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SpaceX Zuma Launch: What went up, but what came down?

On Sunday SpaceX launched Zuma, a super secret, we-can-tell-you-but-then-we-have-to-kill-you military satellite built by Northrop Grumman. It was the most important, most expensive military satellite that we know nothing about…except that it may, or may not have made it into orbit, it may or may not have separated from the second stage booster, it may or may not have burned up as it came back down into the atmosphere, and it may or may not have come down in the Indian Ocean.

Like two boys standing in the backyard after a window has been broken, SpaceX yelled, “We didn’t do it!,” and Northrop Grumman is looking down, kicking the dirt and saying, “We’re not gonna say anything.” It feels like the 1960’s and the Soviets are running our space program. 

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

This is why private business has no place in space. Private business is incapable of telling the truth to the public and they are hiding behind the skirt of the military hoping no one will notice that there is no state secret about whether a satellite made it into orbit or not.

The United States Government has to be an adult. If they send a rocket up and it fails, they have to tell us what happened. Private business, like the 1960 Soviet space program, believes that the public only needs to know about how great they are, and anything negative is to be a secret.

In the absence of the truth we can only assume that both SpaceX and Northrop Grumman are at fault and no more taxpayer money should be spent until they both can act like adults.

(SEE:  CBS article with full SpaceX Zuma launch video)

(SEE: Independent YouTube video of SpaceX Zuma launch)

The Zuma Fairing Mystery?

During the Zuma launch, the SpaceX announcer pauses his commentary for ninety seconds after saying the fairing would deploy (eject) “…any second now..” He then came back on and switched topics, then finally confirmed the fairing deployment. Why the long pause?

  • T+0:50 seconds (50 seconds after liftoff) – A SpaceX announcer begins a live and nearly continuous commentary regarding upcoming events with the Falcon 9 rocket, pausing only for those events to be confirmed by SpaceX control.
  • T+2:03 – SpaceX announcer pauses as four events related to second stage separation are about to begin.
  • T+3:06 – SpaceX announcer resumes commentary and confirms a successful second stage separation, and explains at T+3:15 that fairing separation “…should occur any second now” (ejection of protective nose shell around satellite.) He continues on to say that he will confirm the fairing separation after it occurs.
  • T+3:26 – SpaceX announcer begins a pause that lasts for one minute and thirty seconds.
  • T+4:57 – SpaceX announcer says, “Alright, so we’ll address the fairing deployment in a second once we have more information, but for now we’re going to shift our transition back to our secondary mission…”
  • T+5:17 – SpaceX announcer says, “…ah, quick sidebar here that we did get confirmation that the fairings did deploy.”