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.
Two independent investigations have now placed the blame for the failure of the classified Zuma satellite to reach orbit on Northrop Grumman, not SpaceX.
Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop’s payload adapter as the cause of the satellite’s loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket.
…The investigations tentatively concluded that onboard sensors did not immediately communicate to ground systems that the satellite did not separate from the rocket, according to the Journal. Unbeknownst to officials at the time, the planned return of the rocket’s upper stage — a method of disposal to avoid adding space debris around the Earth — brought the satellite back down with it. By the time the satellite separated from the rocket it was too late, putting Zuma too low in orbit to save, according to the report.
I still have a nagging suspicion that Zuma actually did reach orbit, and this entire story that it never separated from the upper stage is all a disinformation campaign to help distract people from the satellite’s existence in orbit. At the same time, by this time I don’t put much faith in my own suspicions. These two reports appear to settle the matter.