Space launches vs. cruise lines: Coast Guard concludes investigation into Royal Caribbean ship
Orlando Sentinel May 18, 2022
(Tribune News Service) — One of the world’s largest cruise ships ran afoul of SpaceX earlier this year when Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas wandered into waters it was supposed to avoid because of a launch attempt.
The incident on Jan. 30 caused a scrub of the SpaceX Falcon 9 trying to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as the vessel had previously left from Port Canaveral like it normally would on a Sunday departure.
Leading up to the attempted launch, SpaceX commentators said the Coast Guard was trying to get word to the ship that it had ventured into the down-range safety zone off the coast of Brevard County, but the ship was not able to vacate the zone in time.
Mission managers shouting “Hold! Hold ! Hold!” scrubbed the launch with less than a minute before the planned liftoff. It was able to launch the following day without issue sending the COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 satellite run by the Italian Space Agency into orbit.
The fallout of the incident, though, at first drew the ire of SpaceX fans casting blame on another cruise line’s ship that was not in violation of the zone, but was visible leaving Port Canaveral at the time of the launch. Word eventually came out that it was the Royal Caribbean ship that had departed earlier that was at fault.
Now more than three months later, the Coast Guard has concluded its investigation of the incident, as it’s the entity establishing and enforcing the safety zones.
“When these zones are violated, the Coast Guard may pursue administrative enforcement actions,” reads a statement from the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District Southeast. “Such actions may include monetary fines and or future vessel control actions.”
The Coast Guard did not elaborate what sort of action was taken if any against Royal Caribbean. The Sentinel reached out to both the Coast Guard and Royal Caribbean for comment, but has not heard back.
As far as why the incident occurred, the vessel left the port on its way to the Bahamas like it normally would on a Sunday evening. Port Canaveral cruise ships often depart between 4-7 p.m. on weekends.
This winter, though, several of the launches from Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center had a southerly launch trajectory, which prompted Space Launch Delta 45, the Space Force group that oversees both Cape Canaveral and Patrick Space Force Base, to try and spread the word so that aircraft and watercraft don’t impinge on the space.
Such trajectories require a larger safety zone that pilots and boaters are not normally subject to.
“The chance of a launch scrubbing due to a range violation is increased if the public is not aware of the expanded safety measures,” reads an SLD 45 press release. “Boaters and aircraft operators are directed to consult the advisories for each launch that contain detailed maps, coordinates, timing, and status of the area restrictions and closures. Last year, a polar launch attempt scrubbed due to a range violation when a private aircraft strayed into the restricted airspace prior to launch.”
Port Canaveral officials earlier this year said they would be meeting with the Coast Guard to figure out better ways to ensure delivery of the message of when and where ships cannot venture during launches.
“This discussion we want to have with the Coast Guard on this particular event is to talk about rocket launches and safety zones and what can we do better than we’ve been doing in the past, to make sure that it’s not only a conflict with a cruise ship or a cargo ship, but we have a lot of folks here at the port that make their living either through fishing offshore, or recreational fisherman or even Victory Casino that’s out there every day,” said Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray during a March meeting of the port commissioners.
The cadence of launches is something never before seen at the Cape. With two launches on tap this week, the Space Coast will have sent up 21 rockets from three different companies — SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Astra Space — in less than 20 weeks. Those don’t include launch attempts as well, and by 2023 even more companies will be vying for space with the expected arrival of Blue Origin and Relativity Space rockets.
“If they just post the safety zone at will as with the many, many launches that we’re having now it could affect the businesses that survive right here in the port so we’re going to try and work with the Coast Guard to see what we can do to enhance the safety zone concepts in the future to minimize the impact on our port partners,” Murray said.
As part of its investigation, the Coast Guard said it is trying to weigh both the needs of the launch industry and the existing businesses running out of the port.
“We are committed to protecting the maritime transportation system as well as finding the best practices to manage the intersection of space and maritime operations,” said Capt. Janet D. Espino-Young, the prevention division chief for Coast Guard District Seven.
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