Northrop Grumman to Blame for Zuma Failure

The Wall Street Journal has reported that both government officials and industry experts have concluded that Northrop Grumman was responsible for the loss of the $3.5 billion classified Zuma payload earlier this year.

It’s been three months to the day since The Wall Street Journal revealed that the launch of the highly classified Zuma payload had failed. The payload was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 on January 8 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Initial reports had confirmed that the launch had been successful. However, the day after the launch, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the payload had failed to reach its orbit citing two unnamed government officials.

Following the failure of the launch, many were quick to point to the privately-owned SpaceX and their Falcon 9 rocket. 10 days after the launch a public congressional hearing was held during which officials questioned the reliability of the Falcon 9.

Experts and government officials are, however now confirming that the payload adaptor had failed to separate Zuma from the Falcon 9 upper stage.

A payload adaptor secures the payload to the rocket’s upper stage during its launch. Once the payload reaches its designated orbit, explosive bolts are used to separate it from the rocket’s upper stage which then performs a destructive reentry in order to reduce space junk.

It is believed that the adapter used in the Zuma mission was modified to cushion the payload’s sensitive instruments from the force of separation. However, the adapter failed to separate from the Falcon 9’s upper stage. The payload, still attached to the upper stage, was then dragged down into the Earth’s atmosphere.

With SpaceX seemingly cleared of culpability, it has left many asking whether detractors that were quick to blame SpaceX for the incident will publicly retract their statements. Industry stalwart Jeff Foust was among these voices tweeting the question to his almost 31,500 followers. The consensus in the post’s comments was that would be unlikely that any apology would be forthcoming.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.