SpaceX-launched satellite isn't seen in orbit, Pentagon says

Where the top secret spy satellite lands nobody knows. Zuma Mission by Spacex

Where the top secret spy satellite lands nobody knows. Zuma Mission by Spacex

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the classified Zuma payload, January 7, 2018.

"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", SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement released yesterday.

Northrop Grumman - which provided the satellite for an undisclosed US government entity - said it can not comment on classified missions.

SpaceX/Flickr (public domain) A Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX leaves behind an exhaust plume as it races toward space with a top-secret government payload code-named Zuma. Northrop Grumman made the satellite, which it said was for the government and was destined for low-Earth orbit, but offered no other details. Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter. This may be because the satellite failed to separate or disconnect from the rocket once it reached orbit around Earth. "And that would put them as responsible on whether it separated from the second stage". "We can not comment on classified missions". SpaceX was originally set to launch the Zuma mission in November, but the company tweeted at the time that it was postponing the mission "to take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer". The sources would not confirm what exactly the payload was, saying it was classified.

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While the landing was nearly ideal, the company did not go on to confirm that the mission was a success, at least officially, according to Ars Technica.

SpaceX is led by Elon Musk and has been rapidly expanding its launch business, which includes NASA, national security and commercial missions.

In May 2015, the U.S. Air Force privately certified SpaceX to launch U.S. military and spy satellites, breaking a monopoly by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

It was not immediately clear if the failure of this mission was due to problems with the SpaceX rocket, or with the Zuma spacecraft. Last year, SpaceX completed 18 launches.

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Shotwell said no changes are expected in SpaceX's upcoming launch schedule "since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed". The rocket consists of three boosters instead of one and aims to fire all 27 engines simultaneously as it produces 5.13 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

In short, SpaceX appears to be shrugging its shoulders as it prepares to launch yet another Falcon 9 rocket and its first Mars-capable rocket, Falcon Heavy (a launch vehicle that's essentially three times as powerful as a Falcon 9).

This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m.

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