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SpaceX adds mystery “Zuma” mission, Iridium-4 aims for Vandenberg landing

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In what has already been a busy year for SpaceX, the commercial launch provider is adding one more mission to its jammed-packed end-of-year schedule.  A mysterious mission codenamed “Zuma” will launch No Earlier Than 10 November 2017 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.  Meanwhile, CRS-13 is slipping at least one week per the Station’s schedule, and the Iridium NEXT-4 mission from Vandenberg has received permission to debut RTLS landing of the Falcon 9 booster back at SLC-4W.


SpaceX adds mystery “Zuma” mission:

It’s not often that one can point to a last-minute (from the public side) addition of a mission to a launch manifest – let alone one that manages to stay secret until 30 days before the opening of its launch campaign.

But that is the case for a mystery Falcon 9 mission that is now set to launch between Koreasat-5A and CRS-13/Dragon.

The mystery mission, codename Zuma, is known on its FCC launch license as Mission 1390 and will see a Falcon 9 rocket launch from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center before performing a RTLS (Return To Launch Site) landing at LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral.

The mission is a new addition to SpaceX’s manifest and now appears to be the last flight off Pad 39A before the pad undergoes final configurations for the debut of the Falcon Heavy, which is still slated for NET (No Earlier Than) December 2017.

With such secrecy, the customer candidate for Zuma would normally be the U.S. government/military (i.e.: the National Reconnaissance Office or the Air Force); however, there is industry speculation claiming this is a “black commercial” mission.


Nonetheless, Zuma represents a likely rapid launch response from SpaceX for the satellite’s operator.

(UPDATE: has confirmed that Northrop Grumman is the payload provider for Zuma through a commercial launch contract with SpaceX for a LEO satellite with a mission type labeled as “government” and a needed launch date range of 1-30 November 2017.)

While nothing is known of the payload, what is known is that Zuma will use Falcon 9 core B1043 – a brand new core that was originally (as understood by intended for the CRS-13/Dragon mission.

However, a brand-new booster might not be needed for CRS-13.  With Falcon 9 first stage reuse proving highly successful in its first two flights by August, NASA – as confirmed in a press conference following the CRS-12 launch – was actively investigating and reviewing data toward approving a future CRS launch on a flight-proven Falcon 9.

According to information recently obtained by and available on L2, NASA has completed a technical review for reuse with successful results limited to the second flight of a booster that flew a LEO mission.

This means that from NASA’s technical review standpoint, all engineering considerations for Falcon 9 reuse meet the agency’s strict safety standards and that nothing from a technical/engineering standpoint would stop a future CRS mission from launching on a once-flown Falcon 9 booster that lofted a payload to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The information adds that approvals are in management review but may not occur in time for SpX-13.

However, CRS-13 is understood to be slipping about one week from its NET 28 November date into early December per the International Space Station’s schedule – affording additional time for NASA management to approve CRS-13’s launch on a flight-proven Falcon 9.

A public decision on CRS-13’s booster is expected from NASA by early November.

SpaceX end-of-year manifest realignment:

Under the recently realigned launch manifest, Koreasat-5A (on a brand new Falcon 9) is targeted to leave LC-39A NET 30 October in a 2hr 24 minute launch window that extends from 15:34 to 17:58 EDT (19:34-21:58 GMT).

The Koreasat-5A mission’s booster will then attempt landing on the ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship) Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean – the last anticipated drone ship/ocean landing of Falcon 9 for the year.

Koreasat-5A will then be followed off Pad-A by the Zuma Falcon 9 mission – slated for NET 10 November with a RTLS landing back to the Cape.

At this point, launch operations will shift to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the newly-rebuilt SLC-40.

According to L2 processing information, SLC-40 will be “flight ready” by the end of November.  This corresponds to the CRS-13/Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station, still set for an officially announced launch date of NET 28 November.

However, CRS-13 – according to L2 information – is slipping at least one week to NET early December due to ISS scheduling considerations, something that adds additional margin for SLC-40’s reactivation.

