ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 133 Increment 33/34 : 17 - 30 November

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
30 November 2012

This is ISS status report #133 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
Vessel Imaging and Integrated Cardiovascular experiments
ESA’s Vessel Imaging experiment is carried out in conjunction with NASAs Integrated Cardiovascular Experiment. Following final sessions for the experiments in the previous two-week reporting period, ISS Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide downloaded accumulated data for his final ambulatory monitoring session of the the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment to the Human Research Facility laptop on 17 November. This included 48-hr ECG data taken with a holter device and 48-hr activity measurements from two Actiwatches. Data was downlinked to ground two days later.

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.

Space Headaches Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Kevin Ford continued filling in weekly questionnaires (his fourth and fifth) on 23 and 30 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.

Immuno Experiment
On 18 November an ESA Mini-ECCO thermal container was prepared with 16 samples for the Immuno experiment covering four different test subjects from Expeditions 29/30 and 31/32. These samples were safely returned to earth with Soyuz 31S which landed on 19 December. The aim of the IMMUNO experiment, which is performed under a cooperation agreement with Roscosmos, is to determine changes in stress and immune responses, during and after a stay on the ISS. This will include the sampling of saliva and blood to check for hormones associated with stress response and for carrying out white blood cell analysis, as well as filling out periodic stress level questionnaires. The results will help in developing pharmacological tools to counter unwanted immunological side-effects during long-duration missions in space.

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 for NASA’s Pro-K/Nutrition /Repository experiment for Kevin Ford on 26 November. The samples were then placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units.

 

Biology
Biolab Facility Maintenance and Testing
A Rotor Alignment test and Life Support Module functional testing were carried out successfully via ground commanding on the Biolab facility in Columbus on 20 November. Three days later troubleshooting activities on Biolab’s Handling Mechanism were also successfully completed. A Seal Interface Lever was discovered to be in an incorrect position, thus interfering with X-axis movement of the Handling Mechanism. After the lever was correctly positioned on orbit by Kevin Ford, additional ground commanded tests on the Handling Mechanism on 27 November confirmed the success of the recovery activities. On 30 November Life Support Module leakage and tightness checks were successfully undertaken.  

 

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. Following assessment of the incorrect location of one of the passive detector packages, additional downlinked photos have now confirmed that the detector package is now in the correct location in Columbus. The active detectors did experience a small percentage data loss though they resumed nominal data measurement following a power cycle.

The aim of the DOSIS-3D experiment is to determine the nature and distribution of the cosmic 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.

TriTel Experiment
Data acquisition has been on-going for the TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment using its active cosmic radiation detector hardware located inside the Columbus laboratory. The active detector includes three different detector types which are able to provide a 3-dimensional mapping of radiation entering Columbus i.e determining the time-dependent level of radiation and direction with which it travels into/through Columbus . The hardware has been active since 6 November. An accompanying set of passive detectors for the TriTel experiment will be launched to the ISS in mid December with Soyuz.

 

Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 59th) for the Solar facility to acquire data opened on 18 November. 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. On 30 November the attitude of the ISS was changed due to the start of the Sun Visibility Window bridging event which will run until 12 December, and is joining together Sun Visibility Windows 59 and 60.

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. This is the first time that the attitude of the Space Station has been changed for science reasons. The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) until 20 November in connection with undocking of Soyuz 31S.

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range currently for nearly five 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
A ground-commanded software upgrade of the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Central Experiment Module was performed on 21 November followed by related testing. Tests with the facility’s Microgravity Measurement Apparatus were carried out hereafter with different transmission rates (between 5 and 500). The facility’s Microgravity Vibration Isolation Subsystem was then activated and Microgravity Measurement Apparatus data acquisition was carried out with a transmission rate of 1500. Data was transferred from the Microgravity Vibration Isolation Subsystem to the Video Management Unit and files were downlinked for assessment. Current testing and upgrade activities are being undertaken in advance of the FASES experiment (emulsion studies) which is due for upload on ATV-4 in April 2013.  

