A costly, highly classified U.S. spy satellite is thought to be a total loss following a recently botched mission involving it, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal on Tuesday reported that the satellite failed to reach orbit atop a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) rocket last Sunday.
Government and industry officials told The Journal that the secret payload was code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket.
The Falcon 9 is believed to have dropped back into the atmosphere, they continued, as it did not separate as planned from the rocket’s upper portion.
The engine powering the rocket’s expendable second stage is supposed to stop firing, meaning whatever it is carrying is supposed to then split off and proceed on its own path.
A satellite that is not set free at the correct time or is damaged upon release, however, can get pulled back towards earth.
Some of the officials added that congressional staff and lawmakers from the House and Senate have since been briefed about the flubbed mission.
Northrop Grumman Corp. built the satellite, which some industry officials estimated cost billions of dollars.
“We cannot comment on classified missions,” a Northrop Grumman spokesman said late Monday.
“We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally,” a SpaceX spokesman said Monday, declining to elaborate further.
The term “nominally” usually indicates that a rocket’s engines and navigation systems operated without glitches.
The Pentagon’s Strategic Command tracks all commercial, scientific, national-security satellites and space debris.
The agency’s catalog on late Monday had not been updated to list a new satellite circling Earth following the Falcon 9 launch a day before.
A video broadcast during late Sunday’s launch that was narrated by a SpaceX official did not mention any issues with the operation.
The clip’s feed, however, ended before the planned deployment of the Zuma satellite atop the Falcon 9.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk started SpaceX in 2002, and it plans on reaching an overall launch rate of more than 25 missions this year.