A cruise ship veered into the exclusion zone along a Falcon 9 rocket’s flightpath Sunday evening, forcing SpaceX to stand down from the mission yet again and prepare for a 24-hour turnaround.
Launch engineers, counting down to a 6:11 p.m. EST liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, 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 are now targeting 6:11 p.m. EST Monday, Jan. 31, for the fifth attempt at launching an Italian Space Agency Earth observation satellite. If it cannot fly on time, SpaceX will turn its attention to a Feb. 2 national defense payload at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California before re-focusing on the Cape.
Weather for the Monday attempt, according to the Space Force, is expected to be at least 90% “go.”
SpaceX identified the ship only as a “cruise liner” and, as of late Sunday, the Coast Guard had not responded to inquiries. A Port Canaveral spokesperson did say a Coast Guard investigation is underway.
Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas and MSC Cruises’ Meraviglia were the two ships with scheduled cruises out of Port Canaveral on Sunday.
Sunday’s launch was slated to fly 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 this month, 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 launch marks the fourth.
“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.
Sunday’s scrub also pushed a SpaceX mission originally slated for Monday: yet another Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A will have to wait a little longer for its task of launching the company’s 37th batch of Starlink internet satellites. Liftoff was set for 2:17 p.m. EST, but will push back by about 21 minutes for each day it’s delayed.
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