A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Sunday with the US government's mysterious Zuma payload.
SpaceX defended its rocket performance during the weekend launch of a secret USA satellite, responding Tuesday to media reports that the satellite codenamed Zuma was lost.
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. No further requests for communication were entertained by the company regarding the mission.
GovSat will share the satellite's communications capacity with Luxembourg's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.
Start Falcon 9 with Zuma was the first for SpaceX in 2018. One idea, in contradiction to SpaceX's official statements, is that the rocket's upper stage underperformed and caused the problem.
And it's still not clear which government agency was ultimately responsible for the effort.
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Quoting a military spokesperson, Bloomberg reported the US government was not tracking any items in orbit from Sunday's launch.
If the satellite is no longer in orbit, she said the listing will eventually be removed when the catalog is updated. And was Zuma a satellite? As planned, the main engine was cut around two and a half minutes into the launch, and the Falcon 9 split into stage one and stage two.
It is notable that White would refer questions to SpaceX, the launch provider. But Shotwell reiterated in a statement Tuesday morning that "after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night". And she noted that any reports that the rocket failed are "categorically false". "Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible", said SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell.
SpaceX hasn't said why the static fire test was pushed back. "We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks". The company has twice stated that its rocket, both the first and second stages, performed nominally during the launch on Sunday evening. The company also rarely releases formal statements on the outcome of each launch.
The likely culprit for the failed launch of the payload can be an American Corporation Northrop Grumman. Conceivably it could have been a spaceplane or some experimental vehicle launched by a defense contractor or maybe even the Central Intelligence Agency.
"This is a classified mission", wrote Lon Rains, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, in an email to Spaceflight Now.
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SpaceX will fly the rocket on manned and unmanned Mars missions in the coming years.
The GovSat 1 satellite is set to launch on the next Falcon 9 rocket mission.
However, SpaceX never officially confirmed the success of the mission.
The goal of Zuma's mission was never disclosed, and no government or military agency claimed ownership. Meanwhile, theories are emerging that the United States government-backed Zuma was a satellite meant to monitor or intercept nuclear activities by North Korea.
In 2015, SpaceX was certified by the U.S. Air Force to launch national security satellites. The attachment fixture is normally included in the launch service purchased by the payload's owner.
The foggy responses by concerned authorities are fueling the fire to rumors and speculations about Zuma mission being a failure.
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But with the mission's classified nature, confirmation of Zuma's fate, and what may have gone wrong, remained elusive.