SpaceX made a classified launch on January 7, 2018, when it launched a multi-billion dollar satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket. Named as ‘Zuma’, the satellite soon took a plunge back into the Earth’s atmosphere while burning upon re-entry somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Latest investigation reports published by Wall Street Journal has confirmed the failure in deploying the satellite when it reached its designated orbit was an engineering and testing errors made by Northrop Grumman Corporation.
According to the reports, Northrop Grumman appointed a subcontractor to built a payload adapter that would eventually facilitate deployment of the satellite once it reaches the designated altitude which caused the $3.5 billion dollar satellite to plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere along with the second stage of Falcon 9 rocket as it failed to detach from the second stage. The satellite named Zuma is a highly classified spy satellite which took an absurd plunge back into the Earth’s atmosphere falling somewhere in the Indian Ocean. This was recently revealed by two separate reports by industry and federal investigators, however, there is no official detailed report or even information on its release that could be publicly available.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a privately-funded spaceflight and launch provider was signed in to launch the spy satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket on January 7, 2018. Although SpaceX was capable of being the culprit, with the latest findings, it has been confirmed that the firm has been absolved of any charges. According to the statement released by SpaceX after the failure, the Falcon 9 performed as expected, however, the company didn’t use its proprietary payload adapter which is used to deploy the satellite into space. However, following some issues with it, SpaceX signed Northrop Grumman who in turn hired a subcontractor to modify and built a payload adapter for this mission.
The investigative reports state that the payload adapter was checked three times before using it in the space> however, soon after the issue, the sensors mounted on the second stage of Falcon 9 rocket didn’t respond and convey it to the mission contract which led to the malfunction for which, no one was aware. It was only when the satellite began hurtling down the sky being attached and dragged by the second stage. Eventually, the satellite broke free from the second stage, however, it was reported that the altitude was too low for it to be rescued.
According to the investigators, the satellite has a unique design which made is susceptible to vibrations and shocks. This is why SpaceX decided to hire Northrop Grumman to develop a payload adapter that would cushion the satellite during the separation with carefully placed explosive bolts that was ignited during the deployment stage. However, the adapter failed to performed which caused the $3.5 billion dollars satellite to hurtle down the Earth’s atmosphere along with the second stage of Falcon 9 rocket where the latter was destined to plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere to prevent it being accumulated as space junk. The spy satellite Zuma was a highly classified mission not claimed by any governments and even U.S.’ Pentagon refused to comment over its ownership.
Northrop Grumman has been involved in a lot of controversies and problems not confined to the failure of Zuma. It is also developing the NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the most ambitious project sanctioned more than two decades ago. The project has upscaled to over $8.8 billion USD as of its delayed launch scheduled in May 2020. JWST is a massive space telescope which has been delaying over many years due to issues such as, it recently attracted controversies after its workers created ‘avoidable mistakes’ which damaged its sunshield and thrusters and other components.