By Tony Capaccio and Erik Wasson


The Pentagon refused any public comment on a secret government satellite that apparently crashed into the sea after it was launched by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

“I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch,” Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said repeatedly in a briefing Thursday at the Pentagon, citing “the classified nature of all of this.” Asked what investigation is being conducted to ensure accountability for the loss of a costly payload, White told reporters she will “come back to you on that.”

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket seemed to lift off successfully from the pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday carrying a classified payload in a mission code-named Zuma, but the satellite has gone missing. Lawmakers are receiving classified briefings on the lost satellite.

“The first statement by SpaceX was that the failure to achieve orbit was not theirs” so there’s no reason so far to question the company’s planned participation in NASA space projects, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a former astronaut and the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transport Committee, said Wednesday before being briefed.

SpaceX and Boeing Co. are partners in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which aims to revive human spaceflights launched from Nelson’s state.

“After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly,” SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday. If that’s confirmed by Defense Department investigators, it leaves open possibilities such as a failure in the coupling that was supposed to release the satellite from the rocket.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman, which manufactured the satellite and chose SpaceX for the mission, declined to comment on the coupling, saying “we cannot comment on classified missions.”

SpaceX is saying “everything performed as expected, it’s not our fault,” Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies with the Teal Group, said in an interview.

“The onus is on the Air Force or Grumman to prove otherwise,” he said.