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SpaceX Zuma Launch: What happened?

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Brian Pham

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The launch as seen from LA

The launch as seen from LA

The Verge

The Verge

The launch as seen from LA

SpaceX was expected to launch a Falcon 9 rocket with the payload of a secret satellite known only as “Zuma” which was produced by Northrop Grumman.  The launch date was January 7, 2018, and was considered initially a successful launch. However, different reports and accounts emerged as to the actual fate of the spacecraft itself as an expected statement confirming success was not heard from either SpaceX nor Northrop Grumman.

According to SpaceX, the rocket performed normally as it was programmed to do. However, other sources such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters claimed that sources confirmed that the payload either fell into the ocean or simply failed to separate from the upper part of the rocket as it was launched.  According to the catalog Space-Track, a payload was in fact tracked from Cape Canaveral – the location for the rocket’s liftoff. However, the catalog cautioned that this could be inaccurate as a flaw was proven in at least one other occasion. Since the launch was part of a classified mission or what government agency was involved in the mission few details were disclosed. SpaceX provided a live stream covering the launch, but as the protocol for classified missions requires, the transmission was cut off just before the separation or deployment of the satellite from the nose cone.

Another emerging theory for the presumed fate of the Zuma launch was that if SpaceX’s technology worked as expected, then the different payload adapter was to blame. SpaceX typically provided a payload adapter prior to launch, but in this particular case Northrop Grumman, instead, provided its own. Another rumor is that the launch actually succeeded but that the satellite went dark in the immediate aftermath of the launch itself.  

The details regarding SpaceX’s Zuma launch remain a mystery. Meanwhile, the possible failure of the launch comes at a time when SpaceX has launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket model. However, according to Bloomberg, the US Air Force will retain its relationship with SpaceX in terms of government-contracted launches despite the disputed fate of the undisclosed Zuma mission.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket carrying the "Zuma" satellite payload moments from liftoff. Photo Credit - SpaceX

Works Cited:

Capaccio, Anthony, and Dana Hull. “Classified Military Satellite Goes Missing After SpaceX Launch.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 8 Jan. 2018, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-09/spacex-launched-satellite-isn-t-seen-in-orbit-pentagon-says?utm_content=tech.

“Fate of SpaceX ‘Zuma’ Government Satellite Remains Unclear.” Time, Time, 10 Jan. 2018, time.com/5096628/spacex-zuma-northrup-grumman/.

Grush, Loren. “Did SpaceX’s Secret Zuma Mission Actually Fail?” The Verge, The Verge, 9 Jan. 2018, www.theverge.com/2018/1/9/16866806/spacex-zuma-mission-failure-northrop-grumman-classified-falcon-9-rocket.

http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/zumapresskit_2018.pdf

McKinnon, Mika. “What Went Wrong With the Launch of the Secretive Zuma Satellite?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 10 Jan. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-went-wrong-launching-secretive-zuma-satellite-180967786/.

Mosher, Dave. “Rumors Are Swirling That a Secret Government Satellite Crashed, but SpaceX Says Its Rocket ‘Did Everything Correctly’.” Business Insider, Business Insider India, 9 Jan. 2018, www.businessinsider.in/Rumors-are-swirling-that-a-secret-government-satellite-crashed-but-SpaceX-says-its-rocket-did-everything-correctly/articleshow/62433866.cms.

 

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SpaceX Zuma Launch: What happened?