ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 141 Increment 34: 9 – 22 March 2013

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
27 March 2013

This is ISS status report #141 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 Crew members Kevin Ford, Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn in the two weeks until 22 March as part of the Space Headaches experiment, which is determining the incidence and characteristics of headaches occurring within astronauts in orbit. Ford filled in his 20th and final questionnaire on 14 March (prior to return to earth on Soyuz 32S on 16 March). Hadfield and Marshburn completed their weekly questionnaires (their 12th and 13th) on 15 and 22 March. All three astronauts used the backup method (a password-protected Word file) to fill in their questionnaires as the primary method ( a NASA Data Collection Tool) experienced a problem which is undergoing resolution.

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 2012 (for  Ford) and Soyuz 33S on 19 December 2012 (for Hadfield and Marshburn). Headaches can be a common astronaut complaint during space flights. This can negatively affect mental and physical capacities of astronauts/cosmonauts which can influence performance during a space mission.

Neurospat
On 14 March the European Physiology Modules facility was activated and scientific data from the second and final session of Chris Hadfield for the Neurospat experiment  was successfully downlinked to ground. With the science team subsequently confirming the quality of the data, this now concludes all on-orbit activities for the Neurospat experiment with all 5 human test subjects.

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. For this, the electrical activity in the brain is measured using the EEG technique, while the subject executes specific tasks through a computer. The tasks allow the study of five cognitive processes: Perception, Attention, Memorization, Decision and Action. NeuroSpat also incorporates an experiment (Prespat) from the European Commission within the SURE project.

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.

 

ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facilities in Columbus were used for centrifuging blood samples for ISS Commander Kevin Ford on 11 March. This included samples for NASA’s Pro-K/Nutrition/Repository experiment. The samples were then placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units.

The three non-Russian astronauts (Ford, Hadfield, Marshburn) also undertook body mass measurement using Human Research Facility 1 equipment on 12 March. Marshburn also used the facility’s ultrasound equipment on 14 March to undertake a spinal ultrasound scan as part of an investigation to characterise spinal changes during and after spaceflight.

 

Biology Research
Seedling Growth
Following uplink of related files to the European Modular Cultivation System facility on 20, 21 March, activities were undertaken on orbit prior to the start of the joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth experiment. Tom Marshburn undertook preparatory activities before installing the experiment containers on one of the facility rotors. Camera calibration was successfully completed on 22 March. The Seedling Growth experiment is in total a series of three experiments until 2015 where the last experiment also uses the ESA developed FixBox.

Seedling Growth builds on previous space flight experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana seeds and studies the effects of various gravity levels on the growth responses of plant seedlings (roots and shoots; wild type and genetically modified). The research will provide insight into the cultivation of plants during space flight on long-term missions. Understanding plant development mechanisms will also aid in improving crop production and agricultural yields on Earth.

 

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 detectors and a second set of passive detectors (delivered on Soyuz 32S) which were installed in different locations around Columbus on 26 October 2012. The second set of passive detectors were uninstalled from their various locations around Columbus on 13 March by ISS Commander Kevin Ford. These were packed and returned on Soyuz 32S which landed on 16 March. A new set of passive dosimeters will be uploaded on Soyuz 34S. Data acquisition continues with the active detectors which undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements for the experiment. This follows 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. Up until 22 March a cumulative total of 90 days of data has been gathered using its active cosmic radiation detector hardware and passive detectors located inside the Columbus laboratory. On 15 March Chris Hadfield downlinked all data gathered since 22 December. A preliminary assessment from the science team shows normal functionality of the TriTel detector.  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 2012. The accompanying set of passive detectors (which were launched on Soyuz 33S)  have been installed in the Columbus laboratory since 22 December 2012.

 

Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 63rd) for the Solar facility to acquire data opened on 16 March. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR, which is located on the external platform 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 SolACES instrument from SOLAR was kept in a  warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) until 21 March in connection with Soyuz 32S undocking, a Solar Array Efficiency Test and the Progress 49P reboost. After being taken out of the warm-up configuration SolACES could resume data acquisition along with the other active instrument, SOLSPEC. The current Sun visibility window is due to end on 27 March.

The SOLAR payload facility is studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range. 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 and FASES Experiments in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
No science runs were undertaken for the Geoflow-2b experiment inside the Fluid Science Laboratory in the two-week period until 22 March while a Video Management Unit error is being resolved. The Geoflow-2 and -2b experiments (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. The Geoflow-2 investigation 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.

The FASES experiment which will be the next experiment to take place in the Fluid Science Laboratory investigates the effect of surface tension on the stability of emulsions. Thin emulsions of different compositions will be stored inside sample cells through which the emulsions will be optically and thermally characterised. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, and the chemical and food industries. The FASES experiment is due for upload on ATV-4 in June 2013 with immediate execution following docking.

 

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 nearly three 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.

Crew User Interface System Enhancement (CRUISE)
The second session of the CRUISE technology experiment was successfully undertaken by Chris Hadfield on 12 March. This consisted of a procedure displays activity followed by a Voice Activated Procedure Viewer activity, tested in support of a standard Columbus system procedure (cleaning a Return Grid Housing). The activity went smoothly.

The CRUISE experiment is a technology demonstration testing voice guided procedure execution with real-time command and telemetry elements included, which aims to significantly improve crew members’ operations and performance such as  shortening task-to-completion time whilst reducing the occurrence of system-human error.

