SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch

by Edgar Hayes January 11, 2018, 0:24
SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch

A veil of secrecy has been drawn over the fate of a multibillion-dollar USA spy satellite that is said to have failed despite the successful launch and return of the rocket that took it into space.

United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing created more than a decade ago to launch sensitive satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence community, has always been under fire from Elon Musk's SpaceX, the tenacious upstart that plowed its way into the market by waging war in Washington, D.C.

Shotwell said in her Tuesday statement that the company "does not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule" at the end of the month since the data reviewed so far "indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed". Northrop Grumman VP of Strategic Communications Tim Paynter, meanwhile, said that he could not comment on classified missions. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately.

A classified payload called Zuma, built by Northrup Grumman for the United States government, was being delivered to orbit.

However, the key part connecting the Zuma payload to the rocket wasn't made by SpaceX.

The CEO of SpaceX is Elon Musk, the South African-born inventor and entrepreneur who is also behind electric car-maker Tesla.

But, according to the Journal, the satellite failed to reach orbit atop a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rocket.

Whether the Falcon 9 Zuma mission failed or not, SpaceX is now setting its sights on the Falcon Heavy debut launch.

This was SpaceX's third classified mission for the US government, a lucrative customer. SpaceX is also under contract from NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, and it maintains that the first test flights with humans on board could happen as soon as this year.

As they battled with SpaceX, ULA's executives launched a "results over rhetoric" campaign, highlighting the company's long heritage in space. According to the LA Times a spokesperson for Grumman declined to provide an explanation and said, "This is a classified mission".

SpaceX launched two other national security missions past year: a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in May and the Pentagon's autonomous space plane, known as the X-37B, in September.

The massive Falcon Heavy, which has already been staged on a Cape Canaveral launchpad, stands 230 feet tall and consists of three Falcon 9 first-stage cores.

As it usually does for classified launches, Loren Grush reports forThe Verge, SpaceX censored coverage of the launch, cutting its livestream prior to nose cone separation that would reveal the payload.

SpaceX, however, never officially confirmed mission success. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 past year. It did stream the successful landing of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster after it completed its primary mission. After a rigorous Air Force review, SpaceX was certified in 2015 to compete for military launches.

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