate from the Falcon 9 second stage. In the static fire test, SpaceX engineers will ignite all 27 of the heavy-lift rocket's engines almost simultaneously for the first time, holding the rocket down on the launch pad while they do. "We can not discuss classified programs".

A top-secret government mission launched by SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by tech mogul Elon Musk, may have failed on Sunday night.

The rumors were corroborated by the sources of Ars Technica, claiming that the mysterious Zuma spacecraft may not have survived the Falcon 9 launch.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who heads the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, said in a statement Wednesday that "space is a risky business" but his panel remains "committed to providing rigorous oversight that accounts for that risk and ensures that we can meet all of our national security space requirements as the Air Force looks to competitively procure space launch services in the future". They say that the adapter that attaches the satellite to the rocket's upper stage might have malfunctioned and that would have resulted in the failure of the mission.

As it usually does for classified launches, Loren Grush reports forThe Verge, SpaceX censored coverage of the launch, cutting its livestream prior to nose cone separation that would reveal the payload. "Info blackout renders any conclusion - launcher issue?"

However, the key part connecting the Zuma payload to the rocket wasn't made by SpaceX.

Zuma was initially scheduled to launch in November but was delayed until the rocket and satellite were declared "healthy" for launch last week.

In three weeks, the company has another Falcon 9 launch planned from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40 as the company aims to put a communication satellite for Luxembourg into space.

Falcon Heavy is SpaceX's massive new rocket that will boast three times the thrust of the Falcon 9.

Shotwell said in her Tuesday statement that the company "does not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule" at the end of the month since the data reviewed so far "indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed".

This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m.

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