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Coast Guard investigates Royal Caribbean ship that stymied a SpaceX launch

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/2/2022 Emre Kelly and Dave Berman, Florida Today

A Coast Guard investigation is underway after the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Harmony of the Seas was responsible for Sunday evening's scrub of a SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The ship veered into the exclusion zone along a Falcon 9 rocket's flightpath just before the 6:11 p.m. EST launch, forcing SpaceX to stand down from the mission and prepare for a 24-hour turnaround. Harmony of the Seas is the world's third-largest cruise ship at 226,963 gross tons. It has 2,747 staterooms, a passenger capacity of 6,687 and a crew of 2,200.

In a statement issued Monday, 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."

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"Our primary concern is the safety of mariners at sea, and we will continue to work with our federal, state and local port partners to ensure safe and navigable waterways," Micallef added.

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A Royal Caribbean spokesperson did not respond to a request from FLORIDA TODAY for comment.

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.”

Launch engineers waited as long as possible for the Coast Guard to resolve the situation, but ultimately ran out of time to meet the instantaneous window's deadline. It marked the fourth delay for the mission that was previously scrubbed due to inclement weather around Launch Complex 40.

Teams then targeted 6:11 p.m. Monday for the fifth attempt at launching an Italian Space Agency Earth observation satellite, and it launched at that time Monday.

The launch path was toward the southeast, a corridor that went unused from 1960 to 2020. New technologies have enabled SpaceX to resume north-to-south polar launches from Florida, which fly almost parallel to the coast, but also mean pilots and mariners need to be on the lookout for different exclusion zones.

Hazard areas, designed to mitigate risks to people in the event of a rocket failure, are issued before every mission.

Earlier in January, Space Launch Delta 45 issued a statement and warned pilots and mariners that there would be upwards of five polar launches in January alone. Sunday's scheduled launch marked the fourth.

SECOND MISSION SCRUB: SpaceX scrubs Cape Canaveral launch and landing a second time, citing weather

FOURTH MISSION SCRUB: Cruise ship enters launch hazard area, forcing SpaceX to scrub mission a fourth time

ROCKET FINALLY L: SpaceX launches into stunning skies on fifth try, lands at Cape Canaveral

"The 2022 launch pace is going to be exceptionally busy, with up to five polar, and seven total launches, projected for the month of January alone," Space Force Maj. Jonathan Szul said in a statement. "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 in this historic month on the Space Coast," Szul said.

Delay pushed Starlink launch back 

Sunday's scrub also pushed another SpaceX mission originally slated for Monday. In that mission, another Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A was to launch the company's 37th batch of Starlink internet satellites. SpaceX is now targeting no earlier than 4:51 p.m. Wednesday for that launch.

The Harmony of the Seas sailed out of Port Canaveral on Sunday for a seven-night cruise, with stops at St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Perfect Day at CocoCay, which is Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas.

Five cruise ships sailed out of Port Canaveral on Monday afternoon and early evening, and none violated the exclusion zone, allowing the SpaceX launch to proceed.

Contact Emre Kelly at or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at Twitter: @bydaveberman.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Coast Guard investigates Royal Caribbean ship that stymied a SpaceX launch



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