Meet Zuma – The Missing $1 Billion Military Satellite That Pentagon Refuses To Explain

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Jan 12 2018
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What is Zuma? Is it a latest military satellite to spy on North Korea? Where is Zuma? Has it been shot down by an “Alien Mothership”? Nobody seems to know the fate of Zuma, presumably a U.S. spy satellite which has gone missing after it was launched this week. What we know is the satellite costs a whopping US$1 billion and it isn’t a normal weather monitoring satellite.


The Pentagon is not saying anything about the fate of the military payload, code-named “Zuma”, hence adding rumours and speculations to the missing satellite. It was so top-secret that the Pentagon refused to provide a single hint about the unexplained mystery and referred reporter from Bloomberg to SpaceX, the contractor who conducted the launch.


However, SpaceX has so far said its Falcon 9 rocket “did everything correctly” but beyond that, it cannot provide any more details because of the classified nature of the payload. Billionaire Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket seemed to lift off successfully from the pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday but the satellite has mysteriously gone missing.

SpaceX Launched Zuma Secret Military Satellite

SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said on Tuesday – “After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly.” After criticism and speculation that the mission was a failure, SpaceX defended the Falcon 9, saying that the Zuma satellite is neither lost nor missing in action. But neither can SpaceX announce a successful launch or confirm whether Zuma reached its destination.


So far, the U.S. Defence Department hasn’t confirmed SpaceX’s claims that it wasn’t their fault. According to U.S. Strategic Command, the Zuma payload is nowhere to be found in space, with no new satellites tracked after the Falcon 9 launch. Northrop Grumman, the defence company which built the satellite and requested the launch on behalf of the U.S. government, isn’t spilling any bean too.


According to anonymous government officials, the mission was a failure because the second stage booster section of the Falcon 9 failed and the satellite and the rocket’s second stage plummeted into the Indian Ocean after it was launched into orbit. But there were also rumours that SpaceX has been successfully launched but Zuma somehow lost once in space.

SpaceX Launching Rocket

Because of the secretive nature of the mission, SpaceX did not show the entire Zuma mission during its live stream. It’s a normal procedure for SpaceX to censor its live streams when the payloads are classified. Still, SpaceX or the U.S. government would usually confirm whether a mission was successful or otherwise after the launching.


To make the mystery juicier, an object that was most likely the satellite was seen in orbit by the U.S. Strategic Command after the SpaceX launch. Following SpaceX’s launch, a new entry was made in the catalogue on Space-Track.org for a US satellite designated USA 280. This means someone from Strategic Command added Zuma to the catalogue after the satellite completed an orbit.


That would explain why SpaceX was adamant that Falcon 9 did everything correctly, and the satellite Zuma isn’t lost. But if Zuma was in orbit since it has been catalogued, why was it reported as failed and crashed into ocean? Either it had been catalogued by mistake or the payload did make it to the orbit but could not be separated from the rocket.

US Zuma Secret Military Satellite

Typically, SpaceX uses its own hardware on top of its rocket to send a satellite into orbit, what is known as a payload adapter. The adapter would physically separate the satellite from the upper part of the rocket and sends it into orbit. However, Northrop Grumman reportedly provided its own payload adapter for this mission.


Therefore, if it’s true that Northrop Grumman’s payload adapter failed to function as it was supposed to, it would have left the satellite still attached to the upper portion of the rocket. That would explain why the U.S. Strategic Command tracked and catalogued a “new node” – temporarily – without knowing that Zuma was still attached to Falcon 9.


SpaceX can certainly claim Falcon 9 did everything correctly. As far as Elon Musk is concerned, it wasn’t his company’s fault. It is Northrop Grumman’s fault for using its own adapter instead of SpaceX’s. Nevertheless, the fact that lawmakers are receiving classified briefings on the lost satellite means the payload as well as the mission is as secret as UFO projects.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket

The truth of the story, however, might never make it to the public. Until the U.S. Air Force or Northrop Grumman argues and proves otherwise the claims from SpaceX that it wasn’t their fault, the US$1 billion is lost in the space and fingers are pointed at Northrop Grumman.


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