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Northrop Grumman, Not SpaceX, Reported To Be at Fault For Loss of Top-Secret Zuma Satellite (cnbc.com) 70

Northrop Grumman built and operated the components that failed during the controversial January launch of the U.S. spy satellite known as Zuma, WSJ reported over the weekend. From a report: Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop's payload adapter as the cause of the satellite's loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket. Zuma is believed to have cost around $3.5 billion to develop, according to the report. The satellite was funded through a process that received a lesser degree of oversight from Congress compared with similar national security-related satellites, industry officials said.
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Northrop Grumman, Not SpaceX, Reported To Be at Fault For Loss of Top-Secret Zuma Satellite

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  • That's an amazing amount of money put into a satellite. We weren't all told this, but had this made it into orbit, all wars would have been declared over, and it would have put an end to hunger.

    --
    One potato, two potato, three potato, four...

    • My guess is it was deployed just fine, and they're faking the loss because its existence was discovered.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        It was a false flag op, the real launch was at Vandenberg at 3am with black helicopters circling. The fake launch was on a sound stage used for the moon landing.

        And apparently the satellite has stealth technology so that nobody knows it's up there. All telescopes have been modified.

        And vitamins really do work.

      • I know that US radar tracks lots of stuff in orbit. Other countries must do the same. Do we have any indications from them whether or not an appropriately sized object appeared in an orbit consistent with Zuma a the right time?

        • Zuma has never been discussed in depth or any photographs released, so for all we know Zuma could be of a stealth design, which coupled with orbital changes after deployment may make it very very hard to spot from the ground (you would be relying on optical observation only)...

          • by quenda ( 644621 )

            You could paint it black to hide from amateur optical observers, but what kind of stealth could hide a large satellite in low orbit from other states with radar and infra-red observation?
            It'd have to either hide on the moon, or in place of a known existing satellite that it swallows, with stealth making it look smaller.

            But the chances of a $3bil project staying that secret from other states? Zero.

            • You could paint it black to hide from amateur optical observers, but what kind of stealth could hide a large satellite in low orbit from other states with radar and infra-red observation?
              It'd have to either hide on the moon, or in place of a known existing satellite that it swallows, with stealth making it look smaller.

              But the chances of a $3bil project staying that secret from other states? Zero.

              You wouldn't want to paint it black, it'd absorb huge amounts of radiation when in sunlight that would result in heating that would be difficult to manage.

              PS. Not a satellite nor even a rocket scientist, so the above is conjecture only.

              • by TimSSG ( 1068536 )

                You could paint it black to hide from amateur optical observers, but what kind of stealth could hide a large satellite in low orbit from other states with radar and infra-red observation? It'd have to either hide on the moon, or in place of a known existing satellite that it swallows, with stealth making it look smaller.

                But the chances of a $3bil project staying that secret from other states? Zero.

                You wouldn't want to paint it black, it'd absorb huge amounts of radiation when in sunlight that would result in heating that would be difficult to manage.

                PS. Not a satellite nor even a rocket scientist, so the above is conjecture only.

                Yeah, painting it black will not good from collecting heat point of view (It would collect a lot of heat). But, black would radiate the heat better than silver like most satellites. And, that combination should make it easy to find using heat/infra-red detectors in space or on the ground. Almost, have to have an shroud that flips between silver and black. Silver for the side towards the Sun and black towards the Earth. But, it would still likely be detectable by other satellites above it in orbit. Tim S.

            • The military has had solutions for the later two for decades. Look up agm-129 (ACM)

              That missile has design features that solve both. I would know, I've had my hands in them. Optical observation would be the hardest to solve, due to the black paint creating heat that prevents the other tech from working to solve the heat issue properly.

              • by quenda ( 644621 )

                That missile has design features that solve both.

                I believe the cruise missile relies on air for cooling, and low flight for avoiding radar, neither of which are helpful for a satellite.
                Much easier to spot something against space than against terrain. It is big too. Stealth can only reduce the radar reflection so much.
                And by infra-red I mean long-wave emissions.

                If the satellite was boosted into a distant orbit, that would be harder, but likely not useful for a spy satellite.

