The long-awaited maiden flight of SpaceX’s heavy-lift rocket is almost here. Elon Musk’s company has spent the last few weeks prepping the Falcon Heavy at Cape Canaveral in Florida, teasing photos of the rocket standing tall on the launchpad, the culmination of years of planning and anticipation.
So why are people still talking about a SpaceX launch from two days ago?
On Sunday night, SpaceX launched a top-secret U.S. government satellite into low-Earth orbit, known by the code name Zuma, from the same site in Florida. The company live-streamed the event, but cut the feed early to preserve the secret nature of the mission. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully returned to Earth. Northrop Grumman, the defense company that manufactured the satellite, stayed silent, which isn’t surprising, since the mission is classified. SpaceX shared some photos of the launch on social media, which led people to assume it had been a success.
But then, on Monday night, reports started circulating that something had gone wrong. Peter B. de Selding, an editor at SpaceIntelReport.com, citing sources, tweeted the Zuma satellite “may be dead in orbit after separation” from the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that lofted it deeper into orbit. Stories from Ars Technica, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg have since reported similar information, all citing unnamed sources. The Journal and Bloomberg report Zuma is believed to have fallen back into the atmosphere after failing to separate from the second-stage.