Oh, and because it's a classified mission, we don't even know if the mission was INTENDED to stay in orbit. For all we know, it was a test of a reentry vehicle of some type. Additionally, off-the-record sources may just as well be lying about the result of the mission as they would be risking jailtime to leak results to reporters. This is a classified mission, no one is going to risk their job and their freedom just to make Andy Pasztor better able to troll SpaceX (which he has a long history of).
They may even be paid to intentionally spread misinformation (anonymously, so it can't be traced back) about the mission in order to protect the secrecy of the payload.
Additionally, SpaceX is continuing Falcon Heavy processing without skipping a beat, rolling out the vehicle just hours after mission completion. If there was a failure, there would be a stand-down to determine the cause before continuing.
EDIT: I should point out that Northrop actually provided the payload adapter and handled integration: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=43976.msg1...
I keep coming back to this part of your comment and I think its the most useful piece of non-classified data we have. Lots of possibilities of what happened here, for sure. The one sure conclusion we can draw from this is that SpaceX does not think the Falcon 9 failed. If they thought that there was an issue with the Falcon 9, you're correct that that would have caused a stop of the Heavy launch. Now, its possible SpaceX is wrong and there was an issue with the Falcon 9, its possible there was an issue with the payload or the payload separation or even possible that there was no issue at all. With all of the classified information on this one, we probably won't know for sure in our lifetimes but we can say one thing for sure. The people who do have access to the classified information do not think there was an issue of enough magnitude to delay the Falcon Heavy launch and I think that speaks volumes. If the mission had failed I think we would see at least a brief pause, even if SpaceX quickly decided that the failure was not theirs and continued. The fact that they are pushing on leads me to lean strongly in the direction of the mission actually being a success.
Having said that, I would be very surprised to find there was a failure of SpaceX hardware in the Zuma launch.
More seriously, even just the PR cost and the actual cost would prevent them from launching.
"Expensive mistake: An expensive and highly secret satellite is missing after being launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX"
How the heck are we allowing reporters to "report" like this? Utter nonsense, and millions of people read this newspaper every day and assume they are being told facts.
It's the price we pay for freedom of press and expression. The alternative is screaming "fake news" everytime a journalist makes a mistake. Normal distribution applies in every profession, not all journalists are great
Is this actually inevitable? Why and why should you pay this much?
grecy asks "How the heck are we allowing" and you reply "just pay because the only other choice is [unacceptable alternative]".
This does drive the price up, doesn't it? How does that help?
>>> not all journalists are great
The paper was written by a journalist, proof read by another one, reviewed by the editor. There's no price to pay for intended click bait.
This used to be the norm, I agree. Modern technology did wonders to streamline the publishing process. :)
Yes, it's actually inevitable. You either have free press or you don't. It's a binary value, one or zero, there is nothing in between. If you are willing to handle for the price of the free expression then we have fundamentaly different ideas about what freedom represents.
It's really not. Or, if it is, since the US clearly does not have a perfectly free press (and thus, if it's a binary value, has a zero not a one), nothing can be the price we pay for a free press, because we aren't getting a free press.
Now, if you say “its the price we pay for the degree of press freedom we have, and the loss of freedom necessary to avoid that cost is to high a price to pay for the cost avoided, that's an argument that can, at least, be reasonably discussed.
> How the heck are we allowing reporters to "report" like this?
keyword being "allowing". You either have a system where anyone needs to be "allowed" to write something or not.
> Or, if it is, since the US clearly does not have a perfectly free press (and thus, if it's a binary value, has a zero not a one), nothing can be the price we pay for a free press, because we aren't getting a free press.
In US you are generally not required to be "allowed" to write something. That for me is the definition of freedom of expression. As soon as you are required to be "allowed" to publish you don't have that freedom. The system is not perfect, but that imperfection is created by players (content producers and consumers) inside the system, not by artifical regulation from above.
Now we can discuss whether this "allowing" was meant as a call for action meaning: "don't support low-quality journalism" - in that case I agree, I am trying to avoid supporting low-quality press by not giving its publishers my money or my time.
But if by "allowing" was meant that some wise know it all independent authority should be set up to allow certain things to be published and not allow some other things to be published, now that's the point where the discussion ends for me. There is nothing to discuss there, you simply lost your freedom. game over.
Their FH introduction and previous failures (or even found pre-launch issues) show they are not afraid of standdowns/delays for the sake of future missions assurance.
Tinfoil hat squeezing too tight? A billion dollar for a way to find out internal mole? Think not.
Honestly, I don't fear AI coming and enslaving humans, like Musk claims... I fear Musk sending these secret satellites that are paid by with my tax dollars.
Apparently, during the first launch window for Zuma back on November 15, a secretive US satellite tracked as "USA-276" was due to fly directly overhead under conditions ideal for a rendezvous. USA-276 itself is secretive and unusual, having passed as close as four miles from the ISS. It seems like the NRO (or whoever actually built it) has a lot of confidence in their control over that satellite and its maneuverability.
