Following reports from Monday that the Zuma spacecraft, a mystery payload SpaceX launched for client Northrop Grumman on behalf of the U.S. Government, was lost seemingly during the second stage separation process, the private space company has issued a strong new statement denying any issues on its end of the launch process.
The statement, from SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell, follows in its entirety:
For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.
Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.
The Wall Street Journal and other sources, including our own, had suggested that Zuma failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket following successful first stage separation, at which point it potentially fell back to Earth and was lost in the ocean.
It sounds like the information gap that exists by necessity around this launch because of its classified nature is causing issues with accurately determining the ultimate status of the Zuma payload, and what might have occurred after SpaceX was forced to cease reporting mission progress because of the terms of the contract.
SpaceX issues a brief statement Monday noting that things had gone “nominally” on their end, but didn’t elaborate further. While obviously still constrained by the secrecy of the payload, this new statement from Shotwell seems to say in no uncertain terms that the mission from SpaceX’s perspective was indeed a success.