Lost in space? Secret SpaceX Zuma satellite a total loss


On the other hand, SpaceX is also tight-lipped about the mission either.

Reports began to trickle in Monday afternoon that Zuma, which was said to be worth more than $1 billion, may have been lost after it was launched Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket.

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell notes that "usually, when you buy a missile launch, you pay for the adapter payload on the upper stage of the rocket, therefore the spacecraft separation from the rocket could be a problem, Northrop Grumman, and SpaceX is not".

This was SpaceX' s third classified mission for the US government, a lucrative customer. Zuma may not have separated from the upper part of the Falcon 9 rocket and instead plunged back into the Earth's atmosphere. As planned, the main engine was cut around two and a half minutes into the launch, and the Falcon 9 split into stage one and stage two. "After review of all the data to data, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night", she said. A day after White's statement, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, was asked about Zuma. If true, the spacecraft and rocket likely fell into the Indian Ocean, where the Falcon 9 second stage was to re-enter after releasing Zuma in orbit.

Zuma mission launch on January 7 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Northrup Grumman, the maker of the payload, said it was for the United States government and would be delivered to low-Earth orbit, but offered no other details.

And while the launch was deemed successful, the payload - a satellite manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corp. - failed to reach orbit, according to unnamed officials who spoke to Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal. A spokesperson for National Reconnaissance Office, which owns the US government's spy satellite fleet, said Zuma did not belong to that organization.

Brian Mahlstedt, an automation software engineer at SpaceX, told live-stream viewers: "We're not going to show video coverage of it, but we will confirm that the fairings have separated, meaning that Zuma and second stage are the only vehicles continuing on to their final orbit". Rep. Mike Rogers, who leads the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, added rather bluntly that "space is a risky business", but that his committee will continue to provide oversight for future missions tasked with protecting national security.

The NRO and military agencies typically acknowledge their ownership of clandestine satellites, even if details about their missions remain under a shroud of secrecy. The company later said it had cleared the issue.

The company aims to revolutionize space missions with reusable rockets that would dramatically lower costs.

On its website, SpaceX says it has more than 70 upcoming missions on its launch manifest that represent more than $10 billion in contracts.

This article was originally published at 7:20 p.m.

The company has been preparing to launch its new Falcon Heavy rocket, which is made up of three Falcon 9 engine cores.

SpaceX is scheduled to test fire its highly anticipated Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center this week ahead of a planned inaugural flight later this month.