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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday April 10 2018, @06:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the Northup-Gremlin dept.

Northrop Grumman, rather than SpaceX, is reportedly responsible for the loss of a secret satellite (reportedly) worth $3.5 billion:

In early January, SpaceX adamantly denied rumors that it had botched the launch of a classified spy satellite called Zuma, and now, a new government probe has absolved the company of blame for the spacecraft's loss. Government investigators looking into the mission determined that a structure on top of the rocket, called the payload adapter, failed to deploy the satellite into orbit, The Wall Street Journal reports. That adapter was built by defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which means SpaceX isn't at fault for Zuma's demise.

This scenario aligns with what many speculated at the time. SpaceX launched Zuma on top of its Falcon 9 rocket on January 7th, and just a day later, reports started to surface that the satellite had fallen back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere after the mission. However, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell claimed that the rocket performed as it was supposed to. "For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night," she said in a statement. "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false."

[...] Meanwhile, the payload adapter failure isn't a good look for Northrop Grumman, which is having a difficult time piecing together another important spacecraft right now: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Northrop is the main contractor of the telescope and is currently integrating large pieces of the spacecraft at the company's facilities in Redondo Beach, California. However, NASA recently announced that James Webb's launch will have to be delayed until 2020, due to a number of mistakes and delays that were made at Northrop during the construction process.

SpaceX should demand to use its own payload adapters for any new classified/national security launches, because it will probably be granted in light of this "Beltway bandit" fiasco.

Also at CNBC and LA Times.

Previously: SpaceX's Mysterious Zuma Mission May Soon Take Flight
Rumors Swirl Around the Fate of the Secret "Zuma" Satellite Launched by SpaceX
Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated]

Related: GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date Likely Will be Delayed (Again)
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap

Original Submission

Related Stories

SpaceX's Mysterious Zuma Mission May Soon Take Flight [Update: Successful] 13 comments

[Update: The launch of the secret payload was reportedly a success. The Stage 1 booster returned to the LZ-1 landing pad at Cape Canaveral and landed successfully. If you missed the launch, SpaceX usually posts a recorded copy a few hours after launch at the same YouTube location as the live stream.]

SpaceX's Mysterious Zuma Mission May Finally Take Flight Sunday

Originally planned for a November launch, the mysterious Zuma mission may finally go to space on Sunday evening. SpaceX has confirmed that its rocket, and the undisclosed national security payload, are ready for launch, and weather conditions appear to be generally favorable. The two-hour launch window opens at 8pm ET.

An undisclosed issue with the Falcon 9 rocket's fairing caused SpaceX to delay the launch for several weeks in November and eventually move the date forward to January 4. Earlier this week additional propellant loading tests contributed to further delays, as did "extreme weather" at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida—mostly gusty winds.

But now conditions for the mysterious mission are 80-percent go, weather-wise, in Florida. This is SpaceX's third classified mission, and arguably its most secretive flight for the US military. All that is publicly known about the Zuma payload is that it is a satellite manufactured for the US government by Northrop Grumman, and it is bound for low-Earth orbit.


SpaceX to Launch Classified Zuma Mission: 0100-0300 UTC on 8th (8:00-10:00 p.m. EST on 7th)

Rumors Swirl Around the Fate of the Secret "Zuma" Satellite Launched by SpaceX 39 comments

A classified satellite launched by SpaceX on Sunday may be experiencing a classified failure:

Later on Monday afternoon another space reporter, Peter B. de Selding, reported on Twitter that he too had been hearing about problems with the satellite. "Zuma satellite from @northropgrumman may be dead in orbit after separation from @SpaceX Falcon 9, sources say," de Selding tweeted. "Info blackout renders any conclusion - launcher issue? Satellite-only issue? — impossible to draw."

Update: SpaceX said the Falcon 9 rocket performed nominally, but unnamed sources reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that the payload did not separate from the Falcon 9 second stage and that both fell into the ocean:

An expensive, highly classified U.S. spy satellite is presumed to be a total loss after it failed to reach orbit atop a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rocket on Sunday, according to industry and government officials. Lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission, some of the officials said. The secret payload—code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket—is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere, they said, because it didn't separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket.

The WSJ report has been disputed. Space-Track has catalogued the Zuma payload as USA 280, international designation 2018-001A, catalog number 43098, but that doesn't necessarily mean Zuma survived. CelesTrak lists the status as operational (search 43098 in NORAD Catalog Number field).

If the mission did fail, SpaceX could also blame Northrup Grumman for using their own payload adapter.

Also at CBS News, SpaceFlight Insider, Bloomberg, Popular Mechanics, CNBC, and USA Today.

Original Submission

Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated] 17 comments

[Updated: 2018-01-23 @ 00:58 UTC --martyb]

A more recent article at Ars Technica notes SpaceX gets good news from the Air Force on the Zuma mission:

A little more than two weeks have passed since the apparent loss of the highly classified Zuma mission. Since then, SpaceX has publicly and privately stated that its Falcon 9 rocket performed nominally throughout the flight—with both its first and second stages firing as anticipated.

