On Wednesday, during a Pentagon briefing, spokeswoman Dana White was asked whether the US Department of Defense considered the Zuma mission—a high-value, highly secretive US government payload—a success or a failure. White declined substantive comment, saying, “I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch.”
Alas, SpaceX isn’t talking Zuma’s success (or otherwise) either. The company has twice stated that its rocket, both the first and second stages, performed nominally during the launch on Sunday evening. However, SpaceX has stopped short of saying the Zuma payload was successfully deployed into orbit.
On Thursday, a day after the Pentagon said the news media should ask SpaceX about mission success, the company’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, appeared at a meeting of scientists and engineers in Houston called The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas. Dutifully asked about Zuma, Shotwell replied, “You know I can’t talk about that. It’s not my story to tell.”
After Ars initially reported the probable loss of the Zuma payload on Monday afternoon, other publications have reported similar news. However there has been no on-the-record confirmation of success or loss from SpaceX, the US government (which paid for Zuma), or Northrop Grumman, which built the satellite, spacecraft, or whatever Zuma was.
Sources familiar with discussions behind closed doors have told Ars there are two primary working theories about what may have gone wrong with Zuma and caused it to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. One idea, in contradiction to SpaceX’s official statements, is that the rocket’s upper stage underperformed and caused the problem. However, at this time, it seems more likely that the mechanism built by Northrop Grumman to release the satellite failed to operate properly.
If the Pentagon is not going to provide an answer to the question of Zuma’s fate, then it may be some time before there’s clarity on this issue. Eventually, information should leak out from classified briefings on Capitol Hill. Even so, this is unlikely to be “official” confirmation. Such a vacuum of information offers fertile ground for rumors and speculation.
Already, rumors abound that Zuma was a satellite intended to monitor or intercept nuclear activities by North Korea and that the story about its failure is a matter of subterfuge. For the record, Ars would not knowingly report a falsehood, and we continue to have reliable sourcing that indicates the Zuma payload did, indeed, fail to reach orbit.
This article was reblogged from Ars Technica.