India January 12(IM): The mystery surrounding the fate of a secret military satellite deepened today when the Pentagon refused to answer even simple questions about whether the mission to launch it had gone awry.On Sunday, private space firm SpaceX blasted a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying the secret government satellite, known as Zuma.
US media this week reported that the billion-dollar payload did not make it into orbit and was presumed to have been lost.SpaceX said Tuesday that the rocket worked fine, but its statement left open the possibility that something could have gone wrong after the launch.When asked at a press briefing if the Pentagon considered the launch a success or a failure, two officials declined to provide any information whatsoever because of the classified nature of the mission.'I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch,' Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.When pushed on the matter, fellow spokesman Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said: 'I'm done. We're not going to be able to give you any more information.'Northrup Grumman, the maker of the payload, has said it was for the US government and would be delivered to low-Earth orbit, but offered no other details.
SpaceX has launched national security payloads in the past, including a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, and an X-37B space plane for the US Air Force.
The satellite, codenamed Zuma, launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Sunday night, but it reportedly failed to remain in orbit, officials said Wednesday. The classified intelligence satellite, built by Northrop Grumman Corp, failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket and is assumed to have broken up or plunged into the sea, said two officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.The satellite is assumed to be 'a write-off,' one of the officials said.
The presumed loss of the satellite was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Northrop Grumman built the multibillion-dollar satellite, code-named Zuma, and was responsible for choosing the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, both officials said.
An investigation is under way, but there is no initial indication of sabotage or other interference, they said. Lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission, some of the officials told the Wall Street Journal. It claims the payload was 'an expensive, highly classified U.S. spy satellite.' SpaceX's president Gwynne Shotwell defended the company's rocket performance launch of Zuma, saying that the Falcon 9 rocket 'did everything correctly' and suggestions otherwise are 'categorically false'.Northrop Grumman which provided the satellite for an undisclosed US government entity said it cannot comment on classified missions.
The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late last year that it took 'great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma'.The name refers to a Malibu beach in Southern California. This was SpaceX' s third classified mission for the US government, a lucrative customer. It was so shrouded in secrecy that the sponsoring government agency was not even identified, as is usually the case.The Falcon's first stage completed its job, lifting the rocket off the pad and toward space, then separated and landed back at Cape Canaveral. But second-stage information was kept to a minimum because of all the secrecy surrounding the flight. The rocket's second stage propels the satellite into orbit; however, an official confirmed to ABC News that the satellite was unable to stay in orbit. The Wall Street Journal quoted unidentified congressional officials who were briefed on the mission as saying the satellite apparently did not separate from the second stage, and plunged through the atmosphere and burned up.Originally scheduled for a November launch, Zuma was delayed by potential concern about another mission's payload fairing, the shell on top that protects a satellite during launch. The company later said it had cleared the issue.Shotwell said in a statement that since no rocket changes are warranted for upcoming flights, the company's launch schedule remains on track.
If additional reviews uncover any problems, she said, 'we will report it immediately'.Experts claimed the satellite was 'dead in orbit' - but say the information blackout around the launch means we may never know its fate. Peter B. de Selding, a spaceflight reporter for'Space Intel Report' claimed a source told him the satellite 'may be dead in orbit after separation'.'Info blackout renders any conclusion - launcher issue? Satellite-only issue? - impossible to draw.' he added.SpaceX told Selding: 'We do not comment on missions of this nature; but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.'Photos and video show the launch of Zuma lighting up the Florida sky but the exact position of its orbit was kept a secret.The ship launched in an orbit less than 1,200 miles from Earth and within two minutes disengaged its rocket booster, which then traveled back to and landed right at the Air Force Station.
Much of the trip was kept secret and it was not revealed where the ship traveled to in the atmosphere. Selding said the lack of information was an issue.