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Watch SpaceX launch its Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center with a Korean communications satellite tv for pc and land the primary stage on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the U.S. authorities’s secret Zuma mission stands vertical on Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A. The rocket launch was delayed Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.(Photo: SpaceX by way of Florida Today)

CAPE CANAVERAL — Could a secret U.S. authorities spacecraft be certain for a rendezvous with a spy satellite tv for pc and even the International Space Station?

Little is understood in regards to the mission known as Zuma, concentrating on a launch as early as eight p.m. Friday, the opening of a two-hour window, from Kennedy Space Center aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

No, the mission’s identify in all probability has nothing to do with South African President Jacob Zuma, in a nod to Elon Musk’s roots in that nation, or with Zuma the chocolate lab from the youngsters’s cartoon Paw Patrol, as some have guessed or kidded.

But hypothesis about one intriguing situation would hyperlink Zuma to a different labeled nationwide safety mission SpaceX launched earlier this 12 months for the National Reconnaissance Office.

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To be clear: The National Reconnaissance Office has not confirmed any involvement with Zuma, whereas the spy company has disclosed 5 different launches this 12 months.

Zuma’s uncommon northeasterly trajectory right into a low Earth orbit, nonetheless, seems just like the National Reconnaissance Office mission of a Falcon 9 launched from Kennedy Space Center on May 1, labeled NROL-76.

Amateur satellite tv for pc trackers specializing in labeled missions later detected some stunning exercise by that spacecraft, which in orbit was labeled USA 276.

On June three, the spacecraft approached inside about 4 miles of the International Space Station — simply barely outdoors its imaginary security zone — and circled the orbiting badysis complicated occupied by six astronauts.

Over the subsequent two days it remained inside 600 to 1,200 miles whereas a pair of unmanned cargo ships got here and went from the outpost.

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The June four departure of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft was a shock, occurring a month forward of schedule. A SpaceX Dragon arrived June 5.

The shut encounters instructed the National Reconnaissance Office mission, led by Ball Aerospace, may be testing applied sciences for observing the rendezvous and grappling of spacecraft in low Earth orbit.

Military planners have more and more voiced issues in regards to the potential for Russian and Chinese satellites to strategy and disable crucial American spacecraft. The Air Force in recent times has launched two pairs of satellites designed to trace threats in a lot increased geosynchronous orbits, the place high-value communications, reconnaissance, climate and missile warning satellites fly.

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Or was the spy company mission’s proximity to the area station and the flurry of exercise there nothing greater than a sequence coincidences, after a number of launch delays?

Politically, it’s troublesome to consider the NRO would have flown so near the manned area station, a logo of worldwide cooperation and peaceable makes use of of area, accidentally.

“If the flyby was intentional, one has to wonder if targeting a high-profile object like the ISS was meant to send a signal,” wrote Marco Langbroek, a satellite tv for pc tracker and member of the astronomy division at Leiden University within the Netherlands, in a June article in The Space Review.

Whether intentional or not, Langbroek concluded, the early June occasions have been “really weird.”

If the Zuma launch, contracted by Northrop Grumman, had occurred Thursday night time as as soon as deliberate, Langbroek famous that the NRO’s USA 276 spacecraft was on observe to fly instantly over Cape Canaveral early within the launch window. 

That would have positioned Zuma, which seems headed for the same orbit inclined about 50 levels relative to the equator, based on publicly obtainable info, near USA 276 as soon as in orbit.

Observations within the coming weeks will try to verify whether or not Zuma performs an orbital dance with USA 276, the area station, or each.

Or if it leads to a really completely different orbit that implies a completely completely different mission.

“I readily admit, this all to a high degree remains speculation and wishful thinking of course,” Langbroek wrote to fellow satellite tv for pc trackers of the potential connection between the Zuma and NRO missions. “We’ll see what happens. But I found it curious enough to draw attention to it.”

Follow James Dean on Twitter: @flatoday_jdean

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