A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch Zuma, a top-secret U.S. government satellite, between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. EDT Friday (Jan. 5; 0100 to 0300 GMT Jan. 6) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, according to Air Force officials.
Zuma satellite and its mission are shrouded in mystery. Pretty much all we know is Zuma’s vague destination: somewhere in low-Earth orbit. Aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman has confirmed that it procured Zuma’s launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the U.S. government. But it’s unclear which agency is in charge of the Zuma project.
Such secrecy is atypical, even if Zuma happens to be a sensitive national-security satellite. (And we don’t know that it is; Northrop Grumman has simply described Zuma as a “restricted payload.”
For example, SpaceX has two national-security launches under its belt, and in both cases, basic details about the mission were announced. One flight, in May 2017, lofted a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the nation’s fleet of spy satellites. The other, which launched in September, launched the robotic X-37B space plane for the U.S. Air Force.
Friday’s action will also include a landing attempt by the first stage of the two-stage Falcon 9, which will come back to Earth at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC.
To date, SpaceX has landed Falcon 9 boosters 20 times and reflown used first stages five times. Such activities are part of the company’s push to develop fully reusable rockets and spacecraft, an advance that company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said will slash the cost of spaceflight.
Zuma will lift off from KSC’s historic Pad 39A, which once hosted space shuttle and Apollo moon mission launches. In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease to use the launch complex.