Did SpaceX's Mysterious Zuma Mission Fail?
SpaceX attempted to launch a highly classified payload — codenamed Zuma — for the U.S. government on Sunday, Jan. 7. According to SpaceX, Falcon 9 completed its job as planned, ejecting the satellite into space before returning to Earth for a safe relanding. Government officials, however, told Reuters on Monday that the satellite did not reach its intended orbit and has been written off as a “total loss.”
Due to the clandestine nature of the mission, no one is speaking up on the record with details about what really happened. Northrop Grumman, the satellite’s manufacturer, has not been willing to comment, while SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell only confirmed that the Falcon 9 performed nominally. “For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false,” Shotwell told Via Satellite on Jan. 9.
That nothing went wrong on SpaceX’s end is supported by the fact that the company is pushing ahead with another Falcon 9 launch in three weeks for SES. SpaceX is also preparing for a static fire of Falcon Heavy at the Kennedy Space Center later this week.
The truth about what happened to the Zuma payload may not come to light for years, depending on when the mission it is a part of becomes declassified. For now, the satellite community has been left to speculate.