It's not official, but sources say the secretive Zuma satellite was lost

Posted January 11, 2018

But SpaceX is confident that there is no issue with their Falcon 9 booster and the rocket's upper stage successfully carried the Zuma satellite into space.

SpaceX on Tuesday defended the performance of one of its rockets used to launch a U.S. spy satellite that is believed to have been lost after failing to reach orbit, adding that no changes were anticipated to its upcoming launch schedule.

Company President Gwynne Shotwell said the Falcon 9 rocket "did everything correctly" Sunday night and suggestions otherwise are "categorically false". "We can not comment on classified missions", Tim Paynter, Vice President for the company, said earlier.

The launch of the Falcon 9 for the classified Zuma mission, which was repeatedly delayed from its initial target date in November previous year, kicked off SpaceX's 2018. SpaceX's review so far indicates that "no design, operational or other changes are needed", she said. If SpaceX is sure about the success of its rocket launch, then the question will arise against the Northrop Grumman Corporation that built the billion-dollar Zuma satellite.

SpaceX televised the launch and landing of the first stage, but did not provide coverage of the second stage firing or orbital insertion of the satellite, as it often does, because of the classified nature of the mission. Its secret US government-sponsored payload, though, did not fare as well, according to sources. If Zuma is observed in orbit or not, the true story of what happened during the launch will likely remain shrouded in mystery for years. The rocket's second stage propels the satellite into orbit. "This is a classified mission", a spokesperson told NBC News.

Originally scheduled for a November launch, Zuma was delayed by potential concern about another mission's payload fairing, the shell on top that protects a satellite during launch.

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This is not the first time a payload was lost on a SpaceX mission. "We can not comment on a classified mission", he said.

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.

The loss, if it was determined to be a failure of SpaceX hardware, could be a "real threat" to the company's future defense business, said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

Because of Zuma's secrecy, SpaceX didn't live stream the entire mission as it typically does. Additionally, a SpaceX rocket carrying supply missions to the International Space Station for NASA exploded in 2015. The fact that SpaceX is proceeding with its launch plans, including an imminent static fire test in preparation for the upcoming first launch of the new Falcon Heavy rocket, demonstrates that SpaceX is convinced all is well technically.

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 began a campaign in Congress and the courts challenging what he called an unfair monopoly.