House lawmakers on Wednesday (Jan. 17) lobbied SpaceX and NASA officials on what exactly happened to the secret Zuma spacecraft launched into space this month on one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets.
Representatives of SpaceX, including Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer, have firmly stated that the rocket worked correctly during the classified mission, which was launched on January 7 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After the launch, media rumors suggested that the mission had not put its classified payload into orbit, citing unnamed US officials who had been informed about the mission.
But House legislators still had questions: Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, chairman of the House Space Subcommittee, raised the issue of Zuma as the first question during Wednesday's hearing about the progress of the program of commercial crew, asking the representatives of NASA and SpaceX what they could share about the apparent failure. [Strange Sky Spiral from SpaceX Zuma Launch]
"Recent press reports indicated that a US government mission called Zuma may have failed in orbit or that the launch could not have been successful," Babin said. "I do not want to discuss anything classified in an open session, [but] the circumstances surrounding this mission have a direct impact on NASA and the jurisdiction and oversight responsibilities of this committee."
For example, he said, the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch Zuma was developed with substantial funds from NASA, and is scheduled to launch a large exoplanet exploration telescope for the agency in March, as well as (as part of Falcon Heavy) to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. In addition, defense contractor Northrop Grumman, who built Zuma and the payload adapter that connected it to the rocket, is currently working on the $ 9 billion James Webb Space Telescope. (Outlets such as Ars Technica have speculated that the charging adapter might have failed, which would lead to the disappearance of the satellite.)
Would SpaceX then consider informing the committee about the mission in a classified environment, Babin asked?
"I want to point out, in the Zuma mission, that we relayed the information that Falcon 9 … worked very well as specified, and that we are collecting the releases by the end of the month as we plan all the time," Hans Koenigsmann, the vice president of construction and flight reliability at SpaceX, told the committee. "With respect to an information session, we will review the appropriate channels and follow the protocol, as noted, we can not talk about any detail in this particular environment."
Next, Babin went to NASA and asked William Gertenmaier: Associate Administrator of NASA's Exploration and Human Operations Bureau, if someone at the agency knew the details of the mission. After all, he said, any problem with the Falcon 9 rocket would be important to know before using the rocket in NASA missions to the space station.
"We do not know the details of the mission, per se, but we". I have been informed by others that if there is any mishap investigation or any other activity that is involved, we will appropriately engage in that activity, "said Gerstenmaier.
" If this is declared a setback and we understand that it is a mishap, we will inform to NASA, and we will have the appropriate personnel involved in these activities, "added Gerstenmaier after a new interrogation.
Later in the briefing, Representative Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Vice Chair of the subcommittee, continued ask SpaceX about Zuma, grouping the Falcon 9 mission in 2016, during a static fire test routine and a rocket that breaks 2 minutes after launching cargo to the International Space Station in 2015.
Koen Igsmann spoke through the other failures, saying that SpaceX had learned the lessons from those, but again reiterated that for Zuma: "Unfortunately, I did not p I can present no detail; I can only reiterate that Falcon 9 did everything Falcon 9 was supposed to do. "
When previously asked to comment on the failed mission, a Northrop Grumman spokesperson told Space.com that the company can not do comments on classified missions – in a challenging position as questions about the mission have been redirected to the rocket company (including the Pentagon).
The questions came up during a hearing aimed primarily at assessing how well SpaceX is progressing and the company Boeing towards the delivery of crew to the space station starting in 2019, including the reliability of the companies The cross-examination of the committee members makes clear that the confusion over Zuma will not disappear soon, since SpaceX, the Pentagon and Northrop Grumman continue to be mothers and that the potential failure still remains while regulators evaluate the reliability of Private companies of space flights.
The confusion over zuma will not die soon, since spacex, the pentagon and Northrop Grumman continue to be mom