Coast Guard investigating cruise ship that violated SpaceX launch zone

The Coast Guard has started an investigation of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, that violated the launch zone of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on January 30, forcing a scrub.

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.”

“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.

I am quite certain such investigations are routine, since ship captains are supposed to know about such launches and avoid the launch range accordingly. We normally never hear about them because the violations are almost always done by small boats or planes, not giant cruise ships.

SpaceX’s expected increased launch pace in ’22, combined with the desperate need of the cruise lines to resume normal operations following the Wuhan panic, will probably make this kind of conflict more possible. It also highlights SpaceX’s request to rethink the size of the exclusion zone, since today’s rockets are much more reliable than the rockets of the 1960s, when the zones were first created.