In Photos: SpaceX Rocket Launches Secret Zuma Spacecraft, Then Lands

Liftoff for Zuma!


On Jan. 7, 2017, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the secret Zuma mission for the U.S. government in a nighttime liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. See photos of the dazzling launch in our gallery here by clicking the arrow at the right of each image. In this photo: The Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

What Is Zuma


While SpaceX webcast its Zuma launch, the nature of the mission itself was secret. All that is known is that Zuma was launched for the U.S. government and was destined for low-Earth orbit.

A Northrop Grumman Spacecraft

Paul Hennessy/Polaris/Newscom

The Zuma launch by SpaceX was arranged by aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman, which built the Zuma spacecraft for the U.S. government. This photo shows a clear look at the payload fairing (nosecone) ahead of the mission's launch on Jan. 7, 2018.

Lighting Up the Night


SpaceX launched the Zuma mission at 8 p.m. EST, lighting up the night sky along Florida's Space Coast in with a dazzling display.

Soaring Upward


At the request of Northrop Grumman, SpaceX cut off live views from the Falcon 9's upper stage about 3 minutes into the Zuma flight,


Paul Hennessy/Polaris/Newscom

As with past SpaceX launches, the Falcon 9 rocket used on the Zuma launch was equipped with landing legs (visible folded against the booster's bottom) so its first stage could return to Earth.

Stunning Sight


This long-exposure view shows SpaceX's Falcon 9 launching Zuma (the main arc) with the Falcon 9 first stage returning to Earth.

A Beach View


This dazzling SpaceX view captures the Zuma launch from a Florida beach. The Falcon 9 first stage's return to Earth is visible as the shorter arc in the background.

Returning to Earth


This long-exposure SpaceX photo shows the return of the Falcon 9 first stage as the booster to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.



The Falcon 9 booster made a flawless landing at SpaceX's Landing Zone 1, marking the company's 21st booster landing.

A Delayed Flight


SpaceX initially planned to launch the Zuma mission in mid-November, but delayed the launch while awaiting the results of payload fairing tests for a different mission.

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Christine Lunsford
Producer and Contributing Writer

Christine Lunsford joined the team in 2010 as a freelance producer and later became a contributing writer, covering astrophotography images, astronomy photos and amazing space galleries and more. During her more than 10 years with, oversaw the site's monthly skywatching updates and produced overnight features and stories on the latest space discoveries. She enjoys learning about subjects of all kinds.