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SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch

11 January 2018

Late on Sunday night, SpaceX launched a satellite manufactured by Northrop Grumman out of Florida.

The satellite, code-named Zuma, failed to reach orbit and fell back into Earth's atmosphere after separating from the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX's review so far indicates that 'no design, operational or other changes are needed, ' Shotwell said.

"For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night", SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement emailed to HuffPost. Northrop Grumman VP of Strategic Communications Tim Paynter, meanwhile, said that he could not comment on classified missions.

The launch of the Falcon 9 for the classified Zuma mission, which was repeatedly delayed from its initial target date in November a year ago, kicked off SpaceX's 2018. Defense company Northrop Grumman requested the launch in behalf of the government, further casting a veil of secrecy on the missions.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Corp., which was commissioned by the Defense Department to choose the launch contractor, said "we can not comment on classified missions", and army lieutenant colonel Jamie Davis, the Pentagon's spokesman for space policy, referred questions to SpaceX. Its secret USA government-sponsored payload, though, did not fare as well, according to sources. Did something happen to Zuma after separating from the rocket's second stage? Instead it was supplied by the customer, so Elon Musk's SpaceX may not have been the cause of any problem.

"This is a classified mission".

Only now, what was supposed to be a triumph for Musk and his Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has turned into a potential setback after the satellite went missing.

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The secretive nature of the Zuma payload makes reliable details about the mission hard to come by or verify. SpaceX has also declined to give details about the spacecraft. "We can not comment on classified missions".

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 massive Falcon Heavy, which has already been staged on a Cape Canaveral launchpad, stands 230 feet tall and consists of three Falcon 9 first-stage cores.

SpaceX is scheduled to test the engines and startup procedures of its Falcon Heavy - the most powerful rocket since the Apollo program's Saturn V - on Wednesday, a key step before its maiden flight later this month.

SpaceX is led by Elon Musk and has been rapidly expanding its launch business, which includes NASA, national security and commercial missions.

But the unknown dominated this mission. The company has said it plans about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 previous year.

SpaceX launched two other national security missions previous year: a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in May and the Pentagon's autonomous space plane, known as the X-37B, in September. After a rigorous Air Force review, SpaceX was certified in 2015 to compete for military launches.

SpaceX defends rocket's performance in secret satellite launch