Per the launch license, CRS-13/Dragon will depart from SLC-40 and its first stage booster will then perform a RTLS landing back at LZ-1.

After this, the Iridium NEXT-4 mission will follow from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

This mission is – as of writing – NET late-November; however, Iridium CEO Matt Desch was clear to all on-site press at the Iridium NEXT-3 launch last week that Iridium NEXT-4 will likely be NET early December 2017.

This is – in part – to deconflict the launch (specifically the final elements of launch processing for the Iridium team) with the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. and to also work on a few remaining points with SpaceX.

Intriguingly, there are some indications that Iridium NEXT-4 could make use of a flight-proven Falcon 9 – reusing the booster (B1036) that launched the Iridium-2 mission in June of this year.

While not confirmed as of writing, if Iridium NEXT-4 does reuse the Iridium-2 booster, the mission would be the first flight-proven Falcon 9 from Vandenberg and the 5th flight-proven mission of the year (if CRS-13 does, indeed, use a flight-proven core).

But perhaps most excitingly for Vandenberg is that Iridium NEXT-4, according to sources, will be the first mission to debut RTLS landing of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg.

For a Vandenberg RTLS landing, the Falcon 9 will launch from SLC-4E and return to SLC-4W, which is just 1,425 ft (434.3 m) away – measured from center of launch mount to center of landing pad.

The commencement of Vandenberg RTLS landings has been a long time coming, with environmental studies finally clearing the way last year on 7 October 2016.

Since then, SpaceX has been hard at work building the landing pad and assembling/testing all of the systems needed to safely track and communicate with a returning Falcon 9 booster to SLC-4W and all the equipment needed to safe, process, and house RTLS boosters post-landing.

All of these endeavours are now either complete or on track to be completed in time for Iridium NEXT-4.

An early December launch of Iridium NEXT-4 would result in a launch at approximately 18:00 PST – about 1hr after local sunset and 20mins before complete darkness at the launch site.

Following Iridium NEXT-4, one final mission (from the Cape) of Falcon 9 is still labeled as “Q4 2017”.  That satellite is Hispasat 1F (30W-6).

Hispasat 1F is a heavy payload going to GTO (Geostationary Transfer Orbit) and will likely see Falcon 9 fly in her expendable configuration – though Block 4 upgrades may permit a hot entry ASDS attempted landing – sometime in December.

The satellite currently does not have a firm target launch date, but the packed Cape schedule from 30 October – 28 November (with two U.S. Federal holidays therein) almost certainly precludes a launch until NET December from SLC-40.

At present, the GovSat-1/SES-16, Iridium NEXT-5, and PAZ missions (which until recently were penciled in for flights late this year) have all officially slipped into 2018.

If Koreasat-5A, the Zuma mission, CRS-13, Iridium NEXT-4, and Hispasat 1F (30W-6) all fly before the end of the year, SpaceX will achieve a total of 20 Falcon 9 flights in 2017 – with five of those missions (with CRS-13 and Iridium NEXT-4 reusing core stages) being flight-proven Falcon 9s.

If that occurs, a full 25% of SpaceX’s flights in 2017 will have been on flight-proven boosters.

Falcon Heavy:

With the end-of-year manifest taking shape, one final – and big – question for SpaceX’s manifest for 2017 remains: Falcon Heavy.

The addition of the Zuma mission launching from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center would seemingly throw a wrench into SpaceX’s plans to take Pad-A offline in order to perform final configurations of the pad and the TEL (Transporter/Erector/Launcher) for Falcon Heavy.

In the first part of this year, it was known publicly that Pad-A would require approximately 60 days of down time to properly configure it for Falcon Heavy.

However, by late summer, SpaceX had utilized some of the down time provided between missions and during the range stand down in July to perform some of this work and had cut the total number of days needed to finalize Pad-A for Falcon Heavy from 60 down to 45.

Since July, SpaceX has continued that trend, working around launches off 39A and utilizing downtime to do what they can to get Pad-A ready for Falcon Heavy between Falcon 9 missions.  

Most recently, some of the launch mounts/hold-down points for the side boosters of Falcon Heavy were installed on the TEL between the OTV-5 and SES-11/Echostar-105 launch campaigns.

