Today’s Tidbits: July 22, 2021

Today’s Tidbits: July 22, 2021

Here are’s tidbits for July 22, 2021, an especially long and eclectic list: Boeing’s OFT-2 uncrewed Starliner test flight get a go-ahead; FAA revises its rules to get commercial astronaut wings; NOAA’s GOES-17 is broken; NASA’s Hubble is fixed, JWST is getting packed up; SASC completes NDAA markup. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Boeing’s Starliner Cleared for Uncrewed OFT-2 Mission July 30

Boeing’s Starliner commercial crew spacecraft cleared its Flight Readiness Review (FRR) today for a second uncrewed test flight next week. The Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is scheduled for liftoff on July 30 at 2:53 pm ET from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. If all goes well, it will dock with the International Space Station (ISS) the next day, and undock and return to Earth on August 5. Unlike SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Starliner lands on terra firma at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The first OFT in December 2019 did not go as planned and after reviewing the anomalies, Boeing decided to fly Starliner again without a crew before putting people aboard. If this test flight is OK, a flight with a crew could happen this year although neither NASA nor Boeing would commit to that during a post-FRR media teleconference this afternoon. NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich said “we just aren’t that far along” to set a date.

FAA Broadens Rules for Who Gets Commercial Astronaut Wings

Tuesday, the same day Blue Origin launched the first commercial suborbital human spaceflight mission, the FAA released revised rules as to who gets commercial astronaut wings. had several email exchanges with the FAA on that very topic for our July 6 story and no mention was made that the rules were about to change. We pointed out there might be some sticky situations in these early days of commercial human spaceflight as to who gets wings or not. Although Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are giving out their own wings or pins, there undoubtedly will be those who consider FAA wings to be more prestigious. Now there is a chance for people to get “honorary” astronaut wings.

7. Honorary Awards. There could be individuals whose contribution to commercial human space flight merits special recognition. The Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST-1) has total discretion regarding identifying and bestowing FAA honorary award of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings to individuals who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human space flight industry. These individuals receiving an honorary award may not be required to satisfy all eligibility requirements. The honorary award can be granted posthumously.

In addition to flying higher than 50 miles, a key determinant for the FAA is whether someone is “crew” or a “spaceflight participant.” Under the FAA’s rules, only the former are eligible. To be crew, one must be an employee or contractor of the company flying the mission and demonstrate activities during the flight essential to public safety or contributing to human space flight safety.

Everyone on Virgin Galactic’s July 11 Unity- 22 flight was a company employee though not all appeared to have tasks assigned to them other than enjoying the experience. On the July 20 Blue Origin New Shepard-16 mission, only one person, Jeff Bezos, would count as an employee and the whole point of New Shepard is that it is completely autonomous, so they all were there just to have fun.

The new rules also specify that representatives of the FAA, Department of Transportation or other U.S. government agency may nominate candidates to get wings, and the FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation is the final authority on who gets them. An individual can get only one set of wings no matter how many flights they make.

Three of the people on Unity-22 already have FAA wings from a previous flight (the two pilots, David Mackay and Michael Masucci, and Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses). Many are wondering if the other three (Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, and Colin Bennett) will get them, as well as the four on NS-16.  In addition to Jeff Bezos, that foursome included his brother Mark, aviator Wally Funk, and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen.

At 18, Daemen is the youngest person to fly to space and is also the first paying customer on a suborbital human spaceflight.  At 82, Funk is the oldest person to fly to space. One of the Mercury 13 women who thought they were on a pathway to join NASA’s astronaut corps in the early 1960s, Funk waited six decades for her chance.

Funk got a Blue Origin astronaut pin, but would anyone want to deny her a set of FAA wings?  Fortunately the revised rules give Wayne Monteith, the head of FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, some flexibility on that score.

NOAA’s GOES-17 Weather Satellite is Broken

NOAA revealed today that its Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-17 (GOES-17), one of the two operational satellites that monitor the Atlantic and Pacific oceans for hurricanes that could threaten the United States, stopped working early this morning. Fortunately NOAA keeps a spare on standby in orbit just in case something like this happens so all is not lost.

NOAA Statement on GOES-17 Outage

July 22, 2021

A team of experts is working tirelessly to restore operations to NOAA’s GOES-17 satellite, after an on-board computer reset triggered the satellite to be placed into a safe-hold mode at 1:37 a.m. ET today.  In this phase, all of GOES-17’s instruments were automatically turned off.

The engineering team is currently conducting the recovery process.  The next step is instrument reactivation and validation of the sensors. Once those are completed, the team will proceed with reinitiation of the data streams.

The GOES-15 satellite is available as a backup if GOES-17 cannot be restored in a timely manner.

NOAA will provide an update as new information becomes available.

GOES-17  was launched just three years ago, but immediately ran into trouble when its premier instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager, experienced an anomaly.  NOAA could not fix it, but found a way to work around the failure and the spacecraft has continued to serve as the “GOES-West” sentinel over the western United States and Pacific. GOES-16 is in the GOES-East position. Their older and less technologically sophisticated siblings, GOES-14 and GOES-15, are still in orbit and can be called up if needed.

GOES-17 is one of four satellites built as part of the “GOES-R” series. The satellites have letters before launch and numbers once in orbit.  GOES-R became GOES-16.  GOES-S is GOES-17.  NOAA is getting ready to launch GOES-T in December. It will become GOES-18.  NOAA already had plans to get it into operational status as soon as possible to replace GOES-17 because of the earlier problems.

NASA’s Hubble Is Fixed, JWST is Getting Packed

On a lighter note, NASA’s venerable Hubble Space Telescope is fixed. The beloved space telescope was launched 31 years ago, but its instruments and systems were replaced or upgraded by astronauts on five space shuttle missions so in many regards is younger than it seems.

Still, the last servicing mission was in 2009 and it is getting older. On June 13, its “payload computer” stopped working. That computer controls and coordinates all the science instruments on the telescope, so science operations halted. After five weeks of troublshooting, NASA engineers were able to successfully switch to a backup system and science operations resumed on July 17.

NASA is getting ready to launch the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) late this fall. It is often described as Hubble’s successor although the two view the universe in different wavelengths (Hubble is mostly in the visible bands, JWST in the infrared) and unlike Hubble, which orbits Earth, JWST will be positioned a million miles away at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point where it can get an even better view. NASA hopes to have a few years of overlapping observations, so getting Hubble back in operation was really good news.

Right now JWST is getting packed up for shipping to its launch site in South America. The European Space Agency is a partner in the program and is providing the launch on an Ariane 5 rocket at no cost to NASA. Europe’s launch site is in Kourou, French Guiana, on the continent’s northeast coast. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for JWST and the telescope is currently at the company’s production facility near Los Angeles. It will be shipped by sea from there through the Panama Canal to Kourou late this summer with launch expected in November.

SASC Completes NDAA Markup

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) completed markup of its version of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act last night and issued an executive summary of its decisions today. The summary does not go into much detail about what the committee is recommending for the U.S. Space Force or U.S. Space Command, but provides this quick recap.

The House Armed Services Committee will begin marking up its version next week. All seven subcommittees are due to complete their work by the end of the week, just before the August recess begins. Full committee markup is scheduled for September 1.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.