SpaceX dealt blow as classified military satellite goes missing

Lloyd Doyle
January 12, 2018

Before Sunday, SpaceX had launched just two national-security payloads-the NROL-76 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in May 2017 and the Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane this past September.

A spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which built the satellite estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, said: "This is a classified mission".

Last year, SpaceX carried out 18 successful launches, the highest in any calendar year.

Because the payload was classified, SpaceX commentators revealed nothing about the satellite, which government agency owns it or when it was expected to be released from the Falcon 9's second stage. No details about its intended orbit - or its goal - were revealed.

San Francisco: Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. successfully launched its first mission of the new year: a classified payload for the U.S. government into low-earth orbit. But in keeping with plans announced before launch, the company did not discuss any aspects of the payload or its intended orbit. We can not comment on classified missions'.

SpaceX cut off its launch broadcast after confirming that the rocket's nose cone - the cause of a delay to a planned November launch - had separated a few minutes after the 8 p.m. ET blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"We have nothing to add to the satellite catalog at this time", Navy Captain Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for the command, said in an email when asked if the new satellite was in orbit.

A SpaceX spokesman said "we do not comment on missions of this nature".


Shotwell said the company's defense of the Falcon 9 was based on "review of all data to date", and it would report any new information changing that assessment.

Viewers saw light from the Falcon 9 engines glowing and diffracted through a pair of thin cloud decks, one at 4,000 feet and another at roughly 20,000 to 25,000 feet, said Tony Cristaldi, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

The Wall Street Journal quotes unidentified congressional officials who were briefed on the mission as saying the satellite apparently did not separate from the second stage, and plunged through the atmosphere and burned up.

The reports were at odds with the US catalog of orbital payloads, which listed Zuma as United States of America 280.

Zuma is widely regarded as a national-security mission. "Implication is Space-Track thinks it completed at least one orbit".

The lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit.

Satellites can fall victim to any number of failures and malfunctions after separation from their boosters.

SpaceX, along with Boeing, also has a contract with Nasa to fly astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the "Commercial Crew" program, with the first crucial test flight scheduled for the second quarter. And so it goes.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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