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Secret Zuma Satellite Rumored to Be Lost

11 January 2018

SpaceX is pushing back on claims that the Falcon 9 rocket suffered an alleged malfunction following its launch from Cape Canaveral on Sunday.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp, which was commissioned by the Defense Department to choose the launch contractor, declined to comment on the payload adapter, saying "we can not comment on classified missions".

But on Tuesday, Northrop Grumman spokesperson Lon Rains declined to answer questions about the mission, including the failure or success of its launch, cost, exact government customer, and more. "We can not comment on classified missions".

So if there was a problem, who's at fault? "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said in an emailed statement. In the static fire test, SpaceX engineers will ignite all 27 of the heavy-lift rocket's engines almost simultaneously for the first time, holding the rocket down on the launch pad while they do. The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late past year that it took "great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma". 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.

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The Falcon 9 Zuma mission finally took off, but interestingly, SpaceX's live webcast of the launch was cut off right before the rocket deployed the Zuma payload into orbit.

Congressional inquiries into the satellite failure may revive debate about SpaceX's rivalry for military contracts with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. The launch appeared to go smoothly, and SpaceX cheered a successful liftoff and then the touch down of its first-stage booster back on land.

The US Strategic Command had reported that it wasn't tracking new satellites, at a time when the SpaceX-launched craft was expected to be in orbit. But as of now, Northrop Grumman has denied to make any comment regarding the Zuma mission and its fate. "We can not comment on classified missions".

Originally scheduled for a November launch, Zuma was delayed by potential concern about another mission's payload fairing, the shell on top that protects a satellite during launch.

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As they battled with SpaceX, ULA's executives launched a "results over rhetoric" campaign, highlighting the company's long heritage in space.

According to an Instagram post in December, Musk said the first payload will be a red Tesla Roadster playing David Bowie's Space Oddity on a billion-year elliptical Mars orbit. The company later said it had cleared the issue.

Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who heads the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, said in a statement Wednesday that "space is a risky business" but his panel remains "committed to providing rigorous oversight that accounts for that risk and ensures that we can meet all of our national security space requirements as the Air Force looks to competitively procure space launch services in the future".

The loss of a government payload comes at a bad time for SpaceX, which was founded by Elon Musk, who is CEO of both the privately-held rocket company and electric auto maker Tesla. After a rigorous Air Force review, SpaceX was certified in 2015 to compete for military launches.

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Secret Zuma Satellite Rumored to Be Lost