Washington: Facing a cash crunch brought on by the partial US government shutdown, US-based Tethers Unlimited Inc. has laid off nearly 20 per cent of its workforce, the media reported.
The space venture had a lineup of contracts from NASA and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for work on innovative spacecraft thruster systems and space-based fabrication systems.
But Tethers Unlimited has not been paid for the work done over the past three months, CEO Rob Hoyt was quoted as saying to GeekWire in an email on Sunday.
"Because the government employees who are responsible for approving and processing our invoices to NASA and DARPA have been furloughed, we have not been reimbursed for work we performed on multiple contracts in the September-December of 2018," Hoyt said.
"This has had a severe impact on our cash flow, forcing us to lay off 12 good engineers, about 20 per cent of our workforce," he added.
The partial shutdown, which started on December 22, has become the longest on record, overtaking the previous record of the 21-day impasse in 1995-96 under then President Bill Clinton.
President Donald Trump and the Congress have been at loggerheads over his demand to include in the budget $5.7 billion funding for building a wall along the Mexico border. Democratic leaders have rejected his call.
Hoyt expects commercial contracts to keep the company afloat during the shutdown, but the decision to cut back on staff was "really painful and disheartening".
"Fortunately our commercial customers are still paying us for the SmallSat products we have been delivering, such as our SWIFT software-defined radios, so we expect to be able to maintain our current staff through this situation."
Hoyt hoped that "the President and Congress will stop playing Russian roulette with the American economy".
Meanwhile at NASA, the partial shutdown has put on hold various research projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble suffered a mechanical problem that only furloughed NASA employees can repair, Space.com reported.
The Telescope facilities that have so far remained open during the shutdown will soon run out of money and cease operations.
This includes the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a federally funded organization that operates the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Large Array (VLA).
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), also called the "flying telescope," has also ceased operations since the shutdown.
The telescope, which is mounted to the fuselage of a Boeing 747 aircraft, has not flown since the shutdown began, the report noted.