An expensive, highly classified U.S. spy satellite is believed destroyed after SpaceX launch

SpaceX launches its Zuma mission
(Image credit: SpaceX/Flickr/Public Domain)

SpaceX, Elon Musk's rocket and space exploration company, launched a highly classified spy satellite on Sunday, and it is presumed to have burned up in the Earth's atmosphere after something went wrong in the separation stage, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night, citing industry and government officials. Members of Congress and their staff have been briefed on the "botched mission" to launch the secret satellite, code-named Zuma, the Journal reports, and one possible cause is the satellite failing to separate from the upper part of the Falcon 9 rocket as planned.

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Still, "as of Monday night, nearly 24 hours after the launch, uncertainty surrounded both the mission and the fate of the satellite, which some industry officials estimated carried a price tag in the billions of dollars," The Wall Street Journal says. "The lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit." Whatever happened to the satellite, a failure would be bad news for SpaceX, which is working to set itself up as a relatively inexpensive and reliable launch provider for the Pentagon and defense contractors like Northrop Grumman, which built the satellite and chose SpaceX as the launch provider. You can read more about the launch at The Wall Street Journal.

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