          • Nah, Zuma was an oversized paperweight with an onboard package meant to blow up the rocket. The actual money went to fund the government's secret underground network of ultra-high-tech cities constructed with black budget funding. They needed to say where the money went.
        • Why do people even entertain these silly theories. We know soaceflight is a lossy enterprise because it involves firing stuff at ball tearing speed at the sky attached to a tube filled with bombs. If they wanted a secretive launch theyâ(TM)d have found a back channel commercial launch on a less press worthy platform. This was an entire stack of stuff that was mostly experimental tech. Of course theyâ(TM)ll lose payloads and regularly too

      • My guess is it was a box full of used pinball machine parts, and the "accident" was to cover up having stolen a few billion dollars and not have to explain why the new satellite didn't work.

        Just as crazy, but not quite as dumb.
        =Smidge=

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yes! Slightly less crazy, the cash was not stolen but went in part to black ops, in part to research in subjects such as how to remote-hack or in-situ hack popular satellite buses, in part on autonomous submarine drones to counter Russia in this developing theatre...3 billion allegedly going up in smoke enables to pour money in other even more secret ventures...

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The sales pitch?
      A satellite that can move around in space.
      That can see past clouds and look deep into bunkers.
      So well designed that people looking up cant see and plot the spy satellite at night.
      Its everything every past generation of US spy satellite was sold on in one new satellite.
      Improved and fast. With solar and nuclear power and big space harpoon for defence.
      Its got paint that astronomers cant see at night. A mission patch to confuse astrologers.
      A bona fide spy satellite.
    • We weren't all told this, but had this made it into orbit, all wars would have been declared over, and it would have put an end to hunger.

      It was amazing tech. Once a day as it flew over each city, it would launch enough cheeseburgers on parachutes to provide one burger per person per day. They even had a website - taken down soon after the failure, unfortunately - which allowed you to customize your burger.

  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Monday April 09, 2018 @09:07PM (#56409541) Homepage

    I suspect that it doesn't matter how much SpaceX complains, it's going to be very difficult beating a Beltway pro like Northrop-Grumman in who gets the ultimate blame in Washington.

    If I could bet on things, Northrop-Grumman would get another $3.5B to replicate Zuma and SpaceX will have to undergo an extensive Air Force review of the Falcon 9, the fairing, their launch procedures and aspects of their design.

    • I suspect that it doesn't matter how much SpaceX complains, it's going to be very difficult beating a Beltway pro like Northrop-Grumman in who gets the ultimate blame in Washington.

      If I could bet on things, Northrop-Grumman would get another $3.5B to replicate Zuma and SpaceX will have to undergo an extensive Air Force review of the Falcon 9, the fairing, their launch procedures and aspects of their design.

      I'm sure someone along the way had some kind of insurance on this. The 3.5 Billion was for R&D and construction. It probably wouldn't cost that much to construct another one, it's only construction costs...

      • Launch insurance is common - payload insurance (especially for classified payloads where insurance companies can't see the payload), not so much.

        I would expect that the original technology used for the first Zuma will be superseded by newer, better components which means that there will be a substantial redesign which will cost at least $3.5B.

        When you've been selling to the US Government since before WWII, you know how things work in your favour.

    • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday April 09, 2018 @10:53PM (#56409975) Homepage Journal

      SpaceX made it clear on day one that their vehicle performed "nominally", as they say, and nobody credible has been contradicting them. The inquiry is normal for this sort of failure. And the Air Force gave them 290 Million for launching 3 more GPS satellites last month, without waiting for the results of this inquiry.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        SpaceX made it clear on day one that their vehicle performed "nominally"

        There's a few essential rules to damage control, don't make statements you'll have to backtrack on, get favorable facts out there as quick as possible and if you got a lightning rod to redirect the attention do it. The funny thing is that those often tell you the rest of the picture of what's not being said. If SpaceX didn't know the reason and there was any chance they were implicated they'd say they were investigating. Saying they performed nominally = we know exactly who and what screwed up and it wasn't

        • I thought the general rule was:don't backtrack just spend more on your PR. It's not as if the Patriot missiles or the F35 suddenly stopped selling.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 09, 2018 @09:34PM (#56409669)

