Skip to main content

SpaceX launches secretive Zuma

January 8, 2018 | Expert Insights

SpaceX has successfully launched a top secretive aircraft which has been nicknamed Zuma. There are sparse details surrounding the launch of Zuma and it has been revealed that the top secret mission is for the US government.


Elon Musk is a South African-born Canadian American business magnate, investor and inventor. He is best known as the founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX. It is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California that was founded in 2002.  by entrepreneur Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has since developed the Falcon launch vehicle family and the Dragon spacecraft family, which both currently deliver payloads into Earth orbit.

SpaceX's achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008). It was also the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. The spacecraft was called Dragon. The first ever spacecraft sent to the International Space Station by a private company was also achieved by SpaceX. As of March 2017, SpaceX has since flown ten missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a cargo resupply contract. The company has also struck a development contract with NASA. This deal stipulates that SpaceX would develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon, which would be used to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth. There were a total of 18 launches in 2017.


Zuma is a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission. It was successfully launched by SpaceX on January 2018. The project is so secretive that even the specific agency that is in-charge of it has not been disclosed. The satellite has been built by Northrop Grumman and was launched to low Earth orbit (about 2,000 km altitude).

Originally, it was supposed to launched on November 2017 by a Falcon 9 from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center. wrote about the top secret mission noting, “The main goal of tonight's flight was getting Zuma aloft, so the spacecraft can start going about its business. Just what that business may be is unclear; little has been revealed about the payload. We do know that aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman procured Zuma's launch atop a Falcon 9 for the U.S. government — but we don't know which agency will operate the satellite, or if its mission is civilian or military."

Even SpaceX, which launched the projected ended commentary on the flight just minutes after take off due to the sensitive and secretive nature of the endeavor. No company has so far provided any further details and it is unlikely for anything to be leaked presently. Zuma is the third classified mission SpaceX has performed for the U.S. government. The first was to launch a spy satellite in May and the second was to launch the X-37B spy plane in September.

It has to be noted that Northrop Grumman Corporation is an American global aerospace and defense technology company. The company was the fifth-largest defense contractor in the world in 2015. In the past it has built technology for both NASA and the US military. It has also made drones and built aircraft that can fly in near space. 


Our assessment given Northrop Grumman Corporation’s experience in building technology for the US military, it would not be incorrect in speculating that Zuma is on a military mission. Is this a spacecraft designed to spy on enemy states? What is its goal? Speculation aside, SpaceX has continued to prove itself as a trusted space transport company within the private sector.