Lawmakers want to know what happened with failed spy satellite

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Lawmakers want to know what happened with failed spy satellite
By: Joe Gould  
12 Jan 2018

WASHINGTON — Days after a secret U.S. government satellite apparently failed following its launch aboard a SpaceX rocket, one U.S. lawmaker is calling for an independent investigation into what happened.

SpaceX has adamantly claimed its rocket performed as expected. But on Thursday, a Pentagon spokesperson declined to discuss what happened to the Zuma satellite and instead referred questions to the launch company.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a member of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, is among several lawmakers who say they expect classified briefings on the reported failure of the Zuma satellite and its mission.

“I clearly want to raise it, and I clearly want a third-party investigation to see what happened,” said Coffman. SpaceX “had problems before this where payloads were destroyed at significant taxpayer expense and I think we need to find out why.”

In 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station for NASA exploded.

SpaceX is a politically charged topic at the Capitol, where some lawmakers’ interests align with the upstart aerospace company and others align with United Launch Alliance.

ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that had long held a lucrative monopoly on national security launches until 2015 when the Air Force certified SpaceX to compete for these contracts.

Coffman, who made similar calls after a SpaceX mishap on a commercial mission in 2016, represents a congressional district that is home to ULA’s headquarters.

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, a senior appropriator whose state is home to ULA’s rocket factory in Decatur, also expressed concerns about SpaceX to reporters Wednesday.

“SpaceX has had its share of mishaps — too many,” Shelby said. “You generally learn from your mistakes, knock on wood. United Launch [Alliance] has an outstanding record; We’re talking about national security stuff too.”

Asked whether the latest imbroglio should raise concerns about SpaceX’s participation in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Shelby said, “You have to look at their record.”

“They’ve got promise, but at the same time, they’ve had a lot of mishaps,” Shelby said. “It’d bother me if I were the vendor.”

SpaceX and Boeing are partners in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which aims to revive human spaceflights from Florida.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a former astronaut and the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transport Committee, told Bloomberg there is no reason thus far to question SpaceX’s participation in such projects.

Leading members from the House and Senate’s intelligence committees, including Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., also declined to comment.

Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said he wants to learn whether the cause of the failure was the launch vehicle or another factor. Northrop Grumman built the satellite for the mission.

“I want competition,” he said. “I don’t want SpaceX to go away, I want Blue Origin to get more involved with ULA. That’s healthy for us.”

Blue Origin is an American privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company set up by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

https://www.c4isrnet.com/intel-geoint/2018/01/11/lawmakers-want-to-know-what-happened-with-failed-spy-satellite/
 

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Is SpaceX or Northrop to Blame for Lost Spy Satellite?
Military.com
09 Jan 2018
By Oriana Pawlyk

The Pentagon has reportedly lost a highly classified, multi-billion-dollar satellite somewhere in space. And so far, it's unclear who's to blame.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. on Sunday launched the secret military payload, code-name Zuma, on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

And while the launch was deemed successful, the payload -- a satellite manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corp. -- failed to reach orbit, according to officials who spoke to Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal.

California-based SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk, said the rocket was not to blame.

"After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night," SpaceX told CNBC. "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible."

As of Tuesday morning, there were differing explanations for what might have happened: One official said the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket failed, while another said Northrop's satellite never separated from the rocket, according to the Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal articles.

When asked about the misstep, Northrop told The Verge it would not publicly comment on a classified mission.

While the mission was livestreamed for viewers, part of the feed did not show the payload directly because of the mission's secrecy.

And it's still not clear which government agency was ultimately responsible for the effort.

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, an intelligence agency that falls under the Defense Department and initially believed by some observers to be connected to the mission, wasn't involved, according to a spokeswoman.

"The launch payload was not associated with the NRO," Karen Furgeson said in a brief telephone interview on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, SpaceX didn't characterize the Zuma payload as satellite, but rather described the payload as a "spacecraft" that would conduct a low-Earth orbit, according to the mission's press release.

The company on Friday announced via Twitter the launch -- which had been repeatedly delayed since November -- had been pushed back to Jan. 7 due to bad weather. Temperatures dipped into the 40s in parts of Florida last week. SpaceX tracked the mission, but never announced on Twitter whether it was successful; neither did Northrop.

Defense and congressional officials have been briefed of the failure, Bloomberg and WSJ reported.

It remains unclear whether the satellite failure will have an impact on SpaceX's military launch business.

SpaceX routinely competes with United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture space launch program headed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, for military launches.

In March, SpaceX beat out ULA for a $96.5 million contract with the U.S. Air Force to launch the GPS III satellite into orbit, making it the second contract the company has won with the service for space flights.

The Air Force awarded SpaceX its first substantial military contract in 2016 -- a deal valued at $83 million to launch a GPS satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket.

-- Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office was responsible for the mission. The story was updated to correct this reference and include a quote from an NRO spokesman in the 11th paragraph.

https://www.military.com/defensetech/2018/01/09/spacex-or-northrop-blame-lost-spy-satellite.html
 

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Pentagon mum on fate of secret satellite
By AFP

11 January 2018

The mystery surrounding the fate of a secret military satellite deepened Thursday when the Pentagon refused to answer even simple questions about whether the mission to launch it had gone awry.

On Sunday, private space firm SpaceX blasted a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying the secret government satellite, known as Zuma.

US media this week reported that the billion-dollar payload did not make it into orbit and was presumed to have been lost.

SpaceX said Tuesday that the rocket worked fine, but its statement left open the possibility that something could have gone wrong after the launch.

When asked at a press briefing if the Pentagon considered the launch a success or a failure, two officials declined to provide any information whatsoever because of the classified nature of the mission.

"I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.

When pushed on the matter, fellow spokesman Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said: "I'm done. We're not going to be able to give you any more information."

Northrup Grumman, the maker of the payload, has said it was for the US government and would be delivered to low-Earth orbit, but offered no other details.

SpaceX has launched national security payloads in the past, including a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, and an X-37B space plane for the US Air Force.

The CEO of SpaceX is Elon Musk, the South African-born inventor and entrepreneur who is also behind electric car-maker Tesla.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-5260553/Pentagon-mum-fate-secret-satellite.html
 

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