  

Materials Research
Materials Science Laboratory Maintenance
Kevin Ford successfully cleaned the Solidification and Quenching Furnace of ESA’s Materials Science Laboratory (located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack) on 21 November. From what could be seen via real-time video observation, the Materials Science Laboratory team confirmed that the furnace is looking good after the cleaning procedure. The cleaning procedure removed some graphite foil which became detached from a Sample Cartridge Assembly during experiment processing in September 2011 when a primary payload computer failure of the Destiny laboratory caused a loss of cooling to the Materials Science Laboratory. With the cleaning procedure completed, a software upgrade will be undertaken in the future to avoid the possibility of a future reoccurrence of the cooling loss during experiment processing. Once the software upgrades have taken place this leads the way to resuming the science programme for the Batch 2a experiments (MICAST-2, CETSOL-2, SETA-2).  

CETSOL (Columnar-to-Equiaxed Transition in Solidification Processing) and MICAST (Microstructure Formation in Casting of Technical Alloys under Diffusive and Magnetically Controlled Convective Conditions) are two complementary material science projects. The goal of MICAST is to study the formation of microstructures during casting of technical alloys. In space, buoyancy convection is eliminated and the dendritic solidification of the alloys can be quantitatively studied under purely diffusive conditions. The objective of CETSOL is then to study the transition from columnar growth to equiaxed growth that occurs when crystals start to nucleate in the melt and grow independently. The SETA (Solidification along a Eutectic path in Ternary Alloys) experiment is looking into a specific type of eutectic growth in alloys of aluminium manganese and silicon. Results of all these experiments will help to optimise industrial casting processes.

Very promising preliminary scientific results have already been presented from the first batch of CETSOL/MICAST samples that were processed in Materials Science Laboratory in 2009/2010 which constitutes an excellent basis for further materials research with international collaboration.

 

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 30 November include:

  • Columbus Laboratory Support for Robotics Activities
     The Vacuum and Venting System of the Columbus Laboratory was inhibited on 25 November in support of JAXA Robotics operations for the execution of the Multi-mission Consolidated Equipment Inflatable Material Panel. The ISS was transitioned back following completion of the robotics activities. Columbus video equipment was used during the activities to record footage for downlink
  • EXPRESS Rack 3 Activities
     On 26 November ISS Expedition 34 Commander and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford installed single-stowage locker inserts in three lockers of EXPRESS Rack 3 and stowed six vent covers.

Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • Exercise Equipment
    On 23 November Kevin Ford reloaded software on the failed T2/COLBERT treadmill before carrying out an Activation and Checkout session with the equipment. The T2 treadmill is now back to full functionality.
  • 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 30 November include:
    • Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
      Kevin Ford used the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) to sample water from the Water Recovery System racks on 21 and 27 November.
    • Waste and Hygiene Compartment
      Commander Ford carried out the periodic replacement of the air filter on the Waste and Hygiene Compartment in Node 3 on 26 November.
    • Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack
      The Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack 2 in Node 3 suffered a failure on 28 November (though this presented no issues as Russian systems were functioning normally and the US laboratory Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly was also available for activation). The Node 3 equipment was recovered the following day.

