Today’s Tidbits: January 26, 2021

Today’s Tidbits: January 26, 2021

Here are’s tidbits for January 26, 2021: Axiom names private astronaut crew, new date for Starliner OFT-2, OSIRIS-REx to take another peek at Bennu, a tip for finding space policy documents from the Trump Administration. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Axiom Names Private Astronaut Crew

Axiom Space revealed the names of its first private astronaut crew that will visit the International Space Station (ISS) a year from now. The mission, Ax-1, will be commanded by Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who holds the U.S. record for most spacewalks and now works for Axiom.  Joining him are three wealthy individuals who could afford the reported $55 million per person: American Larry Connor, who will serve as pilot; Canadian Mark Pathy; and Israeli Eytan Stibbe.

Axiom added that another record-breaking former NASA astronaut, Peggy Whitson, is Lopez-Alegria’s backup.

Russia has launched seven “tourists” (including one who made the trip twice) to the International Space Station (ISS), but NASA resisted such uses of the ISS until 2019. At that point the agency concluded it was time to open up the ISS for more commercial activities in the hope of spurring companies to build their own space stations to succeed ISS, which just celebrated 20 years of permanent human occupancy.

Axiom, founded by former NASA ISS program manager Mike Suffredini, is planning to build a module that initially will be attached to ISS, but later will separate and fly on its own. In the meantime, the company decided to arrange flights to ISS by private astronauts using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The first launch was supposed to take place this year, but has slipped a bit to  January 2022.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is one of two “commercial crew” space transportation systems developed as public-private partnerships with NASA.  SpaceX owns the spacecraft. NASA purchases services and has an explicit goal to be just one of many customers, so the Axiom flight is exactly what the agency had in mind.

Boeing Sets New Date for Starliner OFT-2

The other commercial crew system, Starliner, is under development by Boeing.  Like SpaceX, it must fly an uncrewed test flight and then a crewed test flight to the ISS as part of NASA’s certification process.

SpaceX passed those milestones and Crew Dragon is now operational, but Boeing is still working on the uncrewed test flight.

Its first attempt in December 2019 was not entirely successful.  The Orbital Flight Test (OFT) reached orbit and landed safely two days later, but software errors prevented it from getting to the ISS and the landing could have been catastrophic if a different software error had not been discovered and fixed in the nick of time. A joint Boeing-NASA Independent Review Team (IRT) made 61 recommendations on how to fix the software problems and other recommendations on a separate communications problem, a total of 80 actions in all.

In April 2020, Boeing decided to refly the OFT to demonstrate the problems are fixed.  On December 31, 2020, Boeing and NASA announced that the mission, OFT-2, was scheduled for launch on March 29, 2021.

Yesterday, however, they moved the date forward four days to March 25.  It is rare in the space business for a launch date to be moved earlier rather than later, but events just happened to coincide to make it possible this time.

Starliner is launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket and another ULA customer (the U.S. Space Force) had to delay its launch because its payloads are not ready.  That created an opening for Starliner and everything else — availability of the Eastern Range, a docking opportunity on the ISS, and progress on Starliner’s hardware and software — fell into place.

If all goes well, Boeing expects to fly its Crewed Flight Test this summer and the first operational Starliner flight by the end of the year.  That will give NASA two different systems to ferry crews back and forth to ISS.

OSIRIS-REx To Take Another Peek at Bennu

NASA was very excited last fall when its OSIRIS-REx (O-REx) asteroid sample return mission collected even more material from the asteroid Bennu than hoped, but celestial mechanics being what they are, the spacecraft cannot depart for Earth until Bennu and Earth are aligned properly. After that, the trip home will take over two years.

Today NASA announced that the departure burn will take place on May 10, 2021, but in somewhat of a surprise it also announced that scientists are looking into the feasibility of having O-REx make another close pass of the asteroid.  In October they said O-REx was drifting away from Bennu and would not return.

Now, though, they want to image the site where it touched down to see how the surface was disturbed in the process. The plan is to get as close as 3.2 kilometers (2 miles).  NASA said that also would provide an opportunity to test the spacecraft’s instruments to see if they are fully operational or if they are covered in dust.

O-REx will drop the sample return capsule off at Earth on September 24, 2023, but the rest of the spacecraft will continue on its way through space.  The status of the instruments and the spacecraft overall will determine what other missions it might be assigned thereafter.

Tip For Finding Space Policy Documents from the Trump Administration

Last week the Trump Administration ended and the Biden Administration began. With that transition, the Trump White House website was archived and a new site created for the new administration.

That means trying to link to the Trump space policy directives and other documents that were posted on the White House website now yield “404 – page not found” errors.

Not to worry, though.  The entire site was archived (as was the Obama White House site in 2017).  The new site is

One can take any of the URLs and simply replace “” with “” and then keep the rest of the address.  Note that the new address does not have “www” at the beginning.

As an example, SPD-7, the last one issued, is at

Jim Vedda at the Aerospace Corporation maintains an extraordinarily useful Space Policy Archive database of presidential space directives over the decades all the way back to Harry Truman. Note that the drop-down search list is in alphabetical order by first name, so DONALD Trump is third after BARACK Obama and BILL Clinton.

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