SpaceX Resets Clandestine Zuma Mystery Satellite Nighttime Blastoff for Jan 7: Live Webcast
Ken Kremer -- Space UpClose -- 6 Jan 2018KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – At long last the much delayed and mysterious ‘Zuma’ surveillance satellite booked for blastoff aboard a brand new Falcon 9 rocket by an unknown U.S. government customer appears primed for launch Sunday evening Jan. 7 on a date that’s been reset by SpaceX at least twice this past week.
The launch has been delayed from earlier initial targets this week of Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 as pad teams conducted pad testing and rocket fueling operations of the “headless” boosters first two stages to confirm the vehicles readiness to launch on this critical mission for an unnamed government agency.
The payload and nose cone were not attached during the testing. Technicians are now working diligently to mate the payload to the top of the rocket in the space of just two days before time runs out to achieve Sundays launch deadline.
Liftoff of the clandestine spy satellite codenamed ‘Zuma’ is now being targeted for Sunday evening Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT) from SpaceX’s newly reactivated seaside Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40).
You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 15 minutes prior to the 8 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT) liftoff time.
Watch the SpaceX broadcast live
The Zuma launch window at pad 40 extends for two full hours - opening at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT) and extending until closing at 10 p.m. EST (0300 GMT) on SLC-40 from the Florida Space Coast.
SpaceX’s original plans to launch covert Zuma from KSC last November were thwarted due to the unexpected need to resolve a last minute payload fairing issue with the Falcon 9 of a different customer as the vehicle stood poised atop the originally scheduled launch pad at Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
SpaceX ultimately decided to switch launch pads to make way for the debut flight of the Falcon Heavy in late January- read our related articles.
I observed the ‘headless’ Zuma booster as it stood erected at pad 40 for several days this past week after it had been rolled out and raised for a multiday stretch of prelaunch testing and SpaceX announced Jan. 5 as launch target. See our Space UpClose photos herein.
Late Wednesday, Jan. 3, SpaceX tweeted confirmation of a Jan. 5 launch target after conducting propellant loading tests of the Falcon 9 booster.
“Team at the Cape performed a propellant loading test of Falcon 9 on Pad 40 this morning – additional static fire test of the rocket was not necessary. Targeting January 5launch of Zuma.”
Timing is critical - since it takes roughly two days or more to turnaround the “headless” rocket and roll it off the pad, attach the precious payload and then roll it back out to the pad and raise it to launch position.
Technicians are now in a race against the clock to safely and securely mate the payload and return the rocket to pad 40.
Ultimately the pad testing took longer than initially anticipated requiring another round ofpropellant load tests. Thus the rocket remained raised at pad 40 for further propellant load testing on Jan. 4 and remained vertical even longer thereafter until Friday afternoon Jan. 5.
“Team at the Cape completed additional propellant loading tests today. Extreme weather slowed operations but Falcon 9 and the Zuma spacecraft are healthy and go for launch—now targeting January 7 from Pad 40 in Florida.”
The evening weather outlook is promising at this time with temperatures in the mid-50s.
Zuma also counts as the 1st mission of 2018 and utilizes a newly built SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Zuma remains cloaked in mystery, unclaimed even by the elusive NRO spy agency, andwhose goals are veiled in virtually complete darkness.
Currently the weather outlook is rather promising along the Florida Space Coast with an80% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base.
The primary concerns on Jan. 7 are only for the Cumulus Cloud Rule and the Thick Cloud Layer Rule.
The odds decline slightly but remain high at 70% favorable for the 24-hour scrub turnaround day Monday, Jan. 8.
The launch window remains the same on Jan. 8 at 8 to 10 p.m.
The two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 rocket will be rolled out to pad 40 from the nearly processing hangar and likely raised to vertical launch position sometimeon Sunday, if all goes well.
The next launch from the Cape is slated for Jan. 18 when the USAF SBIRS GEO 4 missile warning tracking satellite lifts off on a ULA Atlas V.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk just announced that the Falcon Heavy could launch after Zumaby late January and after completing the required static fire test of all 27 first stage engines.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX Zuma, Falcon Heavy, ULA and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.