SpaceX defends rocket performance after loss of USA spy satellite

SpaceX is pushing back on claims that the Falcon 9 rocket suffered an alleged malfunction following its launch from Cape Canaveral on Sunday. Anthony Capaccio and Dana Hull reporting for Bloomberg cite a U.S. official and two congressional aides reporting the launch failed, with one aide stating that the satellite and second-stage rocket fell back into the ocean. Its secret USA government-sponsored payload, though, did not fare as well, according to sources.

Whether the Falcon 9 Zuma mission failed or not, SpaceX is now setting its sights on the Falcon Heavy debut launch. The government agency that ordered the spacecraft has not been disclosed.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp, which was commissioned by the Defense Department to choose the launch contractor, declined to comment on the payload adapter, saying "we can not comment on classified missions".

This was SpaceX's third classified mission for the USA government, AP reported. SpaceX is also under contract from NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, and it maintains that the first test flights with humans on board could happen as soon as this year.

We spoke to a Northrup Grummam rep by phone, who said: "This is a classified mission".

But Shotwell reiterated in a statement Tuesday morning that "after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night". Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. "We can not comment on classified missions".

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"Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule". Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter. The company chose SpaceX as the launch provider, noting late past year that it took "great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma".

Zuma, a top-secret government payload launched by SpaceX, reportedly crashed to Earth on Sunday night.

SpaceX launched two other national security missions past year: a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in May and the Pentagon's autonomous space plane, known as the X-37B, in September.

But even if SpaceX's Falcon 9 performed perfectly, it is not a good time for the company, founded by Musk in 2002, to have something happen to such an important payload.

The launch broadcast was cut off shortly after the rocket's nose cone separated, which is standard under secret national security missions. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 past year.

The loss of a government payload comes at a bad time for SpaceX, which was founded by Elon Musk, who is CEO of both the privately-held rocket company and electric auto maker Tesla. After a rigorous Air Force review, SpaceX was certified in 2015 to compete for military launches. It would also be able to carry the company's Dragon capsule with humans into space with destinations like Mars and the moon.

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