UPDATE: Here’s an outtake from a story in the Wall Street Journal:
Lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission, some of the officials said. The secret payload—code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket—is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere, they said, because it didn’t separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket.
Once the engine powering the rocket’s expendable second stage stops firing, whatever it is carrying is supposed to separate and proceed on its own trajectory. If a satellite isn’t set free at the right time or is damaged upon release, it can be dragged back toward earth.
The lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit.
Here’s a report from CNBC saying the secret U.S. government Zuma satellite launched on Sunday was a total loss:
Dow Jones reported Monday evening that lawmakers had been briefed about the apparent destruction of the secretive payload — code-named Zuma — citing industry and government officials.
The payload was suspected to have burned up in the atmosphere after failing to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the report said.
According to Dow Jones, the absence of official word on the incident means that there could have been another chain of events.
SpaceX has said the Falcon 9 booster functioned nominally. Satellite builder Northrop Grumman has declined to comment on the classified spacecraft, which may have been worth billions of dollars. The identity of the government agency that ordered the satellite is unknown.
SpaceX said the Zuma launch was delayed from December due to a problem with the payload shroud. During the launch webcast on Sunday, the company said the payload shroud had separated as planned.
Read the full story.