An update on Zuma status


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Link here. The article provides a nice summary of all the reports on the SpaceX launch and its mysterious top secret payload Zuma, including outlining the various failure possibilities. The one scenario they do not mention, however, is that the failure story itself is entirely bogus, a misinformation campaign by the unknown government agency that launched it.

I have no idea what happened, though it still appears to me most likely that SpaceX’s rocket performed as contracted.

Share

12 comments

  • Eggnog

    What if there was no satellite inside the shell NG delivered? What if it was all just a set-up to cause bad publicity?

  • Trent Castanaveras

    A statement from Gwynne Shotwell via twitter and the NSF update forum for Zuma:

    Gwynne Shotwell’s statement:
    https://twitter.com/nova_road/status/950729181897347073
    “For clarity: after 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.”

    Edit:
    Follow up

    https://twitter.com/nova_road/status/950730294063136768
    “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 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 SLC-40 in three weeks.”

    Source: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=44175.msg1769311#msg1769311

  • Lee S

    What if it was a re-entry test for the next gen of ICBM’s ?
    Perhaps designed for a certain Korean Peninsula state?
    The rapid deployment and scheduling fit the time line…
    Just saying…

  • Localfluff

    Lee S,
    Clever idea. But could Zuma really have been made to happen already since the election and the reversal of policy against North Korea and China and Iran?

  • Localfluff

    Actually, as a “reusable ICBM”, and with a new military payload adapter, and they certainly have nuclear payloads ready. And probably lots of contingency and opportunity plans in their drawers. I like the idea! I mean, as an explanation. The reality of the Korea crisis is horrible. If so, it is good news for the anti-asteroid protection capability. Stuff that space nerds care about.

  • Edward

    Lee S asked: “What if it was a re-entry test for the next gen of ICBM’s ?

    I think this is unlikely. The US has better, more secluded sites to perform that type of test. Kwajalein, in the pacific, would be a better place from which to launch such a test.

    Localfluff,

    The payload adapter may not be a new design, but it may be different than any adapter that SpaceX provides. For instance, the Iridium adapters are probably different from the ones for the larger geostationary communication satellites.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Edward stated: “The payload adapter may not be a new design, but it may be different than any adapter that SpaceX provides.”

    From Wired:
    “…the adapter mating Zuma to the Falcon 9 rocket was actually built and provided by Northrop Grumman––a fact reported by WIRED in November after obtaining early documents regarding the mission.” [1]

    Further:
    “…no one has officially confirmed that Zuma was lost…” [1]

    The irresponsible reporting on this “story” continues to reach ridiculous levels. The actual facts, verified by official statement/source?

    – SpaceX launched Zuma, an unusually clandestine payload.
    – SpaceX officials released statements that the Falcon 9 performed correctly throughout the mission.
    – Northrup Grumman released a statement that “this is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions.” [2]
    – A plane flying in Sudan, Africa captured photos of the F9 2nd stage venting as it performed de-orbit operations. [2]

    Most news stories I have read show a marked lack of comprehension of both orbital mechanics and reporting facts. It’s like reading the Weekly World News. (No offense meant to the fine reporters of WWN)

    We will most likely never know the fate of Zuma, alive or dead, at least until the mission is declassified in 2060 or so. In the meantime, rampant speculation based on erroneous reporting bordering on fake news gets us nowhere.

    Sources:
    [1] https://www.wired.com/story/is-spacexs-covert-zuma-payload-missing-in-action/
    [2] https://sattrackcam.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/fuel-dump-of-zumas-falcon-9-upper-stage.html

  • Trent Castanaveras: Hear! Hear! Your analysis is right on the money.

  • Let me add that this CNN report, claiming that the satellite did not reach orbit based on three anonymous sources, is a particularly good example of the kind of bad reporting we are seeing, both on this story and in general. The story focuses on the claims of the anonymous sources, even though there is other evidence that appears to contradict them.

    If I had this information from anonymous sources, I might include it in a story, but it would certainly not become the central theme. I would also note that information from all anonymous sources must be considered suspect, especially in connection with this kind of secret government payload.

    CNN however has been doing this kind of bad reporting repeatedly in the last few years, and as a result has had numerous stories later debunked (many related to Trump) when it turns out the anonymous sources were using CNN to manipulate the news with disinformation.

  • Mike Fortner

    Part of a plot of a Clancy novel was to fake a failed launch of a satellite which allowed it to be placed in a the orbit needed for its true purpose. I believe it was “Clear and Present Danger” but I have aged badly since then. This is very funny.

  • ed fredland

    What ever happened to your blog that showed the SpaceX Zuma launch and recovery of the 1st stage. I have told a number of people to look at it to see the landing of a 1st stage; but it is gone. Is there any way to put it back up so it can be viewed?

  • ed fredland: The link at my blog post noting Zuma’s launch goes to SpaceX’s main site, which changes with each mission. To see the Zuma launch now, go here, where it is posted on SpaceX’s youtube site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *