The United States Coast Guard has begun an investigation into Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas after the ship entered the no-go zone for the January 30 SpaceX launch, causing the Falcon 9 launch to be scrubbed. The Coast Guard has confirmed that Harmony of the Seas was the ship that caused the mission to be scrubbed just seconds before launch.
Harmony of the Seas Caused Rocket Scrub
At T-minus 34 seconds before the SpaceX launch at 6:11 p.m., the launch director called “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.”
Two ships had departed from Port Canaveral that evening: Harmony of the Seas and MSC Meraviglia. At the time the launch was scrubbed, MSC Meraviglia was still in the port channel and not affecting the exclusion zones established during rocket launches.
Harmony of the Seas, however, had left the port earlier and turned south, and was seen by beachgoers lingering offshore as the launch window approached.
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As reported by Florida Today, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a statement about the incident on Monday, January 31. “We can confirm the cruise ship was Harmony of the Seas,” USGS spokesperson David Micallef said. “The Coast Guard is actively investigating Sunday’s cruise ship incursion and postponement of the SpaceX launch.”
Because the launch, which was carrying the Italian Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation satellite, required a precise liftoff time and a southerly track to meet its polar orbit, the launch window was instantaneous and could not be delayed to escort the ship from the restricted area.
Launch engineers had been monitoring the cruise ship’s position until the last possible moment before calling for the scrub.
Port Canaveral Not at Fault
Port Canaveral is the second-busiest cruise port in the world, with 11 cruise ships currently homeported on the Space Coast.
Space Launch Delta 45, headquartered at Patrick Space Force Base south of Port Canaveral and in command of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, issues hazard area maps and coordinates prior to every launch. All mariners – from individual boaters to commercial freighters to cruise ship captains – are expected to be aware of sailing restrictions during launch periods.
Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said, “Port Canaveral fully supports the space industry in our region. This, unfortunately, was an isolated incident that happened outside of our control. The Coast Guard is conducting a full investigation, and we look forward to continuing to work with them and our space partners to ensure the continued success of this important enterprise.”
There were five rocket launches from Cape Canaveral in January 2022, with almost a dozen more scheduled in the next two months. Each launch will have its own unique exclusion or “no-go” zones for both aircraft and watercraft, including cruise ships.
The scrubbed mission was successfully launched the following day, on January 31, 2022.
What Could Happen to Harmony of the Seas?
While details of the USCG investigation have not been released, it is possible that Royal Caribbean International could be fined for Harmony of the Seas‘ disregard of the exclusion zone and disruption of the launch, or other charges may be filed.
The ship’s records will likely be investigated to determine if there was any navigation malfunction that caused the vessel to stray, and the ship’s captain and officers may also be questioned.
The Oasis-class cruise ship is one of the largest in the world, with a gross tonnage of 226,963 and a double occupancy capacity of 5,479. The ship is currently sailing a 7-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary and spent today at sea. Ports of call are planned in St. Maarten on Wednesday, St. Thomas on Thursday, and Royal Caribbean’s private island destination, CocoCay, on Saturday, before the ship returns to Port Canaveral on February 6.