Will Starship IFT-3 try for full orbit?
resolved Mar 14

Will they attempt a suborbital trajectory like ift 1 and 2, or will they go straight for a real orbital attempt?

The attempt doesn't need to be successful for this market, the important thing is the intent.

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bought Ṁ4,000 NO

Clearly suborbital per webcast at T-22 min

@ChristopherRandles apologies for delay


@Mqrius what are you updating on?

@JoshuaWilkes Speculations and vague stuff. But also 3% just seems extremely low for something we don't actually know for sure.

There seem to be NOTMARs for the Indian Ocean, but also for the south east Atlantic, that seem Starship related. But none for Hawaii.

They could maybe get to South East Atlantic before a full orbit, but it wouldn't really leave any time for prop transfer and deployment tests.

Ground path looks a bit like this so they do hit south east Atlantic repeatedly.

So yeah I'm still not sure but I'm definitely not 97% sure it's wrong.

NOTMARs via:

bought Ṁ10 YES

@Mqrius yeah, this has been my weakly held belief throughout. It's a good reminder to buy a bit more since its crept lower.

sold Ṁ87 YES

@JoshuaWilkes Updated the other way again, now that SpaceX has published its timeline

Chris BillingtonboughtṀ2,000NO

@chrisjbillington Rip just missed the easy sell

At the astro awards, one of the SpaceX people said they're going for suborbital again. It was a Falcon team guy and he didn't seem to know everything exactly, but signs do seem to point to suborbital.

Anyway that's where today's update came from.

Chris BillingtonboughtṀ100NO

@chrisjbillington changed your mind?

predicted NO

@Mqrius Thinking that a) yeah it's still ambiguous and b) Musk saying they want to test things that would benefit from full-orbit is him talking about stretch goals as if they're primary goals, which is typical of him. A SpaceX spokesperson just days ago said there would be no propellant transfer demo:

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington I think that's actually spaceflight now misunderstanding things, along with others. I personally don't know what "tipping point transfer" means and wouldn't have caught it in such a presentation. But others did, already 3 days ago.

predicted NO

@Mqrius Huh. OK, I don't know what tipping point means here either. But yeah, ok.

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington From the article you linked, its the name of a separate contract, apparently.

"A key demonstration

The “propellant transfer demonstration” falls under a NASA “Tipping Point” contract that the agency awarded SpaceX in 2020 for $53.2 million. As part of the contract, NASA wants SpaceX to develop and test “Cryogenic Fluid Management” (CFM) technology, which the agency notes is essential for future missions to the moon and Mars."

@Mqrius Interesting. OK, I'm updating more upward on full orbit and the propellant transfer demonstration. And downward on IFT-3 payload and on two ships docking in 2024. (edit: will think a bit more about IFT-3 payload)

And now I'll actually watch the video and see if I need to refine anything! Thanks for your summary of it!

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington Most of the video is history or repetition but you can watch at 1.5x and 2x. I can give a quick summary of other notable points if you want

predicted YES

@Mqrius Ah I'll put it on fast and skip around, all good! Given the ambiguities remaining I'd like to interpret the vibe myself. Thanks a lot for the pointers though!

@Mqrius After watching the video, it sounds like Musk is referring to IFT-2's planned trajectory as "orbit". He says "if it had a payload [such that they wouldn't have vented LOX to simulate extra consumption, which caused a fire], it would have made it to orbit". So his statements about IFT-3 hopefully making it to orbit I think aren't any more meaningful than hoping it will be successful where IFT-2 wasn't. So I'm updating downward on full orbit (looks like others beat me to it somewhat!).

The comments about testing the door sound like they're about testing the door rather then actual deployment, and he talks about (paraphrasing) "Starlink v2 uh I guess v3 satellites, you know, the really big ones" , and I'm not up to date on Starlink but it sounds like these are probably not the satellites they have on hand that they could test. It sounds like the test will be about operating the mechanism, and that the door when not welded shut doesn't compromise the ship's structural integrity like it seemed they feared it would for IFT-2 (hence the welding shut, or so people say).

Prop transfer, that was pretty unambiguous I think, it sounds like they want to do that. It sounds like this is the official plan, so updating further upward on that being attempted (and I guess my priors say it'll be successful, if they make it to the target trajectory).

And the statements about the deorbit burn seemed oddly-phrased if they were supposed to be describing an actual de-orbit burn. So that's not making me update more on full orbit.

It does sound like a lot of stuff to demo, but they do have like an hour after SECO and before re-entry, given the IFT-2 planned trajectory. So that seems like enough time, full orbit doesn't seem necessary. And the safety reason for not going full orbit does seem to be still be relevant. Sometimes the level of confidence changes a lot in between flights for good reason, such that if they said "yeah we're gonna go full orbit and do a deorbit burn" I'd believe them, but it doesn't sound like that's the case if they're doing a burn to "prove" they can de-orbit.

Given several statements that we might want to interpret as implying full orbit, but all of them having some kind of reason they don't properly imply that, I think together these statements are reasonably strong evidence against full orbit. They talked about orbit enough that if it was going full orbit, we should expect a reasonable chance of seeing better evidence!

So my modal case is:

  • Suborbital or "trans-atmospheric orbit" or however you want to call it

  • No payload

  • Yes internal prop transfer

  • They'll open the doors and actuate some pez dispenser hardware

  • Some kind of engine burn, maybe prograde, maybe retrograde, maybe neither, but not actually needed to de-orbit.

