SpaceX president confirms successful launch of government spy satellite Zuma

SpaceX president confirms successful launch of government spy satellite Zuma

SpaceX president confirms successful launch of government spy satellite Zuma

"Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false", said Gwynne Shotwell, chief operating officer of Hawthorne, Calif. -based SpaceX.

The launch was initially supposed to take place in November but was postponed so the California-based company could take a closer look at potential problems with the fairing, or the nose cone part of the rocket that protects the payload.

Reports began to trickle in Monday afternoon that Zuma, which was said to be worth more than $1 billion, may have been lost after it was launched Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket. It was said that Zuma failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9, broke up in the air and fell into the sea.

Northrop Grumman Corp, the company which made the satellite (and also selected SpaceX for the launch) refused to comment since all the information related to it is classified. The flight seemed to go off without a hitch, although we weren't given full access to video throughout the entirety of the flight or detailed telemetry data considering that this was a classified mission for the U.S. Military. No further requests for communication were entertained by the company regarding the mission.

There are conflicting reports about what may have happened.

Northrop Grumman - which provided the satellite for an undisclosed USA government entity - said it can not comment on classified missions. Instead, it plunged back into the atmosphere, according to the Journal.

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If something went wrong - "a big "if" - I am skeptical", he wrote in a blog post - it could be that the spacecraft ended up in the wrong orbit, that it did not work after separating from the rocket, or that it failed to separate from the Falcon 9's upper stage at all. The first stage of the rocket in about eight minutes made a successful landing. "Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible".

Adding to the mystery, the satellite, categorized as US 280, was still listed as a payload on orbit by the U.S. space surveillance system as of Tuesday afternoon, said Laura Grego, a Caltech-trained physicist who is a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. This could have resulted in the satellite tumbling back to Earth.

If the satellite is no longer in orbit, she said the listing will eventually be removed when the catalog is updated. That will be followed by a January 18 night launch from the Cape of an Atlas V rocket and US missile warning satellite.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who previous flew into space in the 1980s aboard Columbia as a payload specialist, sided with SpaceX, stating, "The first statement by SpaceX was that the failure to achieve orbit was not theirs".

SpaceX has been rapidly expanding its launch business, which includes NASA, national security and commercial missions. The company has recently ramped up its launch pace, even launching two missions from opposite coasts within about 48 hours. The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late past year that it took "great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma". Questions remained about which national security agency the satellite would have served, as well as its fate.

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