How SpaceX and Elon Musk are delaying your next flight

You can usually blame a few common suspects for airline flight delays, such as bad weather, mechanical problems, and traffic on the tarmac. But thanks to the rise of the commercial space industry, there is now a surprising new source of disruption to air travel: rocket launches.

Flights to and from Florida in recent weeks Sharp increase in delays. Palm Beach International Airport records more than . 100 delays or cancellations Only on April 15th. (some of which can be attributed to Private and charter flights.) The situation is worse at Jacksonville International Airport, which has Nearly 9,000 flights delayed March.Last week, federal regulators meet Discuss these disruptions, which reflect the many ongoing challenges facing the aviation industry, including storms, Jet fuel costs risethis COVID-19 pandemicand a Airline staff shortageBut in Florida, the growing number of space launches — especially from the Cape Canaveral area — also complicates flight schedules.

“They closed vital airspace on the East Coast before, during and after the launch. Traffic has to go somewhere,” John Tiliacos, executive vice president of finance and procurement at Tampa International Airport, told Recode. “It’s like putting 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag, so you’re further clogging up the already restricted airspace on Florida’s west coast.”

While these delays are currently concentrated in Florida, the problem could get worse, especially as the number of spaceflights increases and new launch facilities or spaceports open in other parts of the country.This situation also shows The advent of the second space age Can have unexpected or even extremely inconvenient effects on daily life.

The spacecraft’s problem is relatively simple: Air traffic controllers currently have to ground or change course during launches.To break through the atmosphere and reach outer space, a rocket must first travel through airspace monitored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees air traffic control center and flight navigation across the country.While these rockets typically only stay in this airspace for a few minutes, they can produce debris, such as spent piece Rocket hardware, either because they were designed to release the payload in several stages, or because the mission failed.Reusable boosters used by some spacecraft, such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9also re-enter this airspace.

To make sure planes don’t get hit by the debris, the FAA typically prevents flights from flying within a rectangular block of sky that can stretch from 40 to hundreds of miles long, depending on the type of launch. Typically, there is about two weeks’ advance notice before each launch, during which time air traffic controllers can make alternative arrangements for flights scheduled for the day. During the launch, aviation officials track the vehicle’s entry into space and then wait for news from experts analyzing the trajectory of debris created by the launch in real time. If there is debris, air traffic controllers stand by until it falls back to Earth, which usually takes 30 to 50 minutes. Once this happens, the scheduled flight can return to its normal flight path.

A single space launch could disrupt hundreds of flights.For example, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in 2018 – the same launch as the infamous launch Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster goes into space563 flights affectedcreate Total delay 4,645 minutesand force the plane to fly more 34,841 nautical miles, according to the FAA. The extra miles add up quickly, especially when you consider the extra fuel and carbon emissions involved.Researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, estimate that a space launch could cost airlines just as much $200,000 in additional fuel by 2027and up to $300,000 in additional fuel over the next ten years.

The FAA insists it is improving. Last year, the agency started using a new tool, Spatial Data Integrator, more directly sharing data about spacecraft during launch and allowing the agency to reopen airspace more quickly. The FAA also said it had successfully reduced the airspace closure associated with the launch from about four hours to just over two hours. In some cases, the agency was able to reduce the time to just 30 minutes.

“As the frequency of commercial space operations increases, the ultimate goal of the FAA’s efforts is to reduce delays, route deviations, fuel burn and emissions for commercial airlines and users of other national airspace systems,” the agency said in a statement.

Faa.gov

Transmission frequency is on the rise. There are 54 Licensed space launch Overseen by the FAA last year, but the agency think That number is likely to grow in 2022 due to the rise of space tourism, growing demand for internet satellites, and upcoming space exploration missions.These launches are also likely to become more common in other parts of the country as new spaceports, which are often built in or Near the existing airport, to speed up the operation. FAA already licensed more than ten different spaceport location In the United States, including Spaceport America new mexicoVirgin Galactic first flight Last summer, along with the Colorado Air and Space Port, a just six miles From Denver International Airport.

The FAA’s role in the rise of the commercial space industry is becoming increasingly complex.In addition to certifying and licensing launches, the FAA’s responsibilities include research impact on the environment Space travel and oversee new spaceports.The agency will eventually have to monitor The same goes for the safety of space passengers. Here are all the other new aircraft that the FAA has to keep a close eye on, like drones, flying air taxis, supersonic jeteven, possibly, space balloon.

“There’s more contention: How do all these different types of vehicles fit into the systems that the FAA is responsible for?” Ian Petchenik, who oversees communications for Flightradar24, an aircraft flight tracking service, told Recode. “Things are going to get more complicated, and I think having a way to determine who has priority, how much space they need and what the margin of safety is is a bigger long-term issue.”

While we’re still in the early days of the commercial space industry, some have expressed concern that the agency isn’t heading in the right direction.The Airline Pilots Association warned back in 2019 that the FAA’s approach could become An ‘expensive way to support space operations’ and urges agency to continue reducing airspace closures during space launchAt least one member of Congress, Rep. Peter DeFazio, is already concerned that the FAA is prioritizing commercial space launches over traditional air travel. Serve more people.

In addition to air flight delays, the booming space travel business has affected people from reality TV we can watch and Types of jobs we can get arrive International Politics And – due to the industry’s potentially huge carbon footprint – The threat of climate change. Now it appears that the commercial spaceflight industry may also affect the timing of your next visit to Disney World.

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