Cruise Ship Causes Rocket Launch Scrub at Cape Canaveral

A cruise ship caused the January 30 SpaceX rocket launch to be scrubbed, but which ship was responsible and how could this conflict occur?

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch planned for January 30, 2022, was scrubbed just seconds before launch because of a cruise ship in the hazard area. The launch has been rescheduled for today, January 31, and the cruise has been unaffected.

Cruise Ship Scrubs Launch

SpaceX had planned to launch a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 6:11 p.m. EST on Sunday, January 30, but a cruise ship in the hazard area forced the launch to be scrubbed.

The rocket’s payload, the Italian Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation satellite, is part of a fleet of remote sensing spacecraft to monitor shipping traffic, natural disasters, and climate change.

Falcon 9 Rocket Launch from Cape Canaveral - Photo courtesy SLD 45
Falcon 9 Rocket Launch from Cape Canaveral – Photo courtesy SLD 45

The scrub call went out at T-minus 34 seconds from launch, with the launch director calling, “Hold! Hold! Hold! Aborting launch auto. This is the launch director calling a hold. We have a red range for a fouled range, with a ship in the hazard area.”

SpaceX confirmed the scrub shortly thereafter on Twitter with the following statement: “Standing down from today’s launch of COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 due to ship in the hazard area; team is setting up for next opportunity tomorrow, January 31 at 6:11 p.m. EST.”

The ship was noted as a cruise liner making its way to the no-go zone that the Coast Guard was unable to clear out of the area before T-minus zero.

Because this launch required a precise liftoff time in order to meet its exact polar orbit destination for satellite deployment, the launch window was instantaneous and could not be delayed even for a few minutes to escort the ship from the restricted area.

This launch has already been delayed three times because of poor weather conditions. It is now rescheduled for Monday, January 31, 2022, at 6:11 p.m. The launch window remains instantaneous.

Which Ship?

The exact cruise ship that caused this delay has not been identified. Two cruise ships departed from Port Canaveral Sunday evening – Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, followed by MSC Meraviglia.

Harmony of the Seas left the port at approximately 5 p.m., turning south once it was out to sea, beginning a 7-night Eastern Caribbean sailing. MSC Meraviglia departed Port Canaveral at 6 p.m. to begin a 4-night Bahamas cruise, and was photographed sailing alongside Jetty Park in Port Canaveral just after 6 p.m., not yet clear of port channel.

Joe Bolm hoping to see the SpaceX launch as MSC Meraviglia departs Port Canaveral at 6:08 p.m., January 30, 2022 - Photo Courtesy of Betty Leatherwood Bolm
Joe Bolm hoping to see the SpaceX launch as MSC Meraviglia departs Port Canaveral at 6:08 p.m., January 30, 2022 – Photo Courtesy of Betty Leatherwood Bolm

Because of these ship positions, and because the no-go zone was downrange of the launch site, it is most likely Harmony of the Seas that was responsible for the launch scrub, though either ship could have impacted the launch.

Keeping Cruise Ships Away From Launch Operations

The launch hazard area for ships is different for a polar orbit launch than a launch to the east or northeast, such as for flights heading to the International Space Station.

A Coast Guard investigation of this incident is underway, as all ships are required to be aware of launch operations and to steer clear of restricted areas during launch windows. Space Launch Delta 45, headquartered at Patrick Space Force Base south of Port Canaveral and in command of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, issues launch hazard area maps and coordinates prior to every launch.

Hazard Area - January 30, 2022 SpaceX Launch - Space Launch Delta 45
Hazard Area – January 30, 2022 SpaceX Launch – Space Launch Delta 45

Space Launch Delta 45 had issued a statement earlier in the month advising mariners to be aware of an increase in southerly launch trajectories and the hazard areas implemented for those launches.

“Due to the unique southerly trajectories, there will be a larger potential impact to air and sea traffic along the southeast coast of Florida. We ask that all pilots and mariners double-check their Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) and Notices to Mariners (NOTMAR) to ensure they are fully aware of all pending launch activities,” said Maj. Jonathan Szul, Director of Operations, 1st Range Operations Squadron in the statement issued January 4, 2022.

Worth Reading: Port Canaveral Cruise Parking – What You Need to Know

There have been multiple southerly launch trajectories in January 2022, and more will undoubtedly be planned throughout the year. Whether or not cruise ships can impact launch operations depends on the dates of launches, the timing of launch windows, if launches must be instantaneous, and if the rocket boosters will be landed back at Cape Canaveral.

When launch trajectories are focused in other directions, cruise ship passengers can get amazing views of launches as their ships depart Port Canaveral.

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