SpaceX’s Mysterious Zuma Mission

On January 7th, SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, completed its 21st landing of a Falcon 9 rocket while carrying out an ultra-secret mission for the U.S. government.

The main goal of that space flight involved getting the Zuma satellite off the ground and into space.

Image credit: SpaceX

Few Details Have Emerged

However, numerous questions remain about what the Zuma was doing and why. One of the few details known so far is that Northrop Grumman — the aerospace and defense company that requested the mission — contacted SpaceX to ultimately finalize a contractual agreement with the U.S. government. However, the company did not provide details about which agency was involved or the nature of the Zuma’s duties.

This is not the first time government bodies relied on SpaceX for assistance, and the fact that they do may become a pattern in 2018. Previously, the company launched a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as a craft for the U.S. Air Force. However, many people are wondering why this time, there are no details about which government agency is working with SpaceX in association with the Zuma.

The Mission Was Delayed for Two Months

The Zuma mission was supposed to happen this past November. However, SpaceX announced via Twitter that it was holding off on the launch to address technical issues. Plus, adverse weather conditions pushed the January event back for two days.

SpaceX regularly makes headlines for its pioneering use of reusable rockets, and people will likely see more of them this year. However, before each attempted launch, it must ensure a rocket is ready for liftoff. The same evaluative approach was taken with the Zuma.

Due to the wide variety of factors and components that must work together for successful space missions to happen, the technical delays associated with the Zuma are not surprising. Other companies carry out stringent tests, too — for products that could someday be used in space.

For example, rotary control devices are often used in offshore drilling applications. They also have purposeful seals that have to perform correctly. Manufacturers run tests to confirm product readiness and respond accordingly based on the outcomes.

Also, analysts believe mining operations will eventually take place in space. They could become as commonplace as drilling for oil is today.

Did the Zuma Mission Not Go Well?

The buzz about Zuma hasn’t ended yet. That’s because not long after news broke about the mission itself, rumors abounded of a potentially failed mission.

A communications representative from Northrop Grumman wouldn’t comment about the Zuma’s whereabouts and whether it was still performing as expected. Instead, the person only confirmed the rocket worked as intended and noted the company doesn’t comment on these types of missions. People couldn’t help but notice the lack of information given about the Zuma.

Adding fuel to the speculation were initial reports of a halt in communications from the satellite. Plus, U.S. Strategic Command, which tracks all satellites and space debris of at least a certain size, has reportedly not started keeping tabs on the Zuma or added it to its satellite catalog. These details are making people discuss if perhaps the Zuma faltered once it separated from the rocket after the second stage.

The Full Event Was Not Broadcast Online

There’s another reason people are focusing on a potential problem related to the second stage. Unlike the live streams for most of its commercial flights that broadcast footage of the payload into orbit, this one only showed viewers the first portion, reportedly to maintain secrecy.

The Zuma mission attracted attention for being under wraps from the start. However, people’s curiosities and the angle of news headlines have switched gears recently.

Unless SpaceX releases a statement that blatantly confirms the Zuma mission didn’t fail, interested individuals and dedicated reporters may start to believe otherwise.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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