CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – If you happen to be visiting Florida‘s Space Coast around the holidays hoping to catch a rocket launch, chances are you’ll be out of luck.
During peak holiday travel times, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Federal Aviation Administration works with space launch companies to minimize delays for commercial air travelers. That is because the FAA temporarily closes airspace around a launch site whenever a rocket launches.
“During launches and reentries, the FAA temporarily closes airspace to protect the traveling public, and re-routing aircraft can contribute to flight delays,” the FAA said in a statement to FOX Weather.
With about 75% of launches happening at Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, the air closures mainly affect the Southeast. California, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Georgia and Alabama also have commercial launch operations that could cause airspace closures.
The FAA works with commercial space operators and NASA to avoid scheduling launch operations during holiday travel to minimize any impacts on commercial air travel. With launch traffic increasing, the FAA said it has adapted to reduce the time of airspace closures by up to 50%.
That’s not to say holiday-time launches haven’t happened before or can’t.
On Nov. 16, NASA launched its Space Launch System rocket for the first time from Florida, sending the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis 1 test flight around the moon. However, NASA had asked the FAA and U.S. Space Force for approval to launch on alternate days – Nov. 19 and Nov. 25.
“We do have both of those as backups right now with the range, and the FAA gave us the date of the 25th. So we’re already clear with them,” NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free told reporters before the launch.
Rocket launches are steadily increasing as more launch providers start operating at facilities across the U.S.
Beyond SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, private companies Blue Origin, Relativity Space and Astra also operate launchpads at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Sierra Space has a landing license to use the Launch and Landing Facility, or the old space shuttle runway, at Kennedy Space Center for its space plane, the Dreamchaser.
This year, the Eastern Range, overseen by Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 45, has supported 50 rocket launches. The Eastern Range includes the launch facilities and the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to the launchpads.
NASA’s Artemis 1 mission marked the 50th in 2022, with more planned this year. This year has already surpassed the 37 launches of 2021 and 39 launches in 2020, according to Space Force.
According to FAA data, the agency has issued nearly 80 launch licenses for 2022 compared to 54 in 2021 and 39 in 2020.