Falcon 9 Crew Dragon LC-39A
A SpaceX Falcon 9 with a Crew Dragon spacecraft stands on Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center Jan. 3 for testing ahead of a launch now scheduled for no sooner than February. Credit: SpaceX

SEATTLE — NASA confirmed Jan. 10 that an uncrewed test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will now take place no sooner than February, due at least in part to the ongoing government shutdown.

In a statement, NASA said it was “targeting no earlier than February” for the mission, known as Demo-1 or DM-1. The agency had previously announced a Jan. 17 date for the mission, launching from the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX had already indicated that the mission would be delayed. “About a month away from the first orbital test flight of crew Dragon,” Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of the company, tweeted Jan. 5. He later cautioned that the upcoming test and other early flights of the system will be “especially dangerous, as there’s a lot of new hardware.”

NASA, in its statement, said that the rescheduled launch provides additional time “to complete hardware testing and joint reviews” but did not elaborate. While not explicitly stated, the ongoing partial government shutdown, which has furloughed about 95 percent of NASA’s civil servant workforce since Dec. 22, likely also played a role because personnel needed for reviews and other mission support are not working.

SpaceX rolled out the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for DM-1 to Launch Complex 39A on Jan. 3, moving the rocket to the vertical for testing there. The company hasn’t updated the status of that testing or stated if the vehicle would have been ready to support a Jan. 17 launch if the government was operating normally.

DM-1 is the first of two commercial crew test flights planned by SpaceX. On DM-1, the spacecraft, with no astronauts on board, will test out its systems in orbit and visit the International Space Station before returning to Earth. That will be followed by DM-2, which will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on a mission to the ISS. DM-2 is scheduled for launch in June according to schedules most recently updated in November, prior to the latest delays in DM-1.

Boeing, the other company developing commercial crew vehicles, has an uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle scheduled for March on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5. That will be followed by a flight carrying NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, and Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, in August 2019.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...