The rescheduled launch window for Zuma seemed to rule out a rendezvous with USA-276; the launch inclination was expected to be similar, but the satellite wouldn't be passing overhead at the time. However, several days of launch delays coincidentally moved Zuma's launch window closer and closer to lining up with USA-276's orbit. The earlier launch windows could have been decoys, intended to suggest a willingness to launch away from USA-276 when it remained their goal the whole time.
What are the reasons for this? Well, if USA-276 is meant to be a highly maneuverable satellite, it could potentially burn through fuel quickly. Testing the ability to refuel an unmanned spy satellite would be highly valuable. If you made the rendezvous quickly, you could claim your refueling drone was "lost" and it would be hard to disprove. We're not yet at the point that civilians can track the exact location of every satellite at all times without government help (hell, we can still lose highly advanced jumbo jets in the middle of the ocean). Once the refueling drone is docked with USA-276, they would be tracked as a single object in orbit.
Why claim it's lost, then? To try to hide that you have this ability. That's especially relevant when you consider the repeated close passes USA-276 has made to the ISS. It seems like a satellite meant to surveil other satellites, which would be more valuable if it had ample fuel and could make orbital changes more frequently. You'd only get one real shot at it before the element of surprise is lost, but if you had a maneuverable satellite with ample fuel on board, you could go take close-up photos of a few Russian satellites before they realized what you were doing. Hell, maybe even get close enough to grab one and deorbit it."
Heh. There was a Russian launch recently where a piece of "debris" started moving under its own power after stage separation.
The year is also reflected in the naming of the object, by the way: Object 2014-28E.
Given all this incredibly unusual activity, especially given how big and separated everything in space usually is, this is honestly the most reasonable theory I have seen so far. The more I think about it the more it makes sense.
No way they could do this without being observed. And that would be considered an act of war.
> (1/5) About the rumours that #Zuma or its Falcon 9 failed: I have a positive, photographically documented observation of the Falcon 9 upper stage venting fuel after re-entry burn, ahead of re-entry, over East Africa some 2h15m after launch. Pretty much where it ought to be.
I have the feeling that this whole story about the failure is a textbook case of misinformation, which is understandable since Musk has mentioned that this is "the most important mission (that SpaceX has undertaken)" and that it's all very heavily classified..
Here are the archives of SeeSat-L, a visual satellite observer's network. This will be the place to look for the latest observations on the mission. Are there any other sources out there?
For everyone else: what's the point of suggesting that there was a failure? It doesn't make anyone look good, least of all their highly visible commercial launch supplier SpaceX (who're unlikely to want to be blamed for any sort of 'fake' failure that they can't disclaim responsibility for either way), or N.G., or the agencies involved.
A skilled amateur astronomer can verify a satellite's orbit and if it appears to be maintaining attitude control. If you want to hide what you're satellite is up to, you call it a weather satellite and go on with your day.
Not sure about actual effectiveness, though.
I suppose. That also means the bird can't see the ground.
(You can't avoid any ground-based observation, as in from land or sea, unless you hide behind the Moon or at L1, i.e. between the Sun and the Earth. Getting to either would be easily detectable, though.)
Making SpaceX look like a failure is entirely the point. It is very possible to profit in the stock market by making people look bad.
Misty is reported to have optical and radar stealth
characteristics, making it difficult for adversaries to
detect (and thus predict the times it would fly overhead).
Almost everything about the program is classified
> If correct, this means Zuma might become observable in the N hemisphere about a
week from now.
But most likely, technology will have progressed in the meantime and you'll want more accurate sensors or more powerful on payload data processing or more powerful/efficient radios so you can get more of the data to the ground. Spy satellites only have a useful life of around 20 years due to obsolescence of sensors. So you're going to end up wanting to upgrade the new one so you don't just lose 1/4 of it's useful life. So you'll probably end up designing a lot of parts again.
What better way to hide a stealth satellite than to launch a satellite-shaped object of the same mass as the real thing, separate out the real deal, and claim the object is a failed satellite?
We don't even know which agency launched ZUMA, and there's no obligation for them to tell the press if it worked or not.
More information/speculation for anyone interested:
"The first of these satellites is known as the USA-53 or Misty satellite. This stealth satellite’s design means that it is incredibly difficult to detect or locate. This satellite is thought to have been developed to keep an eye on the Soviets and their concealment of weaponry. If this satellite is still really in place it remains classified information. Allegedly launched in 1990 (on board Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-36), was a payload which remains top secret but openly known is that the mission was dedicated to the Department of Defense. Aviation Week magazine announced the satellite on-board was an imaging reconnaissance satellite. Amateur astronomers tracked the Shuttle and its payload and measured the satellite’s magnitude at -1, which was quite bright compared to normal imaging satellites.
