Elon Musk’s SpaceX is poised to launch an unmanned cargo ship carrying a secret payload into orbit.
The mysterious cargo will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket at around 8:00pm ET (1:00am GMT) from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Very little is known about the mission, codenamed Zuma, as no commercial or government entity has claimed it.
Even the branch of the US government responsible for spy satellites, the National Reconnaissance Office, is public about payloads it launches via SpaceX, though it always keeps the details classified.
The Zuma mission bares similarities to two other launches in the past, PAN and CLIO, launched in 2009 and 2014 respectively.
These missions were also secretive and unclaimed by any government entity.
The PAN satellite was used by the National Security Agency to spy on conversations routed through communications satellites above the Middle East, according to documents obtained by The Intercept last year.
In September, the US Air Force’s X-37B program launched a secret robotic mini-shuttle via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Once Zuma is on its way to orbit, part of the reusable rocket will fly back down to Earth, landing on a pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida around 10 minutes later.
While other rocket makers ditch the boosters at sea following orbital missions, SpaceX expects to reuse the booster to save time and money.
If the Zuma mission is successful, it will mark SpaceX’s 17th launch of 2017, already more than doubling last year’s tally of eight.
If the reusable rocket booster lands with no issues, it will be the firm’s 20th successful landing.
The launch follows news that one of SpaceX’s next-generation rocket engines exploded during a test on Sunday.
The explosion involved the company’s Merlin engine, nine of which power its Falcon 9 rocket, during what the company called a ‘qualification test’.
No one was injured, and the company said it is ‘now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause’ of the explosion.
‘SpaceX is committed to our current manifest, and we do not expect this to have any impact on our launch cadence,’ the firm said in a statement.
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