Launch provider SpaceX has kicked off their 2018 calendar successfully launching the classified Zuma payload. The Falcon 9 lifted off at 01:00 GMT on Jan. 8 (20:00 EST on Jan. 7) from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Although SpaceX confirmed main engine cutoff and separation, due to the classified nature of the launch, no further payload milestone confirmations were given.
Little is known about the classified payload including which office or agency within the U.S. government procured it. What is know is that it was likely manufactured by Northrop Grumman, a U.S. aerospace and defence contractor responsible for contracted SpaceX to provide launch services. Additionally, an examination of Airspace notices indicates that the payload will orbit at approximately 50 degrees, similar to USA 276 (a National Reconnaissance Office satellite) and the International Space Station.
Originally scheduled for a late November 2017 launch, the Zuma mission was scrubbed indefinitely to allow SpaceX engineers to take a “closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer”. Although this is the official statement from the company, due to the highly classified nature of the payload, this may or may not have been an accurate account of events.
Image Credit: SpaceX