By 1st Lt. Alana Austin, 45TH Space Wing Public Affairs
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) — When about 70 boats sailed into the launch hazard area near the Kennedy Space Center and threatened to delay a launch last summer, 45th Space Wing officials decided it was time to blitz the surrounding mariner and aviation communities with information.
A comprehensive campaign was developed to educate the public about how and when to avoid the LHA during launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and KSC.
The initiative is called the Space Launch Intrusion Prevention Study. It evolved from recommendations by the Aerospace Corporation and is spearheaded by the 45th Range Squadron at Cape Canaveral AFS.
As part of the program, the wing unveiled a new electronic sign Jan. 26. The purpose of the $88,000 programmable sign, situated in Port Canaveral, is to warn commercial and sport mariners of launch activity from the Cape and KSC.
The sign is just one of many methods the study team uses to get LHA information out. Other avenues include public meetings, faxes, media coverage, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and marine band radio broadcasts, an LHA Web page and information additions to aviation and maritime charts.
"SLIPS has been extremely successful," said Brig. Gen. Donald P. Pettit, 45th Space Wing commander. "There have been no launch delays due to boats or aircraft intrusions since it was implemented.
"Our goal is to launch each mission safely and on time, and we can’t do that if there are boaters in the Launch Hazard Area," he said.
The LHA is a pre-designated impact location where rocket debris, such as strap-on solid rocket boosters, routinely falls back to the water in the first seconds after each launch. No LHA is the same. Therefore, it is vital that mariners are aware of the changes from launch to launch.
Besides public safety concerns, increasingly short launch windows for upcoming launches have the attention of all launch customers. If a launch window is eaten up because a boat is in the LHA, and the launch is scrubbed, it has the potential to cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
A true test of the program will take place April 7 when a Delta II rocket will launch National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The mission has a launch window of only one-second.
"SLIPS has bolstered relationships with both the mariner community and the Canaveral Port Authority," said Lt. Col. Wayne Thompson, 45th Range Squadron commander. "The huge success of the program wouldn’t be possible without their full support and participation."
The electronic sign has been operational since Nov. 30. It was co-funded by the Air Force and NASA. Up to seven days prior to launch, boaters traveling through the port can get the date and time of impending launches.
This electronic sign in Port Canaveral, Fla., is just one of many methods used to get launch hazard area information out to boaters sailing in the area. Keeping boaters out of the LHA during the launch of a rocket prevents costly launch delays. (Photo by 1st Lt. Alana Austin)