SpaceX Isn't Taking The Blame For Loss Of Zuma Spy Satellite

Shutterstock photo

SpaceX said Tuesday that its Falcon 9 rocket "did everything correctly" on Sunday, when a spy satellite made by Northrop Grumman ( NOC ) was reportedly lost after launch.

[ibd-display-video id=2117998 width=50 float=left autostart=true] SpaceX and Tesla ( TSLA ) founder Elon Musk tweeted photos of the Falcon 9's first stage successfully returning to Earth.

But Ars Technica reported Monday that the mission wasn't ever officially declared a success, and the Wall Street Journal later reported that lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House were informed that the Zuma payload likely didn't separate from the rocket and fell back to earth.

Sources told Bloomberg that the Falcon 9's second stage failed, with both the satellite and the second-stage booster falling into the ocean.

But SpaceX said everything on its end looks OK so far and isn't changing the schedule of another Falcon 9 launch and the Falcon Heavy's maiden flight later this month.

"For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night," President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. "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. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible."

The launch had been delayed from November so SpaceX could analyze data from the protective nose cone from another launch.

In October, Wired reported that Northrop custom built an adapter to marry up its satellite with the Falcon 9, rather than use SpaceX's standard interface. Northrop declined to comment, citing the classified nature of the Zuma mission.

Northrop shares closed up 0.7% at 310.39 on the stock market today . Boeing ( BA ) rose 2.7%, and Lockheed Martin ( LMT ), whose United Launch Alliance joint venture with Boeing provides launch services for the Pentagon, added 0.7%.

IBD'S TAKE:A new Space Age is dawning as billionaires like Elon Musk and Amazon's Jeff Bezos look to explore deeper into the final frontier and make space exploration and commercial development more affordable .

Little is known about the Zuma satellite. Northrop made it for a government customer and was supposed to be launched into low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station, reconnaissance, weather and communications satellites reside.

And whether the Zuma had a military or civilian applications or which agency would operate it was also kept under tight wraps, though it reportedly was a spy satellite.

The lack of basic details surrounding the launch was highly unusual even compared to SpaceX's national-security launches - a Boeing X-37B for the Air Force in September and a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in May - where the customers and some details of the payloads were disclosed.

A botched Zuma mission could raise some doubts as upstart SpaceX looks to launch more government payloads and test its human capsule later this year.

It may also delay its first Falcon Heavy launch scheduled for later this month, potentially affecting other planned contracts for the new rocket.

Sometime early this year, the Falcon Heavy is set to launch a Arabsat satellite built by Lockheed. And as soon as April, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will be used in the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program-2 mission, which is comprised of military and scientific research satellites.


SpaceX, Boeing To Take This Giant Leap For Space Industry In 2018

Boeing, Apple Could Build A Parallel Internet In Space

Defense And Aerospace Stocks To Watch And Industry News

Space Industry News And Top Aerospace Stocks

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

In This Story


Other Topics


Latest Markets Videos