 

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  22 March include:

  • Ham Radio Sessions
    The non-Russian crew members: Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield and NASA astronauts Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn individually used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking ham radio sessions on 9, 11, 12, 20 and 21 March  March including numerous education-related contacts.
  • Radiation Detectors
    On 12 March ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield collected in a set of radiation detectors (Radi-N) which had been deployed in Columbus on 5 March.
  • Internal Thermal Control System
    2.6 litres of water were transferred from the Water Pump Assembly 2 accumulator of the Columbus Internal Thermal Control System to the Water Pump Assembly 1 unit on 13 March.
  • Columbus Video Support
    Columbus video equipment was used for filming/downlinking the spinal ultrasound activities on 14 March and a Biolab facility insulation fit check on 22 March. Columbus video recording equipment was also used for recording during: Soyuz 32S undocking activities on 15, 16 March and Amine Swingbed activities on 20 March during KU Band Loss of Signal.
  • High Rate Multiplexer Test
    A High Rate Multiplexer test was conducted on 15 March with the Marshall Space Flight Centre in order to gather data to better understand communicating errors seen in the past.
  • Solar Array Maximum Power Output Test
    In support of a Solar Array Maximum Power Output Test a pre-heat on Columbus Heater Control Unit 2 was conducted on 18, 19 March to achieve a maximum possible power load to specific ISS power supply channels.
  • Weekly Activities
    In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including cycling of Interface Heat Exchanger valves, the passive Water Pump Assembly checkout, Water On/Off Valve cycling, and smoke detector tests.

 

Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • 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 22 March include:
    • Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack: Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
      The maintenance of the  of the Node 3 and US Laboratory Carbon Dioxide Removal Assemblies has proven successful. The Node 3 unit was activated and operates nominally using two new Desiccant/Sorbent beds which were installed last week. The US laboratory which had the healthier of the two beds removed from the Node 3 installed was also successfully activated, checked out and thereafter deactivated, as planned.
    • Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
      Chris Hadfield used the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) on 21 March to sample water from the Water Recovery System racks in Node 3.

 

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 Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) 17 plant biology experiment and NASA’s Cell Biology Technology Demonstration experiment which is testing of new hardware that will support long-duration culture of a wide variety of microorganisms, cells and tissues onboard the ISS. In addition samples were transferred from the units for return to earth on Soyuz 32S; the MELFI-1 Cold Box was inspected by the ISS Commander to gather information to help determine the cause of corrosion observed earlier on the Electronics Unit; and an electronics unit was installed in MELFI-2.  

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week reporting period until 22 March to undertake research activities for NASA’s Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures-2 materials science experiment which studies the growth rate of tin particles suspended in liquid containing molten tin/lead alloy (a process called coarsening).  This included experiment runs and sample exchanges.

The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment.

SpaceX-2 Dragon UndockingPreparations
Kevin Ford, Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn completed all cargo packing procedures for the second commercial SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (SpaceX-2) currently docked with the ISS. This accounts for a total of around 1200 kg of return cargo. On 22 March Hadfield checked out the Commercial UHF Communication Unit (automated rendezvous system) for the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in preparation for its scheduled undocking on 26 March.

Soyuz TMA-06M/32S and Expedition Crew Return Undocking and Landing

  • Soyuz 32S Descent Drill
     A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by ISS Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin (both Roscosmos) and ISS Commander Kevin Ford (NASA) on 11 March. The descent drill, which took place in the Descent Module of the Soyuz 32S 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.
  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests 
    On 12, 13 March Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy carried out the final 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.
  • Change of Command Ceremony
    The official ISS change of command ceremony took place in front of all crew members on 13 March with ISS Commander Kevin Ford handing over command to Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield. However as with all Expeditions, Expedition 35 will officially begin following undocking of the departing Soyuz/Expedition crew members. Hadfield is the first Canadian Commander of the ISS.
  • Undocking Preparations
    In the run up to undocking the Russian crew members removed lighting equipment from the Soyuz Orbital module for reuse after Soyuz undocking, and checked out communications from Soyuz 32S to the ground. Following the joint crew farewell, the departing crew members (Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin) entered the Soyuz spacecraft, and clamps were removed between the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft and the “Poisk” Mini-Research Module 2 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-06M/32S, Expedition 34 Undocking and Landing
     Undocking occurred at 00:43 (CET) on 16 March. About 3 mins after undocking, the Soyuz performed its first separation burn. Around 2½ hours later the Soyuz spacecraft performed its deorbit thruster burn causing Soyuz deceleration and hereafter the spacecraft went through module separation. Atmospheric reentry occurred around 25 minutes after the end of the deorbit thruster burn. Following main parachute deployment Soyuz 32S landed at 04:05 (CET), 09:05 local time on 16 March in central Kazakhstan. The departure from the ISS was postponed by one day due to weather conditions at the landing site near Arkalyk. Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin had spent 144 days in space. From here the crew were flown to Kustanai in Kazakhstan. Novitskiy and Tarelkin were flown on to Star City in Moscow. Ford was flown to Houston. Undocking of Soyuz TMA-06M marked the end of Expedition 34 and the start of Expedition 35, which consists currently of ISS Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield (CSA) and ISS Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn (NASA) and Roman Romanenko (Roscosmos) until three additional crew arrive at the end of March (NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin).

 

ISS Reboost
The thrusters of Progress 49P were used to undertake a reboost of the ISS on 20 March. The ISS was reboosted to a higher orbiting altitude in connection launch/docking of Soyuz TMA-08M at the end of March.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 22 March include: installing a hard drive into a failed ISS server; installation of the Amine Swingbed hardware, which is testing a more efficient way of removing carbon dioxide from the ISS cabin atmosphere, into EXPRESS Rack 8; replacing a desiccant bed in the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in the US Laboratory; collecting air samples for analysis and deployment of two new air quality monitors; an emergency pressure loss training drill by the ISS crew; a Service Module thruster test; and removal of an Automated Transfer Vehicle hardware panel inside the Zvezda service module.

(*)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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