ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 132 Increment 33: 3 November – 16 November

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
28 November 2012

This is ISS status report #132 from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s science-related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past two weeks for different European experiments and experiment facilities.

The report is compiled by ESA’s ISS Utilisation and Astronaut Support Department in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus Operations teams from the ISS Programme and Exploration Department.

ISS Utilisation Programme
The principal focus of the European utilisation of the ISS is the Columbus laboratory, which was launched and permanently attached to the ISS in February 2008. In addition to the science taking place using the internal and external experiment facilities of the Columbus laboratory, ESA also has some further on-going research taking place inside the Russian Segment of the ISS and in the US Destiny laboratory within international scientific collaboration agreements.

The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:

Human Research

Circadian Rhythms Experiment
The fifth session of the new ESA experiment, Circadian Rhythms, started on 8 November with ISS Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide as the test subject. Hoshide donned the Thermolab sensors on the forehead and chest and the Thermolab unit. Hereafter measurements were taken for 36 hours. Data downlink from the Thermolab Unit will be undertaken via the Portable Pulmonary Function System.  

The main objective of the experiment is to get a better basic understanding of any alterations in circadian rhythms in humans during long-duration spaceflight. This will provide insights into the adaptation of the human autonomic nervous system in space over time, and will help to improve physical exercise, rest and work shifts, as well as fostering adequate workplace illumination in the sense of occupational healthcare in future space missions.

Vessel Imaging
On 5 and 8 November  Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide respectively completed their final measurements for the Vessel Imaging experiment (in conjunction with NASAs Integrated Cardiovascular Experiment). The sessions consisted of echography scans for both experiments using Human Research Facility 1 equipment in Columbus together with ECG and heart rate measurements being taken. On the ESA side support came from DAMEC and CADMOS, two of the User Support and Operations Centres for ESA, via the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany.

Williams and Hoshide also carried out their final ambulatory monitoring sessions of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment respectively from 9-11 November and 13-14 November. This included 24-hr blood pressure measurement using ESA’s Cardiopres device, 48-hr ECG measurement with a holter device and 48-hr activity measurements using two Actiwatches. However, Hoshide’s session concluded early as Cardiopress data could not be recorded due to an issue with charging the batteries which is under assessment for resolution of the problem (which is suspected to be due to the battery charger) and science impact. Relevant data for the experiment was downloaded to the Human Research Facility laptop afterwards.

ESAs Vessel Imaging experiment evaluates the changes in central and peripheral blood vessel wall properties and cross sectional areas of long-duration ISS crewmembers during and after long-term exposure to weightlessness. A Lower Body Negative Pressure programme runs in parallel to Vessel Imaging. Flow velocity changes in the aorta and the middle cerebral and femoral arteries are used to quantify the cardiovascular response to fluid shifts. Vessel Imaging aims to optimise the countermeasures used routinely during long-duration space missions. The aim of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment is to determine the degree, development and clinical significance of cardiac atrophy and identify its mechanisms.

Reversible Figures Experiment
ISS Flight Enginer Kevin Ford carried out his second session of ESA’s new Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 16 November. Ford connected the hardware to a multipurpose laptop in the Columbus module, donned the dedicated visor and conducted the experiment protocol in a free-floating position. The science team has analysed the data which was recently downlinked for all four sessions of Sunita Williams and the first session of Kevin Ford and confirmed good quality.

The experiment is investigating the adaptive nature of the human neuro-vestibular system in the processing of gravitational information related to 3D visual perception. It involves the comparisons of pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight perceptions with regards to ambiguous perspective-reversible figures to assess the influence of weightlessness. During the science run, a series of ambiguous figures are displayed for about 60-120 seconds and the crew is prompted to specify, by pressing pushbuttons on a mouse, which percept is visualized first and then every subsequent change in perception.

Space Headaches Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Kevin Ford continued filling in weekly questionnaires (his second and third) on 9 and 16 November as part of the Space Headaches experiment, which is determining the incidence and characteristics of headaches occurring within astronauts in orbit. The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 32S on 23 October. Headaches can be a common complaint during space flights. This can negatively affect mental and physical capacities of astronauts/cosmonauts which can influence performance during a space mission.

