Don’t Blame the Government Shutdown for SpaceX Delays

SpaceX and Boeing, with funding from NASA, have spent the last several years designing and building astronaut launch systems. By the end of 2018, …

Last week, as the impasse between President Donald Trump and congressional lawmakers calcified, NASAannounced that the first significant test of the year, an uncrewed SpaceX launch, would be pushed from late January to no earlier than February. Several news reports suggested the shutdown had contributed to yet another delay.

It hasn’t—at least not yet. NASA and SpaceX tell The Atlantic that, despite speculation, the government shutdown hasn’t affected their work. NASA says the astronaut program, known as Commercial Crew, is part of a small group of NASA activities that are exempt from the government closure, including International Space Station operations, the agency says.

“We believe it’s a national imperative to return the flight of American astronauts on American rockets on American soil,” said Bob Jacobs, a spokesperson for NASA, one of the few still around to respond to questions.

Read: The race to launch from U.S. soil heats up

That means NASA employees collaborating with SpaceX on this effort are still on the job, albeit without pay. The latest schedule change, NASA said, was caused by familiar setbacks. Both sides need more time to finish testing hardware and complete various reviews.

SpaceX employees have had to deal with their own workplace woes, as the company announced on Friday it has laid off nearly 10 percent of its workforce of more than 6,000 people. The layoffs, according to the company, were meant to pave the way for big challenges ahead, such as the construction of a spaceship to carry humans as far as Mars. Asked whether staff involved in Commercial Crew were affected, a spokesperson said only that the downsizing was company-wide.

With negotiations in Washington at a standstill, it’s unclear how long the shutdown will drag on. What would happen if NASA and SpaceX were both ready to go—ready to blast off with the first big test of this years-long effort—but the government was still closed? Would they launch anyway?

“We don’t deal a lot in hypotheticals, but yes,” Jacobs said.

James Gleeson, a spokesperson for SpaceX, confirmed that, yes, if NASA made the call, the company would carry out the uncrewed launch.

Imagine that scenario: the nation hitting a major milestone in its venerable space program, the one that put people on the moon, while its government doesn’t have enough money to function normally.

Read: Why federal workers still have to show up even if they’re not being paid

The scene may seem less hypothetical in the future, especially if crewed launches reach a steady cadence. In the 1980s, when the space shuttle was flying, the longest government shutdowns lasted a few days. Today, weeks-long closures are becoming the norm. Bipartisan bickering and rocket launches don’t operate on the same schedule, and there may come a time when one can’t wait for the other.

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SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth from International Space Station

The International Space Station parking lot has an open spot as SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule returned to Earth. SpaceX tweeted Dragon made a …

The International Space Station parking lot has an open spot as SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule returned to Earth.

SpaceX tweeted Dragon made a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean just after midnight EST (9:05 PST). A post on NASA.gov said this was the first nighttime splashdown and recovery of Dragon.

This was the fourth resupply mission to the ISS for SpaceX using a previously flown capsule. It was SpaceX’s 16th resupply mission overall.

It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40 atop a Falcon 9 on Dec. 5 and arrived to the ISS on Dec. 8 with 5,800 pounds of supplies.

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SpaceX Dragon Capsule Successfully Returns to Earth

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule completed its return to Earth this morning with its first-ever nighttime splashdown, marking another successful space …

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule completed its return to Earth this morning with its first-ever nighttime splashdown, marking another successful space mission for the company.

First Ever Nighttime Splashdown

Bringing back equipment and experiments from the International Space Station, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was released from the robotic arm that tethered the capsule to the ISS at 3:33 PM PST.

After several hours of long descent back to earth, the capsule parachuted into the Pacific ocean, splashing down around 9:15 PM. SpaceX had a ship standing-by to recover the capsule and carry it back to California where its contents will be off-loaded.

The nighttime splashdown, a first for Elon Musk’s space company, was helped by clear skies and moonlight, allowing Earth-bound observers to track the location of the capsule.

