Zuma (satellite)

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Mission type Classified
Operator Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government[3]
COSPAR ID 2018-001A
SATCAT no. 43098
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer Northrop Grumman
Start of mission
Launch date 8 January 2018, 01:00 (2018-01-08UTC01) UTC[1]
Rocket Falcon 9 FT
Launch site Cape Canaveral LC-40
Contractor SpaceX
End of mission
Disposal Re-entry as a result of failure to orbit
Decay date 8 January 2018
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth
Inclination ≈51°[3]
Epoch Intended

USA-280 (codenamed "Zuma") is or was a classified United States government satellite that was launched by SpaceX on 8 January 2018.[1][4] The specific agency in charge of the Zuma project has not been disclosed, nor its purpose.[2][5] Unnamed sources have stated that the satellite was lost during deployment and re-entered the atmosphere.[6]


The satellite, manufactured by Northrop Grumman,[7] was initially scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center LC-39A in mid-November 2017. The rocket performed a static fire test as part of its pre-flight preparation, but results from a payload fairing test for another customer led to a delay of nearly two months.[8] The launch was subsequently rescheduled for 4 January 2018, and was further delayed because of weather-related concerns.[9][10]

The satellite was launched on 8 January 2018 at 01:00 UTC from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40 in Florida.[11] The Falcon 9 first stage touched down at Landing Zone 1, and SpaceX later announced that all data indicated the launch vehicle had performed properly.[12]


U.S. lawmakers have reportedly been briefed about the loss of the spacecraft[4] and an unnamed government official said that it had re-entered the atmosphere over the Indian Ocean,[6][13] possibly due to a failure in the payload adapter provided by Northrop Grumman.[4][14] Due to the classified nature of the mission, detailed information on the satellite and its fate may not be publicly released.[15] Officially, NORAD still lists the satellite but with no orbital parameters and the orbital status code "no elements available", which is standard procedure for classified missions.[16][17]

Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, made the following statement:

For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. 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. Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule.[18]

Lon Rains, Communications Director of Northrop Grumman, made the following statement:

This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions.[4]

In the media

So far, the US government has not even stated if there was a failure of Zuma,[19] and this secrecy has generated speculation on its purpose and its fate.[20] A number of articles published by the amateur satellite tracking community state that if the satellite is still in orbit and operating covertly, they will attempt to locate it visually.[21] Both Popular Science and Breaking Defence have published articles on the satellite tracking community and its views.[22][23] At the moment, Zuma would not be visible from the Northern hemisphere because all passes would be in daylight or in Earth shadow.



  1. ^ a b c Harwood, William (9 January 2018). "Fate of mystery Zuma satellite in question". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  2. ^ a b Grush, Loren (7 January 2018). "SpaceX launched the mysterious Zuma satellite — and successfully landed its rocket afterward". The Verge. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  3. ^ a b Gebhardt, Chris (7 January 2018). "SpaceX launches of clandestine Zuma satellite – questions over spacecraft's health". NASASpaceFlight.com. Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  4. ^ a b c d Grush, Loren (9 January 2018). "Did SpaceX's secret Zuma mission actually fail?". The Verge. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  5. ^ Kelly, Emre (15 November 2017). "Elon Musk's SpaceX launch is a secret government mission". USA Today. Florida Today. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  6. ^ a b Martinez, Luis; Dooley, Erin; Sunseri, Gina (9 January 2018). "Classified satellite fell into ocean after SpaceX launch, official confirms". ABC News. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  7. ^ Seemangal, Robin (16 November 2017). "SpaceX's Top Secret Zuma Mission Set to Launch". Wired. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  8. ^ Clark, Stephen (6 December 2017). "Test-firing at repaired launch pad clears way for SpaceX cargo flight next week". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  9. ^ Malik, Tariq (5 January 2018). "SpaceX Delays Mysterious Zuma Spacecraft Launch to Sunday". Space.com. Retrieved 5 January 2018. 
  10. ^ "Launch Schedule". Spaceflight Now. 5 January 2018. Archived from the original on 8 January 2018. 
  11. ^ Clark, Stephen (8 January 2018). "SpaceX kicks off ambitious 2018 schedule with launch for U.S. government". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  12. ^ Rosenfeld, Everett; Kharpal, Arjun (8 January 2018). "Highly classified US spy satellite appears to be a total loss after SpaceX launch". CNBC. Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  13. ^ Starr, Barbara; Herb, Jeremy; Isidore, Chris; Wattles, Jackie (9 January 2018). "Zuma spacecraft launched by SpaceX is lost after failing to enter stable orbit". CNN. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  14. ^ Hignett, Katherine (11 January 2018). "Elon Musk's SpaceX Not the Cause of Zuma Secret Satellite Mission Failure, Experts Suggest". Newsweek. Retrieved 11 January 2018. 
  15. ^ Berger, Eric (8 January 2018). "It's not official, but sources say the secretive Zuma satellite was lost". Ars Technica. Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  16. ^ Kelso, T. S. (9 January 2018). "Raw SATCAT Data". Celestrak. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  17. ^ Kelso, T. S. (9 January 2018). "SATCAT Format Documentation". Celestrak. Retrieved 11 January 2018. 
  18. ^ Shotwell, Gwynne (9 January 2018). "Statement From Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX on Zuma Launch" (Press release). SpaceX. Retrieved 10 January 2018 – via SpaceRef.com. 
  19. ^ The Zuma failure has emboldened critics of SpaceX. Ars Technica. Eric Berger, 19 January 2018.
  20. ^ [ https://www.inverse.com/article/40056-theories-are-swirling-about-spacex-zuma-s-failed-mission Theories are Swirling About SpaceX-Zuma's "Failed" Mission]. Dany Paez, The Inverse. 9 January 2018.
  21. ^ "[Updated] A potential use for satellites in Zuma-like 50-degree inclined orbits". sattrackcam.blogspot.in. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  22. ^ "Meet the amateur astronomers who track secretive spy satellites for fun". Popular Science. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  23. ^ Clark, Colin. "Zuma: A New Twist On Space Radar?". Breaking Defense. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 

External links

  • Zuma mission launch footage on YouTube
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