SpaceX successfully completes first launch of 2018

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX successfully placed a top secret government satellite into orbit tonight, completing the first launch of 2018.

As has become routine, they also successfully landed the first stage on their launchpad at Cape Canaveral. You can watch the replay here.



  • Kirk

    Beautiful composite photo by John Kraus:
    Exposure 1: 00:00 -> 3:13
    Exposure 2: ~3:15 -> ~5:15
    Exposure 3: ~6:00 -> ~8:00
    Reddit post by photographer:

  • wayne

    Good stuff! thank you!

  • jburn

    Thanks Kirk. Great narrative from Reddit posters. Also click to enlarge the image, in conjunction with the comments, it provides an amazing story!

  • Kirk

    Eric Berger is writing that rumors (some contradictory) are suggesting that the Zuma satellite was lost. All SpaceX has to say is, “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”

  • Diane Wilson

    Those contradictory rumors suggest either failure to separate from second stage, or failure of the satellite following separation. (SpaceX did confirm fairing separation during their webcast.) SpaceX did not perform the payload integration for this launch, so presumably this was done by Northrup Grumman. So, questions:

    Who is responsible for separation?
    Who provides the hardware that attaches the satellite to the second stage?
    Is that integration hardware standardized in any way across launch platforms, satellite OEMs, or other?
    Who tests this, and how much can be tested without actual separation?
    Did keeping SpaceX out of the loop for integration increase risks during deployment?

  • wodun

    I am skeptical about a failure but amateur astronomers should be able to tell us more soon. The Main Engine Cut Off blog has some interesting speculation about the mission but not on the possible failure yet.

    Even if there was an appearance of a failure, like to reach a certain orbit, failed to deploy solar panels, or just appears inactive, there is the possibility it is playing opossum.

    If there was a failure of some kind, maybe an MEV could lend a hand.

  • Edward

    Diane Wilson asked: “Who tests this, and how much can be tested without actual separation?

    Commercial communication satellites use a standard interface and clamp band, which have proved very reliable. I cannot say that Zuma used the same thing, but I would be surprised if they used something unique or otherwise not proved reliable.

    Separation is typically the launch vehicle’s responsibility. They control the firing signal to the pyros. For the launch provider, the mission ends with separation of the last payload (although there may be some deorbiting maneuvers or safing operations for the upper stage). For the payload operator, the mission begins with payload separation.

    When I was building commercial communication satellites, the attachment hardware came from the launch provider. We tested this hardware by attaching a flight adapter, its (flight) clamp band, and the release springs to the satellite’s interface, lifting the satellite a couple of feet, firing the clamp pyros, and watching the adapter fall onto some soft padding. We could make measurements to determine the system performance and the shock to the satellite due to the pyros. This test was performed at the manufacturing facility, and a lot of guests may participate or observe (customer, launch provider, etc.).

    As a manufacturer of satellites, the Northrop Grumman team should be very familiar with installation of the deployment hardware, having done it many times, so I do not think that keeping SpaceX away from that part of preparations should have been a problem.

    The focus on the fairings was because that was an issue that delayed the launch.

  • Diane Wilson

    Edward, thank you for very informative answers!

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