Now, the US Air Force seems to be backing the rocket company up. "Based on the data available, our team did not identify any information that would change SpaceX's Falcon 9 certification status," Lieutenant General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, told Bloomberg News. This qualified conclusion came after a preliminary review of data from the Zuma launch. That's according to Thompson, who said the Air Force will continue to review data from all launches.

[Original story follows]

Ars Technica has described how "far-right" critics of SpaceX (such as The Federalist) have attacked the company following the apparent failure to deploy a secretive "Zuma" spy satellite payload for the U.S. government. Northrop Grumman could be responsible for the failure of the payload to separate from the Falcon 9's second stage, but nobody will confirm that officially. During a recent hearing about commercial spaceflight, one Congressman brought up the claims of a Forbes hit piece written by the COO of an institute backed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA):

GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date Likely Will be Delayed (Again) 16 comments

The U.S. Government Acountability [sic] Office (GAO) has warned that the launch of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is likely to be delayed again, which could cause the budget cap set by the U.S. Congress to be exceeded:

The U.S. Government Acountability [sic] Office (GAO), a non-partisan group that investigates federal spending and performance, has issued a report on the James Webb Space Telescope that has astronomers worried. "It's likely the launch date will be delayed again," the report concludes — an ominous statement, given that any further delays could risk project cancellation.

Last year NASA announced a delay in the telescope's launch to sometime between March and June 2019. The 5- to 8-month delay came from problems integrating spacecraft components, especially its complex, five-layered sunshield, which must unfold perfectly when the telescope is deployed. Right after requesting the change in launch readiness date, the mission learned of further delays from its contractor, Northrum Grumman, due to "lessons learned from conducting deployment exercises of the spacecraft element and sunshield."

The mission now has 1.5 months of schedule reserve remaining, the GAO finds. Delays during integration and testing are common, "the phase in development where problems are most likely to be found and schedules tend to slip." The project has a total of five phases of integration and testing, and has made significant progress on phases three and four, with the fifth phase beginning in July.

GAO's 31-page report, February 2018: JWST: Integration and Test Challenges Have Delayed Launch and Threaten to Push Costs Over Cap.

Also at Science Magazine.

Previously: Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Could be Further Delayed

Related: James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed
NASA Considering Flagship Space Telescope Options for the 2030s
WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
JWST: Too Big to Fail?
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST

Original Submission

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap 33 comments

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been delayed yet again, due to damage to the spacecraft's thrusters, sunshield, and tension cables:

The slip is not exactly surprising, even though construction and testing of Webb's primary mirror and scientific instruments—its riskiest, most expensive elements—is already complete. These components were delivered in early February to Webb's prime contractor, the aerospace company Northrop Grumman, for further testing and integration with the rest of the telescope. But later that month a report from the Government Accountability Office warned that the company had fallen behind schedule on the supposedly easier parts of the observatory. Valves on the spacecraft's thrusters had sprung leaks after being improperly cleaned, and replacing them had taken the better part of a year. Webb's tennis-court-sized, five-layered folding "sunshield" had also been torn during a test as it unfurled, requiring time-consuming failure analyses and repairs.

Screws and Washers Have Fallen Off JWST Amid Testing and Independent Review 32 comments

JWST suffers new problem during spacecraft testing

In a presentation at a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board here May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said some "screws and washers" appear to have come off the spacecraft during recent environmental testing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California. Technicians found the items after the spacecraft element of JWST, which includes the bus and sunshield but not its optics and instruments, was moved last weekend from one chamber for acoustics tests to another to prepare for vibration testing.

"Right now we believe that all of this hardware — we're talking screws and washers here — come from the sunshield cover," he said. "We're looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan." The problem, he said, was only a couple of days old, and he had few additional details about the problem. "It's not terrible news, but it's not good news, either," he said. The incident, Robinson argued, showed the importance of the wide range of tests the spacecraft is put through prior to launch. "That's why we do the testing," he said. "We do it now, we find it now, we fix it and we launch a good spacecraft."

This latest incident comes as an independent review board, chartered by NASA in late March after announcing a one-year delay in JWST's launch because of other technical issues, is in the midst of its analysis of the mission and its launch readiness. That review, led by retired aerospace executive and former NASA Goddard director Tom Young, is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month.

NASA is expected to brief Congress on the status of the James Webb Space Telescope in late June.

Also at Popular Mechanics.

Previously: James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019
JWST: Too Big to Fail?
GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date Likely Will be Delayed (Again)
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap
NASA Announces JWST Independent Review Board Members

Related: Northrop Grumman's Faulty Payload Adapter Reportedly Responsible for "Zuma" Failure

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2) by MostCynical on Tuesday April 10 2018, @09:58AM (1 child)

    by MostCynical (2589) on Tuesday April 10 2018, @09:58AM (#664878) Journal

    someone is reading from the wrong script! Isn't *everything* SpaceX does wrong, bad, expensive, bad for shareholders, etc etc?

