SpaceX Insists Falcon 9 Performed Nominally for Zuma Launch

Jan 11, 2018, 00:22
SpaceX Insists Falcon 9 Performed Nominally for Zuma Launch

The launch comes as reports indicate that a highly classified satellite launched by SpaceX on Sunday has gone missing and may have suffered a failure once it reached space. SpaceX was originally set to launch the Zuma mission in November, but the company tweeted at the time that it was postponing the mission "to take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer".

"After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night", said the statement from Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. "We can not comment on classified missions", Tim Paynter, Vice President for the company, said earlier.

A highly classified and multibillion-dollar USA spy satellite atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is presumed to have been destroyed, never reaching orbit on its Sunday launch, according to news reports.

"If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", she said.

SpaceX declined to comment further, citing the mission's classified status, as did Northrup Grumman, which manufactured the Zuma satellite and hired SpaceX as the launch contractor.

The end goal for the Hawthorne, California-based company will be to prove the utility of the rocket that can lift more than twice the payload of competitor United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.

If Zuma did indeed fail, it's possible the payload adapter Northrop Grumman built to deploy the satellite from the rocket itself malfunctioned.

SpaceX - which was founded and led by Musk, who also heads the electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla Inc - is slated to demonstrate the maiden flight of Falcon Heavy, a larger and more powerful rocket, later this month. While the night launch seemed to go smoothly with the first stage once again returning to land, reports from the Washington Post and other outlets suggest the satellite did not make it into orbit and was a total loss, although Musk said the second stage performed as expected. "We can not comment on classified missions".

Still shrouded in mystery.

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

"It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket", founder Elon Musk said at the time of the launch.

"Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule".

The launch broadcast was cut off shortly after the rocket's nose cone separated, which is standard under secret national security missions. According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Because of Zuma's secrecy, SpaceX didn't live stream the entire mission as it typically does. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 a year ago.

The launch was SpaceX's first in what is due to be a busy year.

Last year was a banner year for the private space company with 18 launches.