A highly classified U.S. spy satellite is missing after a SpaceX launch from Florida on Jan. 7, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The satellite, code-named Zuma, failed to reach orbit and fell back into Earth’s atmosphere after separating from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The Journal suggested the satellite may have been damaged or released at the wrong time.
Officials who spoke with NBC said the missing satellite most likely broke up or landed in the sea.
A SpaceX representative told Business Insider, “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”
The Journal, which received the same statement, said the language pointed to normal rocket operations, suggesting the cause of any issue came from elsewhere.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said on Twitter that SpaceX did not supply the payload adapter, which shoots the satellite off the rocket, for this mission. Instead, it was supplied by the customer, so Elon Musk’s SpaceX may not have been the cause of any problem. Those details, however, were not immediately known.
Zuma was built by the defense contractor Northrop Grumman, though it is unknown which U.S. agency would have been using the satellite.
Zuma was initially scheduled to launch in November but was delayed until the rocket and satellite were declared “healthy” for launch last week.
The mission most likely cost billions of dollars, and congressional lawmakers have been briefed on the developments, The Journal reported.