The @SpaceX#Dragon cargo craft was released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm today at 6:33 p.m. EST. https://t.co/USaykHvYaupic.twitter.com/w9y5vV4LJG

— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) January 14, 2019

The Dragon Capsule arrived at the ISS on December 8th, bringing with it 3 tons of cargo, including food, other supplies, and experiments.

After spending weeks unloading the capsule and reloading it with materials to be returned to Earth, astronauts aboard the ISS had to wait several days to send the capsule back as concerns over inclement weather in the recovery area delayed the operation.

Good News during a Bad Week for SpaceX

The successful return of the Dragon capsule came after a bad week for Elon Musk’s company that saw it lay-off 600 employees, a tenth of its workforce.

The company maintains that the cuts were necessary to ensure the continuation of future projects.

“To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company,” read a statement from the company.

“Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team.”

“We are grateful for everything they have accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX’s mission,” they continued. “This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.”

Future SpaceX Projects

SpaceX’s future ambitions will indeed prove costly. While the company earns tens of millions of dollars every time they send a capsule into space and they have few competitors, it has taken billions of dollars of investment to get SpaceX to this point, with the company’s latest projects expecting to cost billions more.

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Valued at $30.5 billion, SpaceX is not short on investors. It also received about $250 million dollars in loans during a loan sale last year.

The company will certainly need the money. Elon Musk estimates that SpaceX’s latest projects, its premier spaceship, and rocket system, named Starship and Super Heavy, respectively, would cost the company between $2 and $10 billion dollars.

SpaceX has plans for sending tourists into space to help finance its operations. Last year, Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, made an undisclosed down-payment on a trip around the moon for himself and several artists when the technology is ready to take them, which Musk predicts can be as early as 2023.

SpaceX is also planning to one day beam down high-speed internet from a network of orbiting satellites, at a potential cost of about $10 billion dollars.

As for the Dragon capsule, SpaceX will continue its contract with NASA for the foreseeable future, hoping to begin ferrying astronauts to the ISS within the next couple of years.

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Musk shows off prototype of Mars-bound rocket but says SpaceX to shed 10% of workforce

“Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering,” he wrote on Thursday …

WASHINGTON/LOS, ANGELES – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has unveiled the first pictures of a retro-looking rocket that may one day carry people to the moon and Mars.

Musk posted pictures on Twitter of the Starship Hopper prototype, which awaits its first flight test in Texas in the coming weeks.

“Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering,” he wrote on Thursday night.

The prototype — built in Boca Chica, Texas, along the Gulf Coast — is 9 yards (8 meters) in diameter but is shorter than the future rocket will be. Its first test flights — suborbital “hops” — could come in March or April.

An orbital prototype is expected in June. That version will be paired with a massive rocket booster known as the Super Heavy.

SpaceX has said the duo could one day transport people from city to city, as well as propel passengers around the moon, to the lunar surface and even to Mars and back.

SpaceX currently launches regular supply missions to the International Space Station using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule. It is now working on a new Dragon crew capsule that could start carrying people to the orbiting outpost later this year.

However, just a day after the announcement, SpaceX said it must lay off 10 percent of its more than 6,000 employees.

Musk said in a statement: “To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company. Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team.”

He added that the trim was “only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead.”

The Los Angeles Times, citing an email sent to employees on Friday, said the company was offering those affected a minimum of eight weeks’ pay and other benefits, including career coaching and assistance with resumes.

Also Friday, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying 10 communications satellites.

SpaceX makes most of its money from multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA and satellite launches. In November it won authorization from U.S. officials to put nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit to boost cheap wireless internet access by the 2020s.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the company was raising $500 million from investors to help launch its satellite internet service.

Musk has risen to prominence with a series of ambitious ventures, especially Tesla, which has boosted production of its Model 3 electric car and has continued to enjoy strong demand for the vehicle.

Other Musk ventures include OpenAI, Neuralink and the Boring Co., which focuses on infrastructure and tunnels.

