The Wall Street Journal: Pentagon mum on potential cause of botched spy-satellite launch

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The Pentagon refused to say anything at a briefing Thursday about why a classified U.S. government satellite launched by a contractor failed to reach a stable orbit and instead plummeted back into the atmosphere in what is presumed to be a total loss over the weekend.

“I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch,” Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said repeatedly during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon.

It was the first public statement by the Pentagon since Sunday’s botched mission and represented an unusual stance, given that officials in the past typically have confirmed successful deployments of even secret national-security satellites.

Code-named Zuma, the satellite was launched from Florida on board a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rocket, but didn’t separate as planned from the upper part of the boosters, according to industry officials. Instead, it is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere and ended up in the Indian Ocean. Earlier this week, Elon Musk’s SpaceX said it was not responsible for the loss of the satellite because its rocket performed exactly as planned. And Northrop Grumman Corp. NOC, +0.63%  , which built the satellite and chose SpaceX for the mission, said its normal procedures barred commenting on classified projects.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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