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article imageU.S. spy satellite lost after SpaceX launch — What happened?

By Karen Graham     Jan 9, 2018 in Technology
Cape Canaveral - A US intelligence satellite, code-named Zuma, sent into space aboard a SpaceX rocket on Sunday failed to reach orbit and is presumed lost, according to industry and intelligence officials.
The satellite apparently failed to separate from the upper section of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after it was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday. It is assumed the satellite plummeted back to Earth, landing in the ocean, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But afterward, the U.S. Strategic Command said it wasn’t tracking any new satellites, a very good indication that the satellite somehow failed to deploy properly, reports Bloomberg.
“After reviewing of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately,” SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said in an emailed statement. “Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible. ” She added that the company cannot comment further due to the classified nature of the mission.
Falcon 9 with Koreasat-5A ready for launch on Pad 39A.
Falcon 9 with Koreasat-5A ready for launch on Pad 39A.
Is there some controversy?
The Verge is reporting there may be some controversy over what exactly did happen. The WSJ and Bloomberg are reporting the Zuma satellite actually fell back to Earth and burned up in the planet’s atmosphere, but it is possible the satellite may be lost in space.
The public will probably never know exactly what did happen to the satellite due to the top-secret status of the mission and the fact that very little is known about Zuma, not even which government agency is involved. And because of the secretive mission, SpaceX did not Livestream the entire mission.
What people saw was the launch, but did not see the separation of the nose cone, which surrounds the satellite during launch, nor did it show the satellite being deployed. SpaceX has censored like this before with other classified government payloads that the company has launched.
Falcon 9 first stage has landed at Landing Zone 1 on January 7  2018.
Falcon 9 first stage has landed at Landing Zone 1 on January 7, 2018.
Even so, usually the government agency involved or SpaceX will confirm later the outcome of the launch. So by Sunday night, doubts started circulating on the Internet when neither SpaceX nor Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of the satellite, confirmed the satellite had successfully been launched.
Now, the Verge is saying that an object that was most likely the satellite was seen in orbit by the US Strategic Command after the SpaceX launch. Following SpaceX’s launch, a new entry was made in the catalog on for a US satellite designated USA 280.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted on the code designation of the supposedly missing Zuma satellite.
Jonathan McDowell
“For secret satellites, they don’t give us the orbit path, but they do make a catalog entry,” McDowell tells The Verge. “It gets a catalog number and a national designation. And the fact that an entry is there should imply that a payload got into orbit and completed at least one orbit around the Earth.”
What really happened? We will never know.
More about Spacex, Jacob zuma, deployment failed, second stage booster, Defense contracts
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