Is SpaceX's Covert Zuma Payload Missing in Action?

WIRED | 1/9/2018 | Robin Seemangal
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After months of launch delays, the clandestine spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman finally launched on Sunday evening on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The mission, code-named Zuma, lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 8:00 PM Eastern, headed toward an unknown destination in low Earth orbit. But it may not have made it there.

On Monday, SpaceX was already preparing for its next big launch from the Cape, rolling its triple-booster Falcon Heavy rocket out to pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center for an imminent static fire. But just hours later, rumors of Zuma’s failure began to circulate. In a tweet, reporter Peter de Selding of Space Intel Report said sources claimed that Zuma was “dead in orbit.” It was unclear who was responsible—the launch provider or the customer.

Report - Wall - Street - Journal - Government

In a report, the Wall Street Journal cited unnamed government and industry sources who claim that Zuma burned up before reaching orbit. And it implies that Zuma’s failure was caused by faulty separation from the Falcon 9’s second stage or the upper part of the rocket. The article claims that the “expensive, highly classified US spy satellite is presumed to be a total loss” and that Capitol Hill staffers have been briefed on the mission failure.

The article doesn’t mention, however, that the adapter mating Zuma to the Falcon 9 rocket was actually built and provided by Northrop Grumman––a fact reported by WIRED in November after obtaining early documents regarding the mission. While no one has officially confirmed that Zuma was lost, if a separation issue is to blame, it raises questions about the adapter Northrop Grumman provided. The veteran aerospace manufacturer also procured launch services for the mission on behalf of a still-unknown government agency or military branch.

WIRED - SpaceX - Communications - Manager - James

WIRED reached out to SpaceX senior communications manager James Gleeson, who said the company doesn’t comment...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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