But Musk has also drawn plenty of criticism over unconventional and at times erratic behavior — after admitting last year that he has been struggling with exhaustion.

In an interview broadcast last month, Musk openly mocked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after agreeing to a $20 million fine to settle fraud charges the agency had brought over Musk’s quickly aborted effort to take Tesla private.

And in September, he raised eyebrows with an appearance on a podcast with comedian Joe Rogan, which saw him sip whiskey and smoke weed while musing at length about artificial intelligence, colonizing space, and the need to give love a chance.

Later that month, he was sued by a British caver who had helped rescue 12 boys trapped in Thailand after Musk called him a “pedo guy” and a “child rapist” after his proposal to use his miniature submarine to extract the boys was rejected.

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Elon Musk shows off prototype of Mars-bound rocket but says SpaceX to shed 10% of workforce

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has unveiled the first pictures of a retro-looking rocket that may one day carry people to the …

WASHINGTON/LOS, ANGELES – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has unveiled the first pictures of a retro-looking rocket that may one day carry people to the moon and Mars.

Musk posted pictures on Twitter of the Starship Hopper prototype, which awaits its first flight test in Texas in the coming weeks.

“Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering,” he wrote on Thursday night.

The prototype — built in Boca Chica, Texas, along the Gulf Coast — is 9 yards (8 meters) in diameter but is shorter than the future rocket will be. Its first test flights — suborbital “hops” — could come in March or April.

An orbital prototype is expected in June. That version will be paired with a massive rocket booster known as the Super Heavy.

SpaceX has said the duo could one day transport people from city to city, as well as propel passengers around the moon, to the lunar surface and even to Mars and back.

SpaceX currently launches regular supply missions to the International Space Station using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule. It is now working on a new Dragon crew capsule that could start carrying people to the orbiting outpost later this year.

However, just a day after the announcement, SpaceX said it must lay off 10 percent of its more than 6,000 employees.

Musk said in a statement: “To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company. Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team.”

He added that the trim was “only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead.”

The Los Angeles Times, citing an email sent to employees on Friday, said the company was offering those affected a minimum of eight weeks’ pay and other benefits, including career coaching and assistance with resumes.

Also Friday, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying 10 communications satellites.

SpaceX makes most of its money from multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA and satellite launches. In November it won authorization from U.S. officials to put nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit to boost cheap wireless internet access by the 2020s.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the company was raising $500 million from investors to help launch its satellite internet service.

Musk has risen to prominence with a series of ambitious ventures, especially Tesla, which has boosted production of its Model 3 electric car and has continued to enjoy strong demand for the vehicle.

Other Musk ventures include OpenAI, Neuralink and the Boring Co., which focuses on infrastructure and tunnels.

But Musk has also drawn plenty of criticism over unconventional and at times erratic behavior — after admitting last year that he has been struggling with exhaustion.

In an interview broadcast last month, Musk openly mocked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after agreeing to a $20 million fine to settle fraud charges the agency had brought over Musk’s quickly aborted effort to take Tesla private.

And in September, he raised eyebrows with an appearance on a podcast with comedian Joe Rogan, which saw him sip whiskey and smoke weed while musing at length about artificial intelligence, colonizing space, and the need to give love a chance.

Later that month, he was sued by a British caver who had helped rescue 12 boys trapped in Thailand after Musk called him a “pedo guy” and a “child rapist” after his proposal to use his miniature submarine to extract the boys was rejected.

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Several people injured by gas explosion at Paris bakery
A powerful explosion and fire apparently caused by a gas leak at a Paris bakery Saturday injured several people, blasted out windows and overturned cars, police said. Firefighters pulled…
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is escorted by a Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Monday. She says her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.
Canada takes in fleeing Saudi
An 18-year-old Saudi who says she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said on Friday night.
Passengers line up at Miami International Airport's Concourse G on Friday, a day before the concourse was to close for three days due to a shortage of security agents.
U.S. aviation system showing signs of strain from shutdown as screeners, inspectors stay home
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