SpaceX launches secretive Zuma spacecraft

SpaceX kicked off the new year with a mystery-shrouded mission to deliver a government spacecraft, called Zuma, into ...

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 5:42 PM
Updated: Jan 8, 2018 5:42 PM

SpaceX kicked off the new year with a mystery-shrouded mission to deliver a government spacecraft, called Zuma, into orbit.

After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The space exploration firm, which is headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, initially scheduled the Zuma mission last November.

SpaceX gave a couple reasons for the schedule changes. At one point, SpaceX said it delayed 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.

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

Related: Your guide to commercial space travel in 2018

On Sunday, Zuma was delivered to low-Earth orbit, which is typically defined as any orbital path less than about 1,200 miles above the Earth's surface, according to NASA. Zuma's precise destination was not disclosed.

That was not the only thing kept secret about Zuma.

The spacecraft 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 built the Zuma spacecraft -- declined to give any details about the spacecraft or reveal which arm of the government funded it.

"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."

The company declined further comment Sunday.

Because of Zuma's secrecy, SpaceX didn't live stream the entire mission. But there was still plenty for SpaceX to show off after launch.

Related: SpaceX launch leaves ghostly glowing trail in the sky

The company executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing.

Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

The Zuma launch kicked off what SpaceX hopes will be an exciting year.

The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.

Later this month, the company plans to debut its latest invention: the Falcon Heavy. The monstrous rocket will have three times the thrust of the Falcon 9.

An exact date for the inaugural launch has not been set, but Musk wrote on Instagram last week that SpaceX is looking to do it before the end of the month.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 250869

Reported Deaths: 5481
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17010171
Hinds16091318
Harrison13250193
Rankin10629208
Jackson10216182
Lee8759141
Madison8186161
Jones6222109
Forrest5917118
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Lamar480465
Washington4770123
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Warren344597
Union341458
Marshall339165
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Hancock260458
Pike259977
Scott244745
Prentiss244052
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Copiah239149
Simpson233967
Leake229564
Coahoma228554
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Attala193158
Newton189142
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Tishomingo182159
Holmes168167
Jasper167735
Clay158233
Stone141520
Tallahatchie139234
Clarke137460
Calhoun135121
Smith119423
Yalobusha116134
Walthall111736
Noxubee110222
Greene109129
Montgomery109134
Carroll104121
Lawrence102117
Perry100531
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Webster91924
Tunica86021
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Jefferson Davis84025
Humphreys82624
Benton81023
Kemper76620
Quitman6838
Franklin65815
Choctaw60013
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53419
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1596
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 420681

Reported Deaths: 6119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61755921
Mobile30058548
Madison26852186
Tuscaloosa20652266
Montgomery18876305
Shelby18421114
Baldwin16176182
Lee12393101
Morgan12175113
Etowah11687168
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Marshall10158107
Houston8556148
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Walker5880174
Jackson578841
Colbert529873
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Autauga515455
Coffee438156
Dale394381
Franklin365248
Chilton335365
Covington326968
Russell326810
Escambia316142
Dallas302896
Chambers281869
Clarke279633
Tallapoosa2607107
Pike247629
Marion244650
Lawrence242547
Winston225535
Bibb214447
Geneva199535
Marengo197829
Pickens196231
Hale175442
Barbour172336
Butler168458
Fayette167126
Cherokee160030
Henry152721
Monroe145017
Randolph138835
Washington137026
Clay126145
Crenshaw118644
Lamar117519
Cleburne117223
Macon114335
Lowndes109535
Wilcox102621
Bullock98728
Perry96919
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Sumter88826
Greene75723
Coosa60515
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