Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Business | By Tara Barton

SpaceX successfully launches Zuma mission for U.S. government

SpaceX successfully launches Zuma mission for U.S. government

"We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally", James Gleeson, a spokesman for SpaceX, said in an email.

The Zuma spacecraft was attached to one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets.

But neither SpaceX nor Northrop later confirmed the launch was ultimately a success, as United Launch Alliance typically does for its classified missions.

A spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which built the satellite estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, said: "This is a classified mission".

The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late a year ago that it took "great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma".

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Corp., which was commissioned by the Defense Department to choose the launch contractor, said "we can not comment on classified missions", and Army Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis, the Pentagon's spokesman for space policy, referred questions to SpaceX.

"According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket", Ars Technica's Eric Berger wrote. He said a number designation was assigned by federal space trackers, but that doesn't mean there is anything still in orbit. The first stage can be seen returning to land between the boat masts.

But while striking, the visuals likely were the result of what meteorologists said were relatively common weather conditions.

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That would indicate the presumed problem did not involve the Falcon 9.

The clouds were more widespread along the Falcon 9's northeasterly path over the Atlantic Ocean, but broken up at the coast, which provided unobstructed views throughout the rocket's rise and the booster's descent to a landing.

SpaceX launched the mission from the Cape Canaveral at 8.00pm EST. The launch was more than 200 miles from Apple Valley yet was still brilliantly visible. Another Falcon 9, meanwhile, is scheduled to fly in three weeks with a communication satellite for Luxembourg. The name Zuma refers to a Southern California beach. The company has successfully launched "Zuma", a mysterious government payload, into orbit from Cape Canaveral.

Light from the setting sun enveloped the rocket plume in a white bubble with a comet-like tail that transfixed viewers and went viral on social media.

That phenomenon is known as noctilucent clouds. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 a year ago.

An investigation is under way, but there is no initial indication of sabotage or other interference, they said.

That includes the debut launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center. That will be followed by a January 18 night launch from the Cape of an Atlas V rocket and US missile warning satellite. Solar arrays must unfold as plan to re-charge batteries, for example, radios have to activate for commanding, flight computers must carry out stored programs as planned. After a rigorous Air Force review, SpaceX was certified in 2015 to compete for military launches.

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