Investigators have finally been able to pinpoint the problem that led to the loss of U.S. spy satellite code-named Zuma. The government satellite was launched back in January atop one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, only to never reach orbit.
At that time, it was believed that SpaceX was at fault for the satellite’s failure since it was their rocket. SpaceX continued to deny that its Falcon 9 rocket was to blame for the satellite’s failed launch. The company insisted that the rocket worked the way it was supposed to during the botched mission.
Now, finally, it has found that the satellite launch did not go as planned due to some issue with the payload, a structure used to attach a satellite to its rocket booster.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, the government and the industry investigators have found that the payload adapter provided by contractor Northrup Grumman was at fault for the spy satellite disaster. It was the payload adapter that apparently malfunctioned and failed to deploy the satellite from the rocket’s second stage.
As per the report, although Northrop Grumman’s payload adapter was tested multiple times before the launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, something caused the piece to stop working. It didn’t separate the satellite from the rocket in zero-gravity conditions and eventually, the satellite broke off and dropped to too low of an altitude for a rescue. It splashed down into the Indian Ocean.
Notably, Northrop Grumman’s space program, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, is also facing difficulties. The space agency announced last month that it has decided to delay the launch of the observatory until around May 2020 as certain parts weren’t found working properly during tests. Northrop Grumman is yet to comment on the matter.