A veil of secrecy has been drawn over the fate of a multibillion-dollar United States spy satellite that is said to have failed despite the successful launch and return of the rocket that took it into space.
By all indications, SpaceX pulled off the Sunday launch of the secret Zuma spacecraft with no hitches, sending the second stage well on its way to the Low Earth Orbit as the first reusable stage nailed a pretty good landing eight minutes later in Cape Canaveral.
According to Shotwell, data already reviewed has showed that "no design, operational or other changes are needed" that would impact further launches.
"We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally", said SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson in an e-mail. Northrop Grumman declined comment, citing inability to comment on classified missions.
SpaceX is pushing back on claims that the Falcon 9 rocket suffered an alleged malfunction following its launch from Cape Canaveral on Sunday.
"If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", she said in a statement. Defense company Northrop Grumman requested the launch in behalf of the government, further casting a veil of secrecy on the missions.
Northrop Grumman, the company that built the Zuma payload, told Business Insider in November that the USA government tasked it with picking a launch company, and it chose SpaceX.
On its website, SpaceX says it has more than 70 upcoming missions on its launch manifest, which could take several years.
However, the key part connecting the Zuma payload to the rocket wasn't made by SpaceX.
With a price tag of $62 million, the Falcon 9 was designed as a two-stage rocket, becoming the world's first orbital-class rocket with reflight capability.
The secretive nature of the launch makes it hard to discern additional details.
This was SpaceX's third classified mission for the US government, a lucrative customer. Anthony Capaccio and Dana Hull reporting for Bloomberg cite a USA official and two congressional aides reporting the launch failed, with one aide stating that the satellite and second-stage rocket fell back into the ocean.
We spoke to a Northrup Grummam rep by phone, who said: "This is a classified mission". Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. "National security payloads are a very important potential market for SpaceX". Under mounting pressure from SpaceX, he was sacked, and ULA's new CEO, Tory Bruno, vowed to "literally transform" the company in order to compete with Musk - and he also continued to champion ULA's track record of successful launches. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 a year ago.
In short, SpaceX appears to be shrugging its shoulders as it prepares to launch yet another Falcon 9 rocket and its first Mars-capable rocket, Falcon Heavy (a launch vehicle that's essentially three times as powerful as a Falcon 9).
It has been competing with other private companies to launch more military payloads.