While it’s not entirely clear how much additional time SpaceX requires at present to finalize Pad-A, a great deal of work has already taken place to streamline the configuration efforts. 

Nonetheless, while it is possible Falcon Heavy’s debut could slip into 2018, there is reason and evidence to state that a December 2017 maiden voyage is still possible and likely. 

If Falcon Heavy does launch this year (and the five remaining Falcon 9 missions occur as understood), 23 Falcon 9 cores will launch in 2017, seven of those being flight-proven cores.

That would make flight-proven cores responsible for 30% of the total number of Falcon 9 core flights in 2017.

Quelle: NS


Update: 15.11.2017


SpaceX ready for mystery 'Zuma' launch from KSC and landing at Cape Canaveral

The Space Coast is no stranger to missions involving secretive national security payloads, but Wednesday night's SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center is more enigmatic than most.

Set to launch from pad 39A during a two-hour window that opens at 8 p.m., the brand new nine-engine rocket will take a payload to low Earth orbit on a mission codenamed "Zuma" for Northrop Grumman. The first stage of the Falcon 9 will then descend for a landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1, generating a window-rattling sonic boom along the way.

The weather forecast looks good, too – 70 percent "go" during the window, according to the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron. If the launch slips to Thursday, conditions are expected to improve slightly to 80 percent. The only noted concerns for both days are the possible violations of cumulus cloud and thick cloud layer rules.

Unlike other mysterious launches, such as ones for the National Reconnaissance Office, a member of the intelligence community and the Department of Defense, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman identified the payload customer only as the "U.S. government."

“The U.S. government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission," said Lon Rains, communications director at Northrop Grumman's Space Systems Division and Space Park Design Center of Excellence in California. "We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX."

"This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions," he said.

Neither SpaceX nor Northrop Grumman would provide additional details.

The fact that the rocket's booster will return for a propulsive landing at Cape Canaveral, however, reiterates the low-orbit insertion of the payload and could also indicate that it's comparatively lighter than previous SpaceX missions. Heavier satellites typically require drone ship landings or expendable first stages due to fuel constraints.

Zuma marks the 17th mission of the year for SpaceX – more than doubling last year's total of eight launches – and, if successful, the 20th landing of a Falcon 9 first stage since 2015.


Quelle: Florida Today


SpaceX warns of sonic boom after next launch in Florida


SpaceX has issued a warning that its upcoming mission will include a return to a land-based platform, which should result in a sonic boom.

A two-hour launch window for the company, which plans to launch a secretive spacecraft known only as Zuma, will open at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Zuma will take off aboard the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Space Coast.

The company will try to land the Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1.

If successful, it would mark the eighth time the company will have landed at Landing Zone 1.

“There is the possibility that residents of Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties may hear one or more sonic booms during the landing attempt,” an advisory read. “Residents of Brevard County are most likely to hear a sonic boom, although what residents’ experience will depend on weather conditions and other factors.”

The advisory explained that a sonic boom happens when a vehicle overhead travels faster than the speed of sound.

Industry publications have reported that the Zuma mission was added in mid-October but few details have been discovered.

Northrop Grumman is the payload provider, according to Popular Mechanics.

Quelle: Orlando Sentinel


Update: 16.11.2017




SpaceX is targeting launch of the Zuma spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The two-hour primary launch window opens at 8:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, November 16, or 1:00 UTC on Friday, November 17. A backup two-hour launch window opens at 8:00 p.m. EST on Friday, November 17, or 1:00 UTC on Saturday, November 18.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt to land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. 




Quelle: SpaceX


Update: 18.11.2017




KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Liftoff of the clandestine spy satellite codenamed ‘Zuma’ on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has been postponed indefinitely to resolve a lingering issue with the testing of a payload fairing for another customer.

SpaceX announced today, Friday, Nov 17, that they will ‘stand down’ to allow engineers the additional time needed to carefully scrutinize all the pertinent data before proceeding with the top secret Zuma launch.

