Two investigations blame Northrop Grumman for Zuma failure

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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.



  • wayne

    “….should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions…”

  • Localfluff

    Considering how Northrop-Grumman fouled up the spacecraft for the $8 billion JWST, what track record does that company really have?

  • Edward

    From the article: “The unique design of Zuma, according to officials, means it was built in such a way that made it particularly fragile. Northrop reportedly modified its payload adapter to help absorb vibrations that might damage the satellite.

    That is interesting new information. Typically, a payload adapter is very simple, but this one had added complexity.

  • Chris

    Even if a cover story was put out, wouldn’t our adversaries be able to search for and see the satellite in operation. I am fairly sure the US Air Force was tracking “everything” over some nominal size in space. (Space Surveillance Network on Haleakala HI and other sites) I would expect others would too. Why the ruse?

  • Kirk

    It is interesting that the amateur community has still not managed to track the OTV-5 X-37B launched back in September, but yes, I would expect that Russia or China are tracking it and would be tracking Zuma were its disappearance a ruse. (An expensive ruse for Northrop Grumman’s reputation.)

  • BSJ

    OTV 5’s orbit


    Space cadets really really want there to be secret spaceships whizing around the planet. It satisfies their boyhood fantasies of being spaceman Spiff. Reality interferes with that, so they invent diabolical plots to cover their disappointment.

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