The Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard helicopter was on standby early today for the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon mission in the unlikely event the crew was forced to ditch in the ocean off Ireland.
The Irish Coast Guard was also the lead search and rescue (SAR) agency for SpaceX’s first mission launch last May in plan devised back in 2013.
The latest the SpaceX mission is carrying three American and one Japanese astronaut on a 27-hour flight to the International Space Station in a capsule built by a private rocket company. On board are NASA astronauts, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover, as well as a Japanese astronaut, Soichi Noguchi.
SpaceX is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company owned by Elon Musk.
Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed from the ground up by SpaceX for the reliable and cost-efficient transport of satellites and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The capsule carrying the crew is launched on top of the Falcon 9 rocket. After separation, the rocket lands back on a drone ship and can be reused.
Saturday’s planned launch was postponed due to poor weather however went ahead shortly after midnight.
After taking off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the spacecraft travelled along a corridor stretching thousands of miles across the North Atlantic in case the crew capsule had to break away from rocket in an emergency during its climb into orbit.
A location about 100kms due west of Kilkee, Co Clare had been identified as a possible ‘splash down’ point if the crew had to abort their mission.
The Irish Coast Guard was ready to respond and rescue the four-person crew if required while watch officers at the Irish Coast Guard’s marine rescue coordination centres in Dublin, Valentia Island, Co Kerry and Malin Head, Co Donegal were also standing by to launch a search and rescue mission if required to do so.
In the event of an emergency ditching, the rescue plan would have involved the Coast Guard’s Shannon Airport and Sligo Airport based search and rescue helicopters. As part of the response, the Irish Air Corps would have been requested to provide an aircraft for communications ‘top-cover’ while the Irish Naval Service would also have been alerted.
Irish Coast Guard and RNLI assets along the west coast would also have been alerted and deployed if the need arose.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 16, 2020
In 2013, NASA made contact with authorities here ahead of the planned resumption of manned space missions. NASA’s Manager of Mission Planning and Integration Office for the Commercial Crew Program Mr Don J. Pearson visited the Irish Coast Guard’s helicopter base at Shannon Airport.
Based at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas Mr Pearson later confirmed that NASA was looking at establishing a more formal relationship with the Coast Guard here.
Mr Pearson confirmed at the time that his visit to Shannon was personal in nature but said: “I was on vacation and wanted to drop by and see what it looks like and meet the people. We at NASA are interested in their capabilities and so we may establish more formal interfaces soon.”
Irish Coast Guard Director Mr Chris Reynolds said at the time: “Mr. Pearson had previously contacted the base by phone from NASA as he is interested in finding out general and contact information to determine ‘rescue’ options to further NASA’s planning process.”