ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 135 Increment 34 : 14 - 28 December 2012

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
30 December 2012

This is ISS status report #135 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.

Highlight:Three new ISS Expedition crew members were launched to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on board Soyuz TMA07-M on 19 December with docking occurring two days later. This once again brings the ISS up to a full complement of six Expedition crew. The new crew members are Roscosmos cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, both of whom are Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 34 and 35, and CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield who is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 34 and will become Commander of ISS Expedition 35, making him the first Canadian Commander of the ISS.

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

Space Headaches Experiment
ISS Commander Kevin Ford continued filling in weekly questionnaires (his 8th and 9th) on 21 and 28 December 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. In addition ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn started filling in daily questionnaires as subjects for the Space Headaches experiment following their launch on Soyuz 33S on 19 December. After arriving at the ISS two days later the two new ISS Flight Engineers took photos of their daily questionnaires (which were filled in on paper) for downlinking to ground. They continued filling in daily questionnaires in electronic format until 25 December after which point they switched to filling in weekly questionnaires. 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.

Reversible Figures Experiment
Kevin Ford, Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn were all subjects of the Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 26 December. For Hadfield and Marshburn this was their first session of the experiment. For Ford it was already his third session. For the sessions the experiment instruments were connected to a multipurpose laptop in the Columbus laboratory. Each astronaut donned the dedicated visor in turn and conducted the experiment protocol in a free-floating position.

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.

Neuropsat Experiment
Following partial equipment setup on 26 December, the following day ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield performed his first session of the Neurospat experiment in the free-floating position. Neurospat makes use of  the  European Physiology Modules facility and its Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module. Hadfield was assisted by Tom Marshburn in donning and setting up the Electroencephalograph (EEG) cap and carrying out the session of the experiment. Very good electrodes signal quality has been confirmed. Hadfield also filled in a questionnaire which will provide additional valuable data for the science team though a photo documentation activity for the experiment was skipped due to a timeline overrun. Live video was also undertaken via Columbus equipment and data downlink for the experiment was completed on 28 December.

NeuroSpat, which was the first experiment to make full use of the European Physiology Modules facility in June 2009, is investigating the ways in which crew members’ three-dimensional perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness. NeuroSpat also incorporates an experiment (Prespat) from the European Commission within the SURE project. Chris Hadfield is currently scheduled as the final human research subject for the Neurospat experiment.

The European Physiology Modules facility is equipped with different Science Modules to investigate the cardio- and neurophysiological effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. Experiment results from the European Physiology Modules will contribute to an increased understanding of terrestrial problems such as the ageing process, osteoporosis, balance disorders, and muscle atrophy.

Circadian Rhythms Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn started his first session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment on 27 December. Marshburn 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 ESA’s 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.


Biolab Facility System Maintenance
A gas bottle closure activity was undertaken on ESA’s Biolab facility on  17 December by ISS Comander Kevin Ford. The Biolab facility is currently awaiting the return of the refurbished microscope unit and the TripleLux test experiment on ATV-4 prior to the execution of the TripleLux-B experiment which will compare the cellular mechanisms of vertebrate and invertebrate cells which cause impairment of immune function in weightlessness.. Biolab is a multi-user facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates.


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 on 26 October 2012. This followed up from the first set of passive detectors which gathered data in the Columbus laboratory from May to September 2012 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..

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.

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 were launched on Soyuz 33S which arrived at the ISS on 21 December. Kevin Ford set up the passive detectors the following day which is now increasing data acquisition for the experiment.


Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The latest Sun Visibility Window (60th) for the Solar facility to acquire data was completed on 23 December. This brought to conclusion an extended period of successful science acquisition which started on 18 November and included Sun Visibility Windows 59 and 60 and a bridging event (30 November – 12 December) whereby the ISS was slightly rotated in order to continue science acquisition and join the two latest Sun Visibility Windows together. Sun Visibility Windows for the Solar facility, 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.

As the Sun visibility windows last for around 12 days this bridging event has made it possible to undertake solar measurements during a full Sun rotation cycle (which lasts around 27 days) for the first time. The bridging period was the first time that the attitude of the Space Station had been changed for science reasons. The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was placed in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) from 15 - 18 December in connection with planned ISS reboost activities, and from 20 December until the end of the reporting period in connection with Soyuz 33S docking, reboost activities and the end of the Sun Visibility Window.

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
Geoflow-2b Experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory
Science runs for the Geoflow-2b experiment inside the Fluid Science Laboratory started on 17 December. Three no-rotation runs were successfully completed by 20 December and related data was downlinked by 21 December.

Geoflow-2 and -2b (which follows on from the initial Geoflow experiment with new scientific objectives and a different experiment configuration) are investigating the flow of an incompressible viscous fluid held between two concentric spheres rotating about a common axis as a representation of a planet. This is of importance for astrophysical and geophysical problems such as global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets. For Geoflow-2 and -2b the incompressible fluid is nonanol which varies in viscosity with temperature (unlike silicon oil as in the first Geoflow experiment) to provide a different aspect of research with more of a simulation to Earth’s geophysical conditions. Geoflow-2 has already undertaken about 14 months of research from March 2011 – May 2012. Geoflow-2b is physically still the same experiment set up as Geoflow-2, only with a different set of scientific boundary variables.

