On January 7, 2018 SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying the classified payload code-named Zuma into space. The launch was from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The secretive Zuma satellite was manufactured by Northrop Grumman for an undisclosed US Agency. Northrop Grumman is the same company that manufactures the B2 Spirit also known as the Stealth Bomber. Eyebrows were raised when Brian Mahlstedt a software engineer at SpaceX announced on the live webcast, “Per our customer’s request we will conclude coverage of the primary mission just following separation of the payload fairing“. This was something unusual. SpaceX always live webcasts its complete mission. They make a whole show out of every launch, making sure they have cameras at every angle. Since its classified, we agree its okay not to webcast the whole mission or else what’s the meaning of the word classified. The Falcon 9 came back to earth after its delivery and everything was okay. It was a mission success.
Rumors started flowing when Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg reported that the payload did not get delivered into the orbit. This was contradicting the fact that the Zuma satellite appeared on space-track.org as USA 280. There was also a visual confirmation from a Dutch pilot named Peter Horstink who clicked a picture of a rocket venting just hours after the launch of Falcon 9 on the same day when he was flying over Sudan. When Wall Street Journal reached out to Northrop Grumman with a comment, the company replied with “We cannot comment on classified missions.” Similarly a SpaceX spokesman said: “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”
So why are we raising this question after 3 years? There is still not much information on the internet about the Zuma satellite. The Wikipedia page of the Zuma satellite has it as “The fate of the spacecraft is not publicly known“. Why did Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg went after it? This kind of classified missions have been going on for many years. On May 26, 2009 Lockheed Martin sent same kind of confidential satellite named PAN(USA-207) into the orbit. Another such secret satellite called Atlas was launched in September 6, 2014. It is said that newspapers like Wall Street Journal have their undisclosed sources inside the Capitol Hill and I believe that is where it all started from. The Zuma mission was worth billon dollars of taxpayer’s money and that’s why Wall Street Journal got inquisitive about it. If the mission actually failed, they wanted to know who is to be blamed.
Conspiracy theories have that, that the secret agency who commissioned this mission wants you think that the mission got failed while the satellite is actually orbiting the earth. Some claim, the satellite is breaking international space laws and so the agency wants you to think that the mission got failed. Another conspiracy theory is that the satellite is actually a weapon being placed into the space.
While we will never know what exactly Zuma was or if it actually failed or succeeded, we surely do know that many such secret payloads will be delivered into the space in the future to come. SpaceX is racing against Boeing and Lockheed Martin to become Pentagon’s favorite low cost launch provider. Here is a video from Joe Scott on the Zuma mission that I found worth watching. Again, thank you for reading till here and if you liked the article please follow us on our social media channels or subscribe to our newsletter. People like you help us grow.