07 DEC 2019

Satellite launch contractor SpaceX will soon be using its own private AIS aids to navigation (ATON) to mark the temporary exclusion areas it uses during rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is the first official Coast Guard approval for a “dynamic” restricted area.

SpaceX’s operations at Cape Canaveral are unique: the company uses of a DP-enabled barge as a landing pad to recover used booster rockets at sea. The recovery-and-reuse program is an important component of the firm’s business plan, as it dramatically reduces the cost per launch. The company’s Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket boosters are designed for up to ten launches with minimal service between flights.

The company’s non-charted safety zones will be established from Cape Canaveral, Florida, into the Atlantic Ocean in four different areas, which will be activated individually based on the rocket’s planned flight path. The safety zones are designed to keep vessels from entering the area while a launch is taking place.

The four launch zones for SpaceX have been in use for some time, but to date, their periodic activations have been announced to the maritime community through the Coast Guard Notice to Mariners and Local Notice to Mariners. The first zone to be marked by SpaceX’s own AIS ATON is scheduled for a launch this week.

“The Coast Guard does not authorize private aids to navigation for all restricted areas, particularly those that are permanently charted,” said Jorge Arroyo, the AIS program manager in the Coast Guard’s Navigation Technology and Risk Management Division. “However, these space launches are not charted and they are sporadic and temporary.”

Like other AIS markers, the SpaceX AIS synthetic ATON will show up on AIS-enabled ECDIS systems and electronic chart plotters.


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