CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The test launch of SpaceX's capsule designed to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station is not happening in January, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and NASA.
The partial government shutdown is likely affecting the U.S. return to launching astronauts. In a tweet Saturday, Musk said his company is “about a month away from the first orbital test flight of Crew Dragon.”
The launch from Kennedy Space Center of Crew Dragon on a Falcon 9 from launchpad 39A was scheduled for Jan. 17. Musk's tweet confirms the launch is being pushed into February.
More than half of Kennedy Space Center employees are affected by the government shutdown. Thursday marked the 19th day of the partial shutdown.
NASA confirmed in a statement Thursday the launch will happen no earlier than February in order to complete hardware testing and joint reviews.
"SpaceX is assessing any impacts of the partial government shutdown to our commercial launches," SpaceX spokesperson Eva Behrend said. "NASA continues to support Commercial Crew Program operations as we move toward our first demonstration mission of Crew Dragon next month."
About a month away from the first orbital test flight of crew Dragon https://t.co/U01Oxu3M7E— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 5, 2019
The rocket and astronaut capsule were rolled out to Kennedy Space Center launchpad 39A last week. Before the actual launch, SpaceX needs to conduct a ground test fire of the rocket's engines, among other tests. NASA employees will be needed for such tests.
The launch of Crew Dragon is a crucial step in NASA's Commercial Crew program. The space agency selected SpaceX and Boeing to design, build and launch spacecraft to carry U.S. astronauts back and forth to the space station as a replacement for the space shuttle. Since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has paid Russia to launch its crew.
Musk added that when Crew Dragon does take flight, it "will be extremely intense. Early flights are especially dangerous, as there’s a lot of new hardware."
Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The first test launch is scheduled for March.
Both Boeing and SpaceX's first test flights will be uncrewed. If those launches go well, later this year, both companies will launch spacecraft with astronauts on board.