SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch

Where the top secret spy satellite lands nobody knows. Zuma Mission by Spacex

SpaceX/Flickr (public domain) A Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX leaves behind an exhaust plume as it races toward space with a top-secret government payload code-named Zuma.

"For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night", SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement emailed to HuffPost.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which manufactured the satellite and chose SpaceX for the mission, declined to comment on the coupling, saying: "We can not comment on classified missions".

United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is poised to showcase its record of reliability with the launch Wednesday of a satellite for the US government.

"There's a long tradition of not commenting on problems with classified missions, unless it blows up in such a way that everyone can see it", John Logsdon, founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told Bloomberg News. SpaceX's review so far indicates that "no design, operational or other changes are needed", she said. The satellite was said to have fallen back to Earth along with the second stage of the rocket.

The failure comes at a sensitive time for SpaceX, which has recently been trying to establish itself as a low-priced launcher for Pentagon missions. "We can not comment on a classified mission", he said.

While the landing was nearly flawless, the company did not go on to confirm that the mission was a success, at least officially, according to Ars Technica.

The rumors were corroborated by the sources of Ars Technica, claiming that the mysterious Zuma spacecraft may not have survived the Falcon 9 launch. They say that the adapter that attaches the satellite to the rocket's upper stage might have malfunctioned and that would have resulted in the failure of the mission.

The launch broadcast was cut off shortly after the rocket's nose cone separated, which is standard under secret national security missions.

"I don't think we can know", Ketcham said.

"The most important issue here is whether the Pentagon will rethink its reliability as a provider of launch services", said Thompson, whose think tank receives funding from Boeing and Lockheed. The Zuma mission was a success on at least one count: SpaceX successfully landed the rocket's first stage for reuse in a future launch, a key step in its goal to drive down the cost of access to space. The thrust its 27 engines can produce is equivalent to 18 Boeing ( BA ) 747s and makes it two times more powerful than any other rocket operating today, according to SpaceX.

SpaceX on Tuesday defended the performance of one of its rockets used to launch a United States 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.

United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing created more than a decade ago to launch sensitive satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence community, has always been under fire from Elon Musk's SpaceX, the tenacious upstart that plowed its way into the market by waging war in Washington, D.C. All three cores of Falcon Heavy have been test fired individually at SpaceX's facilities in McGregor, Texas, but they have yet to light up together.

It has been competing with other private companies to launch more military payloads.

This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m.