SpaceX Plans on Kicking off 2018 with a Top Secret Launch for the US Government

After nearly two months of delays, SpaceX aims to launch its mysterious Zuma satellite into orbit this week.
Shelby Rogers
Falcon 9 rocket cores while under construction at SpaceX's Hawthorne facilitySpaceX/Flickr

Elon Musk is ready for the SpaceX crew to have a very productive 2018. The first big launch of the year looks to be one shrouded in mystery -- the Zuma launch. 

The incredibly secretive launch will kick off SpaceX's year that, according to plans, should also include the test launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket. 

The Zuma launch itself will have a two-hour launch window for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to carry the payload. That launch window opens at 8 p.m on Friday, and other than that time, very little is known about the payload itself. Northrop Grumman has been identified as the company responsible for the launch on behalf of the United States government. 

After the Zuma payload is delivered and released, the rocket's first stage will attempt to land in Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. Residents in that area of central Florida have already been warned about the high probability of a sonic boom as a result. Unlike the Iridium-4 launch, Zuma will be flying thanks to the new Block 4 Falcon 9. Due to the secrecy of the launch, no one really knows how big the Zuma payload is. However, as Teslarati noted, it should be relatively light due to its Landing Zone 1 landing attempt. 

Zuma was originally scheduled for January 4th, but weather issues in the area forced SpaceX to postpone it by a day. This pushes Zuma's current launch date to nearly two months after its first scheduled launch attempt.

SpaceX officially moved all of its Falcon 9 launches to the newly renovated LC-40 launch pad in order to free up the LC-39A for Falcon Heavy's first launch. That launch is currently scheduled for January 15, so be sure to mark your calendars. These two launches will definitely set off yet another year of headline-making launches. 

"It’s going to be a busy year and, I think, another transformative year for them," Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "They continue to learn as they go and make adjustments to their overall transportation system."

"They are stabilizing a transportation system that is increasingly reliable," DiBello said. "To the degree they can continue on that path, they should be able to significantly increase their launch cadence."

So how did SpaceX manage to land one of the government's biggest projects? It could be through other organizations vouching for the company. John Logsdon serves as professor emeritus at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. He's also a 47-year space industry veteran. He said that the National Reconnaissance Office's decision to try SpaceX out helped elevate them. 

"The NRO made up its mind that SpaceX was OK to launch payloads," he said. "That should send shivers down the spine of ULA (United Launch Alliance) right now. They are penetrating what had been an exclusive monopoly."

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