A week after launch, reports were released from the Soviets that six bits of debris had been detected suggesting an explosion had occurred. The Pentagon announced that any debris would decay after six weeks. The amateur astronomers and observers that were tracking this object only catalogued five out of the six pieces. Six months later an unidentified satellite was discovered in orbit on a similar trajectory to that of the classified payload was released, leading the satellite spotters to suspect it was the missing piece, nick-named Misty. However a couple of noticeable manoeuvres later, Misty disappeared again. Perhaps the ‘explosion’ was a decoy to put Misty into place unbeknownst to the Russians."
Are the Russians really moving equipment out of sight every [orbital period here]? Or locating equipment out of the observational path?
Elsewhere in the comments, there is speculation of trying to hide an orbital refueling capability. This also seems like an obvious capability to already have, given the automated docking procedures used on the ISS for many years now.
This is outrages, as in the USA we should not have reason to do thing in the shadow or complete dark. What do they have to hide?
They might not tell the press but since its my tax dollars getting burned, I will call my congressman tomorrow and demand they will explain how my dollars are spent, and what was the purpose of this satellite.
Wait until Northrop Grumman or their secret customer releases an official report. Otherwise the facts are that Falcon 9 delivered a secret payload to orbit, landed the first stage, and SpaceX is now preparing for three more launches this month.
Can HN please stick to facts and leave rumour-mongering to other groups?
Those are the facts we know. the CNBC report is based on their sources, making it a bit more than rumor-mongering.
Hypothetical Facts: upon fairing separation the super secret payload was able to establish communication with in-orbit trusted stations, and no longer needed to communicate through the fairing or other non-trusted stations. So it turned off its radios and other EMI producing communications systems. Secret satellite operation base was able to establish control of satellite through secure optical in-orbit communications. Payload adaptor successfully deploys the satellite and neither SpaceX nor Northrop Grumman has any further involvement with the satellite.
Source: SpaceX lost communication with the payload immediately after fairing separation.
CNBC: SpaceX destroyed the super secret spy satellite
Otherwise, there was a failure on the Northrop Grumman side of the house (they were responsible for mating the payload to the second stage adaptor at their facility due to the classified nature) or this was an ICBM reentry vehicle demonstrator.
If you listen during the launch stream, you can hear where video telemetry control is relinquished and passed off to secure ops. That telemetry should make it obvious if fault needs to be assigned.
It is not yet certain this is not a misinformation campaign (which would not be without precedent ).
It should go without saying that the satellite didn't design and assemble itself at this point in time.
For a foreign power, the cost of infiltrating and sabotaging a $5-10 billion satellite launch is such a bargain that it would be hard to pass up. These systems are so complex, so all it would take is exploiting one flaw per project.
> "5 : being according to plan : satisfactory everything was nominal during the launch"
See the "engineering" context: "According to plan or design; normal."
>A SpaceX spokesman told the news service: "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally."
They are already blaming each other. So if this ends up in court how does that work? Do they find a cleared jury?
This headline is BS. Which makes sense, as it's written by Andy Pasztor, a well-known SpaceX troll.
Also, Northrop didn't point any fingers at SpaceX. They can't even say anything about the mission as it's classified.
When you lose a billion dollars you are pointing the finger at someone else. This is true in general business and especially with government money.
Payload seems to have failed to separate and it burned in the atmosphere. Failure to separate is almost certaionly on SpaceX.
This is a successful SpaceX launch (and assuming payload sep was even planned, it would've been performed by Northrop Grumman's payload adapter).
One thing to note here, the payload adapter was made by Northrop Grumman instead of SpaceX. If the payload adapter itself failed then that's not on SpaceX even though normally the payload adapter is something that they provide.
If the payload adaptor failed to deploy the payload correctly, the payload would still be attached to the second stage and upon reentry of the latter NG’s mission would be along for the ride.
...but we'll happily take their money. Maybe I am too much of an idealist but it disappoints me that the greater goals of SpaceX are being partly funded by 'dark dollars'.
I'd much prefer that they left that money on the table and just worked with commercial contracts, instead of associating with the sort of agencies that need secret launches.
I'd be surprised if SpaceX didn't have in their contracts that "all results are based on the source of truth. the source of truth that you accept is this telemetry data" All care no responsibility essentially.
or am I missing something?
Generally SpaceX supplies the adapter, and handles the integration. So, if it turns out it was a payload separation issue, that's still not on SpaceX (despite the fact that it would be in a "normal" launch).
And thanks for clarifying regarding the bad control parameters.
PS: Also, when I added this comment, the title of this was "U.S. Spy Satellite Believed Lost After SpaceX Mission Fails"
I see failed mission articles on HN every once in a while. I have no idea if this is business as usual, or SpaceX is a company with serious quality issues.
The failures have been first-stage related, thus far, and now possibly customer-adapter related. I can't comment on how many other non-capsule launches have custom adapters, but SpaceX do make and use their own usually. To a first approximation, maybe 10% are non-standard?