“We have decided to stand down and take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer,” said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

The super secret ‘Zuma’ spysat is a complete mystery and it has not been claimed by any U.S. government entity – not even the elusive NRO spy agency ! The NRO does claim ownership of a vast fleet of covert and hugely capable orbiting surveillance assets supporting US national security.

Zuma’s goals are veiled in virtually complete darkness. And as far as the taxpaying public is concerned its ownerless.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. EST Nov 15, the Zuma launch from the Florida Space Coast had already been postponed twice this week before today’s decision to called it off indefinitely.

The initial 24 hour delay to Thursday was to deal with unspecified ‘mission assurance’ issues. 

The second days delay to Friday was pinned more specifically on the payload fairing or nose cone.

SpaceX has also had to deal with an engine testing problem that caused a fire on a test stand while preparing to hot fire a Block 5 Merlin 1D engine at their Texas facility on Nov. 4. It is not known if this was part of the ‘mission assurance’ issues. 

No new targeted launch date has been announced.

“Though we have preserved the range opportunity for tomorrow, we will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date,” Taylor stated.

SpaceX had been planning an ambitious launch campaign of 4 or more launches by the end of this year – including the maiden launch of the triple barreled Falcon Heavy. That seems very unlikely now.

Just exactly what the fairing problem is has not been disclosed. Its also not known if the two delays are related or not. 

The fairing is jettisoned three minutes after liftoff. Any failure to deploy would result in a total loss of the mission.

Zuma was to roar off seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a lengthy two hour launch window that extended from 8 to 10 p.m. each targeted day this week.

The Eastern range had been reserved by SpaceX for a potential Saturday launch opportunity as well.

However all mention of the Zuma launch has now been deleted from the website of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, FL.

Forecast weather conditions in central Florida were near perfect over the past few days and spectators would have witnessed a dazzling sky show as the two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 soared to orbit.

One of the few tidbits we can confirm is that the launch contract was arranged as a commercial enterprise under the auspices of Northrop Grumman Corporation – as a means to significantly slash launch costs for whatever U.S government entity is responsible for Zuma. 

That goal is completely in line with SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s entire company-wide goal in developing the Falcon and Dragon family of rockets and spaceships.

“The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission,” Lon Rains, Northrop Grumman Director of Communications, told Universe Today.

“We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX.”

But the launch was only publicly announced 1 month ago in mid October and it suddenly appeared on the SpaceX launch manifest after an FAA launch license was granted.

We don’t know anything about the ‘Zuma’ payloads characteristics and vital statistics – despite the seemingly endless leaks streaming out of Washington these days.

“The Zuma payload is a restricted payload,” Rains told me.

“Northrop Grumman is proud to be a part of the Zuma launch,” Rains added. “This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions.”

The only clue to its goals to be revealed is the intended orbit.

“It will be launched into Low Earth Orbit,” Rains informed me.

Low Earth Orbit extends to roughly 1200 miles altitude and includes the ISS orbit for example at approx. 250 miles.

“As a company, Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma.”

On Friday evening the rocket was lowered to the horizontal position on the transporter erector on pad 39A. It will be rolled back to the processing hangar outside the perimeter fence for further engineering evaluation. 

Whenever the launch is rescheduled SpaceX will attempt to recover the 16 story tall first stage booster with a soft landing on the ground back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. So expect some extremely loud sonic booms to rock the space coast region about eight minutes after liftoff.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX Zuma, KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Quelle: UT


Update: 21.11.2017


SpaceX launch of secret Zuma mission on hold until after Thanksgiving

SpaceX's launch of a secret U.S. government mission from Kennedy Space Center won't happen until after Thanksgiving.

Beyond that, the mystery surrounding the mission called Zuma, which was postponed last week, is only deepening.

SpaceX's only statement, issued last Thursday, said it had put the launch on hold so teams could review an issue uncovered during tests of Falcon rocket nose cones, or payload fairings, that were performed recently for another customer.

"We will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date," the statement said.

The Air Force's 45th Space Wing has no launch scheduled on the Eastern Range until Dec. 4, when SpaceX tentatively plans to launch a Dragon capsule carrying International Space Station supplies for NASA.

