SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch

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".

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Corp., which was commissioned by the Defense Department to choose the launch contractor, said "we can not comment on classified missions", and army lieutenant colonel Jamie Davis, the Pentagon's spokesman for space policy, referred questions to SpaceX. On Monday, Ars began to hear discussion from sources that the mysterious Zuma spacecraft-the goal of which was never specified, nor which United States military or spy agency had backed it-may not have survived.

The satellite is assumed to be "a write-off", one of the officials said. "We can not comment on classified programs".

SpaceX Launch
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A top-secret government mission launched by SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by tech mogul Elon Musk, may have failed on Sunday night. "And that would put them as responsible on whether it separated from the second stage".

According to a source, the satellite did not reach the designated altitude and instead, fell back down, along with the expended second stage of the SpaceX rocket.

The launch was initially planned for November but was postponed so that SpaceX could "take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer", SpaceX said on Twitter at the time. The sources would not confirm what exactly the payload was, saying it was classified.

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Elon Musk tweeted that when it does lift off, the company plans to land all three first stages back on Earth, with two cores returning to land and a third to a droneship out in the Atlantic.

SpaceX launched two other national security missions previous year: a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in May and the Pentagon's autonomous space plane, known as the X-37B, in September.

It was not immediately clear if the failure of this mission was due to problems with the SpaceX rocket, or with the Zuma spacecraft.

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"I think the rocket itself is considered an extremely reliable vehicle", he said. Last year, SpaceX completed 18 launches.

"The data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational, or other changes are needed", SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement as quoted in the report.

Last March, a Falcon 9 was relaunched into space-the first time an orbital rocket was reused.

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SpaceX is scheduled to test the engines and startup procedures of its Falcon Heavy - the most powerful rocket since the Apollo program's Saturn V - on Wednesday, a key step before its maiden flight later this month.

  • Israel Montgomery