For this question, block-quoting all of the relevant information would be unwieldy (even for me) so I will just link four articles (plus one quoted section from the last item):

  1. NASA Spaceflight 16-Oct-2017 SpaceX adds mystery “Zuma” mission, Iridium-4 aims for Vandenberg landing
  2. NASA Spaceflight 11-Nov-2017 SpaceX static fires Zuma Falcon 9; engine test anomaly no issue for manifest
  3. Florida Today 14-Nov-2017 SpaceX ready for mystery 'Zuma' launch from KSC and landing at Cape Canaveral
  4. Spaceflight Now 14-Nov-2017 Top secret ‘Zuma’ mission puzzles satellite trackers

A top secret payload developed in secrecy for the U.S. government is set to ride into orbit from Florida’s Space Coast aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Thursday.

Known only by the codename Zuma, the payload is likely heading for an orbit less than 1,000 miles in altitude, and perhaps much lower. The existence of the mission was not revealed until it was disclosed in regulatory filings last month.

A disclosure so close to launch is rare in the space industry, and little information about the mission has been released in the last few weeks. Clandestine spacecraft owned by the National Reconnaissance Office — the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency — receive codenames years before they lift off. They’re also listed in public procurement documents and launch manifests. (emphasis added)

It looks like NASA was going through normal procedures to approve the use of "used rockets" ("once-flown Falcon 9 booster that lofted a payload to Low Earth Orbit (LEO)" item 1.) to supply the ISS, but I'm not sure this was complete.

Question: Did the sudden appearance of Zuma on the schedule expedite this approval, by "bumping" NASA from business class and encouraging them to accept an empty seat in coach (putting CRS on pre-flown boosters)? Or would NASA have approved the use of once-used-to-LEO F9's in time for the CRS launches anyway?

Bonus: Will Zuma appear on the mission patch?

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    $\begingroup$ There was a NG payload and launch contract on the SpaceX manifest for few years already. Imho no way people responsible for planning on both sides would not have it on minds when doing their work. $\endgroup$
    – jkavalik
    Nov 15, 2017 at 6:10
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    $\begingroup$ @jkavalik I think the issue is more of the short notice - the option was exercised so close to the launch window that there had to be a sudden re-shuffling of booster assignments and approvals. It's this that seems (on the surface at least) to be a surprise; that and of course the Paw Patrol reference. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 15, 2017 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ are we sure any "short notice" actually happened? Or were they just keeping quiet as long as possible? (No idea. Would like to hear myself if anyone knows and may tell) $\endgroup$
    – jkavalik
    Nov 15, 2017 at 10:04

1 Answer 1


NSF: SpaceX switches Falcon launch of clandestine Zuma satellite to Friday:

While the contract was signed in 2015, a launch date was not determined until late-April 2017 when the government customer notified Northrop Grumman of the mandatory launch period for Zuma of 1-30 November 2017.

Once the launch date was known, it is understood by NASASpaceflight.com that SpaceX assigned Falcon 9 first stage B1043 to Zuma – a core that was originally supposed to launch the CRS-13/Dragon mission for NASA to the International Space Station.

Due to the U.S. government’s need to launch Zuma before 30 November, SpaceX’s manifest was rearranged to meet the customer’s short-notice launch need – representing a rapid launch response capability for SpaceX that has been greatly aided by the company’s immensely successful reuse of the Falcon 9 first stage booster.

That sounds like NASA/CRS-13 really being bumped, just not on a such short notice, with half a year to plan accordingly.

Flight Proven for CRS status:

The NASA review into flight proven boosters has been ongoing for months, involving a final review and approval process at NASA HQ to asscertain if flight proven boosters could be used on ISS resupply missions.

So going preflown may have been the plan since that April bump, supposed all the reviews work out fine.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see, so while the "news broke" so-to-speak in the October timeframe, it's likely at least some people at each major player were aware since about April. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 16, 2017 at 20:35

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