SpaceX pulls Zuma mission patches from sale amid reports of secret satellite’s loss


Here at The Chicago Embroidery Company, we’re always interested in collectable patches. Our friends at CollectSpace noticed the removal of Zuma mission embroidered patches, maybe the best confirmation that the apparently successful early January launch was less than perfect. The secret satellite is rumored to have tumbled into the ocean.

SpaceX discon

SpaceX has recalled the sale of souvenir mission patches from its first launch of 2018, providing a possible hint to the fate of its classified payload.

The spaceflight company pulled its Zuma mission patches from partner gift shops and online retailers on Friday (Jan. 12), several days after the embroidered emblems wenton sale. Since 2015, SpaceX has allowed for third-party sales of its mission patches so long as the flight that the insignia represents was confirmed a success.

SpaceX recalled the sale of the Zuma mission patches in “consideration for their customer,” a seller who goes by the handle “usafspace” on eBay posted Friday evening on the collectSPACE forums and on Reddit’s SpaceX subsection.

The patches were also noted as missing from the pegs at the souvenir shop for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum Sands Space History Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where they had been available for $7 each earlier in the week.

Mission patch artwork for SpaceX’s launch of the Zuma classified payload on a Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 7, 2018. (SpaceX)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday (Jan. 7; 0100 GMT Jan. 8). The flight appeared from the ground to proceed as planned, with the rocket’s first stage returning to a landing at the Cape, while the second stage proceeded with the classified payload on a path to low Earth orbit.

At the request of its customer — which is only known to be the U.S. government; no agency has claimed ownership of the “restricted payload” — SpaceX ceased status updates on Zuma’s climb to orbit after separation of the first stage.

The next morning, however, reports began circulating that the Zuma payload had either been stranded in orbit or had fallen back to the Earth, dropping into the Indian or Pacific oceans. Some media, citing unnamed sources, suggested that Zuma had failed to separate from its payload adapter, a mount between Zuma and the Falcon 9 upper stage, that was provided by the U.S. government’s contractor for the mission, Northrop Grumman.

Responding to the press and still limited by the clandestine nature of the mission, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell issued a statement that “after review of all data to date, the Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night.”

“If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately,” Shotwell said, noting in addition that SpaceX’s upcoming launch schedule was unaffected.

SpaceX appeared to treat the launch as it has its previous successful missions, releasing launch imagery online and providing its retail partners with mission patches for sale.

By Friday night, almost 50 of the patches had been sold on eBay before the recall went into effect.

SpaceX withheld distributing its Dragon CRS-7 mission patches in 2015 after suffering its first Falcon 9 launch failure. (collectSPACE)

SpaceX’s policy with regards to its mission patches dates back to June 2015 and the company’s first Falcon 9 launch failure. Following an in-flight explosion that led to the loss of a NASA-contracted, uncrewed Dragon cargo ship bound for the International Space Station, SpaceX held back the distribution of its CRS-7 patches and began with its next flight waiting until after the missions were complete before beginning third-party sales.

SpaceX also began holding back its insignia artwork until a day before the scheduled launch — a decision that meant no mission patch was ever seen for the 2016 launch of the Israeli Earth communications satellite Amos-6, which was destroyed in a pre-flight engine test.

The now-recalled Zuma patch depicted a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch set against Earth as seen from space and an American flag. The shield-shaped emblem included a four-leaf clover at the base of its border, a “good luck” staple on all of SpaceX’s mission patches since the company’s first successful launch in 2008.


If you are one of the 50 people to purchase the Zuma embroidered patch, you’ve got quite the collectable! Design your own mission patches for your team, group, company or special event and get a free quote from The Chicago Embroidery Company,, or call 1-312-664-4232.



Denver artist designs NASA patch for Rodent Research IV mission

nasa_patch_7color_stickerHere at The Chicago Embroidery Company, we’ve written about space patches before, and really enjoyed the following article by  Tamara Chung of the Denver Post:

When Denver resident Doug Kacena was a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1994, his older sister, Melissa, asked for a favor.

“I needed a whole bunch of hands to take measurements of bacteria every two hours,” recalls Melissa Kacena, who was working on her master’s degree at the same school.

The bacteria project wound up on Space Station Mir and Kacena went on to get her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at CU Boulder and did post-doctoral work at Yale University. The younger Kacena? He dropped out of the molecular cellular developmental biology program to major in art. He’s now a ground-breaking abstract artist who recently challenged traditional artists to give him paintings so he could paint over them.

More than 20 years later, Melissa Kacena asked her brother for another favor.

The siblings reunited on a project that is headed for space on Saturday. Melissa Kacena is currently in Cape Canaveral, Fla., prepping 40 mice for a trip to the International Space Station. They’ll be studied as part of a bone recovery experiment. She tapped her brother to design the official patch for the team’s space mission, the Rodent Research IV.

