CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. A classified U.S. spy satellite built by Northrop Grumman and launched by SpaceX on a Falcon 9 rocket is missing and presumed lost. Initial reports indicate that the secretive satellite payload, said to be worth billions of dollars, likely failed to separate as anticipated and is thought to have burned up upon entering the atmosphere or to have dropped into the Indian Ocean.
Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and government officials are not commenting on the classified mission, codenamed Zuma, aside from SpaceX reporting that the company’s rocket performed “nominally.” The satellite launched from from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on the Space X Falcon 9 reusable rocket, the first stage of which landed safely back on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The Zuma spacecraft launched on Falcon 9, a two-stage rocket designed from the ground up by SpaceX for maximum reliability and the cost-efficient transport of satellites and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. Falcon 9’s first stage incorporates nine Merlin engines, with a combined thrust greater than five 747s at full power, that launch the rocket to space.
Unlike airplanes, a rocket's thrust increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to over 1.8 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space.
The second stage, powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine, delivers Falcon 9’s payload to the desired orbit. Falcon 9 is the first orbital class rocket capable of reflight. SpaceX believes rocket reusability is the key breakthrough needed to reduce the cost of access to space and enable people to live on other planets.
SpaceX’s SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is a world-class launch site that builds on a strong heritage. The site, located at the north end of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, was used for many years to launch Titan rockets, among the most powerful in the U.S. fleet. SpaceX took over the facility in May 2008.
The center of the complex is composed of the concrete launch pad and flame diverter system. Surrounding the pad are four lightning towers, propellant storage tanks, and the integration hangar. Before launch, Falcon 9’s stages and payload are housed inside the hangar.
The payload is mated to the Falcon 9 inside SLC-40’s hangar on the transporter erector. The rocket and payload are then rolled out from the hangar to the launch pad and lifted to a vertical position.