Dragons don't fly with the fairings that cover satellites on top of a rocket, so that mission might not be affected by the issue SpaceX is studying now.

Meanwhile the Wing on Monday started a nearly two-week maintenance period that was scheduled to shut down the range through Dec. 1.

SpaceX would not be able to launch during that stretch unless the maintenance is interrupted. Such work has been delayed in the past to accommodate launches.

Further clouding the outlook for Zuma are news reports that the launch contract, booked by Northrop Grumman on the government's behalf, required a liftoff by Nov. 30.

That would leave SpaceX only a short window after Thanksgiving to pull off a launch, if the range is available.

Northrop and SpaceX would not confirm the reported deadline.

"We continue to work with SpaceX on the launch," a Northrop Grumman spokesman told FLORIDA TODAY on Monday.

So the mission's status remains uncertain.

The only public information about Zuma indicated a spacecraft would be delivered to low Earth orbit, launching on a northeasterly trajectory inclined about 50 degrees relative to the equator.

SpaceX planned to land the Falcon booster back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Amateur satellite trackers speculated that Zuma might be a follow-up to a classified National Reconnaissance Office mission SpaceX launched earlier this year, since Zuma appeared to be following a similar flight profile.

In that case, Zuma might be an experimental spacecraft testing technologies for observing rendezvous operations between spacecraft.

Some have gone as far as to suggest that there really is no Zuma mission — that the pre-launch preparations were an exercise to prove SpaceX's ability to fly on short notice.

SpaceX put a Falcon 9 on the pad at KSC and test-fired its main engines on Nov. 11. The rocket went vertical again before last week's planned launch attempts, but has since returned to its hangar.

Under that scenario, the payload fairing tests SpaceX cited might merely be an excuse to stand down from a launch that was never really going to happen.

Time will tell if SpaceX confirms a new launch date for the mission after the holiday.

Apart from Zuma and the ISS resupply mission targeted for early December, SpaceX has at least one other launch scheduled before the end of the year, of commercial satellites from California.

The company's 16 launches this year already are its most in a calendar year, tying rival United Launch Alliance's high mark in 2009.

Quelle: Florida Today


Update: 2.01.2018


Rocket Launch: January 4, 2017 8 pm | SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma

Jan 04, 2018 8 pm Kennedy Space Center, Launch Complex 39ANew Date |

Rocket Launch: January 4, 2018 8 pm | SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma



SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center January 4 with the launch window opening at 8 p.m.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s reusable first stage will attempt a controlled landing at Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 



Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers the closest public viewing of launches with the purchase of a launch viewing/transportation ticket. Availability of viewing opportunities and locations is dependent upon the scheduled launch time and is subject to NASA and U.S. Air Force approval.

Due to scheduled launch window of 8 - 10 pm, launch viewing is not available at Kennedy Space Center for this mission. However, we hope that you will visit us before the launch as the visitor complex is open 9 am to 6 pm. Check back to the event calendar for future launch viewing opportunities.

Quelle: Kennedy Space Center


Update: 3.01.2018 / 21.30 MEZ



Quelle: Kennedy Space Center


Update: 4.01.2017 / 12.45 MEZ


Rocket Launch: January 5, 2018 8:00 PM EST | SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma

Jan 05, 2018 08:00 PM Kennedy Space Center, Launch Complex 39ARocket Launch: January 5, 2018 8:00 PM EST | SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma



SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center January 4 with the launch window opening at 8 p.m.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s reusable first stage will attempt a controlled landing at Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 



Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers the closest public viewing of launches with the purchase of a launch viewing/transportation ticket. Availability of viewing opportunities and locations is dependent upon the scheduled launch time and is subject to NASA and U.S. Air Force approval.

Due to scheduled launch window of 8 - 10 pm, launch viewing is not available at Kennedy Space Center for this mission. However, we hope that you will visit us before the launch as the visitor complex is open 9 am to 6 pm. Check back to the event calendar for future launch viewing opportunities.

