Media reports say that SpaceX is not at fault for Zuma spy satellite’s failed launch. Zuma launched atop a 2-stage Falcon 9 rocket on January 7 this year. The mission was to be top-secret that officials would not even say which agency would control Zuma and what the craft would do in space. However, Zuma’s launch was a failure. It did not detach from the rocket’s upper stage and actually ended up plunging into the Indian Ocean. Since the payload from aerospace firm Northrop Grumman was confidential, many griped that SpaceX was responsible for the loss of the satellite. However, SpaceX insisted that Falcon 9 worked normally during the flight.
Industry experts and government teams have a different opinion. They think that the problem came from the payload adapter that connected the spy satellite to the 2-stage Falcon 9 rocket. The device was considerably altered and successfully tested 3 times on the ground by Northrop Grumman. However, upon reaching orbit, the adapter did not detach the satellite from the Falcon 9 rocket in zero gravity conditions. The alternations to the adapter were apparently done to lessen vibrations during spacecraft separation as the unique design of Zuma made it potentially vulnerable to jolt-induced damage. However, it did not work and the satellite was dragged lower into the Earth’s atmosphere by the Falcon 9 rocket. Zuma eventually detached from the rocket, but it was low and could not be saved. Anonymous analysts suggested that the satellite may have been some kind of advanced-radar spacecraft or a missile-warning satellite.
The investigation’s result is good news for SpaceX, which has received so much criticism for Zuma’s failed launch. However, things are not looking good for Northrop Grumman. The company, which is the main contractor for the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, is having a hard time creating the spacecraft. Northrop Grumman is currently assimilating large components of the spacecraft at its facilities in Redondo Beach, California. NASA accounted that the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope will need to be pushed back from 2019 to May 2020 due to the amount of delays and mistakes that were committed at Northrop Grumman during the construction process such as several tiny tears in the telescope’s sun shield. NASA officials also said that more testing needs to be done to the spacecraft and that they will start stricter oversight of the project at Northrop facilities.