Zuma Blame Game Begins

In the wake of the apparently unsuccessful launch of the secret Zuma payload, there is still some confusion about what exactly happened and who is to blame.

The top secret satellite for an unidentified government agency is believed to have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere after failing to separate from the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

However, SpaceX officials say that the Falcon 9 booster performed exactly as planned, so the company is not responsible for any failure that might have occurred.

That would appear to point the finger at Northrop Grumman, which provided the satellite and the adapter that connected it to booster. The company had declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on classified missions.

The Washington Post reports that the two company might be pointing fingers at each other behind the scenes.

U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who said he received a “preliminary briefing,” had two concerns about the possible loss of the satellite.

“One is the loss of the intelligence that would have been available,” he said. “The second concern is the reliability of the delivery systems. And that issue is being debated between the contractors, SpaceX and the satellite manufacturer, Northrop.”

While he said he did not know who was to blame, he indicated that the dispute might lead to litigation. “Those two companies are going to have a long and, I suspect, very expensive discussion,” he said.

The Pentagon is not commenting on the Zuma mission, Bloomberg reports.

“I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch,” Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said repeatedly in a briefing Thursday at the Pentagon, citing “the classified nature of all of this.” Asked what investigation is being conducted to ensure accountability for the loss of a costly payload, White told reporters she will “come back to you on that.”

“The first statement by SpaceX was that the failure to achieve orbit was not theirs” so there’s no reason so far to question the company’s planned participation in NASA space projects, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a former astronaut and the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transport Committee, said Wednesday before being briefed…

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s critics in Congress are questioning the company’s reliability.

Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who heads the panel that approves appropriations for NASA, said the lost satellite raises new questions about SpaceX contracts. Shelby is a strong supporter of United Launch Alliance, which has operations in his state.

“The record shows they have promise, but they’ve had issues as a vendor,” Shelby said Wednesday, referring to SpaceX. “United Launch, knock on wood, they’ve had an outstanding record.”

In a sign that the mission did fail, collectSpace reports that SpaceX has recalled Zuma souvenir mission patches that it had released for sale.

Since 2015, SpaceX has allowed for third-party sales of its mission patches so long as the flight that the insignia represents was confirmed a success.

SpaceX recalled the sale of the Zuma mission patches in “consideration for their customer,” a seller who goes by the handle “usafspace” on eBay posted Friday evening on the collectSPACE forums and on Reddit’s SpaceX subsection.

The patches were also noted as missing from the pegs at the souvenir shop for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum Sands Space History Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where they had been available for $7 each earlier in the week.