Published 7:21 a.m. ET Nov. 17, 2017
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the U.S. authorities’s secret Zuma mission stand vertical on Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A.(Photo: SpaceX)
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 concerning the mission known as Zuma, scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at eight p.m. Friday, the opening of a two-hour window.
No, the mission’s title most likely 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 kids’s cartoon “Paw Patrol,” as some have guessed or kidded.
But hypothesis about one intriguing state of affairs would hyperlink Zuma to a different categorised nationwide safety mission SpaceX launched earlier this yr for the National Reconnaissance Office.
To be clear: The NRO has not confirmed any involvement with Zuma, whereas the spy company has disclosed 5 different launches this yr.
Official SpaceX patch for the U.S. authorities’s Zuma mission concentrating on an eight p.m. Thursday launch from Kennedy Space Center aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. (Photo: SpaceX)
Zuma’s uncommon northeasterly trajectory right into a low Earth orbit, nonetheless, appears much like the NRO mission a Falcon 9 launched from KSC on May 1, labeled NROL-76.
Amateur satellite tv for pc trackers specializing in categorised 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 ISS — simply barely exterior its imaginary security zone — and circled the orbiting badysis complicated occupied by six astronauts.
Over the following two days it remained inside 600 to 1,200 miles whereas a pair of unmanned cargo ships got here and went from the outpost.
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 urged the NRO 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 considerations concerning the potential for Russian and Chinese satellites to strategy and disable essential American spacecraft. The Air Force lately 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.
Or was the NRO 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 tough to imagine the NRO would have flown so near the manned ISS, an emblem of worldwide cooperation and peaceable makes use of of area, by chance.
“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 monitor to fly immediately 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, in response to publicly accessible data, near USA 276 as soon as in orbit.
Observations within the coming weeks will try to substantiate if Zuma performs an orbital dance with USA 276, the ISS, or each.
Or if it leads to a really completely different orbit that means 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.”
Contact Dean at 321-242-3668 or [email protected] And observe on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at https://www.fb.com/FlameTrench.
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