SpaceX plans to launch a secret U.S. government payload called Zuma on November 16th.
The mission is kept a top secret with no one knowing much about it. The people and authorities involved in the project have tightly sealed their lips to avoid expelling excess information.
The payload is named as Zuma, built by the aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman and is scheduled to take off on Thursday evening from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center between 8 PM to 10 PM ET.
Zuma is planned to go into lower Earth orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9.
The purpose and the government agency behind the launch are unknown and it‘s still not clear if it is a sensitive national-security satellite. However, Northrop Grumman described it as a ‘restricted payload’. The mission became public last month when NASA reported that SpaceX had filed with the Federal Communications Commission, requesting authorization for a mysterious ‘mission 1390’. The news was later confirmed by several news outlets stating that the spacecraft would launch a Northrop Grumman-manufactured payload. The U.S. government had assigned Northrop Grumman to find a rocket for the launch and the contractor eventually selected the Falcon 9.
“Northrop Grumman realizes that this is monumental responsibility and have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma,” said Lon Rains, communication director for Northrop Grumman’s Space system division. The company has not revealed any further information.
This is not the first time for SpaceX to launch a secretive payload into the orbit. The company received an official certificate in 2015 to launch military satellites and has two national security launches under its belt after it. However, in both the previous cases basic information about the launch was released publicly.
Till now, no government official has claimed the satellite, not even the National Reconnaissance Office that usually does. The agency announced publicly that the mystery satellite does not belong to it.
After getting off the ground, the Falcon 9 would attempt to land at the SpaceX landing Zone 1 located at Cape Canaveral, Florida. If the rocket lands successfully, it will be marked as the eighth ground recovery for SpaceX and the 20th landing the company has pulled off overall.
SpaceX has done 16 missions in 2017 and this one is going to be the 17th one. This is the most number of missions the company has ever done in a single year. The company could possibly make 20 launches if the Falcon Heavy, an upgraded version of Falcon 9 takes off before the end of 2017.
Initially, the Zuma mission was planned to launch on November 15 at the same time but was later delayed by SpaceX for the next 24 hours. The reason for the delay was not disclosed however, the company stated that “Teams will use the extra day to conduct some additional mission assurance work in advance of launch.”
Later on, The 45th Space Wing announced that the launch would be delayed until Friday, November 17th at the same time.