The federal government shutdown currently underway will impact the nation’s ability to launch space missions, and not just government missions either. SpaceX is currently testing their inaugural Falcon Heavy rocket on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in preparation for a test fire of its 3 cores and 27 engines, to be followed by its debut launch, while also preparing to launch the SES 16 / GovSat-1 European communications satellite atop a Falcon-9 rocket from nearby Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral AFS by the end of the month.
But now, those missions and others are in jeopardy of slipping further into the year.
The U.S Air Force 45th Space Wing, in charge of the Eastern Range, confirmed Sunday that the shutdown will impact their ability to deliver assured space launch and range capabilities to the nation.
“Due to the shutdown removing key members of the civilian workforce, the 45th Space Wing will not be able to support launches or any commercial static test fires taking place on KSC,” said the 45th Space Wing.
About 4,000 people make up the 45th’s workforce, only a quarter of which are uniformed personnel who will report to work during the shutdown. Civilians will be furloughed, and simply put, the 45th can’t launch rockets without them.
“I would much rather be working to launch a rocket or working to fix my infrastructure, than I would be preparing to furlough folks,” said Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, last November. “Because if we go into a government shutdown, the only ones who come to work are the folks in uniform. I’ve got 900 people that will be running everything. And I can’t launch.”
“This challenging time should not divide but unite us. My hope is that the furlough’s duration will be brief and become a mere speed bump in our Drive to 48 launches a year,” said Monteith in a statement this weekend.
Meanwhile, SpaceX has confirmed to AmericaSpace that the shutdown WILL impact several upcoming missions for commercial customers and NASA.
“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,” said SpaceX in an email Sunday evening.
“This shutdown impacts SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy demonstration, which is critical for future National Security Space missions. It also 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,” added SpaceX.
In addition to Falcon Heavy and GovSat-1 preparations in Florida, a Falcon-9 was slated to launch the PAZ satellite for Airbus and Hisdesat, the Spanish operator of governmental satellites, from Vandenberg as soon as Feb 10, followed shortly after by launch of the next Iridium satellite fleet off the same pad.
The company currently holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, negotiated between SpaceX and NASA and signed back in December 2008, to launch resupply missions on their Dragon cargo spacecraft to and from the ISS.
But SpaceX didn’t go into details about what impacts exactly the shutdown will have on their ops, they just said it will impact them. That said, it’s rare to get SpaceX to comment at all, especially on anything related to Falcon Heavy currently.
Falcon Heavy first went vertical on pad 39A Dec 28, nearly a month ago. The rocket has been fueled and lowered off the pad several times since too, as engineers work to get the rocket up to par for flight. But the company will not provide any update on the status of their rocket, only saying the following:
“There are a number of constraints that come with tests for a demonstration mission,” said SpaceX previously in response to an AmericaSpace inquiry. “So, as is our standard practice, it’s unlikely that we would confirm in advance any specific timing or details about a static fire test for a demonstration flight; only once completed.”
Mission CRS-13 launched flawlessly in Dec 2017, and the next resupply mission, CRS-14, was expected to launch sometime in March 2018.
Almost all of NASA’s employees will be will be furloughed, only folks deemed critical to protecting the health and safety of humans or property are exempt (such as personnel needed to keep the ISS and their astronauts onboard operating), according to NASA. Upcoming spacewalks are expected to carry on too, but don’t be surprised if there’s no NASA TV live coverage – as that is not considered critical.
Bottom line – the longer the shutdown goes on, the longer it will take for the nation to return to launching space missions.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), who just launched a critical missile defense satellite this weekend, has yet to comment on the shutdown. AmericaSpace will update accordingly when they do.
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