Science

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

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

A veil of secrecy has been drawn over the fate of a multibillion-dollar U.S. spy satellite that is said to have failed despite the successful launch and return of the rocket that took it into space.

Shotwell said no changes are expected in SpaceX's upcoming launch schedule "since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed".

Company president Gwynne Shotwell said the rocket "did everything correctly" and suggestions otherwise are "categorically false", according to the Associated Press. "We can not comment on classified missions".

But this much is certain: Zuma, perched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, streaked across the Florida sky from Cape Canaveral on Sunday evening and the first stage returned safely to land. SpaceX says not it - only that if it or others find out differently, it'll let us know. As it is a secret mission, neither SpaceX nor Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of the Zuma satellite, have disclosed any information about top-secret Zuma mission. Its secret USA government-sponsored payload, though, did not fare as well, according to sources.

The company's live webcast did not show video coverage of the Zuma spacecraft after it separated from the first stage of the rocket, but confirmed that the fairings deployed and the payload was on its way to low-Earth orbit. Another Falcon 9, meanwhile, is scheduled to fly in three weeks with a communication satellite for Luxembourg.

The secretive nature of the launch makes it hard to discern additional details. Anthony Capaccio and Dana Hull reporting for Bloomberg cite a USA official and two congressional aides reporting the launch failed, with one aide stating that the satellite and second-stage rocket fell back into the ocean. "This is a classified mission", a spokesperson told NBC News.




We spoke to a Northrup Grummam rep by phone, who said: "This is a classified mission".

SpaceX competes for military launches with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., which was the sole provider for the Pentagon until Musk launched a campaign in Congress and the courts challenging what he called an unfair monopoly.

We'll update this story as new details emerge about the Zuma mission and its alleged failure.

The massive Falcon Heavy, which has already been staged on a Cape Canaveral launchpad, stands 230 feet tall and consists of three Falcon 9 first-stage cores.

SpaceX is led by Elon Musk and has been rapidly expanding its launch business, which includes NASA, national security and commercial missions. The company's spokesman Lon Rains said, "This is a classified mission". The thrust its 27 engines can produce is equivalent to 18 Boeing ( BA ) 747s and makes it two times more powerful than any other rocket operating today, according to SpaceX. "But on this mission the customer provided its own payload adapter, so separation may be its problem and not SpaceX's problem", Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted on Monday night.