United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing created more than a decade ago to launch sensitive satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence community, has always been under fire from Elon Musk's SpaceX, the tenacious upstart that plowed its way into the market by waging war in Washington, D.C.
SpaceX on Tuesday defended the performance of one of its rockets used to launch a United States spy satellite that is believed to have been lost after failing to reach orbit, adding that no changes were anticipated to its upcoming launch schedule.
"After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night", said the statement from Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.
The Heavy's static fire tests comes just days after SpaceX a Falcon 9 rocket apparently failed to put the Zuma spy satellite built by Northrop Grumman ( NOC ) into orbit. SpaceX says not it - only that if it or others find out differently, it'll let us know. According to the New York Times, what happened remains unclear, but it's possible that Zuma - which was built by Northrop Grumman Corporation - never separated from the second stage.
Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp, which was commissioned by the Defense Department to choose the launch contractor, declined to comment on the payload adapter, saying "we can not comment on classified missions". Commentary during a webcast of the launch appeared to confirm that the fairings housing the payload were successfully deployed. So what happened to Zuma? "We can not comment on classified missions".
The secretive nature of the launch makes it hard to discern additional details.
Only now, what was supposed to be a triumph for Musk and his Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has turned into a potential setback after the satellite went missing.
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"It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket", founder Elon Musk said at the time of the launch.
In a statement, the Department of Defense said, "As a matter of policy we do not comment on classified missions". "But on this mission the customer provided its own payload adapter, so separation may be its problem and not SpaceX's problem", Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted on Monday night.
The failure comes at a sensitive time for SpaceX, which has recently been trying to establish itself as a low-priced launcher for Pentagon missions.
SpaceX is led by Elon Musk and has been rapidly expanding its launch business, which includes NASA, national security and commercial missions. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 past year.
SpaceX said the Zuma mission's apparent failure wouldn't affect the company's upcoming launches, including a much-anticipated inaugural demonstration flight of the massive new Falcon Heavy rocket later this month.
It has been competing with other private companies to launch more military payloads.