“It was an incredible honor to be asked to do it,” said Doug Kacena. “I did it before anyone had a chance to rethink it.”

Embroidered patches with personal stories have been a part of NASA’s history since 1965. But most patches don’t make it into the public eye — or even NASA space stores — and no one seems to know how many patches exist.nasa-apollo

“I would estimate about 200 to 250 total, and that doesn’t take into account the patches designed by the customers (military, commercial and NASA) that rode on those launches,” said Robert Pearlman, editor at collectSPACE, which is full of key moments in space history.

The space agency lets mission participants design their own patches for team-bonding purposes, according to Bill Barry, NASA’s chief historian. But NASA only keeps track of patches from official trips, which include all manned missions, shuttle launches and select others — or about 160 since the first patch was used in 1965. NASA makes the taxpayer-funded designs available to the public, so anyone can create one. NASA prefers to stick to its blue and white logo.

“NASA’s view is that multiple images dilute the brand,” Barry said. “We use the NASA logo for all communication purposes.”

But Barry understands the affinity for space mission patches.

“When I was a kid back in the ’60s, I had a complete collection of all the Apollo mission patches,” Barry said. “And I was crushed when I learned as an adult that they weren’t real. …The crew-sized ones were bigger.”

The custom began in 1965 with the Gemini 5. Astronauts Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad were preparing for an eight-day orbit around Earth and wanted “a Conestoga wagon and stenciled on the side, ‘8 Days or Bust’,” said Barry. “Both of those guys were fun-loving characters. Let’s put it that way.”NASA's first official patch to commemorate a trip to space, the Gemini 5.

NASA didn’t want to risk criticism if the mission was shorter or longer than eight days. They approved the patch, but not the wording. That was covered up by a piece of white cloth. And from then on, space mission patches became a thing — as long as NASA gave its approval.

But unofficial patches don’t have to follow any guidelines since they are not used for official NASA communication, Barry said. There could be multiple patches for the same launch if multiple parties are involved.nasa-8-days

Private companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have made their own mission patches. spacex_f1_001_first_flight_splOther government agencies that have launched satellites also have created patches, including the elusive U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Theories abound as to what the secretive satellites were intended for, with mystery patches to boot. One patch for the NROL-35 mission has a purple-haired wizard holding a trident and ball of fire. Another, for a 2011 launch, shows a bird engulfed in flames with an American flag in the background and Latin words that translate to “Better the devil you know,” according to the Smithsonian.

One popular patch was worn by the crew that launched the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers in 2003. Entertainment company Warner Bros. worked with the Air Force to create patches for each rover, one featured Marvin The Martian, the other Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers.

Even astronaut classes have their own patches, like the astronaut class of 1990. The 13th class played on the unlucky number by picking a black cat and calling themselves, the Hairballs.

Research teams like Rodent Research IV have jumped at the chance to design their own patches.

That brings us back to Melissa Kacena, now a professor of orthopaedic surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine. She’s been working with her students for more than three years on a method that helps bone fractures heal while a person is “weightless,” via crutches or recuperating in bed. That’s hard to test with mice, who don’t like to stay still even when asked nicely, she said.

Bone fractures actually heal better with exercise, which increases bone strength. But walking on a fracture doesn’t help the bone-healing process if a metal or hardware implant is involved.

“If all your body weight goes into the implant, it will eventually fail. You need the bone to start growing before the implant fails,” she said.nasa-russ

With support from the U.S. Department of Defense, the project becomes the fourth to send mice into space. Astronauts at the space station will help with the research before sending everything back to Earth after four weeks.

“We’re going to learn so much about the bone-healing process,” she said, important because “there’s a really good chance that astronauts will get a fracture if they go to Mars.”

“Astronauts lose about 1 to 3 percent of bone density each month in space,” she said. “A person with osteoporosis loses 1 percent a year. … If you lose (bone mass) going to Mars, there’s an increased risk of fractures. We need to know how to heal.”

After asking her team to come up with patch designs, they turned to her brother, Doug, who created a fairly straightforward design. The Rodent Research IV patch shows a nasa_patch_7color_stickersilhouette of a mouse, its tail tucked underneath a strand of DNA. A galaxy of stars is in the background while the SpaceX Dragon capsule floats near the patch’s edge.

The embroidered patch is scheduled to hitch a ride Saturday on the SpaceX Dragon during its CRS-10 cargo resupply mission to the ISS, a trip originally set for last summer.

Before the group packed up its gear and headed to Florida, Melissa Kacena talked to her team.

“I told them that not everyone has these kinds of opportunities to work with NASA,” she said. “I reminded them when I was a grad student, working with NASA really inspired me and opened doors. …Hopefully they will solve the problems of tomorrow.”