ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 136 Increment 34 : 29 December 2012 – 11 January 2013

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
17 January 2013

This is ISS status report #136 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
Space Headaches Experiment
Weekly questionnaires were filled in by ISS Commander Kevin Ford (his 10th and 11th) and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn (their 2nd and 3rd)  on 4 and 11 January 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 (for  Ford) and Soyuz 33S on 19 December (for Hadfield and Marshburn). 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
Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn carried out their second session as subjects of the Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 9 and 11 January respectively. For each astronaut’s session the experiment instruments were connected to a laptop in the Columbus laboratory before a dedicated visor was donned and the experiment protocol was conducted the 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.

Circadian Rhythms Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn completed his first session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment on 29 December. During the session (which started on 27 December) Marshburn donned the Thermolab sensors, on the forehead and chest, and the Thermolab unit. Hereafter measurements were taken for 36 hours. ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield carried out his first 36-hour session of the experiment from 30 December until 1 January.  Data downlink from the Thermolab Sensor 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.

Vessel Imaging Experiment
On 31 December ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn completed his first measurements for the Vessel Imaging experiment (in conjunction with NASAs Integrated Cardiovascular experiment). The session consisted of an echography scan 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. The science team have confirmed good imagery from the scans.

Marshburn also carried out his first ambulatory monitoring session of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment from 4-6 January. 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. Relevant data for the experiment was downloaded to the Human Research Facility laptop afterwards and downlinked the following day.

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.

MARES Facility Commissioning
On 3-4 January, it was scheduled to repeat the first part of commissioning for the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) in the Columbus laboratory. (This was aborted in February 2012 due to a faulty LAN cable). The facility was smoothly deployed followed this time by successful communication (with the new LAN cable) between the European Physiology Modules facility laptop and the MARES facility. After this point however an error code occurred which caused an automatic shutdown of the facility. It was suspected that this might indicate a too low battery charge (which is needed for the facility motor to minimise peak external power usage). Troubleshooting steps to start the battery charging worked initially, but still the MARES facility shut down after some time. As such log files were retreived from MARES and downlinked via the European Physiology Modules facility to allow for further investigation of the situation.

MARES is capable of assessing the strength of isolated human muscle groups around joints to provide a better understanding of the effects of weightlessness on the muscular system of ISS astronauts. MARES consists of an adjustable chair with a system of pads and levers that fit to each astronaut and cover different movements; the main box containing the facility motor and control electronics to which the chair is connected by an articulated arm; as well as dedicated experiment software. The system is considerably more advanced than equivalent ground-based devices and a vast improvement on current muscle research facilities on the ISS.


ISS Partner Research
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 on 31 December for Kevin Ford, on 7 January for Tom Marshburn and on 8 January for Chris Hadfield. The samples were then placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units. The three astronauts also undertook body mass measurement using Human Research Facility equipment on 11 January


Biology Research
Biolab Facility System Maintenance
On 9 January, as a periodic activity, the gloves of the Biolab facility Glovebox were exchanged by Kevin Ford. The following day an ozone sensor check was undertaken consisting of sterilising the glovebox with ozone and checking the ozone levels from ground. 

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. A monthly downlink of data from the active detectors was undertaken via the European Physiology Modules facility on 9 January. The science team have confirmed that the data received is of good quality.

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. Up until 11 January a cumulative total of 20 days of data has been gathered using its active cosmic radiation detector hardware and passive detectors located inside the Columbus laboratory. The active detector hardware 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 active detector hardware has been active since 6 November. The accompanying set of passive detectors (which were launched on Soyuz 33S)  have been installed in the Columbus laboratory since 22 December.


Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
No Sun Visibility Window has been open for the Solar facility to acquire data in the two-week period until 11 January. 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. The latest window closed on 23 December during which time a whole Sun rotation cycle (lasting approximately 27 days) could be observed and involved the first attitude change of the ISS for science purposes. While outside of a Sun Visibility Window the SolACES instrument from SOLAR was placed in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation).

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 (FSL)
Science runs for the Geoflow-2b experiment inside the Fluid Science Laboratory continued in the two-week period until 11 January. Two no-rotation runs were carried out with all but one set point completed for each run. These runs were investigating lower central Rayleigh numbers (dimensionless number associated with buoyancy driven flow indicating the presence and strength of convection within a fluid body). The experiment set up called for a high voltage difference across the two spheres within the experiment container. Optical Mode set up errors were experienced on the FSL Central Experiment Module and Optical Diagnostic Module during the science runs but these were recovered.

In addition, review of data from Geoflow-2b runs in December has highlighted an FSL optics misalignmenet and low light intensity in the interferometric images. An optical fine-tuning test was due to be undertaken on 10 January though this was only partially completed due to reoccurrence of the above errors. The test which was assessed by the science team will need to be continued in the near future in order to continue assessing camera parameters.

