Errant Cruise Ship Forces SpaceX to Scrub Launch at Cape Canaveral
Port Canaveral likes to highlight its role as nexus where space flight and cruise ships converge, but it became a little too close for comfort yesterday forcing SpaceX mission control to abort a launch just over 30 seconds before blastoff. Two prior launches transporting a multi-million-dollar Italian satellite into orbit were scrubbed at the end of the week due to bad weather, but Sunday’s evening’s launch was aborted when a cruise ship was spotted in the “hazard area” for the flight path of the Falcon 9 rocket off the coast of Florida.
The U.S. Coast Guard working with Space Launch Delta 45, a unit with the U.S. Space Command, monitors all launch activity and issues warnings to mariners about the exclusion zone near the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Typical of all launches, a Coast Guard Sea Special Safety Zone was defined with an alert going out to all mariners that the area was an exclusion zone between 4:00 and 6:45 p.m. on January 30 for the planned launch.
Everything was going according to plan and for the first time in days the weather was cooperating for the launch. The countdown was nearing 30 seconds when suddenly the speakers blurted out, “Hold! Hold! Hold! Aborting launch. This is the launch director calling a hold. We have a red range for a fouled range, with a ship in the hazard area.”
An unidentified cruise ship had been spotted inside the exclusion zone and despite the best efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard they were not able to clear the vessel from the downrange position in time. Space launches work on exacting time schedules to achieve the right path and trajectory for the necessary flight trajectory.
Here is the Cruise ship that was in the hazard zone. Seemed like it was hanging around to get a good view of the launch. pic.twitter.com/ZoEoNsW53q— Jamie (@LinkLayer) January 30, 2022
SpaceX command Tweeted a brief message shortly after saying they had been forced to stand down for the day missing their launch window due to a ship inside the hazard area. The launch was rescheduled for Monday, January 31.
Observers, the space and local media all quickly began to speculate on exactly which cruise ship it was and what happened to permit it to interfere with the launch. Two large cruise ships, MSC’s Meraviglia and Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas were both scheduled to depart from Port Everglades on cruises Sunday late afternoon and early evening.
Internet sleuths quickly established that the Meraviglia was due to depart at 6:00 p.m. and was believed to be in the harbor or passageway to the ocean at the time of the 6:11 p.m. launch. Others Tweeted pictures of the Harmony of the Seas just south of the port, possibly laying offshore to provide passengers a good view of the launch.
The U.S. Coast Guard reported that it is investigating the circumstances and late on Monday confirmed the identity of the cruise ship. U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson David Micallef said: "We can confirm the cruise ship was Harmony of the Seas. The Coast Guard is actively investigating Sunday’s cruise ship incursion and postponement of the SpaceX launch."
At the same time, Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray told Florida Today: "Port Canaveral fully supports the space industry in our region. This, unfortunately, was an isolated incident that happened outside of our control."
The space agencies are reiterating their earlier warnings that aviators and mariners need to take extra caution in the area in the coming weeks. "Due to the unique southerly trajectories, there will be a larger potential impact to air and sea traffic along the southeast coast of Florida," said Space Force Maj. Jonathan Szul in his general warning to mariners and aviators.
Yesterday’s launch was the fourth scheduled this month and SpaceX has two further launches in the coming days, in addition to the Italian satellite.