At $450, This Ultra-Rare Zuma Project Patch May Be the Aviation Collectors’ Holy Grail

The unusual, and pricey, offer for the ultra-secret Zuma patch surfaced on March 4, 2019. (Photo: via eBay)

Unusual Patch Was Pulled from Stores When Classified Project May Have Failed.

If you’re a military aviation fan, chances are you have a few patches lying around in a collection somewhere. Many aviation fans have turned patch collecting into a sideline of their interest in military aviation. For the devoted and affluent military aviation patch collector, this may be a Holy Grail patch: A $450 ultra-rare, super-secret patch from a classified private and government space intelligence gathering program that disappeared when rumors surfaced that the project either failed, or was too successful to publicize. No one (publicly) knows which one.

The rare patch is from the classified “Zuma Project”, a combined commercial launch program with SpaceX and an “undisclosed government agency” (who else?). The Zuma Project, whatever it is, is apparently managed by Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor that is a lot like an iceberg when it comes to visibility- the public only sees a small portion of what lies above the surface. The rest is deeply secret.

No one in the general public knows exactly what Zuma Project was- or is, other than a space payload allegedly designated “USA-280” onboard a SpaceX launch Vehicle that was put into orbit “successfully” according to SpaceX on January 8, 2018. Other accounts suggest the attempt to place payload USA-280 into orbit may have failed.

Official photo of the Zuma payload on top of a SpaceX launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral launch site LC-40. (Photo: SpaceX Official)

On January 13, 2018, ten days after the (attempted?) launch, journalist and researcher Laura Grego wrote for the Union of Concerned Scientists that, “The launch, however, remains shrouded in mystery. Shortly after the launch, Bloomberg reported that the satellite was lost, due to US Strategic Command saying they were not tracking any objects. The Wall Street Journal suggested that Congress was being briefed on a failure, and that it was due to a failure of the satellite to separate from the final stage, and so both were deorbited together.”

Whatever the case may be with the mystery surrounding the January 8, 2018 SpaceX launch of the ultra-secret USA-280, it is the type of thing military aviation geeks live for. So, rather than staying secret, the story exploded, maybe like the project itself- we don’t know.
A Google search on the key words, “Zuma Satellite” produce a rather un-stealthy 1,640,000 results. So much for the secret.

But there does appear to be only one Zuma Project patch available for sale now, eBay auction number 153395857771, sold by “purplepurp”. They have been selling on eBay since 2010 and have a few hundred sales with 100% positive feedback. The only current listings are other SpaceX patches for about $24. But this one is special. The listing was last updated on May 8, 2019 and first went up on March 4, 2019. The seller has made six revisions to the listing, each one to the “Buy It Now” price. An interesting detail to the listing is that the title of the description indicates the patch is, “Employee Numbered” and an “Original Mission Patch”.

While official information about the Zuma payload launched by a SpaceX launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral launch site LC-40 is unavailable, the Union of Concerned Scientists posted this graphic of the safety area for the launch released by SpaceX and Cape Canaveral. (Photo: SpaceX Official)

We contacted the seller with a request for more information about where the patch came from and how they obtained it, but our requests weren’t answered before we published on the story. There is obviously the possibility that the patch is a repro or a fake but we’ll keep an eye on it. If anything interesting surfaces, we’ll update the story.