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

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests 
    On 17 November ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko carried out the final part of his fifth and final orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test session 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 30 November, the Russian crew members packed cargo for either return to earth in the Descent Module of Soyuz 31S or for disposal in the Soyuz Orbital Module. This included Russian biotechnology payloads, ISS environmental samples, as well as a mini-ECCO container with samples for the Immuno experiment.
  • Change of Command Ceremony
    The official ISS change of command ceremony took place in front of all crew members on 17 November with ISS Commander Sunita Williams handing over command to NASA astronaut Kevin Ford. However as with all Expeditions, Expedition 34 will officially begin following undocking of the departing Soyuz/Expedition crew members.
  • Undocking Preparations
    On 18 November the Russian crew members removed lighting equipment from the Soyuz Orbital module for reuse after Soyuz undocking, and checked out communications from Soyuz 31S to the ground. Following the joint crew farewell, the departing crew members (Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko) entered the Soyuz spacecraft, and clamps were removed between the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft and the “Rassvet” Mini Research Module 1 to which it is docked. Following Soyuz activation the hatches between the Soyuz and the Rassvet Module were closed and relevant leak checks were carried out.
  • Soyuz TMA-05M/31S, Expedition 33 Undocking and Landing
    Undocking occurred at 23:26 (CET) on 18 November. About 3 mins after undocking, the Soyuz performed its first separation burn. At 01:58 (CET) the Soyuz spacecraft performed its deorbit thruster burn lasting 5 min. This caused a deceleration of 128m/sec. 30 minutes later the spacecraft went through module separation, at an altitude of 140 km with atmospheric reentry occurring at 02:29 (CET) at an altitude of 101.9 km. The parachute was deployed at 02:38 with landing at 02:56 (CET), 07:56 local time in central Kazakhstan. Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko had spent 127 days in space. From here the crew were flown to Kustanai in Kazakhstan. Malenchenko was flown on to Star City in Moscow. Williams and Hoshide were flown to Houston. Undocking of Soyuz TMA-05M marked the end of Expedition 33 and the start of Expedition 34, which consists currently of ISS Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford (NASA) and ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin (both Roscosmos) until three additional crew arrive in December.

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 removed for ESA’s Immuno experiment (saliva, blood) and JAXA’s Medaka Osteoclast payload (water quality strips, Medaka fish) for return to Earth on Soyuz 31S. Samples were also placed in the MELFI units for NASA’s Nutrition/Repository/Pro K joint protocol for Kevin Ford (blood, urine) and the Medaka Osteoclast payload (water quality strips). In addition Kevin Ford repaired a dewar drawer status switch on MELFI-1(which indicates open/close position of the door), installed a Temperature Data Recorder battery pack in MELFI-2, and prepared for future cold storage requirements by inserting eleven -32 deg C ice bricks into MELFI-1.

Progress M-16M/48P and M-17M/49P Activities
On 20 November the Mission Control Centre in Moscow commanded the transfer of 370 litres of propellant from the tanks of Progress 48P (which is docked to the Pirs Docking Compartment) to the Russian Zarya Module. The following day Russian cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Oleg Novitskiy continued with Progress cargo transfers, transferring cargo to Progress 48P for stowage or disposal, and transferring cargo from Progress 49P to the ISS.    

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active between 27 – 30 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.

Robotics Activities
The Station’s principal robotic arm was relocated from a grapple fixture on the Mobile Base System on the ISS truss to a grapple fixture on Node 2 on 27 November. Once complete the non-grappled end of the arm was moved into position by the windows of the ESA-built Cupola Observation Module. The following day Kevin Ford took documentary photographs of the robotic arm’s Latching End Effector to be used by ground experts to assess any degradation of its snare cables. After completion the robotic arm was manoeuvred back to a grapple fixture on the Mobile Base System.

Russian Segment Electrical Power System
On 27, 28 November Russian cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin performed major maintenance activity on the Service Module Power Supply System in the Russian Segment of the ISS.  He replaced one of the eight 800A batteries along with the associated current control box and current converter.

Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre Planning
Work is underway to prepare for a new Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre capability which will be used if there is not enough time for a standard Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre to take place due to late notification of orbital debris in close proximity with the ISS. A decision for a standard Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre must occur not later than approximately 23.5 hrs before the Time of Closest Approach for the debris. For a Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre, the decision time can be as late as 3 hrs prior to the Time of Closest Approach for the debris. The new manoeouvre would be performed by the Progress spacecraft attached to the Pirs Docking Compartment. New software for the manoeuvre is already on-board the Russian Service Module, with a test currently planned to take place in mid-December during a planned reboost.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 30 November include: repairing an interior panel in the Russian Service Module; replacing four expired fire extinguishers in the Russian segment of the ISS; different forms of environmental monitoring; installation of cabling in the Russian Service Module to enable powering off the KL-211 video encoder with a single command of the Russian Onboard Computer System); and troubleshooting on NASA’s International Space Station Agricultural Camera in an attempt to recover health and status data. 

(*)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
martin.zell[@]esa.int 

Rosita Suenson
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer
rosita.suenson[@]esa.int 

Weekly reports compiled by ESA's ISS Utilisation Department.

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