Spaceflight Insider

What does the payload fairing issue mean for the remainder of SpaceX’s 2017 launch manifest?

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX, which has already had a busy year so far, is looking to expand upon its success with a packed launch manifest for the remainder of 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The classified “Zuma” mission has been delayed, and a report from an unconfirmed source suggests that the reason for the delay could cause a premature close to most of the remainder of SpaceX’s 2017 launch manifest.

Initial statements made by SpaceX noted that the company had opted to push the launch to Friday, Nov. 17. However, it appears that the issues encountered might have created a more fluid situation than was anticipated and the company and other relevant parties, including The Space Coast, noted that the launch was now “off the schedule.”

There does not appear to be, at this time, a clear idea within the public of how severe the payload fairing issue that the Hawthorne, California-based company encountered was or whether a simple redesign and fix could solve the matter and allow for the remaining flights to go ahead.

On Nov. 16, SpaceX noted: “We have decided to stand down and take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer. Though we have preserved the range opportunity for tomorrow, we will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date.”

As reports come in from both confirmed (45th Space Wing) and via unconfirmed sources, a question arose: What does this mean for the remainder of the NewSpace company’s 2017 launch manifest?

In terms of the next flight that SpaceX has under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, not much. The $1.6 billion agreement likely won’t be impacted as the cargo variant of SpaceXs Dragon spacecraft does not utilize a payload fairing (the rocket’s nose cone) when it travels to the International Space Station and the mission appears to still be a “go” for a December 4 launch date. When launched this will be the 13th flight under this agreement (CRS-13).

The payload fairing issue that SpaceX has encountered could mean that Zuma, as well as the Iridium NEXT 4 flight slated to take place on December 22, might not take place this year and the “unofficial” flight of the Falcon Heavy, which could have taken place later this year is unlikely to occur.

However, with no word from SpaceX, much of what has been posted on other websites and blogs is speculation. In terms of SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center activities for the rest of the year is, excluding the CRS-13 flight, empty. This leaves a month-and-a-half open for them to work on and correct the payload fairing issue and then reschedule the other flights on their 2017 manifest.

Little, not even which department of the U.S. government has purchased the flight is, is known about the Zuma mission. The few scraps of information publicly available denote that it has been produced by Northrop Grumman, that it is planned to be launched to low-Earth orbit, and that it is a payload being flown on behalf of the U.S. government.

For the sake of clarity, SpaceFlight Insider has reached out to SpaceX and asked specifically about the current situation. As of this writing, we have not received a response to our inquiries – but as soon as we do, we will update this article accordingly.




Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Maybe you should assume that this is the first time your readers have heard about a “payload fairing issue” and, you know, actually include a paragraph about the thing in the title?

Keep the infomatiin coming. This is the nect frontier. I am personally interested in mining news as it might unfold.

SpaceX has been modifying fairings so as to recover and reuse them. Wonder if this has had anything to do with creating this issue.

Or it could be that they ran into a problem with the pneumatic pushers they use to deploy the fairing, which may or may not be an in-house item. If it’s a vendor item that to take longer to fix.

Seems a bit fishy, top secret launch gets scrubbed indefinitely because of an issue with the launch vehicle which has been launching flawlessly up until now! – more likely a problem with the payload

They scrubbed previously this year due to fairing issue as well.

Sgt. Winkhorst, NOVA Command

Funny they’re having trouble with something that doesn’t really do very much other than survive the atmosphere and then jettison itself upon getting beyond the atmosphere. I doubt they’d delay the launch because their fairing recovery plan had a flaw.

India uses a similar system and they just has a deployment fail for the fairing causing a loss of vehicle

Fairing-shmairing. Let me tell you all about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.

speculation, speculation, speculation,
a lot of wasted I & O’s, and valuable
ether, nothing informative or constructive, totally worthless

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