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  SpaceX Falcon 9/classified Zuma from SLC-40

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Author Topic:   SpaceX Falcon 9/classified Zuma from SLC-40
oly
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Posts: 305
From: Perth, Western Australia
Registered: Apr 2015

posted 01-09-2018 06:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for oly   Click Here to Email oly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It has been a few days since the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and landing on Sunday (Jan. 7) that I believe was spectacular in the cold, clear Florida night sky.

Has there been any information regarding the outcome of the classified Zuma payload, or are the various media stories of deployment failure correct?

328KF
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posted 01-09-2018 07:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's been an interesting sequence of events since launch. Rumors of a failure started not long after the expected blackout occurred. An airline pilot photographed what was likely the re-entry of the second stage, apparently venting fuel as it spun around. No way of telling if the payload was still attached to it or not.

While whatever agency that owned the satellite would be happy with no information regarding success or failure being released, SpaceX had other ideas. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell issued a statement:

For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night, If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately.

Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule.

So the first reaction by SpaceX was to exonerate their rocket of any responsibility for the failure, which effectively revealed that there had indeed been a failure.

One has to wonder if this statement was approved by the agency that owned the satellite, either before release or by prior agreement.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-09-2018 09:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Shotwell's statement was not the company's first response to the media, which progressed from no comment, to off the record comments to informal confirmation of the Falcon 9 operating as expected to the formal statement reprinted above.

The statement (and prior replies) was in response to numerous media requests, which in turn followed reporting suggesting that the Falcon 9 launch had failed.

Northrop Grumman was asked for and issued a statement as well:

This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions.
Prior to the launch, Wired magazine obtained a leaked document noting that Northrop Grumman provided the payload adapter for Zuma (rather than SpaceX). If there was an issue with the payload separating, as some have speculated, then it may have been outside SpaceX's control.

It will be several weeks before satellite watchers can try to spot Zuma where they speculated it might be, but without any further official information expected, this may be where Zuma's story ends.

thisismills
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Posts: 99
From: Michigan
Registered: Mar 2012

posted 01-09-2018 09:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for thisismills   Click Here to Email thisismills     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For what it's worth, ABC News is reporting that Zuma fell into the Indian Ocean.

They did not mention who the official was that provided the confirmation.

328KF
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posted 01-09-2018 09:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The question remains, who authorized SpaceX to make any statement regarding the success or failure (implicitly or implied) of the classified payload?

I would have expected that their response to media questions would mirror exactly what NG stated.

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 39189
From: Houston, TX
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posted 01-09-2018 09:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
SpaceX does not need clearance to confirm the performance of its own rocket. The launch vehicle is not classified.

The statement provides no information about the payload status. Any inference is your own.

328KF
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posted 01-09-2018 10:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert I think anybody reading Shotwell's statement can reasonably conclude that the mission was unsuccessful.

Is that language what you would expect to hear had the payload been successfully deployed?

For comparison, this is the SpaceX statement from the recent classified X-37B launch (emphasis mine):

On Thursday, September 7 at 10:00 am EDT, SpaceX successfully launched the Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) payload from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center...
No mention there of "after review of all the data" or "no design, operational or other changes are needed" or "impact on the upcoming launch schedule."

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-09-2018 10:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Shotwell's statement followed media reports that the Falcon 9 launch had failed. She was responding to the performance of the rocket.

Yes, in context, people will infer more. But it does not provide information about the status of the payload. A similar statement could be made if, say, the payload separated cleanly but then media reports suggested the upper stage deorbit burn failed.

SkyMan1958
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posted 01-09-2018 11:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One would assume that IF it had been a SpaceX problem they would have, at a minimum, delayed their launch manifest to assure themselves there wouldn't be a repeat of the problem with another second stage.

Further, they are a commercial enterprise, they are actively looking to book new customers, and a failed launch would upset some apple carts in that direction, so they need to tromp on that issue if they were indeed not at fault.

oly
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Posts: 305
From: Perth, Western Australia
Registered: Apr 2015

posted 01-10-2018 06:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for oly   Click Here to Email oly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The success or failure of the Falcon 9 first stage is public knowledge for anyone that watched the launch online or was in the Merritt Island area during the launch and landing. In my opinion the SpaceX comments state this part.

For the second stage their comment is basically that all received telemetry indicates that the stage operated as designed.

Ken Havekotte
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From: Merritt Island, Florida, Brevard
Registered: Mar 2001

posted 01-10-2018 07:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ken Havekotte   Click Here to Email Ken Havekotte     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
All points considered, we just don't know for sure what exactly happened after the second stage had been in flight and with the deployment of Zuma. There can be lots of speculations and opinions, and some with possibly good explanations, but only certain need-to-know project officials would probably know/or do know for sure.

But it does appear that SpaceX indicated that their Falcon 9 booster operated as expected.

Witnessing the liftoff myself here on the Florida Space Coast, I must say, it was an unusual night-time launch.

I can't recall after covering more than 600 different space shots since the late 1960's that I was even unsure what was going on after the first stage had been jettisoned. It was just weird and hard to explain from a visual standpoint. But what I was seeing probably had nothing to do with the booster not operating in a nominal performance.

cspg
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From: Geneva, Switzerland
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posted 01-10-2018 05:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So the Northrop Grumman bus failed? And if Zuma is a telescope, the James Webb telescope is also in Northrop Grumman's hands. Should we worry?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 39189
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-10-2018 05:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We don't know if anything failed. The reports are citing unnamed sources that the payload failed to separate from the adapter (not the bus).

But as we don't know what, if anything, failed, it is impossible to say if there is any commonality with JWST. On the upside, the telescope's launch is more than a year from now, so there is plenty of time to troubleshoot, if needed.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 39189
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-11-2018 02:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the Pentagon press briefing today (via Christian Davenport of the Washington Post on Twitter):
Q: Earlier this week, SpaceX launched Zuma, a classified satellite payload. Does the Pentagon consider the mission a success or a failure... given its classified payload?

[Chief Spokesperson Dana] WHITE: I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch.

oly
Member

Posts: 305
From: Perth, Western Australia
Registered: Apr 2015

posted 01-13-2018 07:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for oly   Click Here to Email oly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the Astronomy Picture of the Day, a great photo of the Falcon 9 launch and landing for the January 7th SpaceX launch.

Michael Davis
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Posts: 513
From: Houston, Texas
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 01-13-2018 02:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Davis   Click Here to Email Michael Davis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If the Falcon 9 second stage functioned nominally, and Northrop Grumman provided an adapter that failed to separate properly from that stage, are there any circumstances that would place full or partial blame for a payload loss on SpaceX?

Of course all is speculation as of now, but there must be "rules" for determining which party takes the blame based upon similar past failures.

thisismills
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Posts: 99
From: Michigan
Registered: Mar 2012

posted 04-09-2018 04:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for thisismills   Click Here to Email thisismills     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
More news on the Zuma investigations from a CNBC article which quotes the Wall Street Journal.
Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop's payload adapter as the cause of the satellite's loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket.

The investigations tentatively concluded that onboard sensors did not immediately communicate to ground systems that the satellite did not separate from the rocket, according to the Journal. Unbeknownst to officials at the time, the planned return of the rocket's upper stage — a method of disposal to avoid adding space debris around the Earth — brought the satellite back down with it. By the time the satellite separated from the rocket it was too late, putting Zuma too low in orbit to save, according to the report.

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