SpaceX Fails Launch of Secret Government Satellite, Or Did It?
Last Sunday, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a highly-classified payload for the private military contractor, Northrop Grumman. It has been reported that at some point during the launch there was an alleged failure, resulting in the potential loss of a billion-dollar piece of technology. Although, it’s unclear what exactly was contained in the payload, called Zuma, and whether it actually failed or not.
According to mainstream news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, the Zuma payload was lost in space, burning up in the atmosphere after failing to achieve orbit. Despite this information, SpaceX has refused to comment on the launch, aside from touting its success in successfully landing the Falcon 9 rocket.
“We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally,” SpaceX said in response to media inquiries, seeming to refute the reporting of the WSJ and others.
The private aerospace company has been accepting a number of lucrative government contracts in order to fund future missions to Mars and the development of larger rockets. But there’s something about this particular mission that doesn’t seem right.
A clandestine government satellite, worth a billion dollars or more is being reported to have failed, while SpaceX seems completely unconcerned? Something seems fishy.
Typically, SpaceX will broadcast its launches to the public in their entirety, but due to the secrecy of this particular mission, it only transmitted video of the launch up until the release of the nose cone.
The broadcast of Zuma posted by SpaceX on YouTube shows a successful launch, with mission control members applauding once the initial stage detached from Zuma, before it is then blacked out. For several minutes, there is a lack of video and commentary, until focus shifts to the return landing of the Flacon 9.
According to the U.S. Strategic Command log that tracks every satellite in orbit, a new entry named USA 280 was made, suggesting that it picked up Zuma’s trajectory. Some have speculated that it may have remained in orbit for a brief period, before falling back to Earth due to a failure of the final rocket stage to detach from the payload.
With a number of theories abound, one that has stuck out is that the government may have been attempting to launch an experimental space-based radar for ocean shipping surveillance. This type of system would be able to track illegal shipments of weapons, drugs, and oil to and from places violating international embargos, including North Korea and Syria.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that the launch date for the Zuma payload was pushed back multiple times over the course of months. Others have pointed out that the mechanism that was to release the final stage from the payload was built by Northrop Grumman, leaving the burden of failure on them.
So, what really happened? Is this a cover-up of a clandestine mission by the government, or fear to admit failure?