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11 January 2018, 12:25 | Gerardo Harmon
SpaceX defends rocket performance after loss of United States spy satellite
Zuma lifted off from SpaceX's Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sunday evening at 8:00 pm ET in what appeared to be a flawless Falcon 9 launch and landing of the first stage.
The satellite, code-named Zuma, failed to reach orbit and fell back into Earth's atmosphere after separating from the Falcon 9 rocket.
According to Shotwell, data already reviewed has showed that "no design, operational or other changes are needed" that would impact further launches.
Asked to comment, SpaceX - which is based in Hawthorne and whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - issued a statement Monday afternoon: "We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally".
The launch of the Falcon 9 for the classified Zuma mission, which was repeatedly delayed from its initial target date in November previous year, kicked off SpaceX's 2018.
"If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", Shotwell said.
Northrop Grumman, the aerospace and defense company that built the Zuma spacecraft, would only say: "This is a classified program".
For years, the company has been in a heated battle with ULA over lucrative contracts to launch national security payloads, long seen by Musk as a key source of revenue.
If Zuma did indeed fail, it's possible the payload adapter Northrop Grumman built to deploy the satellite from the rocket itself malfunctioned.
The CEO of SpaceX is Elon Musk, the South African-born inventor and entrepreneur who is also behind electric car-maker Tesla.
Originally scheduled for a November launch, Zuma was delayed by potential concern about another mission's payload fairing, the shell on top that protects a satellite during launch.
But the spacecraft apparently did not separate as it was supposed to from the upper stage of the rocket and did not reach a stable orbit, according to a USA administration official and two sources who were briefed on the matter.
This was SpaceX's third classified mission for the USA government, AP reported.
"It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket", founder Elon Musk said at the time of the launch. The Falcon Heavy is perhaps the most important rocket ever created by SpaceX, as it is the one planned to be used for missions to the moon and Mars.
The launch was SpaceX's first in what is due to be a busy year. 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. So, whether the Zuma mission was a success or a failure, is still unknown.
"This is a classified program", Northrop Grumman Communications Director Lon Rains told HuffPost in an emailed statement.
SpaceX's statement muddied assertions of a failure in the second stage of the Falcon 9, as a USA official and two congressional aides familiar with the launch had said.
It has been competing with other private companies to launch more military payloads.
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