USCG: Cruise Ship Entered Rocket Safety Zone Without Authorization

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The U.S. Coast Guard has finished its investigation into the intrusion of a cruise ship into a designated safety zone during a rocket launch near Cape Canaveral in January, forcing the cancellation of a multi-million-dollar satellite launch. It has determined that the ship entered the zone without authorization.

In cooperation with U.S. Space Command, the U.S. Coast Guard regularly designates downrange safety zones and issues warnings to mariners about upcoming launches from Cape Canaveral. The overflight path of each rocket launch over the Atlantic determines the location of each zone.

During the last week in January, SpaceX had to cancel two attempts at a commercial launch for the Italian Space Agency because of bad weather. The company rescheduled for Sunday, January 30. As is usual, the Coast Guard defined a safety zone for the Sunday launch time slot and sent an alert to mariners that the area would be closed from 1600 hours to 1845.

The weather on January 30 was favorable, and the countdown began. At 30 seconds to ignition, SpaceX's mission control was forced to scrub the launch for a "fouled range" because a ship had transited into the safety zone.

That ship was the mega-cruise ship Harmony of the Seas, one of the biggest passenger vessels in the world. According to the Coast Guard, her crew got underway from Port Canaveral on January 30 and began a transit toward the Bahamas. The ship then entered an established safety zone "without proper authorization," forcing the cancellation of the launch.

“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, prevention division chief, Coast Guard District Seven.

Capt. Mark Vlaun, commander of Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, told an industry gathering last week that the service is working on more ways to get safety-zone information out to vessel operators and crews, including new digital communications options. It is also looking at ways to change the dimensions of its exclusion zones and set up designated navigation routes to minimize the effects of area closures on commercial shipping, according to Florida Today.


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