SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch

11 January, 2018, 09:25 | Author: Becky Perry
  • Secret US spy satellite may be lost in space after SpaceX launch

The satellite, code-named Zuma, failed to reach orbit and fell back into Earth's atmosphere after separating from the Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch of the Falcon 9 for the classified Zuma mission, which was repeatedly delayed from its initial target date in November past year, kicked off SpaceX's 2018.

"I don't think we can know", Ketcham said.

In response to a query on Monday afternoon, a SpaceX spokesperson told Ars, "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally". "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", SpaceX, which is led by entrepreneur Elon Musk, said in an emailed statement. The company only said it's classified and wouldn't comment. Compromising relationships with the military would carry significant consequences: Defense contract launches were estimated to be valued at about $70 billion through 2030 in a 2014 government report.

Shotwell said the Zuma mission should have no impact on its upcoming Falcon 9 launch in three weeks or the test launch of the Falcon Heavy. The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late previous year that it took "great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma". 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. The satellite was lost, said one of the aides, who asked not to be named because the matter is private.

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This morning, Reuters reported that an investigation has been launched, but said that there's no reason to believe "sabotage or other interference" was involved in the apparent failure.

While the landing was nearly ideal, the company did not go on to confirm that the mission was a success, at least officially, according to Ars Technica. Commentary during a webcast of the launch appeared to confirm that the fairings housing the payload were successfully deployed.

Northrop Grumman - which provided the satellite for an undisclosed US government entity - said it can not comment on classified missions.

Last March, a Falcon 9 was relaunched into space-the first time an orbital rocket was reused. The launch had been pushed back several times since late 2017, with the past week's extreme weather on the East Coast contributing to the most recent delay. The Zuma mission was a success on at least one count: SpaceX successfully landed the rocket's first stage for reuse in a future launch, a key step in its goal to drive down the cost of access to space.

SpaceX had a spectacular launch this weekend, on January 7, which was capped by a near flawless landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. The company's spokesman Lon Rains said, "This is a classified mission". The webcast then concluded. That includes Northrop Grumman, which built the satellite for the USA government. The highly anticipated rocket, which is SpaceX's largest, will take its maiden flight soon after that, she said.

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