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SpaceX May Have Destroyed a U.S. Spy Satellite Worth Billions of Dollars

January 9, 2018

The SpaceX launch of a government spacecraft is reported to have ended in disaster, with the payload burning up in the atmosphere before it reached orbit.

What happened: SpaceX launched a mysterious government payload called Zuma, thought to be a spy satellite, on Sunday. But the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg say government officials have been briefed about the fact that it didn’t make it to orbit.

The problem: It’s claimed the payload didn’t separate from the rocket during the final stages of the launch, meaning it could have tumbled through Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on descent. The Journal says the satellite was worth “billions of dollars.”

The official line: SpaceX says it does “not comment on missions of this nature,” but “as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”

Backstory: Recently, SpaceX has been making launches look easy. This news serves as a reminder: they’re not.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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