Several people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that the private space flight company Space X was not behind the disappearance of Zuma, a multi-billion-dollar spy satellite.
An internal investigation revealed that a malfunction at the satellite’s payload adapter led to the disaster. After Zuma failed to remain in orbit and crashed into the Indian Ocean, many people put the blame on SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket ferried the satellite into space.
A recent probe revealed that the real culprit was a faulty payload adapter. The adapter was built by the firm which designed the spy satellite, Northrop Grumman. Before the launch, the company altered the adapter to make it more resistant to vibration and shock.
The payload adapter, however, failed to separate the Falcon 9 from Zuma, once the satellite reached the orbit. Ironically, Northrop Grumman engineers had successfully tested the adapter on ground at least three times.
The purpose of the $3.5 billion spy satellite remains unknown. It is unclear either which agency commissioned the satellite.
Spy Satellite Couldn’t Be Rescued
Investigators also found that the spy satellite failed to inform ground control about the malfunction. As a result, responders learned about the mishap too late and were unable to save the satellite before its deadly plunge.
The investigation shows that Zuma and the rocket were eventually separated but landed into the Indian Ocean. Zuma’s controllers were informed that the spy satellite mission was compromised, and that no rescue mission will try to rescue the orbiter.
Zuma was SpaceX’s third top secret contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. After the failed mission, the company denied for months that it was to blame for the disaster.
For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly,
SpaceX said at the time.
Image Source: Defense.gov