SpaceX launch-disrupting cruise ship is under investigation

It's not every day that the path of a commercial cruise ship interferes with a spaceship attempting to launch, at least not outside of some cheesy sci-fi movie. Yet, that's exactly what happened in late January. Now, the US Coast Guard wants answers as to why.

On January 30, SpaceX was preparing for the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket. The company already had dealt with three days of weather-related delays, according to the Orlando Sentinel. SpaceX had rescheduled for that Sunday, January 30, 2022, at 6:11 PM. The weather looked clear, and as the clock ticked closer to launch time, everything seemed ready to proceed as planned.

Unfortunately, with less than a minute to go before the launch, mission managers started shouting "Hold! Hold ! Hold!" as a cruise ship entered the rocket's launch hazard area, prompting the fourth delay of the rocket's launch.

The bizarre circumstances, however, left many wondering how an ocean-going vessel could interfere with a space-bound rocket.

Rocket launch hazard areas

Whenever a rocket lifts off, there is a region designated as a "hazard area." This follows the path the rocket will take, and is designed to mitigate risks to humans and terrestrial objects should something go wrong.

Part of the issue stems from the fact that the SpaceX rocket was supposed to fly through a southeasterly corridor, one that had gone unused from 1960 to 2020, according to Florida Today. Recent technology has once again made it possible to use north-to-south launch corridors that run nearly parallel to the Florida coast.

Unfortunately, the renewed use of these corridors means that ships must be more familiar with launch schedules, especially as the frequency of launches picks up. The stakes are especially high for a cruise ship since there's greater potential for damage and loss of life should a launch go wrong.

These factors are why the Coast Guard is investigating the incident, in an effort to find out why the ship did not avoid the hazard zone. In the meantime, officials are warning that 2022 will have an accelerated launch schedule, and mariners should double-check to make sure they know when and where such launches will occur.

"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," Space Force Maj. Jonathan Szul said in a statement, Florida Today noted.