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SpaceX successfully sends secret 'Zuma' satellite to space

The rocket company completes its first launch of the year with its most secretive mission yet, and also managea to recover the Falcon 9 rocket.

The Falcon 9 carrying "Zuma" lifts off from a SpaceX launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

GIF by Eric Mack/CNET

SpaceX successfully sent something into space for the US government, and that may be all we'll ever know about the so-called "Zuma" mission that Elon Musk's commercial space company completed from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Sunday evening. 

The company's first successful Falcon 9 rocket launch of 2018 was also probably the most secretive in the company's history. About all we know is that contractor and manufacturer Northrop Grumman booked the launch on behalf of the federal government. SpaceX has done classified launches for the Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office before, but this is the first time the name of the government agency behind the spacecraft being launched isn't even known.

The Zuma launch was initially planned for November, but was delayed due to issues with the fairing, which houses the payload on its way to being deployed into orbit around Earth. Subsequent weather delays led up to the mission finally being carried out on Jan. 7.

The deployment of the satellite was followed by the successful landing of the Falcon 9 first stage at the nearby landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The completion of the Zuma mission clears the way for SpaceX to focus on the debut demonstration launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket system, which is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together to create a launch system more than twice as powerful as any other rocket currently in use. 

Musk has said that Falcon Heavy, which has itself been delayed for years, will finally launch in late January carrying his personal cherry-red Tesla Roadster into space. Musk doesn't necesarrily expect the Heavy launch to go as well as Zuma did, however: he's warned multiple times that the demonstration might not succeed, ending instead in some spectacular fireworks.

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