ISS Partner Human Research Activities in Columbus
In addition to the European human research activities, the Human Research Facilities in Columbus were used for centrifuging blood samples on different days for NASA’s Pro-K/Nutrition /Repository experiment for Kevin Ford, Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide. The samples were then placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units. The facilities’ ultrasound equipment was also used to carry out eye scans on the three astronauts on 9 November and leg scans for NASA’s Sprint protocol for Williams and Hoshide on 12 November. NASA’s SPRINT protocol evaluates the use of high intensity, low volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in ISS crewmembers during long-duration missions.  Body mass measurements were also taken using Human Research Facility equipment on the three non-Russian crew members in the two-week reporting period.


As part of regular preventive maintenance the Atmospheric Control System sensor module of the European Modular Cultivation System was replaced on 12 November by Kevin Ford..


Radiation Research

DOSIS-3D experiment
Data acquisition has been on-going for the Dose Distribution inside the ISS 3D (DOSIS-3D) experiment using the two active DOSTEL detectors located inside the European Physiology Modules facility to undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements, and a second set of passive detectors (delivered on Soyuz 32S) which were installed in different locations around Columbus by Sunita Williams on 26 October. This followed up from the first set of passive detectors which gathered data in the Columbus laboratory from May to September before being returned to earth for analysis. The passive detectors are used in order to undertake 'area dosimetry' i.e. to measure the spatial radiation gradients inside the Columbus module. On 6 November one of the passive detectors was relocated to its intended location to ensure optimal science results. A monthly downlink of data from the passive detectors was performed via the European Physiology Modules facility on 14 November. 

The aim of the DOSIS-3D experiment is to determine the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside the ISS and follows on from the DOSIS experiment previously undertaken in the Columbus laboratory. Comparison of the dose rates for the DOSIS-3D and the DOSIS experiments shows a difference in dose level which can be explained due to the different altitude of the Station during the measurements. The DOSIS-3D experiment will build on the data gathered from the DOSIS experiment by combing data gathered in Columbus with ISS International Partner data gathered in other modules of the ISS.

ALTEA-Shield Experiments
Data acquisition has been on-going for the ALTEA (Anomalous Long Term Effects in Astronauts)-Shield experiment in the so-called “shielding” configuration since its relocation to EXPRESS Rack 3 in Columbus on 8 June. The experiment set up consists of three silicon radiation detectors: a reference detector without any shielding materials attached (used for comparative purposes) and two additional detectors covered with two shielding tiles of different thicknesses on each detector. The most recent tiles being tested were made of Kevlar. Up until 13 November 94 cumulative days of science acquisition had been taken and the science team had formally confirmed the validity of the data. At this point the hardware was deactivated and stowed, successfully concluding the shielding part of the experiment. This surpassed the minimum requirement of 40 days and preferred target of 60 days, and followed on from a session including 54 cumulative days of science acquisition using polyethylene tiles.

The shielding part of the ALTEA-Shield experiment is testing the two different types of shielding materials (and different thicknesses of each material) against cosmic rays. This follows the ALTEA-Survey part of the ALTEA-Shield experiment series which finished in December 2011 with 112 cumulative days of science acquisition in its most recent location. The Survey part of the experiment had been undertaking a 3-dimensional survey of the radiation environment in the US laboratory.

TriTel Experiment
Following transport to the ISS on Progress 49P, the active cosmic radiation detector hardware for the TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment was installed and activated in Columbus on 6 November by Akihiko Hoshide. This included a portable power supply, electronics unit and active detector which includes three different detector types. The checkout of the active detector was completed on 9 November, with Kevin Ford transferring data from TriTel to a Station laptop which was  later downlinked. The science team and payload developer have confirmed that the downlinked dataset looks fine in terms of filesizes. The hardware has remained active since and is acquiring data.

