In the wake of the apparently unsuccessful launch of the secret Zuma payload, there is still some confusion about what exactly happened and who is to blame.
The top secret satellite for an unidentified government agency is believed to have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere after failing to separate from the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.
However, SpaceX officials say that the Falcon 9 booster performed exactly as planned, so the company is not responsible for any failure that might have occurred.
That would appear to point the finger at Northrop Grumman, which provided the satellite and the adapter that connected it to booster. The company had declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on classified missions.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has issued a statement concerning the Falcon 9 launch of the classified Zuma payload, which reports say was lost:
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. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.
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. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.
Reports indicate that the satellite’s builder, Northrop Grumman, provided its own payload adapter. So, if the satellite failed to separate from the second stage as reports indicate, the problem lay with the adapter and not the Falcon 9.
The Joint Space Operations Center did enter an object from the launch into its master catalog. That would indicate the satellite did enter orbit; however, it might not still be in orbit.
The president of SpaceX said she expects the company would receive additional funding from the U.S. government to support the development of its large reusable launch system.
Speaking at the NewSpace Europe conference here Nov. 16, Gwynne Shotwell noted that SpaceX is already receiving funding from the U.S. Air Force supporting the development of Raptor, the engine that will power the vehicle known as BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, and the reusable spacecraft known as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship.
“I do anticipate that there is residual capability of that system that the government will be interested in,” she said. “I do see that we would likely get some funding from the government for BFR and BFS.” She added, though, that work on the vehicles was not contingent on receiving government funding.
The U.S. Air Force recently issued a request for proposals that will fund the development of new launch systems to replace ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V boosters.
1. Monday, June 19, 2017: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT, 4-5:30 PM CDT): CHRIS STONE is back for updates with DOD and National Security Space matters.
2. Tuesday, June 20 , 2017: 7-8:30 PM PDT, 10-11:30 PM EDT, 9-10:30 PM CDT: We welcome back DR. JASON REIMULLER of Integrated Spaceflight Services and PoSSUM for updates.
3. Wednesday, June 21, 2016:: Hotel Mars. See Upcoming Show Menu and the website newsletter for details.
4. Thursday, June 22, 2017; 2-3PM PDT, 5-6 PM EDT, 3-4 PM CDT: We welcome back GWYNNE SHOTWELL of SpaceX. Please be succinct with your calls and emails. One question per listener to allow as many as possible to engage with Ms. Shotwell. Thank you.
5. Friday, June 23, 2017; 9:30-11AM PDT, 12:30-2 PM EDT, 11:30AM-1 PM CDT: We welcome back DR. DOUG PLATA. Doug will report on ISDC and much more.
6. Sunday, June 18, 2017: 12-1:30 PM DST (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): OPEN LINES. Call in about the topics you want to talk about. First time callers welcome. Space and STEAM topics welcome.
Speaking earlier this week in Colorado Springs, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said the successful reuses of a Falcon 9 first stage last week is just the beginning.
The way she sees it, rocket reusability doesn’t really count unless the rocket can be reused “almost as rapidly as you turn around an aircraft.”
“Our challenge right now is to refly a rocket within 24 hours,” she said here today at the 33rd Space Symposium. “That’s when we’ll really feel like we got the reusability just right.”
Shotwell didn’t specify the exact cost of the refurbishment but said it was “substantially less than half” of the original manufacturing cost.
“We did way more on this one than we’re doing on future ones, of course,” Shotwell said.
Shotwell said at least one piece of the fairing was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean after last week’s launch, although she didn’t say whether it was slated for reuse. “It looked pretty good,” she said, “and you’ll see more fairing recoveries as we go this year.”
SpaceX successfully launched the SES10 communications satellite on Thursday evening, with its reused first stage performing as expected and landing on an off-shore drone ship.
In a brief statement during the live webcast, SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk called the flight a historic day for the company and the space industry. It had taken 15 years to get to this moment, he said.
