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The US government shutdown is almost certainly delaying SpaceX’s crucial launch


An update from NASA this morning confirmed that SpaceX’s first test launch of its Dragon crew capsule is going to be pushed back to February.

Kicking the rocket down the road: SpaceX had hinted the launch would be delayed when CEO Elon Musk retweeted pictures of the spacecraft on January 5 saying, “About a month away from the first orbital test flight of crew Dragon.” The launch was originally planned for January 7 and was then rescheduled to January 17.

Why the delays? The NASA announcement said the delay was “to complete hardware testing and joint reviews,” but it’s likely the US government shutdown is a contributing factor. As the shutdown drags on through its third week, many NASA scientists are furloughed or working without pay. A broken Hubble camera may not be able to be fixed until the shutdown ends, a military weather satellite program has been put on hold, and other launches are being held up as well.

Why it matters: NASA is in a hurry to get Boeing and SpaceX crewed missions up and running so it can shake off its dependence on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. The agency has purchased seats on Soyuz only through November 2019, so uncrewed test flights need to happen as soon as possible. Assuming they do, and that they’re successful, NASA’s Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are slated to fly on SpaceX’s Demo-2 test in June. That would make them the first astronauts to launch from US soil since the shuttle’s last flight in 2011.