Zuma (satellite)

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Mission type Classified
Operator Northrop Grumman for the US 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
Decay date 8 January 2018
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth
Inclination ≈51°[3]
Epoch Intended

USA-280 (codenamed "Zuma") 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] and independent investigations concluded that the spacecraft likely failed to separate from its payload adaptor.[7]


The satellite, manufactured by Northrop Grumman,[8] 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.[9] The launch was subsequently rescheduled for 4 January 2018, and was further delayed because of weather-related concerns.[10][11]

The satellite was launched on 8 January 2018 at 01:00 UTC from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40 in Florida.[12] 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.[13]


US lawmakers were reportedly 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][14] possibly due to a failure in the payload adapter provided by Northrop Grumman in detaching from the second stage.[4][15]

President and COO of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell stated, "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."[16] Lon Rains, Communications Director of Northrop Grumman, stated that the company could not comment on the status of classified missions.[4]

On 8 April 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that two independent investigations "tentatively concluded" that the spacecraft failed to separate from the payload adapter after launch due to errors introduced by Northrop Grumman. The adapter had been bought by Northrop Grumman from a subcontractor and heavily modified for use on the mission.[7][17] Due to the classified nature of the mission, detailed information on the satellite and its fate may not be publicly released.[18] 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.[19][20]

In the media

The US government has not publicly stated if there was a failure of Zuma,[21] and this secrecy has generated speculations on its purpose and its fate.[22] 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.[23][24][25]



  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. ^ a b Masunaga, Samantha (9 April 2018). "Zuma satellite plunged after SpaceX launch because of Northrop Grumman errors, report says". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  8. ^ Seemangal, Robin (16 November 2017). "SpaceX's Top Secret Zuma Mission Set to Launch". Wired. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Malik, Tariq (5 January 2018). "SpaceX Delays Mysterious Zuma Spacecraft Launch to Sunday". Space.com. Retrieved 5 January 2018. 
  11. ^ "Launch Schedule". Spaceflight Now. 5 January 2018. Archived from the original on 8 January 2018. 
  12. ^ Clark, Stephen (8 January 2018). "SpaceX kicks off ambitious 2018 schedule with launch for U.S. government". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ Pasztor, Andy (9 April 2018). "Probes Point to Northrop Grumman Errors in January Spy-Satellite Failure". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  18. ^ Berger, Eric (8 January 2018). "It's not official, but sources say the secretive Zuma satellite was lost". Ars Technica. Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  19. ^ Kelso, T. S. (9 January 2018). "Raw SATCAT Data". Celestrak. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  20. ^ Kelso, T. S. (9 January 2018). "SATCAT Format Documentation". Celestrak. Retrieved 11 January 2018. 
  21. ^ Berger, Eric (19 January 2018). "The Zuma failure has emboldened critics of SpaceX". Ars Technica. Retrieved 27 January 2018. 
  22. ^ Paez, Danny (9 January 2018). "Theories are Swirling About SpaceX-Zuma's "Failed" Mission". Inverse. Retrieved 27 January 2018. 
  23. ^ Griggs, Mary Beth (11 January 2018). "Meet the amateur astronomers who track secretive spy satellites for fun". Popular Science. Retrieved 19 January 2018. 
  24. ^ Clark, Colin (11 January 2018). "Zuma: A New Twist On Space Radar?". Breaking Defense. Retrieved 19 January 2018. 
  25. ^ Langbroek, Marco (11 January 2018). "[Updated] A potential use for satellites in Zuma-like 50-degree inclined orbits". SatTrackCam Leiden (b)log. Retrieved 19 January 2018. 

Further reading

  • Tirpak, John A. (August 2002). "The Space Based Radar Plan" (PDF). Air Force Magazine. pp. 62‒66. initial SBR capability in 2010 … Ground Moving Target Indicator data day or night, in any weather … augment … fleet of E-8C Joint STARS aircraft. … Space Commission, an independent panel chaired by Donald H. Rumsfeld. … Marvin R. Sambur designated SBR as one of five key programs … centerpiece of … Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF Chief of StaffLt. Gen. Brian A. Arnold, head of Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles AFBAir Force Undersecretary Peter B. TeetsCol. Robert Shofner, acting director of the SBR Joint Program Office. … bigger the aperture, the more rigidity that you need in it, … Dispersed satellites creating a synthetic aperture are a more likely solution 
  • "Northrop Grumman-Led Team Receives Contract To Develop Next Phase of Space Based Radar" (Press release). Northrop Grumman. 19 April 2004. $220 million, 24-month contract to develop the first phase of the Space Based Radar (SBR) program … Air Force, in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office, National Geo-Spatial Agency and Electronic Systems Center will provide program leadership at the Joint Program Office, … worldwide, persistent coverage in … (1) Synthetic Aperture Radar for radar-based imagery; … (2) Surface Moving Target Indication … (3) High Resolution Terrain 
  • Committee on Appropriations, H.R. 4613 (20 June 2004). Space Based RARAR (PDF). Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, 2005 (Report). pp. 312‒314. Air Force requested $327,732,000 for the Space Based Radar program. … to provide near continuous, global radar imagery and surface moving target indication (SMTI) as well as high resolution terrain information. … achieving "global persistent surveillance" … acquisition and 12-year operations cost … 9 satellite constellation … cost $34 billion … three to four SBR satellites, working at peak load, would consume … entire capacity of … Transformational Communications Satellite system. … funds are provided to redirect the Air Force's development efforts 
  • Post, Joseph; Bennett, Michael (9 January 2007). Howlett, Christian, ed. Alternative Space Radar Architectures (PDF). Alternatives for Military Space Radar (Report). Congressional Budget Office. Integrated Program Office (IPO) for the Space Radar program proposes … ground moving-target indication (GMTI) radars … DoD and the National Reconnaissance Office are proposing to develop a constellation of Earth-orbiting Space Radar satellites … imagery, GMTI, and geospatial intelligence … first launch … now planned for about 2015. … in circular orbits at an altitude of 1,000 kilometers and an inclination of 53 degrees … X-band frequency of 10 GHz. … sampling the returning signal at a rate of at least 1 GHz, with 8 or 10 bits of precision … in a particular region (North Korea). 
  • Sirak, M (14 April 2011). Space Radar (Report). U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet. Los Angeles Air Force Base. Space Radar … of nine satellites … Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) … Surface Moving Target Indication (SMTI) … Open Ocean Surveillance (OOS): … High Resolution Terrain Information (HRTI) … Geospatial Intelligence Products (GEOINT) … introduction of Electronically Steered Array (ESA) … Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were awarded … in April 2004 … on 28 January 2005 … Brig. Gen. John "Tom" Sheridan was named … program director, leading the Space Radar program office from Chantilly, Virginia. … Teets also directed the name change from Space Based Radar to Space Radar … "JPO"—Joint Program Office—was … changed to "IPO"—an integrated program office … first operational satellite is schedule to be fielded about 2015. 

External links

  • Zuma mission launch footage on YouTube

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