SpaceX Launches Secretive Zuma Spacecraft

SpaceX launched the U.S. government’s mysterious Zuma spacecraft late Jan. 7 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Built by Northrop Grumman [NOC], Zuma lifted off on a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket on its way to low Earth orbit for an undisclosed agency. Northrop Grumman had no immediate comment on Zuma's fate, but SpaceX, which has been touting the reusability of its products, said the rocket’s first stage landed as planned at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

A Falcon 9 launch in January 2014. Photo: SpaceX.

A Falcon 9 launch in January 2014. Photo: SpaceX.

“We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally,” SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson said in a statement Jan. 8.

Zuma was supposed to be launched in November but was delayed because SpaceX said it wanted to “take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer.” The company did not elaborate.

Northrop Grumman has said that it acquired Zuma's launch service for the U.S. government, but it has declined to identify the specific agency or the spacecraft’s mission.

The launch was SpaceX’s first for 2018. In 2017, the company conducted 18 launches, its most in a year.

Upcoming SpaceX launches this year include the Falcon Heavy rocket’s first flight test, slated for sometime later this month. Falcon Heavy is designed to carry large payloads to orbit and could eventually take people to the Moon or Mars.

SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon, which will transport people to and from the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, is scheduled to have its first unmanned flight in the second quarter of 2018 and its first manned flight in the third quarter.

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