SpaceX hit an unexpected roadblock on its journey to launch the world’s most powerful rocket. The aerospace company has spent months preparing the Falcon Heavy for its maiden voyage into space, but the government shutdown has put things on hold.
The final step before takeoff is to run a static fire test of its 27 Merlin engines in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The test was scheduled for Friday, then moved to Saturday, before being delayed indefinitely. SpaceX requires the assistance of the U.S. Air Force to run the test, but furloughed personnel at NASA and the 45th Space Wing means Elon Musk’s company will have to wait out the shutdown before launching. SpaceX relies on the Air Force to ensure the grounds are safe before it launches or tests rockets. We won’t know a firm date for the Falcon Heavy static fire until the government reopens.
The shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for SpaceX. The company had just carted its 3 million pound rocket to the Kennedy Space Center and placed it upright on its launchpad. SpaceX expected to finish testing at the start of January so it could send the rocket into space by the end of the month. But delays, and now the shutdown, will likely push the launch back to February.
“Due to the shutdown removing key members of the civilian workforce, the 45th Space Wing will not be able to support commercial static fires taking place on (Kennedy Space Center),” the 45th Wing told the Verge.
The United States government shut down on Friday after Republicans and Democrats were unable to reach an agreement over funding, specifically for the young immigrants who were part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Senate is scheduled to vote at 1pm ET on Monday to end the shutdown and fund the government for three weeks, CNN reports. It’s unclear if enough Democrats will approve the plan or whether SpaceX can even test its rocket if they do.
“This shutdown impacts SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy demonstration, which is critical for future [national security space] missions,” John Taylor, a SpaceX spokesperson, told the Verge.
The launch of the Falcon Heavy will represent a watershed moment in spaceflight history. Comprised of three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, and, like its siblings, is recyclable.
Until the government can agree to a compromise, Elon Musk and his Midnight Cherry Roadster will need to wait patiently for their chance at making history.