Coast Guard Investigating Cruise Ship that Delayed Launch of Italian Satellite

SpaceX was due to launch an Italian Earth-observation satellite on Sunday. A Royal Caribbean cruise ship named Harmony of the Seas strayed into the exclusion zone, forcing SpaceX to scrub the launch. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

“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,” said Coast Guard spokesperson David Micallef.

Royal Caribbean did not respond to requests for comment. It was not immediately clear why Harmony of the Seas veered into the exclusion zone.

The Coast Guard typically maintains exclusion zones during every rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. The exclusion zone provides a safety buffer in case a rocket malfunctions. A rocket or debris from an explosion might fall into the ocean.

SpaceX is authorized to periodically close roads and beaches near its Boca Chica, Texas, test facility for similar reasons despite occasional complaints about alleged excessive closures.

However, the Coast Guard doesn’t always succeed in keeping people out of an exclusion zone during space-related activities. When NASA’s and SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission splashed down last year, the recovery ship was surrounded by privately owned boats while retrieving the Crew Dragon with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board.

NASA likely sent some behind-the-scenes communications to the Coast Guard regarding making better efforts to keep that from happening again in the future.

The exclusion zones are especially important for safety during SpaceX missions because it also lands its first stage boosters most of the time. By now, SpaceX makes landing the first stage boosters look almost routine, but they have missed the drone ship and fallen into the ocean before.

SpaceX successfully launched the Italian satellite, Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 (CSG-2), on Monday at 6:11 pm Eastern time. It landed the first stage booster, marking SpaceX’s 104th successful landing of a booster.

This first stage booster was previously used twice as a side booster for the Falcon Heavy. It was repurposed as a booster for the Falcon 9 – a first for SpaceX.

It also recovered the fairing that protects payloads during launch for refurbishment and reuse. SpaceX used to try to catch fairings in a net suspended between two ships but gave that up due to the limited success rate.

The Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation satellites represent a joint project between the Italian Space Agency, Italian Ministry of Defense and the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Scientific Research. The project consists of two satellites that will observe Earth using synthetic aperture radar (SAR). This second-generation project is designed to build on the original success of the original Cosmo-SkyMed system.

CSG-2 will assist with a variety of programs and applications that include food and agriculture management, land management, emergency prevention, cartography, forest and environment protection, natural resources exploration, land management, defense and security, and maritime surveillance.

The first satellite, CSG-1, was launched on an Arianespace Soyuz from French Guinea in December 2019. It currently orbits Earth in a sun-synchronous polar orbit at an altitude of 620 kilometers. CSG-2 will maneuver to an identical orbit.