After Zuma, SpaceX keeps pace in preps for next Falcon 9 launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Sunday with the U.S. government’s mysterious Zuma payload. Credit SpaceX

Ground crews took steps this week to prepare for next Falcon 9 launch, set for no earlier than January 30 with a telecom satellite for SES and the Luxembourg government, as SpaceX officials stressed their rocket was not to blame for the rumored loss of a mysterious US government payload after liftoff Sunday.

Adding to the mystery, the satellite, categorized as US 280, was still listed as a payload on orbit by the U.S. space surveillance system as of Tuesday afternoon, said Laura Grego, a Caltech-trained physicist who is a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We can not comment on classified missions".

Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late a year ago that it took "great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma".

SpaceX's new, powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, was at its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, awaiting an engine test-firing sometime this week.

The Falcon 9 rocket was able to make a successful powered landing back on the ground after separating from the upper stage.

A senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Laura Grego, showed concern that the satellite might have stopped functioning near the orbit or failed to separate from the rocket during the second half of the mission.

On launch day, safely tucked away in a protective payload fairing will be Musk's 2008 Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports auto that boosted his energy company during its formative years. "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", Shotwell said in the statement. "We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks".

According to ArsTechnica, the company has stated that the rocket performed nominally in both the first and second stages during the launch.


"Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule", she said.

Shotwell's statement emailed to reporters was an unusual one for SpaceX, which rarely comments on planned Falcon 9 flights before the week of launch.

The secret satellite, called Zuma, was built for the USA government, although it is unclear which part of it.

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 expert refers to the publication Wired, which reported that the layout of the payload on the rocket Zuma said the company Northrop Grumman.

Already, rumors abound that Zuma was a satellite meant to monitor or intercept nuclear activities by North Korea and that the story about its failure is a matter of subterfuge.

SpaceX issued the statement in response to reports on Twitter and by some news outlets, not officially confirmed, that the secret satellite fell into the ocean after the Sunday blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Various spokespeople in recent days - including during a press briefing Thursday at the Pentagon - have repeatedly declined to discuss the mission, citing the classified nature of the program.

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