A US spy satellite worth billions is presumed lost after failing to reach orbit during SpaceX's "most secretive" launch ever, reports CNET. The satellite, codenamed Zuma, apparently failed to separate from the upper section of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday and is believed to have tumbled back into Earth's atmosphere, industry and government officials tell the Wall Street Journal. The paper notes, however, a "lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events … may have been the culprit." Northrop Grumman, which built the satellite for an unknown government agency before booking the SpaceX launch, declined to provide more information on the "classified" mission.
SpaceX says "reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," and a spokesman for the US Strategic Command, which monitors satellites, notes there's "nothing to add to the satellite catalog at this time," per Bloomberg. SpaceX previously delayed the satellite launch in mid-November in order to review tests of protective coverings for satellites on rockets, known as fairings, but a webcast of the launch noted the fairing deployed successfully. Though the rocket's first stage returned to Earth without issue, the loss of the satellite comes at a poor time for SpaceX, which has 30 missions planned for this year (12 more than last year) and is facing competition from Boeing and Lockheed Martin's United Launch Alliance, reports the Journal. (Read more SpaceX stories.)