Who's to blame for SpaceX satellite loss?

Delia Watkins
January 11, 2018

SpaceX defended its rocket performance during the weekend launch of a secret US satellite, responding Tuesday to media reports that the satellite codenamed Zuma was lost.

"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.

In response to a query on Monday afternoon, a SpaceX spokesperson told Ars, "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally". "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", Gwynne Shotwell, the company's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement to Business Insider. "We can not comment on classified missions", Tim Paynter, Vice President for the company, said earlier.

As they battled with SpaceX, ULA's executives launched a "results over rhetoric" campaign, highlighting the company's long heritage in space. Compromising relationships with the military would carry significant consequences: Defense contract launches were estimated to be valued at about $70 billion through 2030 in a 2014 government report.

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SpaceX on Tuesday defended the performance of one of its rockets used to launch a U.S. spy satellite that is believed to have been lost after failing to reach orbit, adding that no changes were anticipated to its upcoming launch schedule.

A top-secret government mission launched by SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by tech mogul Elon Musk, may have failed on Sunday night. This launch, which is only to demonstrate the rocket, has been delayed and now is expected to happen in late January, and Musk suggested that people should be temper their expectations as far as the success of the launch. Basically, anything that's in space makes it into a database and while Zuma made it into one of those cataloges, that doesn't mean it's successful. The other aide said both the satellite and second-stage rocket fell into the ocean. Commentary during a webcast of the launch appeared to confirm that the fairings housing the payload were successfully deployed.

SpaceX televised the launch and landing of the first stage, but did not provide coverage of the second stage firing or orbital insertion of the satellite, as it often does, because of the classified nature of the mission. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis, the Pentagon spokesman for space policy, referred questions to SpaceX. 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. Another Falcon 9, meanwhile, is scheduled to fly in three weeks with a communication satellite for Luxembourg. The webcast then concluded.

Last May was the first time SpaceX launched its first satellite for the USA military with its Falcon 9 rocket. Additionally, a SpaceX rocket carrying supply missions to the International Space Station for NASA exploded in 2015. Last year, SpaceX completed 18 launches.

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