11 January, 2018
- SpaceX defended its rocket performance during the weekend launch of a secret USA satellite, responding Tuesday to media reports that the satellite codenamed Zuma was lost.
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.
But Shotwell reiterated in a statement Tuesday morning that "after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night".
The nature of the mission remains shrouded in mystery. SpaceX has also declined to give details about the spacecraft.
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.
"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. "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately". Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. The rocket consists of three boosters instead of one and aims to fire all 27 engines simultaneously as it produces 5.13 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. When SpaceX has had mishaps in the past, it's grounded the company for months.
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SpaceX typically supplies such an adapter but reportedly did not for this mission.
SpaceX, however, never officially confirmed mission success. Additionally, a SpaceX rocket carrying supply missions to the International Space Station for NASA exploded in 2015.
While the landing was nearly flawless, the company did not go on to confirm that the mission was a success, at least officially, according to Ars Technica.
The fairing is the part of the rocket nose cone that holds the payload and splits apart at the proper time, so the satellite can slip into orbit.
Zuma, the code-name of the clandestine payload - likely a next-generation spy or communications satellite - most likely broke apart and crashed into the ocean, according to the Wall Street Journal, NBC, and other outlets. It would also be able to carry the company's Dragon capsule with humans into space with destinations like Mars and the moon. Since the last Space Shuttle flight in 2011, NASA has relied upon the Russian space agency to carry US astronauts to the ISS.