SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at sunrise

Photo via SpaceX

A military satellite launched by SpaceX may be lost

Or maybe it's all a government coverup.

Jan 9, 2018, 5:31 pm


Christina Bonnington 

Christina Bonnington

Two days after its launch, SpaceX’s secretive Zuma mission is still fueling wild rumors and conspiracies. On Tuesday, official statements seemed to contradict anonymous reports that the classified payload was lost.

According to SpaceX, everything is fine: “After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night,” SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. “If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately.”

Spokespeople for the Pentagon and Northrop Grumman declined to comment on the classified mission.

But Falcon 9’s success doesn’t necessarily rule out a subsequent failure. Beyond its successful initial launch into the atmosphere, there appear to be conflicting reports as to what happened to Zuma. SpaceX didn’t stream the entirety of the flight, as it normally does for commercial launches, because the mission was sensitive.

Conflicting reports and a lack of details have muddied conclusions about what happened next.

According to Bloomberg, which cited unnamed congressional aides, the rocket’s second-stage booster section failed. The satellite and its second-stage rocket landed in the ocean. The Wall Street Journal is reporting something slightly different—that Zuma, a spy satellite, didn’t successfully detach from the upper portion of the rocket.

There are also reports that the satellite was actually seen in orbit, according to the Verge. We’ll know for sure in a few weeks when sunlight conditions change and amateur astronomers might be able to spot it. Even so, the satellite itself could still be dead or damaged. Still others think that it’s possible (put on your tinfoil hats, folks) that the satellite actually successfully completed its mission but that Elon Musk’s company is allowing the public to think it failed to halt further speculation or hide Zuma along the path of a known satellite.

This mission definitely marks itself as one of SpaceX’s more curious moments—no small feat considering the number of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches that have made headlines in recent years. In December, one launch alarmed Southern Californians who, thanks to particularly clear skies, were able to spot the rocket as far as 270 miles away. Many thought something had exploded in the sky, an assumption that wouldn’t be out of place: More than one Falcon 9 mission has exploded shortly after launch.

Unless we get further comment on the record—and it’s likely we never will—what exactly happened to Zuma may remain a mystery.

H/T Bloomberg

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*First Published: Jan 9, 2018, 5:31 pm