SpaceX will launch a secret government payload to orbit Wednesday
On Wednesday, SpaceX will launch a secret mission to space.
The Elon Musk-founded spaceflight company is expected to launch a secret government payload known only as Zuma atop a Falcon 9 rocket at around 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Once the secret mission is safely on its way to orbit, the first stage of the Falcon 9 will come back down to Earth, landing on a pad back in Cape Canaveral, Florida about 10 minutes later.
You can watch the launch live via SpaceX, and we’ll embed the live feed in the window below once the company makes it available.
If the Zuma launch goes well, it will mark SpaceX’s 17th launch of 2017. If the landing goes off without a hitch, it will be the company’s 20th overall successful landing. This includes landings on drone ships at sea as well as on land.
Very little is known about the Zuma mission, as no government or commercial entity has claimed it.
Usually, even the National Reconnaissance Office — the branch of the government responsible for maintaining spy satellites — will say when a payload is theirs while keeping the mission details classified. But for some reason, whatever agency is behind Zuma isn’t coming forward.
All we know is that the aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman was asked by the government to procure a launch vehicle for the mission and it chose SpaceX, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman said via email. The spokesman also added that Zuma will be headed to low-Earth orbit, which is the region of space about 1,200 miles above the planet.
Zuma calls to mind two missions launched in 2009 and 2014, according to industry publication Spaceflight Now. Those missions, called PAN and CLIO, were also secret and unclaimed by any government entity.
According to documents obtained by The Intercept, the PAN mission was used to listen in on conversations routed through communications satellites above the Middle East, via the National Security Agency.