Current testing and upgrade activities for the Fluid Science Laboratory are also 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. Some data noise has been experienced due to frequency incompatibility of an S-Band String Transponder with the Vessel ID antenna. As this is only mainly effecting Vessel ID channel A, a workaround is being put in place in order to only transmit data via channel B. 

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  28 December include:

  • Columbus Video Support
    Columbus video recording equipment was used towards the start of the reporting period for recording external camera views during an ISS thruster test and on 28 December for recording activities for NASA’s InSpace 3 experiment in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (during a Ku-band loss of signal). Footage was downlinked afterwards. In addition Columbus internal video cameras were used in support of the Reversible Figures experiment on 26 December.
  • Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter Relocation
    On 24 December the Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter was relocated from the Columbus laboratory to Node 2 by ISS Flight Engineer and and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn. The Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter is one of the principal radiation measurement devices on the ISS.
  • Weekly Activities
    In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including Water On/Off Valve cycling,  smoke detector tests, and passive Water Pump Assembly checkouts.
  • Radiation Detector Installation
    On 27 December six Radi-N bubble radiation detectors were initialised and deployed in the Columbus laboratory by ISS Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield (Canadian Space Agency) and Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos).

Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • Exercise Equipment
    On 19 December ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford inspected and greased the Vibration Isolation System, rails, rollers and upper stops of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) as well as tightening ARED arm bolts where needed. A week later Hadfield assisted Ford in aligning ARED pulleys and straightening kinked cables.   
  • 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  28 December include:
  • Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
    Kevin Ford changed out the Waste Water Bag of the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) on 18 December before using the TOCA to sample water from the Water Recovery System racks.


Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre Planning
A new Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre was undertaken on 16 December using the thrusters of Progress 48P docked at the Pirs Docking Compartment to test a new reboost capability as well as setting up phasing for the Soyuz 33S and Progress 50P launches.  This new reboost capability 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. 

On 17 December orbital debris from an Ariane 4 launch was being monitored for the possibility of it coming in close proximity to the ISS. The time of closest approach was calculated to occur in the early morning of 19 December (CET). However it was subsequently determined that it posed no threat of a collision with the ISS so no further action was required. On 23 December the ISS was reboosted to a higher orbiting altitude. The reboost, which lasted just over 4 minutes was carried out by Progress 49P thrusters and was undertaken in connection with phasing for Progress 50P launch in February 2013.

Soyuz TMA-07M/33S, Expedition 34/35 Crew Launch and Docking

  • Soyuz TMA-07M Launch and Docking
    The Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft was launched on flight 33S to the ISS on 19 December at 13:51 CET (15:51 local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew consisted of Roscosmos cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield. Romanenko and Marshburn  are Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 34 and 35. Hadfield is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 34 and will become ISS Commander for Expedition 35, the first Canadian ISS Commander. Following orbital insertion, Soyuz TMA antennas and solar arrays were deployed and various orbital burns were carried out over the following two days to bring the Soyuz in the vicinity of the ISS to begin docking procedures. Prior to Soyuz TMA docking the ISS crew configured relevant communications and video equipment. The Soyuz spacecraft docked successfully with the Russian “Rassvet” Mini Research Module 1 on 21 December at 15:09 (CET) bringing the crew of the ISS once again up to a total of six.
  • Soyuz TMA-07M post-docking activities
    ISS attitude control was handed back from Russian to US systems after docking. The standard leak check between the Soyuz and the ISS was carried out and, on completion, the hatches were opened and the usual crew greeting took place. Quick disconnect clamps were installed at the interface between the Soyuz and the ISS to further stabilise the connection, and the Russian crew members then started transfer of high priority cargo to the ISS. The standard crew safety briefing followed. Romanenko set up the three Sokol spacesuits and their gloves for drying out, and the Soyuz spacecraft was deactivated. The new crew members hereafter got settled into their Crew Quarters.


Soyuz TMA-06M/32S and Expedition Crew Return Preparations
On 19 December ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin carried out fit checks of their Soyuz Kazbek couches inside the Soyuz TMA-06M/32S spacecraft whilst wearing their Russian Sokol spacesuits.

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 JAXA’s Medaka Osteoclast payload (Medaka fish, water quality strips).

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active on 28 December 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.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until  28 December include: cargo transfers to and from the Progress 48P and 49P spacecraft; a sampling run with the Air Quality Monitor; swapping and reconfiguring laptops in the US Laboratory and Node 2 for either Ethernet or wireless use; servicing the MERLIN (Microgravity Experiment Research Locker Incubator) freezer 1 by removing old dessicant packs and leaving the freezer open to dry out; extending Joint Station LAN cable extensions into the the European-built Cupola Observation Module attached to Node 3;  and loading new software for the Gradient Heating Furnace in the Japanese 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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