Elon Musk’s SpaceX appears to have lost a mysterious government payload known as “Zuma” in their latest rocket launch.
TechCrunch reports that SpaceX’s latest rocket had a successful launch but the payload being carried by the rocket, codenamed “Zuma” and believed to be a spy satellite for the U.S. government, was unable to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. The Zuma payload is believed to have fallen back through the Earth’s atmosphere due to the failure to separate, as the second stage of the rocket is designed to fall back to earth and burn up on re-entry. Since the Zuma payload was attached to the second stage, it very well may have been destroyed.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched as scheduled on January 7 and the first stage of the booster landed in SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral facility. The Zuma payload was contracted for launch by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government, Northrop then selected SpaceX as the carrier of the payload. SpaceX had already been approved for flying U.S. government payloads after the company successfully launched the U.S. Air Force’s X-47B spacecraft.
The Zuma satellite was likely worth billions of dollars, making this the second billion-dollar payload that SpaceX has lost in just two years. In September 2016, Facebook’s internet satellite was destroyed when the Falcon 9 rocket carrying it exploded. Contracts of this nature can be extremely lucrative, meaning that this could be a large setback for Musk’s space exploration company. Currently, SpaceX is facing fierce competition from ULA, a launch provider operated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, both of which have long relationships with various elements of the U.S. government.
SpaceX’s comment on the issue seemed to imply that the reason the Zuma payload failed to detach in the second stage was not their fault but rather that of Northrop Grumman or perhaps the payload itself. SpaceX said in a statement “We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”
Update — Breitbart Tech received the following statement from SpaceX:
“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. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.”
“Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.”