SpaceX is kicking off the new year with the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket to deliver the spacecraft Zuma to low-Earth orbit.
Elon Musk's aerospace company has already leased the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the liftoff. It is targeting to launch the rocket at 8 p.m. on Jan. 5 at Launch Complex 40 with a two-hour window. Freezing temperatures are expected during the event but will warm up during the time of liftoff to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
The launch was initially scheduled in November 2017 but was moved to Jan. 4 for undisclosed reasons. It has again been delayed for another day to address an issue regarding the rocket's nose cone covering satellites as it passes through the atmosphere.
Government Remains Tight-Lipped About Secret Payload Zuma
Although the Zuma space mission was announced last year, both the government and SpaceX have remained silent about its details. The authorities or agencies involved in the mission are also unknown, as the launch was procured by defense company Northrop Grumman on behalf of the U.S. government, states a report.
The mission's payload was only described to be restricted, but the same report assumes it could be carrying a national security satellite. Even so, it asserts that such level of secrecy is not typical.
Previously, SpaceX has already handled two national security launches, and in both instances, details of each mission were revealed. A flight in May 2017 delivered a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, an agency responsible for building and operating America's spy satellites. The second one that lifted off in September 2017 brought the robotic X-37B space plane for the country's air force.
In the mission's press kit, SpaceX only details the Falcon 9 and activities involved in the launch. It does not in any way provide any information about what the rocket will contain.
SpaceX Builds Dragon 2 Capsule In Cape Canaveral Station
There is one more reason that SpaceX has leased the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It plans to use the station's former satellite processing facility to develop a capsule known as Crew Dragon or Dragon 2. Such spacecraft has been designed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.
"This summer, they should be receiving their first Dragon 2 capsule, which will directly support NASA and the return of astronauts from U.S. soil," says Wing Commander Wayne Monteith in a separate report.
The Dragon 2 is scheduled for an unmanned test flight this April. However, these dates are based on an optimistic estimate. They are likely to be moved to 2019. Until then, NASA will fly its astronauts to the ISS using the Russian-built Soyuz.