The government shutdown isn’t just affecting federal agencies, such as NASA. It’s altering the plans of private sector spaceflight companies, such as SpaceX, too.
SpaceX, the Elon Musk-founded company, was initially planning to launch the maiden flight of its huge new Falcon Heavy rocket at the end of January. However, that timeline is looking more uncertain thanks to the government shutdown.
The company was set to perform a test firing of the Falcon Heavy this weekend at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in preparation for its first flight. But due to the government shutdown, it wasn’t able to.
SpaceX is a private company, but it has launched government payloads, including spy satellites. Delaying its rocket development could have national security consequences, the company warned.
“This shutdown impacts SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy demonstration, which is critical for future NSS [National Security Strategy] missions,” SpaceX spokesperson John Taylor said in an emailed statement.
It’s unclear exactly how much the shutdown will delay SpaceX’s planned Falcon Heavy or Falcon 9 operations.
If the shutdown does continue into next week, it will almost certainly affect the company’s planned launch of a communications satellite for Luxembourg.
It’s also possible that the shutdown could affect launches servicing the International Space Station, if it stretches on even longer.
The shutdown “…impacts critical missions for our customers, including important international allies scheduled to launch shortly from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base, as well as upcoming missions this spring to resupply the International Space Station,” Taylor said.
“We remain hopeful that the Congress will quickly resolve their differences and put our partners in the Air Force and NASA back to doing their important work as soon as possible.”
NASA is, of course, feeling the stress of the government shutdown.
On Monday morning, the space agency started sending out tweets from various social media accounts explaining that those feeds wouldn’t be updated during the shutdown. All agency-hosted events at centers around the country are also cancelled until further notice.
NASA, however, will continue to support International Space Station operations from the ground at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle are expected to head outside the Space Station for a spacewalk — one of the most dangerous activities an astronaut can do — on Tuesday.
Even if the government is still shutdown, that walk will continue on as scheduled, as it’s essential to Space Station operations.
That said, there’s a chance that members of the public won’t be able watch the spacewalk as it happens.
Usually, NASA will broadcast spacewalks live, but due to the shutdown, they may not be able to. According to the agency’s shutdown plan, first published in 2017, NASA-TV is expected to be taken offline during a shutdown.