Why SpaceX Isn't Even Trying a Drone Ship Landing on Sunday

Getty Images / NASA

The past few weeks have been pretty great for rocket launch and landing fans, but the party stops this weekend, because SpaceX’s next rocket isn’t even going to bother landing — instead, it’s going to splash down in the drink.

On Sunday, SpaceX is going to launch yet another Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, its third launch in the past ten days. But unlike the company’s other recent missions, CEO Elon Musk and co won’t attempt to recover the rocket by landing it on Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic, largely because the Intelsat 35e satellite is just too dang heavy.

The heavier the payload, the more fuel a Falcon 9 needs to use to get it into orbit. The Intelsat 35e is a beast, weighing in at 6.6 tons (13,200 pounds). The Falcon 9 will have to burn so much fuel getting it into orbit that it won’t have enough to control its descent well to land. So while the mission will be routine, the rocket will have to be a loss.

Here’s a rendering of the Intelsat in space, which doesn’t give a great example of the scale but shows what SpaceX has to get up there. The Intelsat is a huge communications satellite, used primarily for beaming down broadband service to parts of the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa.

All of this folds up, of course, but it's still a lot of stuff. 


To get a better sense of just how big all this stuff is, check this out:

Little people at the bottom for scale


The launch should go off on Sunday, July 2, at around 7:36 p.m. but has a backup launch date of Monday, July 3 if that doesn’t work out. Unfortunately, there won’t be a sweet landing to catch. SpaceX has taken the same strategy for its last EchoStar 23 mission, where the payload was a bit lighter. The company has gotten so good at landing rockets it’s starting to almost feel boring, so any variation in the plan is something of interest. Musk said on Twitter that future flights of this magnitude will go on the new Falcon Heavy rocket. Until then, the company will have to toss a few Falcons in the sea. Seeing as that’s what other companies have been doing for decades, it’s probably all going to be fine.

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