Solar Research

SOLAR Facility
The next Sun Visibility Window (the 59th) for the Solar facility to acquire data is scheduled to open on 18 November. The most recent window had been open from 15 October to 25 October. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR, located on the external surface of Columbus, are open for the facility to acquire scientific data when the ISS is in the correct orbital profile with relation to the Sun. The Sun visibility window bridging event is approaching, currently scheduled to take place between 30 November and 13 December. As the Sun visibility windows last for around 12 days there has not been the chance to undertake solar measurements during a full Sun rotation cycle which lasts around 27 days. The bridging event will remedy this by taking measurements outside of the standard Sun visibility windows (hence joining two windows together) through a slight rotation of the ISS in this period to put the Solar facility in the correct profile in relation to the Sun.  The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) for the vast majority of the two-week reporting period.                                   

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range currently for more than four years on-orbit. This has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. An extension to the payload’s time in orbit could see its research activities extend up to early 2017 to monitor the whole solar cycle with unprecedented accuracy.

Fluids Research

Fluid Science Laboratory Upgrade
Following a ground-commanded software upgrade of the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Optical Diagnostic Module on 30 October, a software checkout was successfully performed on 12 November and images were received on the ground. Current testing and upgrade activities are being undertaken in advance of the FASES experiment which is due for upload on ATV-4 in April 2013.  


Technology Research

Vessel Identification System (Vessel ID)
Successful data acquisition is on-going for the Vessel Identification System (commonly known as the Automatic Identification System, AIS), using its Norwegian receiver, and telemetry is still being successfully received by the Norwegian User Support and Operation Centre (N-USOC) in Trondheim via ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Germany. The Vessel Identification System has acquired an extensive amount of data for more than two years since its installation in Columbus.

The Vessel Identification System is testing the means to track global maritime traffic from space by picking up signals from standard AIS transponders carried by all international ships over 300 tonnes, cargo vessels over 500 tonnes and all types of passenger carriers. Meanwhile various service entities have been asking to get access to the Vessel ID data which is continuously acquired on Columbus.


ISS general system information and activities *

Columbus laboratory and Columbus Control Centre
In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. Some regular maintenance activities have been executed by the crew and the Flight Control Team on top of the regular conferences of the ISS Crew with the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Highlights of the two weeks until 19 November include:

  • D2 Rack Clear Up
    On 5 November ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Sunita Williams cleared up the D2 rack front in preparation for installation of ESA’s new TriTel experiment (see above). This included moving stowage items to the starboard endcone of Columbus.
  • Columbus Lighting Units
    Sunita Williams carried out successful maintenance to bring a lamp unit in Columbus back to full functionality on 5 November.
  • Radiation Area Monitors
    Kevin Ford installed a number of Radiation Area Monitor Dosimeters around the ISS, including two locations in Columbus on 15 November, one on the European Physiology Modules, and another on the European Drawer Rack.

Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • Exercise Equipment
    Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide have been using the T2/COLBERT treadmill and Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to conduct NASA’s Sprint protocol which diverts from the regular exercise regime. In addition Williams conducted a Sprint protocol session on the T2 treadmill with the Treadmill Kinematics protocol (which is making an assessment of current exercise protocols) on 6 November. On 12 November maintenance was undertaken on ARED, replacing the exercise rope and two cable arm ropes. The crew noticed a noise during exercise hereafter but this was easily resolved by untensioning and retensioning the cable arm ropes the following day.
    Williams performed the standard six-month maintenance on the T2 treadmill on 13 November including inspection of different elements, related cleaning and greasing, and replacing missing fasteners. The following day the treadmill experienced a failure, as the crew could not activate the T2 software. Investigations have shown that the Data Avionics Unit was not communicating with the treadmill, probably due to a failure in the Data Avionics Unit itself for which there is a spare on orbit. Until time is available to restore the machine to full functionality, the TVIS treadmill in the Russian segment of the ISS will take over its aerobic function.   These activities were in addition to the regular use, inspection and servicing of ARED and the T2/COLBERT treadmill (prior to its failure).
  • Regenerative ECLSS and Additional Environmental Control Racks
    The two Water Recovery System racks, together with the Oxygen Generation System rack, form the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) which is necessary in support of a six-person ISS crew to help reduce upload mass. Other environmental control racks in Node 3 include an Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack and a Waste and Hygiene Compartment. Highlights of the two weeks until 19 November include: 
    • Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
      Kevin Ford and Sunita Williams used the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) to sample water from the Water Recovery System racks on 5 and 12 November respectively. Ford also took samples on 5 November for return to earth on Soyuz 31S for analysis. Ford carried out additional in flight analysis on these samples on 16 November.
    • Water Recovery System racks: Processing
      Kevin Ford replaced the Microbial Check Valve Orbit Replaceable Unit on 13 November.
    • Waste and Hygiene Compartment
      The two year maintenance activity of the Waste and Hygiene Compartment in Node 3, was performed ahead of schedule (January 2013) between 6 – 8 November, due to a degraded system performance. This was due to the dose pump, which had been replaced recently, not drawing sufficient flush water and pre-treat solution. Both the dose pump and the water valve block were exchanged with on-board spares which fixed this issue but resulted in a bad pre-treat quality indication. As such, the crew was requested to also replace the pre-treat tank and sensor which cleared the indication..
    • Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack
      On 15 November Sunita Williams inspected the leaking Air Selector Valve of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack 2 in Node 3. The escaping air which was detected at the hydraflow connection of the associated desiccant bed was resolved by tightening the connection. Further performance monitoring will be undertaken to confirm that the leak was fixed.

Soyuz TMA-05M/31S and Expedition Crew Return Preparations  

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests 
    Between 6 - 16 November ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko carried out five orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test sessions using the TVIS treadmill whilst wearing a Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit. The Chibis suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Soyuz crewmember would cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth.
  • Cargo Transfers
    In the two-week period until 16 November, Malenchenko packed cargo for either return to earth in the Descent Module of Soyuz 31S or for disposal in the Soyuz Orbital Module. The Russian crew members also collected standard water and air samples and standard bio samples from specific metallic equipment, structures and crew in the ISS Russian segment for return and post-flight analysis.
  • Suit Checks
    Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide carried out fit checks of their protective Kentavr anti-g suits on 7 November. These suits are worn under their Sokol suits during return and landing to help the long-duration crewmembers with the return into Earth’s gravity. The same day the three crew members performed the standard leak checks of their Sokol pressure suits, worn in the Soyuz spacecraft. 
  • Soyuz 31S Descent Drill 
    A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by Malenchenko and Williams on 12 November. The descent drill, which took place in the Descent Module of the Soyuz 31S spacecraft is for the review of Soyuz descent procedures including emergency procedures and manual undocking. The training sessions used a descent simulator application on a Russian laptop together with a descent hand controller. Malenchenko and Williams were joined by Hoshide for another descent drill on 16 November.
  • Soyuz TMA-05M/31S Motion Control Test
    Malenchenko and Williams, supported a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz TMA-05M Motion Control System on 16 November including testing the pilot’s translational hand controller and the braking thrusters.
  • Undocking Preparations 
    On 16 November the Malenchenko removed temperature sensor equipment from the Soyuz Orbital module for reuse after Soyuz undocking.

Minus-Eighty degree Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)
There are three European-built MELFI freezers on the ISS: MELFI-1 and MELFI-2 in the Japanese laboratory and MELFI-3 in the US laboratory. In the two-week reporting period samples were placed in the MELFI units for NASA’s Nutrition/Repository/Pro K joint protocol for Kevin Ford and Sunita Williams (blood, urine), JAXA’s Medaka Osteoclast payload (water quality strips, Medaka fish), and JAXA’s Hair experiment for Akihiko Hoshide (hair). Throughout the two-week reporting period Ford, Williams and Hoshide prepared for future cold storage requirements by inserting numerous ice bricks into the MELFI units. This included 25 -32 deg C ice bricks and four ESA ECCO thermal containers at -19 deg C in MELFI-1, and 18 -32 deg C ice bricks in MELFI-3.

