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Is there a way to know in advance when stage 1 will land either on the barge or back at the Cape?

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    $\begingroup$ Generally payload mass is a good indicator. RTLS takes too much fuel for a large payload. Starilink missions, for example, max out the payload capacity and always land on a barge. The Transporter missions, usually are quite light, just hundreds of small payloads and RTLS. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Feb 13, 2022 at 12:46

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SpaceX would much prefer to return to the launch site rather than landing on a barge. Compared to returning to the launch site, landing on a barge adds risk, complexity, time, and cost. SpaceX lands its first stage on a barge when return to launch site is not possible. A heavier payload or the need for more delta V are the two key items that preclude RTLS.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answers "predict in advance" but to "know in advance" I suppose there may be websites... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 13, 2022 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ The only time I ever hear of it is when I happen to be watching the news in advance of the launch and the newscaster says they will be returning to the Cape, which happens less and less these days, but their most recent launch did. I don’t recall what the payload was! $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2022 at 15:07

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