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Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics

Accepted submission by takyon at 2018-01-21 16:01:32

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):

Now, at least one of the post-Zuma criticisms can be linked to SpaceX's competitors in the launch industry: Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the parent companies of United Launch Alliance. A recent opinion article [] in Forbes raised like-minded concerns about SpaceX's reliability under the rubric of "doubts." This was authored by Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of The Lexington Institute, which derives revenue [] from contributions by Lockheed, Boeing, and other major defense companies.

Thompson's article appeared to be coordinated with a hearing on commercial spaceflight this week in the US House. While most representatives asked good, probing questions about delays in the commercial crew program—the effort by Boeing and SpaceX to build spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station—Congressman Mo Brooks was an exception.

Brooks represents the northern tier of Alabama, including the Decatur region where United Launch Alliance builds its rockets. During the hearing [], Brooks said, "I'm going to read from an article that was published earlier this week, entitled 'Doubts about SpaceX reliability persist as astronaut missions approach;' it was in Forbes magazine." Brooks, who has received about $70,000 in donations from Lockheed and Boeing during his congressional career, then went on to read critical parts of the piece into the record.

[...] If SpaceX truly did no wrong, which seems likely, full exoneration for Zuma will probably only come through one of two ways. The payload adapter's manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, could admit to a fault. (The company has so far not commented). Alternatively, the US government could announce the cause of the failure. (So far, the Pentagon will not even [] acknowledge there was a failure of Zuma). Neither seems likely in the near term, if ever.

The uncertainty after Zuma, therefore, has offered fertile ground for SpaceX's critics to reemerge after the company's success in 2017. In the meantime, its commercial satellite customers seem content.

NextBigFuture recently defended [] SpaceX against The Federalist's claim that SpaceX wastes taxpayer money. (Spoiler Alert: It is actually the United Launch Alliance and the Space Launch System that waste taxpayer money.)

Previously: SpaceX's Mysterious Zuma Mission May Soon Take Flight []

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