    How can something *not* be SpaceX's fault?!

    "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Tuesday April 10 2018, @11:14AM

      by takyon (881) <> on Tuesday April 10 2018, @11:14AM (#664886) Journal

      Maybe you're thinking of Tesla, a publicly-traded company accumulating a mountain of debt.

      The script on the Zuma incident was flipped pretty early. IIRC, the mission was even delayed due to issues with Grumman's payload adapter.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by bradley13 on Tuesday April 10 2018, @10:52AM (2 children)

    by bradley13 (3053) on Tuesday April 10 2018, @10:52AM (#664882) Homepage Journal

    People assume that Northrop-Grumman should regret such a failure. But consider: now they have to replace the satellite. Another nice little cost-plus contract for a few $billion coming right up. The James Webb telescope is no different - another cost-plus contract [] - so the longer the project stretches out, the more money the company makes. Where's the problem?

    Seriously, the government needs to write a lot fewer cost-plus contracts, and include a lot more penalty clauses. Drive a couple of these beltway companies into bankruptcy, and maybe the priorities of the others will change. Or else they will be replaced by new competitors.

    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday April 10 2018, @11:23AM

      by takyon (881) <> on Tuesday April 10 2018, @11:23AM (#664889) Journal

      They would probably get away with JWST. It's just more delays on a long road of delays.

      But losing the $3.5 billion Zuma was a big blow. At the very least, SpaceX ought to be allowed to handle the payload and use their own adapter(s) for classified launches. This should also be considered against Northrop Grumman when future contracts are being negotiated. But it might turn out as bad as you say.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 10 2018, @12:39PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 10 2018, @12:39PM (#664918)

      Free market instead of nepotistic entitlement? Surly you speak madness.

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by DannyB on Tuesday April 10 2018, @01:49PM (2 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 10 2018, @01:49PM (#664936) Journal

    My paranoid streak still makes me wonder. Did Zuma actually make it to orbit? The unknown TLA who owns Zuma wanted to create the idea that Zuma failed. Blame SpaceX. But SpaceX is unwilling to take the blame. So blame Northrop Grumman, because they can be pressured to take the blame because of how deeply they depend on government contracts.

    So this story is big headlines today. Then it will all blow over and be forgotten.

    Question: will there be a replacement satellite for the "failed" Zuma?

    Maybe Zuma really failed and burned up. But I'm not so sure I blindly trust that story. Especially when I saw an interview with the press questioning someone in uniform and someone not in uniform. "You'd have to ask SpaceX" they said. But SpaceX said they couldn't be any more specific than that their rocket performed perfectly. When pressed with a question about how this is a billion dollars of taxpayer money. Something at least worth an investigation, even if classified, that they should at the very least be able to simply disclose whether it failed or not. But they wouldn't even be that specific.

    Ten years ago, my most paranoid thoughts seemed outlandish. Until 2013 when confirmation arrived from Snowden that things were already far worse than many of us thought.

    The people who rely on government handouts and refuse to work should be kicked out of congress.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 10 2018, @02:33PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 10 2018, @02:33PM (#664953)

      It's pretty difficult to hide satellites in orbit.

      • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Tuesday April 10 2018, @03:19PM

        by Freeman (732) on Tuesday April 10 2018, @03:19PM (#664982) Journal

        Assuming it wasn't launched to LEO, it could be pretty hard to detect. The farther out it's launched the bigger the surface area you have to scan to find that random satellite. You'd also have to know what you're looking for and / or have a large enough telescope to see what it is. Otherwise, it's just random object X.

        Also, why would they make a "special launch" for a "special satellite". They could do a lot better, if they were trying to hide it. Also, I don't think the USA wants to go back on the No Weapons in Space treaty.

        Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
  • (Score: 2) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Tuesday April 10 2018, @11:42PM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Tuesday April 10 2018, @11:42PM (#665143) Homepage Journal

    Perkin Elmer screwed up in a big way by not testing the primary and secondary mirrors together.

    A second shuttle mission was required to install a correcting lens that improved the misshapen optics' resolution, but the Hubble's resolution was never as good as was original promised to the astronomical community.

    I myself could have fixed that problem in the garage of the house where I lived when I was seventeen, with a piece of kitchen sink drainpipe, a flat file, a hacksaw and a cheap plastic vernier caliper.

    The calculations for the shapes of Ritchey-Chretien telescopes are complex. Someone dropped a sign. The incorrect calculation resulted in a metal tube called a "null test adapter" to be the wrong length.

    The Foucault Knife Edge test is a null test for a sphere. That is, a spherical mirror appears flat. A parabolic mirror kinda sorta looks like a donut. A hyperbolic mirror looks like a donut too but is more of a deviation from a sphere than a hyperboloid is.

    One can change the Foucault test from a null test for a sphere into a null test for a paraboloid or a hyperboloid by mounting a plano-convest lines on a short tube that is a specific, calculated distance from the knife edge.

    _I_ don't drop signs.

    When you want it done right, get Mike Crawford to do it.(SM)

    Yes I Have No Bananas. []