Lawmakers look into SpaceX launch that ended with lost satellite

The launch of the Falcon 9 for the classified Zuma mission, which was repeatedly delayed from its initial target date in November past year, kicked off SpaceX's 2018.

"They're concerned any failure might hinder their ability to get future national security launch contracts", said Brian Weeden, the director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, a space-policy think tank.

"We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally", a representative for the company said. Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX that if their company or others find otherwise based on further reviews, they would report the same immediately. "We can not comment on classified missions", Tim Paynter, Vice President for the company, said earlier.

Billionaire Musk, who founded the Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, has since hailed the milestone as a savings deal for the space industry. The company later said it had cleared the issue.

In May 2015, the U.S. Air Force privately certified SpaceX to launch U.S. military and spy satellites, breaking a monopoly by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The Zuma satellite, according to one of the sources, fell into the ocean. The satellite was said to have fallen back to Earth along with the second stage of the rocket. Commentary during a webcast of the launch appeared to confirm that the fairings housing the payload were successfully deployed.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which manufactured the satellite and chose SpaceX for the mission, declined to comment on the coupling, saying: "We can not comment on classified missions". Army Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis, the Pentagon spokesman for space policy, referred questions to SpaceX. Around 24 hours after the launch, Aerospace reporters Eric Berger at Ars Technica and Peter Selding at began reporting that the payload might be lost. The takeoff had been pushed back several times since late 2017, with the past week's extreme weather on the East Coast contributing to the latest delay.

SpaceX said the Zuma mission's apparent failure wouldn't affect the company's upcoming launches, including a much-anticipated inaugural demonstration flight of the massive new Falcon Heavy rocket later this month.

United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing created more than a decade ago to launch sensitive satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence community, has always been under fire from Elon Musk's SpaceX, the tenacious upstart that plowed its way into the market by waging war in Washington, D.C. The webcast then concluded.

Zuma was built for the US government, although it is unclear which part of the government. SpaceX is also under contract from NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, and it maintains that the first test flights with humans on board could happen as soon as this year.

It has been competing with other private companies to launch more military payloads.

  • Joey Payne