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News Worms

SpaceX defends rocket performance after loss of United States spy satellite

SpaceX defends rocket performance after loss of United States spy satellite

Zuma lifted off from SpaceX's Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sunday evening at 8:00 pm ET in what appeared to be a ideal Falcon 9 launch and landing of the first stage.

"After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night", said the statement from Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which manufactured the satellite and chose SpaceX for the mission, declined to comment on the coupling, saying: "We can not comment on classified missions". All that is known about it publicly is that it was built by Northrop Grumman for a USA government customer, but not which agency ordered it.

"There's a long tradition of not commenting on problems with classified missions, unless it blows up in such a way that everyone can see it", John Logsdon, founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told Bloomberg News. "And that would put them as responsible on whether it separated from the second stage".

The Wall Street Journal quotes unidentified congressional officials who were briefed on the mission as saying the satellite apparently did not separate from the second stage, and plunged through the atmosphere and burned up.

But Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at Teal Group, said SpaceX's cheaper launch costs and faster turnarounds for missions will still probably work in its favor with the Air Force, even if the Zuma mission were determined to be a launch failure.

"This is a classified mission".

The company has said it plans about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 previous year. Few details about the satellite are officially known besides its codename "Zuma", not even which government agency meant to use the satellite nor for what goal. While the night launch seemed to go smoothly with the first stage once again returning to land, reports from the Washington Post and other outlets suggest the satellite did not make it into orbit and was a total loss, although Musk said the second stage performed as expected.

"I think the rocket itself is considered an extremely reliable vehicle", he said.

"The most important issue here is whether the Pentagon will rethink its reliability as a provider of launch services", said Thompson, whose think tank receives funding from Boeing and Lockheed.

SpaceX's Shotwell said in a statement that since no rocket changes are warranted for upcoming flights, the company's launch schedule remains on track. All three cores of Falcon Heavy have been test fired individually at SpaceX's facilities in McGregor, Texas, but they have yet to light up together.

Zuma was initially scheduled to launch in November but was delayed until the rocket and satellite were declared "healthy" for launch last week.

The end goal for the Hawthorne, California-based company will be to prove the utility of the rocket that can lift more than twice the payload of competitor United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy. Then there's SpaceX - the private launch company contracted to send the satellite into orbit. According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

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


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