A recent failure is bad news for the private space flight industry. A U.S. spy satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket failed to make it into orbit on Sunday night. The satellite is a total loss, and an expensive one at that. While it is unclear what happened, it is believed that the rocket and its cargo fell back through the atmosphere.
The highly-classified satellite on board was code-named Zuma.
“Lawmakers from the Senate and House, along with congressional staffers, were briefed on the failed mission,” Fox writes.
“Launched by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the satellite reportedly didn’t separate itself from the rocket, as it should have.”
The image below shows the launch on a long, 8 minute exposure. This was SpaceX’s first flight of the new year, and one shrouded in secrecy.
“The highly classified satellite, which launched on the Falcon 9 rocket Sunday night, was provided by Northrop Grumman, which wouldn’t name the government agency for which it was provided,” Fox writes.
“We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally,” a spokesman from SpaceX reportedly told The Verge. That may well be a misprint, as the use of “nominally” in the description seems out of place. Could the rocket have performed normally?
The answer is known, but not being shared. In fact, five minutes after the launch, the broadcast and commentary accompanying the launch ended. SpaceX did show the return of the first-stage booster which returned to Cape Canaveral as planned, and landed without incident.
Yet the mission is reportedly a failure. Questions about just where the failure occurred are vexing. No one is articulating exactly what went wrong. Some speculate that the satellite separated, then fell from the sky. Others imply that the separation didn’t happen, and that the satellite burned up with the final stage of the rocket as it reentered the atmosphere.