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SpaceX will launch secret US government satellite on Friday
Little is known about classified payload of SpaceX's first 2018 launch.
By Laurel Kornfeld
Jan 12, 2018

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WASHINGTON D.C. — SpaceX plans to launch Zuma, a top secret US government satellite, on its Falcon 9 rocket on Friday, January 5, some time between 8 and 10 PM EST at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Initially scheduled for November 2017, the Zuma launch was postponed by SpaceX in order to conduct a test of its payload fairing, the nose cone that protects payload during launch, following a fairing problem on a separate mission.

The fairing is jettisoned once the spacecraft leaves Earth's atmosphere.

Friday's launch will be from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral rather than from the historic pad 39A, as originally planned.

Little is known about Zuma's purpose other than the fact that it will be placed in low-Earth orbit.

Northrop Grumman, the aerospace and defense company that arranged the Space X launch for the US government, describes the satellite as a "restricted payload."

SpaceX has previously conducted two national security launches, but details of those missions were made public. Last May, the company launched a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the government department that runs spy satellites.

Then in September, SpaceX launched a robotic space plane known as X-37B for the US Air Force.

NRO has publicly stated the Zuma is not its satellite.

Following Friday's launch, the company plans to return the first stage booster to Earth at its Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.

In its quest to develop reusable rockets, SpaceX has successfully landed 20 first stage boosters, some on land and others on a drone ship in the ocean. The company has flown reused boosters five times.

The website Spaceflight Now will provide live coverage of Friday's launch beginning about 15 minutes before launch.