Quelle: Kennedy Space Center 


Update: 21.45 MEZ


Quelle: Kennedy Space Center 


Update: 5.01.2017 / 12.10 MEZ


New Launch-Date:


Quelle: Kennedy Space Center 


Update: 6.01.2018


SpaceX launch pushed back to Sunday

SpaceX on Thursday evening pushed back the expected launch of a secret spy satellite to Sunday.

It’s the latest in a series of delays that has seen the mission date quickly go from mid-November to early January.

In a 6:25 p.m. Twitter post on Thursday, SpaceX officials announced that its team had completed propellant-loading tests, despite the operation being slowed by “extreme weather.”

“Falcon 9 and the Zuma spacecraft are healthy and go for launch—now targeting January 7 from Pad 40 in Florida,” the Tweet read.

Central Florida residents will likely hear a sonic boom after the launch when the spent rocket returns to Earth’s atmosphere, as the company once again tries to land the rocket on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The mission, SpaceX’s first of 2018, will carry a payload that has been a closely guarded secret thus far, although Northrop Grumman has been identified as the company that arranged for the launch on behalf of the U.S. government.

A two-hour window will open at 8 p.m.

The mission was first added to SpaceX’s manifest in October, with an initial launch slated for mid-November. But multiple delays pushed it into the new year.

Quelle: Orlando Sentinel


Update: 7.01.2018 / 18.30 MEZ





SpaceX is targeting launch of the Zuma spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The two-hour primary launch window opens at 8:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, January 7, or 1:00 UTC on Monday, January 8. A backup two-hour launch window opens at 8:00 p.m. EST on Monday, January 8, or 1:00 UTC on Tuesday, January 9.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt to land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. You can watch the launch live below and find more information about the mission in our press kit..

Quelle: SpaceX


Update: 8.01.2018


Launch of Falcon-9 ZUMA Mission



































Quelle: SpaceX


SpaceX kicks off busy 2018 with launch of mysterious payload

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a mysterious government satellite known as "Zuma" Sunday, lighting up the night sky as the booster climbed toward space and then lighting it up again a few moments later as its reusable first stage descended on a jet of flame to a pinpoint touchdown.

Running a month and a half late because of payload fairing issues and subsequent rescheduling, the booster's nine first-stage engines ignited with a rush of flame at 8 p.m. EST (GMT-5). After a final round of computer checks, the 129-foot-tall rocket was released from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was the first of up to 30 or so SpaceX flights planned for 2018 following a record 18-launch year in 2017.

Climbing away atop 1.7 million pounds of thrust and a brilliant jet of exhaust, the Falcon 9 put on a spectacular show for area residents and tourists, visible for miles around as it arced away to the northeast and faded from view over the Atlantic Ocean.


A look at Sunday night's SpaceX launch in Florida.


As usual with classified missions, no details were revealed about the satellite's intended orbit or purpose. But SpaceX did provide coverage of the early moments of the flight, including the successful return to Earth of the Falcon 9's first stage about eight minutes after liftoff.

Putting on an increasingly familiar spectacle, the booster flipped around moments after separating from the Falcon 9's second stage, fired up three of its Merlin 1D engines to kill off forward velocity and started back toward the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.


Another view of the Falcon 9 during first stage flight.


The engines ignited again three-and-a-half minutes later to slow down even more before descent into the thick lower atmosphere, using titanium "grid fins" at the top of the booster to maintain the proper orientation.

Then, dropping tail first toward the Air Force station, a single engine ignited, four landing legs unfolded and the stage settled to an on-target touchdown near the center of Landing Zone 1 at the Air Force station. It was the company's 21st successful booster recovery in 26 attempts, its ninth at LZ-1.

The Falcon 9's second stage presumably was still firing at that point, but no details were provided and it's not known when the Zuma satellite was released to fly on its own.

Built by Northrop Grumman for an unidentified government agency, Zuma popped up on SpaceX's launch schedule last October, two weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration received an application for launch. Satellite launches are typically scheduled many months in advance and the agencies responsible for classified payloads are usually identified.


