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SpaceX delays next launch due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

SpaceX will be postponing its next launch due to international travel restrictions put in place to fight the current pandemic, the company announced. Two workers at the company’s headquarters have tested positive for COVID-19, it adds.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX’s latest launch successfully delivered 60 satellites into orbit, which will underpin the company’s planned Starlink system. Their next launch was slated for March 30 and was supposed to carry the Argentine radar satellite SAOCOM 1B all the way to orbit. However, travel restrictions currently in place mean that the personnel from Argentina cannot travel to the launch site in Florida and ensure the satellite is running smoothly — as such, the mission was delayed.

But the coronavirus has affected SpaceX much closer to home, too. At least one of the company’s employees and one healthcare provider at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, have tested positive for the coronavirus, CNBC reports, citing an internal company memo. They are now undergoing a 14-day quarantine, alongside a number of other personnel that were sent home just in case they also contracted the virus. The company One Medical, which provides on-site healthcare services at SpaceX’s headquarters and employs the second infected individual, has also asked any of their employees who feel sick to stay at home and get tested immediately.

So far, SpaceX has been putting a lot of effort into insulating itself from the outbreak, but it seems to have caught it in the end. Still, the company is and has been for some time now producing its own hand sanitizer handing out personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves to employees.

“While the delay is unfortunate, it hardly comes as a surprise at the same time dozens of countries around the world are considering – or already enacting – extreme countermeasures to mitigate the damage that will be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes Eric Ralph for Teslarati. “Thankfully, once Argentinian space agency (CONAE) employees are able to prepare SAOCOM 1B for flight, the mission is still set to make history, marking the first time a rocket launches on a polar trajectory from the United States’ East Coast in more than a half-century.”

“In the meantime, SpaceX – while not deriving any income – also has ways of potentially taking advantage of a bad situation and exploiting unexpected downtime as a result of customer delays.”