Progress M-17M/49P and M-16M/48P Activities
On 3 November the ISS cabin atmosphere was repressurised with air from Progress M-17M/49P tanks by Yuri Malenchenko. On 12 November the BV2 Rodnik tank of Progress 48P was flushed with disinfectant by Malenchenko and Novitskiy. This was in addition to cargo transfer activities from Progress 49P spacecraft to the ISS by the Russian cosmonauts and ISS Flight Engineers (Malenchenko, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin) and transfer of excessed cargo and trash to Progress 48P for disposal.

From 3 – 5 November Yuri Malenchenko checked the vacuum/pressure conditions in the Plasma Chamber of the Russian/German KTP-21 Plasma Crystal-3 Plus (PK-3+) experiment in the Russian “Poisk” Mini Research Module 2 in advance of upcoming research activities. Following checks on 5 November Yuri ran his first experiment run before deactivating the hardware. Over the following three days additional experiment runs were undertaken after undertaking vacuum/pressure checks. Associated data was downloaded for downlink after each experiment run. The main objective of this experiment is to obtain a homogeneous plasma dust cloud at various pressures and particle quantities with or without superimposition of a low frequency harmonic electrical field. The PK-3+ experiment was also undertaken during the Astrolab mission with ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter.

ISS Local Area Network (LAN)
In the morning of 6 November a central operations LAN computer was discovered not working which made it impossible for the crew to access their integrated mission schedule (which is regularly updated by the Mission Control Centre in Houston) and other services. Command and telemetry operations were not affected and a contingency uplink means was established.some time after. Initial attempts to reboot the system were not successful though all services were recovered by the following day.

From 13 - 16 November the non-Russian crew members continued with upgrades on the Joint Station Local Area Network with deployment of new Wireless Access Points and power converters, routing power cables and installing grounding straps and Ethernet cables in Node 1 and Node 2. The new Wireless Access Points will resolve the problem with loss of wireless connectivity of Station Support Computer laptops during MPEG streaming.

US Airlock Activities
On 15 November Akihiro Hoshide completed the replacement of a failed Remote Power Control Module on the partially rotated F1 rack in the US Airlock which controls the Common Cabin Air Assembly Water Separator. Activities involved safing the oxygen and nitrogen subsystems, prior to the maintenance work and returning the systems to normal configuration afterwards. METOX (Metal Oxide) CO2 removal canisters, which are used during spacewalks, were also recharged in the US Airlock from 5 - 7 November.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active on 16 November to undertake NASA research activities for the InSPACE-3 (Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions 3) experiment. InSPACE-3 studies the fundamental behaviour of magnetic colloidal fluids under the influence of various magnetic fields. On-orbit activities for the experiment were undertaken by Kevin Ford.

Onboard Diagnostic Kit
ISS Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide carried out four days of medical diagnostic measurements between 5 – 14 November including two overnight sessions of brainwave measurements, cardio/heart measurements, and muscle strength measurements using the onboard Diagnostic Kit. These tests are evaluating the equipment to be used as a medical diagnostic system on the ISS in the future.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 19 November include: replacement of a suspect Hard Disk Drive of the Image Processing Unit / Video Recording Unit in the Japanese laboratory; a PanOptic eye test and intraocular pressure measurement for Hoshide, Ford and Williams; installation of Ultrasound Background Noise Test sensors around the US Laboratory end-cone hatches, to characterize background noise generated by ISS hardware in the US laboratory and the Node 3 modules as a basis for the development of an ultrasonic leak detection system; and installation of the GLACIER 2 (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator 2) hardware in EXPRESS Rack 6 in the US laboratory.

(*)These activities are highlights of the past two weeks and do not include the majority of standard periodic operational/maintenance activities on the ISS or additional research activities not mentioned previously. Information compiled with the assistance of NASA sources.

Martin Zell
ESA Head of ISS Utilisation Department

Rosita Suenson
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer

Weekly reports compiled by ESA's ISS Utilisation Department.


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