Who's to blame for SpaceX satellite loss?

Secret US spy satellite may be lost in space after SpaceX launch

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SpaceX's Falcon 9 seemed to lift off successfully from the pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday carrying a classified payload in a mission code-named Zuma.

A SpaceX representative told Business Insider, "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally".

Northrop Grumman, the company that built the Zuma payload, told Business Insider in November that the USA government tasked it with picking a launch company, and it chose SpaceX. All that is known about it publicly is that it was built by Northrop Grumman for a US government customer, but not which agency ordered it. "Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible", said Shotwell.

"If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", Shotwell said.

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.

It was not immediately clear if the failure of this mission was due to problems with the SpaceX rocket, or with the Zuma spacecraft. "We can not comment on classified missions". The company's spokesman Lon Rains said, "This is a classified mission". 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 objective.

"Normally when you buy a rocket launch, you've paid for "the payload adapter on the rocket final stage pops the satellite off at the end".

The launch broadcast was cut off shortly after the rocket's nose cone separated, which is standard under secret national security missions.

With a price tag like that, taxpayers will want to know what happned said Phil Larson, faculty at University of Colorado Boulder and a former SpaceX employee. "Info blackout renders any conclusion - launcher issue?"

This is not the first time a payload was lost on a SpaceX mission.

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.

As they battled with SpaceX, ULA's executives launched a "results over rhetoric" campaign, highlighting the company's long heritage in space.

That would explain SpaceX's account of a ideal launch, while also squaring with accounts the satellite is a total loss.

SpaceX competes for military launches with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp, which was the sole provider for the Pentagon until Musk began a campaign in Congress and the courts challenging what he called an unfair monopoly.

SpaceX had a spectacular launch this weekend, on January 7, which was capped by a near flawless landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. 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.

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

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