    I once worked for a company that got bought out by Northrop Grumman during the Bush Jr. years. The company I worked for built many of these satellites and had a really good reputation at the time of the hostile takeover. Northrop Grumman at the time had a long history of failures and making ships that were not even sea-worthy let alone battle hardened. Northrop did things like have all of the ship's computers tied to one Windows NT 3.51 server and that server would always crash and corrupt everything including ship guidance with no manual backup systems, so the ships would just be adrift at sea and have to be towed back to port. When Northrop Grumman took over, they screwed all of us over and went out of their way to get rid of all of the good engineers. Their management was very greedy and very hostile towards all of us. We were pretty much all replaced with "their people" and outsourced labor. Yes, US government military contractor work paid for by the American tax dollar has been extensively outsourced to foreign countries en mass by Northrop Grumman. Now the programs I worked on are complete failures under their control when before those very same programs were going great.

    Really I would be surprised if Northrop Grumman made anything that actually worked. The greed at the top levels and bumbling incompetence everywhere including top levels means they are destined to fail at everything. You go through contract by contract and all you see are delay after delay, failure after failure with huge sums of taxpayer money going to their vertical monopoly on defense or more accurately the super wealthy at the top in a nationally sponsored welfare for the rich and politically connected, especially those who have been connected to the Bush'es.

    • by Salvage ( 178446 )

      Obviously, if they're getting contract after contract, they are succeeding at one thing.

      If that's their only success, that's their only expertise, and not what they claim for expertise.

      Unfortunately, it seems a lot of companies over there are good at only one thing these days. And one that one thing never lines up with their marketing.

      • Northrop Grumman continues to get contracts because they are an established name and are able to make promises to the Gov at a lower price than their competitors. Then they are able to recoup costs on rent and maintenance. Just look at the beginnings of the B-2 [nytimes.com]. A plane with a $70 billion price tag that the government DOESN'T OWN. They rent from Northrop, and pay them for upkeep and replacement parts.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Similar experience here. I worked on an NG program that they struggled to get their product out the door and they flat out lied to the government about when they would be done. When I ran the numbers and told senior management when they would likely finish, they threatened me with physical harm if I told DCMA. Needless to say I left at the soonest opportunity. NG was the only top 3 defense contractor at the time to have so many cost plus contracts and still be losing money... malfeasance at its finest. I've

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I never worked for Northrop-Grumman, but I did once work for another large defense contractor, Rockwell-Collins. When I got there we had unusually onerous time reporting requirements, which I thought was odd. It turned out that it was part of a settlement negotiated with the government shortly before I arrived; they had been ripping off the Space Shuttle programme by, whenever any unrelated project went overbudget, just billing all their work to the Shuttle programme because it was "Cost Plus", no limit on

  • NRE = Non-Recoverable Engineering expense
    While it will cost a significant chunk of change to build another and launch it, it will not be anywhere near $3.5B

    • CSB time. Back in the 80s I wrote some software for NASA that ran on our piece of test equipment (a telemetry analyzer). Part of the contract was to train them on how to use it so I flew to Cocoa Beach. Went to Cape Canaveral to do my 30 minute training (it was easy to use software), met our contact Dave. He asked where the box was. I said we shipped it a couple weeks ago. We went off to their shipping and receiving where I immediately saw our box. Dave talked to the guy, he said it wasn't a complete
  • Sounds like their CEO is a bit of a goose.

  • Call me paranoid and a conspiracy theorist (rarely, but when it comes things in space world governments are very duplicitous). But launch it and tell people it's lost. place blame, meanwhile the satellite goes back to being a secret.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Call me paranoid and a conspiracy theorist (rarely, but when it comes things in space world governments are very duplicitous). But launch it and tell people it's lost. place blame, meanwhile the satellite goes back to being a secret.

      This would fool all of about zero people who track satellites. Did you see the radar images that Fraunhofer FHR produced of China's Tiangong-1 space station coming down? See China's Falling Space Station in These Radar Images [space.com] . This is with technology that is available to a c

  • Isn't that how it usually goes? $3.5 Billion satellite, taken out by a $5,000 part that likely cost someone $500 to make out of $50 worth of actual raw materials.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson

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