On January 7th, a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX apparently failed to launch a top-secret US government ‘Zuma’ spy satellite. However, SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell firmly denies the loss was a Falcon 9 problem.
In a Tweet on January 9th she said: “For clarity, after a review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.”
Various well-sourced reports suggest that the satellite itself failed to deploy from the rocket’s 2nd stage. Shotwell’s statement appears to confirm that the satellite did deploy. One report (from Space-Track) suggests the satellite completed at least one orbit.
There are also reports that the Zuma craft was supplied with its own payload adaptor which was supplied by Northrop Grumman, and not SpaceX.
To further clarify SpaceX’s position on upcoming planned launches, she added: “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. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire test later this week to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg government from LC-40 in three weeks.”
The upcoming ‘Falcon Heavy’ launch she refers to is the one that is planned to place SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk’s red Tesla sports car onto a Mars trajectory.
The SES-16 craft she mentions, and now being prepared for launch, is a communications satellite which will go to 21.5 degrees East, but is also carrying a military X-band payload for the SES-Luxembourg joint-venture ‘GovSat 1’ project.