Aerospace watchdog sites reported last year on a mysterious, highly secretive rocket launch scheduled by SpaceX. NASASpaceFlight.com noticed a last-minute addition to SpaceX’s launch calendar, adding a mission known only as “Zuma.” An issue with the Falcon 9 rocket nose cone caused the launch to be delayed, but SpaceX has now announced that the Zuma mission could be its first launch of 2018, set to blast off on Friday, January 5th.
As of now, SpaceX meteorologists predict a 90% chance of “go” conditions at the scheduled launch time. Despite several months of wait time between the last scheduled launch, little is still known to the public about the mysterious Zuma mission. What is known are two facts: one, that the rocket is launching an object into a low-Earth orbit; and two, that SpaceX’s client for the launch is aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman. You might know Northrop Grumman from such top-secret black-ops projects as the B-2 stealth bomber and a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Given Grumman’s extensive pedigree in some of the most high-tech and clandestine examples of military engineering, many outlets have taken to wondering just what exactly might be aboard the Zuma rocket. For its part, Northrop Grumman has stated only that Zuma is carrying a “restricted payload.” Some sources have claimed the National Reconnaissance Office is behind the launch, but the NRO has denied any part in the mission – but then again, why would they want to admit to launching some new type of spy technology if its purpose is to remain in the shadows?
Given all of the recent weirdness surrounding so-called “killer” satellites and what appears to be a burgeoning arms race taking place in low-Earth orbit, chances are high that this launch could be a test of some new space weapon or other defensive technology. Telecommunications and live data from satellites are key to modern-day military operations, and many nations are already testing methods of attacking or hijacking other nations’ satellites. Could the Zuma mission hint that SpaceX getting in on the defense contractor market while competition is still scarce? Some sources claim SpaceX could launch close to 40 rockets for U.S. military and intelligence clients in 2018. I mean, Elon’s gotta find funding to send his car into space by whatever means necessary.