In a video prior to launch, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company spent about four months refurbishing and testing the first stage booster after it landed on the drone ship after launching a Dragon resupply vehicle to the International Space Station last April. That flight marked the first time a first stage had landed on the drone ship.
Shotwell said the company’s eventual goal is to land the first stage, refuel the booster, and then launch it again the same day. She did not give a time table for when such a flight would be possible.
Musk has said that such a rapid turnaround is crucial to making first-stage reuse truly economical and significantly bringing down the cost of launches.
SpaceX does not recover the second stage of the Falcon 9 booster. So any same-day re-flight would include the installation of a new second stage as well as the payload.
There were reports that SpaceX would attempt to recover the payload shroud used for Thursday’s launch for later reuse. There is no word yet on whether that effort was successful.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would delay its 2018 Red Dragon mission to Mars at least two years to better focus its resources on two programs that a running significantly behind schedule.
“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program,” Shotwell said at a pre-launch press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that.”
The mission will land a modified Dragon spacecraft on the martian surface. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he planned to launch Dragons to the surface every two years beginning in 2018, culminating in a crewed mission in 2024.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell will be deposed in a lawsuit filed by former employee Jason Blasdell, an avionics test technician who claims he was fired in 2014 after blowing the whistle on managers for cutting corners on tests.
He received consistently positive reviews from management for his work, his lawsuit states. However, he began seeing safety issues related to the testing procedures of rocket parts, leading him to question the quality of the testing and the risks it posed not just for possible rocket explosions, but for the potential loss of human life as well, according to his attorneys’ court papers.
Blasdell complained to Shotwell, to SpaceX founder Elon Musk and to the company’s human resources department that there were potentially dangerous deviations from protocol that his managers were pressuring test technicians to make, his lawsuit alleges.
Shotwell, 53, told Blasdell during an October 2013 meeting that she would investigate his concerns and hire an outside consultant to investigate, the suit claims. Blasdell followed up in early 2014 when he inquired of Shotwell by email whether the consultant had been hired.
“Ms. Shotwell never responded to plaintiff’s inquiry, but instead wrote a separate email to plaintiff criticizing the manner in which plaintiff communicated with management,” according to the court papers….
In their papers, SpaceX attorneys called Blasdell’s lawsuit “baseless.”
Remarks attributed to Elon Musk in which he discussed a possible cause of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch pad firexplanomaly leaked out to the public last week after his his presentation before officials at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
“We are close to figuring it out. It might have been formation of solid oxygen in the carbon over-wrap of one of the bottles in the upper stage tanks. If it was liquid it would have been squeezed out but under pressure it could have ignited with the carbon. This is the leading theory right now, but it is subject to confirmation,” Musk is reported to have said.
As SpaceX prepared to launch its first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station in October 2012, there was a rather curious aspect about the mission. While the Dragon spacecraft was advertised as being able to carry 3,310 kg of cargo, the ship was only loaded with 450 kg of cargo — less than 14 percent of maximum capacity.
Out of the blue and into the black They give you this, but you pay for that And once you’re gone, you can never come back When you’re out of the blue and into the black.
My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) Neil Young
In his book, “Mastery,” George Leonard provides a fascinating explanation of how people master new skills.
“There’s really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it,” Leonard writes. “The curve above is not necessarily idealized. In the actual learning experience, progress is less regular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way. But the general progression is almost always the same.”
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 placed the Japanese JCSAT-16 communications satellite into orbit in a spectacular early-morning launch on Sunday. The first stage of the booster also landed also successfully landed on an off-shore drone ship.
The flight was the eighth successful launch of a Falcon 9 this year. It also was the sixth time the company has landed a first stage booster for later use.
During the Small Satellite Conference in Utah last week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company could reuse two of recovered boosters for satellite launches by the end of the year.
SpaceX has a crowded manifest for the rest of 2016, with at least eight more flights planned. The launch is scheduled for late this month from Cape Canaveral, with the Amos 6 satellite as the payload.