Geoflow-2 and -2b (which follow 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 functional 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 and immediately following execution.


Materials Research
Materials Science Laboratory Maintenance
Following on from the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL)  cleaning activity, which took place on 21 November, the MSL Solidification Quenching Furnace conditioning was performed on 9 January. After a successful chamber leak test several sub-systems were tested including the quench drive and the Magnetic Field Generator. The facility has been heated up to 1100 degrees C and then cooled down.  The following day after this conditioning, Chris Hadfield inserted a Sample Cartridge Assembly containing a MICAST-2 sample into the furnace which implies that the resumption of research activities are close to restaring for the Batch 2a experiments (MICAST-2, CETSOL-2, SETA-2).

The cleaning procedure in November removed some graphite foil which became detached from a Sample Cartridge Assembly during experiment processing in September 2011 when the primary payload interface computer failure of the Destiny laboratory caused the automatic shut-down of the Materials Science Laboratory with a loss of cooling during passive statet.

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. On 10 January an update of the Command Time Table was transferred successfully to the Norais receiver and started executing commands for a sampling experiment in the Mediterranean and Pacific Ocean. This sampling experiment will continue until 13 January

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.


Education Activities
SPHERES Robotics
The SPHERES Zero-Robotics Competition was supported from ESTEC Erasmus building with European high-school teams present for the livelink competition event and Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn on the Space Station. The algorithms used to control the free-floating satellites during this session have been written by competing students from eighteen European teams and twenty-seven US teams.


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  11 January include:

  • Columbus Data Management System
    A software patch for the Columbus Data Management System Nominal Software System was uplinked and performed on 30 December. The Mass Memory Image ID on the Columbus Mass Memory Unit has been updated accordingly to the new software patch.
  • Columbus Video Support
    Columbus video cameras were used on 31 December for recording Human Research Facility activities in Columbus, and Columbus video recording equipment was used the same day  for recording sessions of NASA’s InSpace 3 experiment in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (also on 8 and 11 January) in the US Laboratory and NASA’s Capillary Flow Experiment during Ku-Band Loss of Signal. The video recorders were similarly used for Robonaut activities on 2 and 3 January, ARED exercise activities on 10 January, and SPHERES education activities on 11 January as well as additional ESA research activities . Footage was downlinked afterwards.
    • Radiation Detector De-installation
      On 3 January six Radi-N bubble radiation detectors were retreived from the Columbus laboratory by ISS Flight Engineer and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield.
    • 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.


Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • Exercise Equipment
    No activities were carried out using the exercise equipment in the European-built Node 3 in addition to the regular use, inspection and servicing of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) and the T2/COLBERT treadmill.
  • 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  11 January include:
    • Waste and Hygiene Compartment: Annual Overhaul
      In addition to the routine maintenance, ISS Commander Kevin Ford (NASA) and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield (CSA) performed the yearly overhaul on the Waste and Hygiene Compartment in Node 3. The crew replaced a number of urine hydraulic components (Urine Valve Block, urine lines, and urine pressure sensors) and the flush water tank empty pressure sensor.


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 Pro-K/Nutrition /Repository experiment (blood, urine) for ISS Commander Kevin Ford (NASA) and ISS Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn (NASA) and Chris Hadfield (CSA).

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active four times between 31 December and 11 January to undertake NASA research activities (six experiment runs) 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 Chris Hadfield.

Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre Planning
On 1 January orbital debris from an Indian PSLV satellite 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 morning of 3 January. However it was subsequently determined that it posed no threat of a collision with the ISS so no further action was required.

On 7 January ground controllers manoeuvred the Station’s principal robotic arm in order to shade the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the exterior of the orbiting complex as it flew into a period of high beta angle when the sun presents its harshest thermal conditions on the station’s hardware. Three days later Ford, Hadfield and Marshburn acted as robotic arm operators to walk the robotic arm from the exterior of the European-built Node 2 to the Mobile Base System on the Station’s truss for future use.

‘Nauka’ Launch Preparations
In preparation for the future arrival of the Russian ‘Nauka’ Multipurpose Laboratory Module, ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko routed new cables in the Zvezda Service Module on 8 January. Nauka will be the final habitable module attached to the ISS and will be launched together with the European Robotic Arm

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until  11 January include: replacing panels in the Zvezda service module; stowing trash and unneeded items inside the Progress 48P logistics spacecraft for disposal; remote testing of NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot hardware; troubleshooting on a display screen inside the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft; performing chamber maintenance and checking out relief valves in the Japanese laboratory on the SAIBO rack’s clean bench; replacing a disk drive in the DECLIC facility; replacing an Internal Thermal Control System Maintenance Canister in the US laboratory; replacing needles and fuel reservoirs of the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus in NASA’s  Combustion Integrated Rack facility; and undertaking a dryout and swapping desiccant on one of the GLACIER freezer units.

(*)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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