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington mostly what you're saying makes sense.

With your interpretation, maybe they're aiming for Hawaii again but then doing a retrograde burn that puts them in the Indian Ocean instead.

For what it's worth, I believe they do actually have Starlink V2s on hand at starbase, so they could actually use those. (See pic)

They might still yeet those out to test the yeeter, even if they're doing suborbital though. But that would be Yes for the payload market, even if it's suborbital.

predicted NO

@Mqrius Ah I guess if they yeet them they'll just re-enter and burn up either in the pacific or indian ocean depending, so that's fine and safe - this pile of V2 starlinks are scrap anway, aren't they? Thought I read that somewhere.

I guess I'm not sure but it sounded like Musk mentioned V2 and then seemed to correct himself and say V3, which made me think it wasn't these he was talking about. But maybe it's not super clear. And yeah, I'm not super on top of Starlink, so for all I know he's just undecided about what they're called.

He says "we want to also demonstrate the payload door for the sort of Pez dispenser for delivering the starlink v2 non-mini, actually probably I guess the v3 technically, but, the really giant satellites, to orbit"

But he is saying "deliver them to orbit", and so if we want to take that as a statement about what they'll do in IFT-3, we need to update toward full-orbit...


predicted YES

@chrisjbillington I understood it as him saying the v2-minis are the v2s, and the big version could be called v3s.

Dunno about the scrap, could be.

The deliver them to orbit sentence is ambiguous too, "we want to demonstrate the (payload door for delivering the sats to orbit)" could mean that the payload door is for delivering things to orbit and they just wanna demo it.


predicted NO


I understood it as him saying the v2-minis are the v2s, and the big version could be called v3s.

Is the stack of starlinks at the launch site plausibly this big version?

could mean that the payload door is for delivering things to orbit and they just wanna demo it.

Yeah exactly. Stuff like this is so ambiguous, people say a lot of words and their audience often hear what they're looking for, but sometimes it seems like a miracle that anything gets communicated at all. It sounds like Musk is speaking precisely, and yet none of these markets can get pushed near the extremes, because he actually said very little definitive.

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington I think it's the big version, yes. They might be a year old by now though, but I guess they just need something that fits in the dispenser housing.

predicted NO

@Mqrius Ah ok. So indeed it sounds like he's talking about them, and just flipping about a bit on what to call them. Mmm.

Taking more seriously the idea that they would have a payload for a moment makes me realise they probably have good reason not to. It seems like it's probably not a simple case of "if testing the yeeter, might as well yeet", because flying with a payload decreases their margin for error, they won't be able to tolerate as many engines out on ascent, etc.

If their priority is getting to (almost) orbit and doing some tests, including making progress on the prop transfer stuff which is on the critical path for Artemis, having the extra mass of a payload might not be a priority for this flight. Yes, IFT-2 would have made it with a payload, but if they want to maximise what they learn, and prioritise Artemis (which I imagine is their priority), there's probably not much benefit to the extra risk that might stop them getting to (almost) orbit.

Aslo, I don't remember seeing it in the video, might have been a bit I skipped over, but this reddit comment says:

  1. Hoping to do a Starlink missions by the end of this year (Elon-time disclaimer) (if IFT-3 did deliver dummy this should be the first operational one)

Didn't hear the context, but "by the end of this year" when spoken by Elon sounds entirely incompatible with Q1 when IFT-3 is likely to launch. A test deployment mightn't count as a "mission" though (especially if suborbital), so not super definitive.

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington payload or not doesn't meaningfully matter for the first stage margins, since prop mass dominates at that time. For second stage, they could opt to have like 3 Starlink says/dummys instead of 50(?), and it would still allow them to test things.

Around 52:00 Musk talks about IFT3 goals.

"With flight 2 we got almost to orbit. With flight 3 we want to get to orbit, and we want to do an in-space engine burn from the header tank and prove that we can reliably deorbit. We want to do a tipping point, header to main propellant transfer, this is important for the NASA Artemis program, and we want to demonstrate the payload door, the pez dispenser, for the V2 Starlink satellites to orbit"

It's not 100% non-ambiguous, but imo that sounds like they want to go to full orbit.

@Mqrius Yeah not 100%. Sounds like he could be saying IFT-2 didn't get to orbit in the sense that it didn't reach its target trajectory. And "do a burn to prove we can deorbit" would have been phrased as "do a deorbit burn" if it was actually necessary to do it to deorbit. The burn might even be prograde.

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington Yeah that's fair. Otoh with all the stuff they want to do, they'd have more time for testing if they go for full orbit

predicted NO


We want to do a tipping point, header to main propellant transfer, this is important for the NASA Artemis program

Ach, this completely contradicts what we heard the other day, but alright, unresolved and re-opened this market:

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington Yeah I didn't see the NASA talk but I heard conflicting reports on that point. My understanding was indeed that they'd do an internal transfer but no ship-to-ship

predicted NO

@Mqrius Hm, ship-to-ship wasn't plausibly on the cards for IFT-3 anyway, so these statements surely can only be interpreted as referring to an internal transfer.

predicted YES

@chrisjbillington nah it's a NASA talk they're for people out of the loop

predicted NO

@Mqrius Hm, could be. But the articles about an internal transfer were also from NASA: