SpaceX is finally about to launch secret Zuma mission

After more than a month of delays, SpaceX might finally be ready to launch a secretive spacecraft, Zuma.If all...

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 4:50 PM
Updated: Jan 8, 2018 4:50 PM

After more than a month of delays, SpaceX might finally be ready to launch a secretive spacecraft, Zuma.

If all goes as planned, a SpaceX rocket will lift off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday. A two-hour launch window begins at 8 p.m. ET.

The space exploration firm, which is headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, initially scheduled the secretive Zuma mission for last November, but a series of delays pushed it back.

SpaceX gave some reasons for the schedule changes. At one point, SpaceX said it was delaying the mission for "fairing testing." The fairing is the very top portion of the rocket that houses the payload. "Extreme weather" also slowed down the company's launch preparations.

Related: SpaceX launches secretive Zuma spacecraft

Last week, SpaceX finally declared that both the rocket and the payload were "healthy" and ready for launch.

Zuma is headed for low-Earth orbit, but we don't know exactly where. SpaceX will likely cut off its customary live stream of the launch early in order to avoid dropping any hints about the spacecraft's final destination. It has done so during other secretive missions.

Zuma was built for the U.S. government, and it's not unusual for the government to keep information about sensitive payloads under wraps. Typically these payloads involve a military concern, such as national security, defense or surveillance.

When asked about the project in November, Northrop Grumman -- the Virginia-based aerospace and defense company that says it's "involved" in the Zuma mission -- declined to give any details about the spacecraft or reveal which arm of the government funded it.

Related: SpaceX launch leaves ghostly glowing trail in the sky

"The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission," the company said in a statement. "Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma."

ArsTechnica reported in November that Zuma actually belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. government agency that develops and maintains spy satellites. The report acknowledges, however, that the NRO has publicly denied that the Zuma payload belongs to the agency.

SpaceX has conducted one secretive launch for the NRO before. Last May, SpaceX put an NRO spy satellite into orbit. But in that case, the agency did not shy away from claiming involvement.

SpaceX also launched a covert space plane in September for the U.S. Air Force.

Even if SpaceX doesn't live stream the entire flight Sunday, it's worth sticking around after liftoff.

That's because SpaceX will attempt to execute its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing.

SpaceX lands boosters so they can be reused in future missions. It's meant to help make spaceflight cheaper.

Related: SpaceX launches used rocket and spacecraft for first time ever

Sunday's launch will mark the first mission of 2018 for SpaceX. Last year was already a banner one for the company. It completed 18 missions in 2017, more than any other private-sector launch provider.

By comparison, the company launched just eight times in 2016.

SpaceX has plans for an even more impressive year ahead. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told SpaceNews in November that the firm plans "increase our cadence next year about 50%" in 2018.

The company also plans to debut a massive new rocket called Falcon Heavy. It's supposed to be the most powerful operational rocket in the world, according to specs released by SpaceX.

The first Falcon Heavy test launch is slated for sometime this month.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 770246

Reported Deaths: 8661
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Hennepin1537491923
Ramsey63444980
Dakota57071526
Anoka54052520
Washington33690331
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St. Louis23735361
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Carver1366556
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Goodhue619985
Itasca618885
Winona611854
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Steele585825
Isanti573074
Morrison557767
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Freeborn487642
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Mille Lacs416967
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Stevens124911
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Norman8789
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Grant7869
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Red Lake5899
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Traverse5165
Lake of the Woods4764
Cook2460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 474151

Reported Deaths: 6785
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk74657729
Linn29194394
Scott24733274
Black Hawk20335358
Woodbury19207244
Johnson17988100
Dubuque15834229
Pottawattamie14276200
Dallas14109108
Story1288551
Warren774296
Cerro Gordo6951110
Webster6950111
Clinton6929101
Des Moines667594
Marshall641885
Muscatine6352113
Wapello5936137
Jasper578279
Lee565689
Sioux565676
Marion508191
Buena Vista491746
Plymouth463487
Henry389847
Jones370861
Washington366856
Benton359257
Bremer357168
Boone350937
Carroll346353
Crawford339347
Mahaska322856
Dickinson301052
Clay279133
Buchanan279039
Jackson273546
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Hardin270249
Tama264976
Fayette260649
Delaware258546
Cedar249526
Page249328
Wright243645
Hamilton233954
Winneshiek233338
Floyd221845
Harrison217777
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Poweshiek211741
Iowa208029
Butler206638
Cass201557
Jefferson201040
Mills199929
Allamakee194753
Cherokee193844
Lyon192941
Hancock187639
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Shelby178439
Louisa171052
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Emmet167146
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Mitchell164043
Union162637
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Monroe134335
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Ida118641
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Worth10818
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Taylor79713
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