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IFT-4 demonstrated a controlled entry into orbit. IFT-3 had already demonstrated the ability to open the payload bay door (or so SpaceX claims). Is there any reason why Starship cannot begin launching satellites now?

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know that IFT3 did demonstrate the payload door. It seemed to have problems opening and didn't fully open as far as we could see. A garage door that opens six inches and jams is not a functional garage door. $\endgroup$ Commented yesterday
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    $\begingroup$ Flight was suborbital, was it not? $\endgroup$ Commented yesterday
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    $\begingroup$ Technically it was a a suborbital trajectory, but the deltaV used was, iirc, the same as the amount needed to enter a stable orbit, just at an angle designed to ensure that if anything went wrong they would not leave space junk up there. That said, showing they can enter orbit and then deorbit safely under their own power is certainly a prerequisite to being "ready". $\endgroup$ Commented 9 hours ago

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Starship cannot be considered operational at the moment. SpaceX must first demonstrate that Starship can relight at least one Raptor engine in orbit to prove that it is capable of exiting orbit in a controlled manner.

If this is not demonstrated, I doubt that the FAA would grant a launch license as failure to fire the engine (retro grade) whilst in very low orbit would effectively leave Starship to decay unpredictably and 160 tonnes of debris could end up any where. Memphis? Astrakhan?

The Flight termination system might trigger but there is no guarantee that a considerable fraction of the 160 tonne craft would not rain down in built up areas.

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It may be possible to deliver satellites to Low Earth Orbit, hypothetically, as a bit of an extra push would mean it reaches orbit (IFT-4 wasn't orbital, intentionally).

However, taking any real payload would be a very risky endeavour as Starship still hasn't proven this capability. So Starship may still have some issues to work out e.g. orbital manoeuvring capability and accuracy. Some cheap payloads like cheap cubesats that just want to be above the Karman line may be acceptable, but for the money they pay, the added mission complexity doesn't look worth it to SpaceX.

The more likely scenario is that IFT-5 (and maybe 6?) would demonstrate orbital manoeuvring, proving accuracy of orbit and other related checklist items. And then, a la Falcon 9, Starship can start delivering payloads while carrying on with re-usability testing.

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No, sadly as it has not proven to be able to deorbit itself

Once it has proved that is can deorbit itself, it will be ready to enter service and deliver payload.

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