A top-secret military satellite, codenamed Zuma, was launched onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Sunday evening. Although the launch (as well as the reentry and landing) of the rocket appeared to be a success, there are now rumors that something went awry and the classified satellite is either lost or destroyed.
Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal have both reported that anonymous US government officials are claiming the Zuma spacecraft mission has failed, with one of the aides even claiming the satellite and second-stage rocket fell into the ocean.
However, there are also conflicting reports about what might have gone on. Peter B. de Selding, the editor of Space Intel Report, also tweeted yesterday: “Zuma satellite... may be dead in orbit after separation from SpaceX Falcon 9, sources say. Info blackout renders any conclusion – launcher issue? Satellite-only issue? – impossible to draw.”
SpaceX live streamed the launch on Sunday evening with no mention of any problems. Elon Musk followed up by posting a stunning long-exposure photograph of the rocket’s launch and landing. Bloomberg suggests that this could indicate that the Zuma satellite failed to deploy correctly, meaning the fault may not with the launch system.
Much of the information about the Zuma satellite is totally classified, including its purpose, its intended orbit, or which US agency contracted it. This is part of the reason why its fate is now shrouded in mystery.
SpaceX has launched other classified government payloads in the past. In Spring 2017, they launched another "top secret" classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the US Government agency in charge of intelligence spy satellites. Even though this launch was seemingly a success, information on the mission was thin on the ground.
Of course, all of this is remains hearsay without official confirmation. However, the main parties involved in the launch are keeping hush about went on.
"We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," a SpaceX spokesperson has told Bloomberg.
Northrop Grumman, the aerospace and defense technology company who built the satellite, also told the Wall Street Journal: “We cannot comment on classified missions.”
IFLScience will update this story if and when more information comes to light.
Update 10/01/2018: SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told the Associated Press that the Falcon 9 rocket “did everything correctly” and suggestions otherwise are “categorically false.”