Secret SpaceX satellite failed to reach orbit, officials say

Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, head of the panel that approves funding for NASA and a strong advocate for United Launch Alliance, a company that operates in his state, argued that loss of the satellite raises concerns about SpaceX contracts.
By Delila James | Jan 15, 2018
A Falcon 9 rocket bearing a secret satellite and launched Sunday night by Elon Musk's SpaceX on behalf of a secret U.S. government agency failed to reach orbit and likely plunged into the ocean.

"After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly," said SpaceX Chief Operation Officer Gwynne Shtowell, in a statement Tuesday, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The Defense Department will investigate what went wrong, but if SpaceX is correct that all went as planned on its end, then officials will look at other causes for the costly mishap, such as a failure in the coupling designed to release the satellite from the rocket.

Satellite manufacturer Northrop Grumman Corp., which chose SpaceX for the clandestine mission known only by its code name "Zuma," would not comment on the coupling.

"We cannot comment on classified missions," said Tim Paynter, spokesman for the company.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida a former astronaut said Wednesday that given SpaceX's initial statement denying responsibility for the launch failure, there is no reason at this point to question the company's planned participation in NASA space projects, according to the Times.

On the other hand, Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, head of the panel that approves funding for NASA and a strong advocate for United Launch Alliance -- a company that operates in his state -- argued that loss of the satellite raises concerns about SpaceX contracts.

"The record shows they have promise, but they've had issues as a vendor," Shelby said Wednesday. "United Launch, knock on wood, they've had an outstanding record."

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