After what looked like a successful launch on Sunday night, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal Monday that the spy satellite known as Zuma had failed to reach orbit and is presumed to be a total loss, after rumors swirled all day that the spacecraft wasn’t put into the correct orbit, or perhaps had just failed in some way.
SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson could only release this statement on Monday: “We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”
SpaceX president Gwynn Shotwell went a step further on Tuesday, defending SpaceX’s reputation as an aerospace company whose rockets could be trusted.
“After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night,” Shotwell says in a statement. “If we or others find 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.”
Shotwell continues: “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.”
News about a disappearance of a government spacecraft that was already shrouded in secrecy because of its nature is a development sure to stoke the curiosity of conspiracy theorists. For its part, U.S. officials who spoke only on the condition of anonymity are calling the failure a “write-off,” the WSJ reports.
Northrop Grumman Corporation made the Zuma spacecraft, and it was intended for low-Earth orbit, but that’s all SpaceX or the defense contractor had released about the mission, calling Zuma “restricted payload.
Zuma was the third classified mission SpaceX has performed for the U.S. government. (The first was to launch a spy satellite in May and the second was to launch the X-37B spy plane in September.)
The Zuma mission was first scheduled to launch on November 15 and experienced subsequent delays that led to the launch on Sunday.