The headline is wrong. SpaceX says their mission (launch of the payload) was a success. The Northrup Grumman payload is responsible for the rest of the mission. SpaceX are literally only allowed to talk about their own rocket, since it's a classified mission. But the rocket made it to orbit and the upper stage deorbited in the same place as planned according to other observers.
Oh, and because it's a classified mission, we don't even know if the mission was INTENDED to stay in orbit. For all we know, it was a test of a reentry vehicle of some type. Additionally, off-the-record sources may just as well be lying about the result of the mission as they would be risking jailtime to leak results to reporters. This is a classified mission, no one is going to risk their job and their freedom just to make Andy Pasztor better able to troll SpaceX (which he has a long history of).
They may even be paid to intentionally spread misinformation (anonymously, so it can't be traced back) about the mission in order to protect the secrecy of the payload.
Additionally, SpaceX is continuing Falcon Heavy processing without skipping a beat, rolling out the vehicle just hours after mission completion. If there was a failure, there would be a stand-down to determine the cause before continuing.
EDIT: I should point out that Northrop actually provided the payload adapter and handled integration: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=43976.msg1...
"Legit conspiracy theory time. How do you put a satellite in orbit without anyone knowing about it? You hide it with another satellite!
Apparently, during the first launch window for Zuma back on November 15, a secretive US satellite tracked as "USA-276" was due to fly directly overhead under conditions ideal for a rendezvous. USA-276 itself is secretive and unusual, having passed as close as four miles from the ISS. It seems like the NRO (or whoever actually built it) has a lot of confidence in their control over that satellite and its maneuverability.
The rescheduled launch window for Zuma seemed to rule out a rendezvous with USA-276; the launch inclination was expected to be similar, but the satellite wouldn't be passing overhead at the time. However, several days of launch delays coincidentally moved Zuma's launch window closer and closer to lining up with USA-276's orbit. The earlier launch windows could have been decoys, intended to suggest a willingness to launch away from USA-276 when it remained their goal the whole time.
What are the reasons for this? Well, if USA-276 is meant to be a highly maneuverable satellite, it could potentially burn through fuel quickly. Testing the ability to refuel an unmanned spy satellite would be highly valuable. If you made the rendezvous quickly, you could claim your refueling drone was "lost" and it would be hard to disprove. We're not yet at the point that civilians can track the exact location of every satellite at all times without government help (hell, we can still lose highly advanced jumbo jets in the middle of the ocean). Once the refueling drone is docked with USA-276, they would be tracked as a single object in orbit.
Why claim it's lost, then? To try to hide that you have this ability. That's especially relevant when you consider the repeated close passes USA-276 has made to the ISS. It seems like a satellite meant to surveil other satellites, which would be more valuable if it had ample fuel and could make orbital changes more frequently. You'd only get one real shot at it before the element of surprise is lost, but if you had a maneuverable satellite with ample fuel on board, you could go take close-up photos of a few Russian satellites before they realized what you were doing. Hell, maybe even get close enough to grab one and deorbit it."
From twitter, Dr Marco Langbroek:
> (1/5) About the rumours that #Zuma or its Falcon 9 failed: I have a positive, photographically documented observation of the Falcon 9 upper stage venting fuel after re-entry burn, ahead of re-entry, over East Africa some 2h15m after launch. Pretty much where it ought to be.
I have the feeling that this whole story about the failure is a textbook case of misinformation, which is understandable since Musk has mentioned that this is "the most important mission (that SpaceX has undertaken)" and that it's all very heavily classified..
I am suspicious whenever I hear of a "failed" deployment of a top-secret payload.
Here are the archives of SeeSat-L, a visual satellite observer's network. This will be the place to look for the latest observations on the mission. Are there any other sources out there?
I used to work on satellites and so I know how sad a day this is for some people. Think of the team that would be involved in a billion dollar NASA probe. There would be thousands of people involved from component manufacture to ground control to data processing to ground stations. A team just like that has just had more than 5 years of their life's work go up in smoke. Classified or not, it's still a sad day for space engineers today.
My favorite theory is that they switched Zuma and Elon's car. Think about it, they were both at the Cape and Zuma actually switched launch pads to LC40 from LC39A (where Falcon is preparing to launch as we speak with the REAL Zuma). :D
Note that the US government has been known to launch satellites with optical and radar stealth. (From what I understand, the Misty series had this.)
What better way to hide a stealth satellite than to launch a satellite-shaped object of the same mass as the real thing, separate out the real deal, and claim the object is a failed satellite?
We don't even know which agency launched ZUMA, and there's no obligation for them to tell the press if it worked or not.
This is speculation based on rumour. We don’t even know if Zuma was something other than a block of concrete.
Wait until Northrop Grumman or their secret customer releases an official report. Otherwise the facts are that Falcon 9 delivered a secret payload to orbit, landed the first stage, and SpaceX is now preparing for three more launches this month.
Can HN please stick to facts and leave rumour-mongering to other groups?
Or it's all disinformation... dun dun dunnn
Russia satellite launch failure recently. Someone configured the launch system with the wrong pad location, apparently.
For a foreign power, the cost of infiltrating and sabotaging a $5-10 billion satellite launch is such a bargain that it would be hard to pass up. These systems are so complex, so all it would take is exploiting one flaw per project.
What does the word "nominally" even mean in this context (performed "nominally")? This word has permeated through technical discourse lately. My coworkers use it excessively, usually understood as "on average" or "to a first approximation", but the word itself literally means "in name only". It's just a technical-sounding word engineers use to indicate they're guessing or don't have numbers to back something up, and to me that's exactly how it reads here, too.
It's possible this is misinformation.
This headline could be misleading. Based on the limited information so far, all indications are that SpaceX’s mission was a success (payload delivery to a given orbit). But we have precious little to go on, and won’t have visual confimation of anything in the predicted orbit for a couple weeks.
Another link if you're paywalled:
To me, it has always meant "performed the task that was named." For example, nominal performance for lift-off means that the rocket lifter off the launch pad. If it exploded two feet after lift-off, it's still a nominal lift-off. The sudden and unexpected vehicle disassembly following lift-off is a separate issue that would be dealt with as such. That has always been my understanding of "nominal performance" anyway.
>The payload was suspected to have burned up in the atmosphere after failing to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
>A SpaceX spokesman told the news service: "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally."
They are already blaming each other. So if this ends up in court how does that work? Do they find a cleared jury?
Clickbait. Mission did not fail.
I guess we'll deduce the outcome from whether SpaceX will get further similar contracts.
I never understood this, if they are launching a secret satellite, isn't announcing it to the world defeating the purpose of its secrecy? Why can't they say we launched "weather satellite"
or am I missing something?
It’s always possible someone in the control room rotated the antenna away from earth making impossible to talk to. Heard of this happening before.
Lost, or in stealth mode.
So was this an error with the payload or the rocket?
Is the rocket reusable though?
I guess no video?
The payload was Captain America. He’s safely been deployed. There was no “satellite”.
It would make a lot of sense for a spy satellite to 'go missing' it would be so secret everyone would think it burned up. Good thinking Spies.
Yeah, the payload is lost. Lost I tell you.
How can it be lost? Don't they have a tracking device on it?
It would be nice if the article told you how many successful missions SpaceX has launched.
I see failed mission articles on HN every once in a while. I have no idea if this is business as usual, or SpaceX is a company with serious quality issues.