SpaceX Will Launch the Mystery Satellite 'Zuma' for the US Government
Elon Musk has got to be pretty pleased with himself right now - in just a few days, despite a delay, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is going to blast off into space, carrying a sensitive piece of US government equipment.
SpaceX's task is to get a fancy new satellite into orbit, and we know exactly when and where the launch will take place, according to Air Force officials. Considering that this is a government project, we know an awful lot about the launch, save for one key detail: what the satellite will actually do once it's been put into place.
The satellite, which has been given the codename "Zuma," is destined for a low orbit around the Earth, and was manufactured by defense and aerospace tech company Northrop Grumman.
Some rumors have circulated that it's a special covert project for the National Reconnaissance Office (SpaceX has done similar launches for them in the past), and this is some kind of advanced spy satellite that will keep close tabs on selected parties around the world. The NRO naturally denied this, but when you're dealing with such a covert government branch, the fact that this was even worth a denial speaks volumes about what may or may not be in the payload.
Good weather permitting, the Falcon 9 will blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This will be something of a relief for both the US government and Musk himself, as the original launch had to be delayed slightly due to a fault in the Falcon 9's top cap, which could have jeopardized the mission.
Even though this fault has now presumably been corrected, there's still every chance that the launch could shift again. Things have already moved around a lot - following the discovery that the Falcon 9 was damaged, the launch was postponed for a few weeks before being moves forward to January 4, 2018. Now, the date has been shifted back to January 5, and presumably, if things still aren't quite ready, the date could change again.
This is an important mission for SpaceX. It's taken a long time for NASA to warm up to the idea of using third party contractors to send their payloads into space, and such a high-profile government contract comes with the expectation that the company can deliver.
It makes sense for SpaceX to be taking their time to ensure the launch goes flawlessly, no matter how eager Musk might be to get this out of the way so that he can focus on the inaugural launch of the larger Falcon Heavy. The Falcon Heavy is the company's next big milestone, and their much bigger rocket, which has faced several delays in recent months.
If all goes as planned, by the end of the week, SpaceX will have completed another successful launch, and the government may or may not have a brand new way to spy on people. Let's all just hope it's not a real-world equivalent to Project Insight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, because that's the last thing we need right now.