Is Zuma Lost? SpaceX Said Its Rocket Did Everything Right

14 January, 2018, 00:09 | Author: Elaine Woods
  • This still image from video courtesy of SpaceX shows the launch of SpaceX's secretive US government payload known as Zuma on January 7 from Cape Canaveral Florida

With 27 engines generating 5.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the Falcon Heavy rocket is one of SpaceX's most ambitious projects yet.

Updated | Elon Musk's SpaceX finally launched its mysterious Zuma satellite on Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The cost of Zuma in excess of a billion dollars.

A Falcon 9 rocket is set to lift off in February from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the Spanish-owned Paz radar imaging satellite, and another Falcon 9 is slated to haul the Hispasat 30W-6 geostationary communications craft to orbit from Cape Canaveral some time in February.

Then, on Tuesday morning, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell issued a more strongly worded statement, saying: "For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night". The Zuma payload is believed to have fallen back through the Earth's atmosphere due to the failure to separate, as the second stage of the rocket is created to fall back to earth and burn up on re-entry. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. In September 2016, Facebook's internet satellite was when the Falcon 9 rocket carrying it exploded.

The company has not said when exactly the rocket's engines will fire.

Media reports cited anonymous USA government officials familiar with the launch confirming that the Zuma mission failed.

Northrup Grumman, the maker of the payload, said it was for the United States government and would be delivered to low-Earth orbit, but offered no other details.

If Zuma did indeed fail, it's possible the payload adapter Northrop Grumman built to deploy the satellite from the rocket itself malfunctioned.

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Amid speculations of a failed mission, SpaceX announced that the Falcon 9 performed properly but did not announce a successful launch nor made further comments whether the payload has reached its destination. A spokesperson for National Reconnaissance Office, which owns the USA government's spy satellite fleet, said Zuma did not belong to that organization.

Closely held SpaceX, meanwhile, is heading into what is due to be a busy year.

SpaceX found that developing such a huge rocket was more of a challenge than initially expected.

Falcon Heavy is just one of several heavy-lift rockets now under development by commercial companies and NASA. Contracts of this nature can be extremely lucrative, meaning that this could be a large setback for Musk's space exploration company.

What makes things tricky is the fact that the satellite failed to achieve orbit, reportedly burning up in the earth's atmosphere. The mission, backed by the USA government, has become the talk of the town because neither the agency behind the liftoff nor the Pentagon are taking responsibility or sharing details about it post the liftoff.

Soon speculations started to emerge about the payload carried out by the satellite. Musk has said on Instagram that the auto will be launched on a "billion-year elliptic Mars orbit". But modern computer modeling and analytics have changed that expectation.

On the heels of the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9/GovSat 1 missions later this month, SpaceX plans at least two launches in February for two Spanish customers. But a failure would not be "devastating", she said, noting that the company is given credit for its ambitious goals. This could have resulted in the satellite tumbling back to Earth.

Zuma was SpaceX's third military launch.



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