Mystery around U.S. military's secret satellite launch by SpaceX deepens

Запущенный SpaceX секретный спутник упал в океан

Few details on the fate of the Zuma mission were available Thursday, four days after the top secret payload lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

On Tuesday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell released an even stronger statement and pushed back against reports that a second-stage malfunction may have been to blame, saying that "after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night". Contracts of this nature can be extremely lucrative, meaning that this could be a large setback for Musk's space exploration company.

SpaceX now targets 5 10 p.m. Saturday for its Falcon Heavy test fire, according to News 6 partner Florida Today. But this isn't one. SpaceX was able to land the booster's first stage, while the second stage continued to carry the secretive Zuma payload to its destination in low-orbit. A spokesperson for the huge defense contractor declined to comment on Zuma after Sunday night's launch.

Shotwell said in a statement that since no rocket changes are warranted for upcoming flights, the company's launch schedule remains on track.

The launch was an important one for the California-based company founded almost 16 years ago.

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.

In 2014, SpaceX sued again in an attempt to end the almost decade-long monopoly ULA held on national security launches, arguing that it should be able to compete for the lucrative launch contracts.

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The GovSat 1 satellite is set to launch on the next Falcon 9 rocket mission. To viewers of the live stream, the launch seemed like a success.

Langbroek wrote in a blog post that he believes the image shows the Falcon 9's upper stage dumping excess propellant after a de-orbit burn to drive it back into Earth's atmosphere. Then in 2016, another rocket exploded while being fueled ahead of an engine test.

In both cases, the company was grounded while it investigated the cause of those problems.

As for Zuma's fate, little is known.

As SpaceX looks to increase its share of defense business, those customers are very much interested in reliability, said Carissa Christensen, chief executive of consulting firm Bryce Space and Technology. The company has said it plans to seek certification from the Air Force for the Falcon Heavy for future national security launches.

"It's a particular nightmare if nothing went wrong on their part and they can't prove it because of the classified nature of the mission", he said.


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