The launch comes as reports indicate that a highly classified satellite launched by SpaceX on Sunday has gone missing and may have suffered a failure once it reached space.
United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing created more than a decade ago to launch sensitive satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence community, has always been under fire from Elon Musk's SpaceX, the tenacious upstart that plowed its way into the market by waging war in Washington, D.C.
"We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally", a representative for the company said.
The launch of the Falcon 9 for the classified Zuma mission, which was repeatedly delayed from its initial target date in November a year ago, kicked off SpaceX's 2018. "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately", Gwynne Shotwell, the company's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement to Business Insider.
A spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which built the satellite, said Monday: "This is a classified mission".
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On its website, SpaceX says it has more than 70 upcoming missions on its launch manifest, which could take several years. Did something happen to Zuma after separating from the rocket's second stage?
"This is a classified mission". While the night launch seemed to go smoothly with the first stage once again returning to land, reports from the Washington Post and other outlets suggest the satellite did not make it into orbit and was a total loss, although Musk said the second stage performed as expected. Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter.
The secretive nature of the Zuma payload makes reliable details about the mission hard to come by or verify. SpaceX, along with Boeing Co., also has a contract with Nasa to fly astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the "Commercial Crew" program, with the first crucial test flight slated for the second quarter.
In a statement, the Department of Defense said, "As a matter of policy we do not comment on classified missions". Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. The Falcon Heavy is perhaps the most important rocket ever created by SpaceX, as it is the one planned to be used for missions to the moon and Mars. In addition to the SatTrackCam Leiden analysis, the government did allow Shotwell to make that statement today, apparently not wanting the failure to weigh against SpaceX, but also intent on keeping Zuma's mission secret. The company has said it plans to launch about 30 missions in 2018 after completing a record 18 a year ago.
SpaceX competes for military launches with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp, which was the sole provider for the Pentagon until Musk began a campaign in Congress and the courts challenging what he called an unfair monopoly.