Update: While live coverage of the mission ended immediately after, SpaceX has nailed their first Falcon 9 booster recovery of the new year after Zuma’s Core 1043 returned to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The landed booster will undoubtedly see another flight (or two) in the near future after a relatively low-energy mission to low Earth orbit, decreasing the level of harsh heating experienced. While no additional information will likely be shared, it is assumed that Falcon 9’s second stage successfully inserted the Zuma payload into its desired orbit, ending SpaceX’s first mission of 2018.
Up next for SpaceX is an historic wet dress rehearsal and static fire of the inaugural Falcon Heavy, currently expected to occur sometime next week, with launch before the end of January.
Teslarati’s launch photographer Tom Cross was also able to snag some great shots of the booster’s recovery at LZ-1.
Aiming to lift off at 5pm PST/8pm EST later today, the Northrop Grumman-labelled Zuma mission is once again at the launch pad and ready to reach orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. Weather is currently 80% favorable for the mysterious mission, boding well for a launch sometime within the two hour window allotted to the satellite.
After issues were discovered in one of SpaceX’s payload fairings, Zuma was delayed from its original launch window in mid-November to January 2018, and was also moved from Launch Complex 39A to LC-40, just south of Kennedy Space Center. With its rescheduled ETA, SpaceX was looking to launch on January 4th, but a combination of undesirable upper-level winds and an opportunity to test the rocket and pad systems in frigid Florida weather conspired to delay the mission another handful of days to January 6 and finally January 7, today.
The apparently lightweight and highly secretive payload will mean that coverage of the payload and upper stage will sadly end immediately after the first stage separates. On the plus side, this means that the Falcon 9 booster’s return to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) will be the sole focus of SpaceX’s live coverage, likely culminating in some captivating footage, partially thanks to the beautiful, cloudless weather currently blessing Cape Canaveral. While the secretive nature of this launch will likely mean that no information will be publicly released about the mission of the Zuma satellite(s), a number of skilled astrophotographers will do their best to catalog and track the mission once it reaches orbit, just as they did with SpaceX’s intriguingly similar NROL-76 launch for the US National Reconnaissance Office in 2017.
In the meantime, our intrepid launch photographer Tom Cross has once again set up cameras to capture SpaceX’s delay-beset launch of Zuma, this time at the company’s newly reactivated LC-40 pad. With new, powerful lenses in tow, he’s been able to capture some gorgeous detail shots of SpaceX’s beautifully complex pad systems and rocket hardware. Follow along live on Instagram to get a behind-the-scenes view of SpaceX’s first launch of 2018.
SpaceX’s own official livestream can be found below.