A camera mounted on the Falcon 9's first stage captures the final moments of a dramatic descent to a pinpoint landing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was the company's 21st successful booster recovery, it's ninth at the Air Force station.


But Zuma's owner, its purpose and capabilities remain a mystery. Spaceflight Now reported earlier that the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates numerous spy satellites, is not involved with the mission.

The only clue came with the Falcon 9's first stage landing. Satellites bound for the high orbits used by communications stations and electronic eavesdropping satellites typically would not leave a Falcon 9 with enough left-over propellant to attempt a return to Florida.

A world-wide network of amateur satellite trackers will be on the lookout in the coming days and weeks in hopes of detecting the spacecraft and determining the details of its orbit.


The Falcon Heavy, scheduled for its maiden flight late this month, will generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at launch with 27 Merlin 1D engines firing in concert.


In any case, with Zuma safely way, SpaceX engineers will turn their attention to a flurry of upcoming flights, including the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket since NASA's Saturn 5 and the space shuttle.

The first Falcon Heavy, made up of three Falcon 9 core stages and a single upper stage, will be erected atop historic pad 39A at the nearby Kennedy Space Center next week for a main engine test firing. All 27 engines will be ignited for several seconds to make sure the propulsion system is ready for flight.

The Heavy's long-awaited launch is expected before the end of the month. In roughly that same period, SpaceX plans to launch an SES-Luxembourg military communications satellite and a Spanish Earth-observation station, both from pad 40.

Quelle: CBSN


Update: 9.01.2018


It’s not official, but sources say the secretive Zuma satellite was lost

"As of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”

On Sunday night SpaceX launched the Zuma satellite into space. What we know for sure is that the first stage of the rocket behaved nominally enough such that it was able to safely return to Earth and make a land-based landing along the Florida coast.

SpaceX, however, never officially confirmed mission success. On Monday, Ars began to hear discussion from sources that the mysterious Zuma spacecraft—the purpose of which was never specified, nor which US military or spy agency had backed it—may not have survived. According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Later on Monday afternoon another space reporter, Peter B. de Selding, reported on Twitter that he too had been hearing about problems with the satellite. "Zuma satellite from @northropgrumman may be dead in orbit after separation from @SpaceX Falcon 9, sources say," de Selding tweeted. "Info blackout renders any conclusion - launcher issue? Satellite-only issue? — impossible to draw."

This was just SpaceX's third national security mission and was seen as critically important in winning further lucrative business from the US Department of Defense.  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.”

A media query to Northrop Grumman, which manufactured the satellite, was not immediately returned Monday. (Update: Tim Paynter, Vice President of Strategic Communications for Northrop Grumman, said, "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions.”)

Actions taken by SpaceX on Monday indicate its confidence in the rocket's performance during the Zuma launch. Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter. Also, the company continued with preparations for future launches, including rolling the Falcon Heavy rocket back out to a different launch pad in Florida for additional tests.

Quelle: arsTechnica


Fate of secret satellite a mystery amid reports of possible failure

A classified satellite code-named Zuma, launched Sunday night atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, may have suffered a mission-ending failure during or shortly after the climb to space, according to news accounts Monday evening.

Kicking off a busy year for SpaceX, the Falcon 9 blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8 p.m. EST (GMT-5) Sunday, putting on a spectacular show as it streaked away on a northeasterly trajectory.

Because the payload was classified, SpaceX commentators revealed nothing about the satellite, which government agency owns it or when it was expected to be released from the Falcon 9's second stage. No details about its intended orbit -- or its purpose -- were revealed.

SpaceX mission commentary covered the initial minutes of the launch, ignition of the rocket's second stage, jettison of a protective payload fairing and landing of the first stage back at the Air Force station. But in keeping with plans announced before launch, the company did not discuss any aspects of the payload or its intended orbit.

That is standard procedure for classified missions. But in the wake of most such missions, the responsible agency -- usually the Air Force -- releases a post-launch statement several hours later to indicate the overall result. Reporters expected a statement of some sort from Zuma's builder, Northrop Grumman, but the company said nothing Sunday night.

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