SpaceX should not be blamed for the lost Zuma satellite, which was the mysterious payload of a Falcon 9 rocket launch in January.
Apparently, the culprit was identified to be a hardware issue on the end of contractor Northrop Grumman, ending the investigation on an embarrassing failure by the United States government.
Mysterious Zuma Satellite Vanishes
The SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma mission in January was reportedly a failure, as the mysterious satellite that the rocket was carrying suddenly vanished shortly after launch.
The U.S. government, through defense contractor Northrop Grumman, tapped SpaceX to handle the Zuma mission. The task was to launch Zuma, a U.S. spy satellite, into low-Earth orbit, but the rocket apparently failed to do it.
SpaceX said that the Falcon 9 rocket did everything correctly, but the loss of the satellite, which reportedly cost $3.5 billion to develop, was a black mark in the operating history of the space start-up.
Investigation Reveals Cause Of Zuma Satellite Failure
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, investigations have concluded that Northrop Grumman, not SpaceX, should take the blame for the loss of the Zuma satellite.
It remains unclear what exactly happened with the spy satellite after the Falcon 9 rocket launch, but it looked like the rocket's second stage and Zuma failed to separate. This happened due to "engineering and testing errors by Northrop Grumman," particularly with a piece of hardware known as a payload adapter. The defense contractor tested the adapter three times, but it did not properly operate in space.
Because of the usage of the modified payload adapter, the Zuma satellite did not detach from the Falcon 9. Instead, it fell back to Earth with the returning Falcon 9 second stage. The satellite broke free, but it was said to have dropped to an altitude that made rescue impossible.
SpaceX Moves Forward To New Missions
SpaceX is now in the clear, wiping off an asterisk in its list of missions. The space startup, however, never let the Zuma incident slow it down, as SpaceX has since launched six missions after it.
The most recent SpaceX Falcon 9 launch brought 10 more iridium satellites to low-Earth orbit, though its live stream was cut due to an obscure law passed in 1992 in the name of national security. It remains unclear why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just recently started enforcing the regulation, which is definitely obsolete and should be replaced.