ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 155 Increment 37: 21 September – 4 October 2013

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
6 October 2013

This is ISS status report #155 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 US Destiny laboratory and the Russian ISS Segment within international scientific collaboration agreements.

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

Human Research
Space Headaches Experiment
ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano continued filling in weekly questionnaires (his 17th and 18th) on 27 September and 4 October as part of the Space Headaches experiment. The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 35S on 28 May. In addition ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins became the latest subject of the experiment following his launch on Soyuz 36S. He filled in his first daily questionnaire on docking day on 26 September, and continued with daily questionnaires until 2 October. Hopkins filled in his first weekly questionnaire for the experiment on 4 October.

The Space Headaches experiment is determining the incidence and characteristics of headaches occurring within astronauts in orbit. 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.

Energy Experiment
The Energy experiment, which aims at determining the energy requirements of astronauts during long-term spaceflight, started on 1 October with ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano as the fifth test subject (following on from ESA astronaut André Kuipers, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield). On the first day a baseline drinking water sample was taken from the Potable Water Dispenser (from which Parmitano will drink for the duration of the experiment). On the second day a baseline urine sample was provided by Parmitano prior to imbibing a Double Labelled Water isotope. Oxygen Uptake Measurements were also undertaken on Parmitano at rest using the ESA/NASA Pulmonary Function System in order to measure Resting Metabolic Rate. After consuming a dedicated breakfast Parmitano carried out additional Oxygen Uptake Measurements and provided additional urine samples to determine what level of Double Labelled Water is directly excreted from the body. For the remainder of the 11-day period, Luca Parmitano will log his dietary intake (daily) and every other day urine samples will be provided and water samples will be taken.

The data gathered will allow for the determination of Parmitano’s Total Energy Expenditure which will in turn allow for the calculation of the Activity Energy Expenditure. These results will help with deriving an equation for the energy requirements of astronauts which will allow for optimal planning when considering upload of food supplies to be sufficient but not excessive.

Circadian Rhythms Experiment
Luca Parmitano successfully carried out his fourth session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment from 19 - 21 September. During the session Parmitano donned the Thermolab temperature sensors, on the forehead and chest, and the Thermolab unit along with an Actilight Watch to monitor his activity. Hereafter measurements were taken for 36 hours.

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.

Skin-B Experiment
On 23 September Luca Parmitano undertook his fifth session of the new Skin-B experiment which is carried out in cooperation with DLR. The session consisted of three different non-invasive measurements taken on the inside part of the forearm. This included skin moisture measurement with a corneometer; trans epidermal water loss measurement to determine barrier function of the skin with a tewameter; and surface evaluation of the living skin with a UVA-light camera (visioscan). All data was downlinked after the session.

The Skin-B experiment will help to develop a mathematical model of aging skin and improve understanding of skin-aging mechanisms, which are accelerated in weightlessness. It will also provide a model for the adaptive processes for other tissues in the body.


ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facility 2 (HRF-2) in Columbus was used for centrifuging blood samples for NASA’s Pro-K experiment for ISS Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Michael Hopkins on 1 October. Pro-K is testing the hypothesis that a diet with a decreased ratio of animal protein to potassium leads to decreased loss of bone mineral during flight. Centrifuged samples were placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units afterwards.

NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 (HRF-1) in Columbus was used on 3 October for undertaking body mass measurements for the three non-Russian crew members (ISS Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano, Karen Nyberg and Michael Hopkins).

HRF-1 was additionally used for undertaking ultrasound scans on 4 October for ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins (assisted by Luca Parmitano) in connection with NASA’s Ocular Health protocol. This included an ultrasound eye scan and a cardiac ultrasound with blood pressure. This followed up activities with Hopkins undergoing visual tests, a tonometry eye exam which measures introcular eye pressure, and a fundoscope eye exam as well as providing blood pressure and vital sign data. The Ocular Health protocol is gathering physiological data in order to characterise the risk of microgravity-induced visual impairment/intracranial pressure on crewmembers assigned to long-duration ISS missions.


Radiation Research
DOSIS-3D experiment
At the start of the reporting period data acquisition had been on-going for the Dose Distribution inside the ISS 3D (DOSIS-3D) experiment using only the two active detectors deployed in the European Physiology Modules facility in Columbus. However, a new set of passive detectors were transported to the ISS on Soyuz 36S which docked with the ISS on 26 September. This set of passive detectors was installed at various locations around the Columbus laboratory on 1 October by ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins.

The previous set of passive detectors were returned to earth for analysis on Soyuz 34S on the night of 10/11 September. The active detectors undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements for the experiment, while 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 is building 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.


Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 69th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) closed on 25 September, completing a data acquisition period which had started on 14 September. 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 has been in a warm-up configuration (as  a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) due to activities such as the Cygnus spacecraft berthing.  Data acquisition with SolACES is also currently on hold due to it experiencing a problem reaching the expected gas pressure on 18 September. Steps to resolve the issue prior to the next Sun visibility window opening are on-going..

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range for more than 5 years. 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.


Materials Research
Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and Batch 2a experiments
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano exchanged the CETSOL-2 sample located in the MSL Solidification and Quenching Furnace (SQF) for a MICAST-2 sample on 25 September. A subsequent ground-commanded leak check was successfully completed the same day ahead of future processing of the MICAST-2 sample. The removed CETSOL-2 sample had been successfully processed from 17-18 September.

The CETSOL and MICAST science projects form part of the Batch 2a solidification experiments  (CETSOL-2, MICAST-2, SETA-2) which had been temporarily on hold (prior to 17 September) due to an unsolicited reboot of the Standard Payload Computer for the MSL which unexpectedly occurred during sample processing for one of the Batch 2a SETA samples. 

ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1 in the US Laboratory and jointly operated under a bilateral cooperation agreement. 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.


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 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.


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 4 October include:

  • Cabin Heat Exchanger
    The Columbus Cabin Heat Exchanger was switched over on 21 September making its Core 1 the active heat exchanger core instead of Core 2. This facilitated a dry-out of Core 2 which lasted 16 hours.
  • Ham Radio Sessions
    ISS Flight Engineer and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking ham radio sessions with students at the Sarnelli De Donato Middle School, in Polignano a Mare, Bari, Italy and the Collège de la Combraille, La Mouniaude à Chatelguyon in France on 21 and 28 September respectively.
  • EXPRESS Rack 3 Activities
     On 24 September NASA’s EXPRESS Rack 3 (which houses the European Modular Cultivation System) was deactivated and Luca Parmitano replaced the grounding strap of the rack’s Active Rack Isolation System which provides isolation from the ISS vibration environment to support the operation of sensitive weightless experiments.
  • Weekly Activities
    In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including cycling of Interface Heat Exchanger Water On/Off Valves, Water Pump Assembly checkouts, and smoke detector tests.


Activities of ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano

  • Experiment Activities
    In addition to the European science programme detailed in other parts of this report ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has carried out other research activities in support of the science programmes of ESA’s ISS partners. This included: being a subject of NASA’s ‘Reaction Self Test’ experiment which looks into how planned sleep shift for ISS crews affects performance;  activities for NASA’s NanoRacks Platform which contains a new module of seventeen different science experiments as part of an education programme to allow student teams across the United States to design their own experiments using flight approved fluids and materials; surface sampling for NASA’s Microbiome experiment, which is investigating the impact of space travel on the human immune system and the microbes that live in and on the human body; performing weekly status checks of NASA’s Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus-4 and -6 biological experiments; and setting up samples and transferring accumulated imagery for NASA’s  Binary Colloidal Aggregated Test C1 (BCAT-C1) experiment which could help in finding new ways to produce plastics or extend the shelf-life of consumer products.
  • Other activities
    During the two weeks until 4 October, Parmitano and the other ISS crew members have had their regular Planning Conferences with ESA’s Columbus Control Centre as well as Mission Control in Houston and Moscow, and the Japanese Flight Control Team at the Tsukuba Space Centre. In addition Parmitano: dried out and reinserted new dessicants in the MERLIN 2 freezer unit in the US laboratory; replaced a failed lighting unit in Columbus; successfully replaced the Water Line Vent Tube Assembly from one of the US EVA suits; and carried out activities with the Diapason instrument in the US Laboratory which is used to measure the atmospheric composition on-board the ISS. Parmitano also undertook a number of live public affairs activities with the BBC World News Channel and with the Italian President Giorgio Napolitani and recorded messages for the Bergamo Science Festival and the EISC Conference in Brussels


Soyuz TMA-10M/36S, Expedition 37/38 Crew Launch and Docking

  • Soyuz TMA-10M Launch and Docking
    The Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft was launched on flight 36S to the ISS on 25 September at 22:51 CEST (02:51 local time on 26 September) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew consisted of Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy, and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins.  Ryazanskiy, and Hopkins are Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 37 and 38. Kotov is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 37 and will become ISS Commander for Expedition 38. Following orbital insertion, Soyuz TMA antennas and solar arrays were deployed. This was the third time that a four-orbits-to-docking manoeuvre had been undertaken for a Soyuz (crewed) launch, with the journey lasting only around six hours rather than the usual two days (or 34 orbits). Prior to Soyuz TMA docking the ISS crew configured relevant communications and video equipment. The Soyuz spacecraft docked successfully with the Russian “Poisk” Mini Research Module 2 on 26 September at 04:46 (CEST). This brought the crew of the ISS once again up to a total of six with ISS Commander and Roscosmos cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and ISS Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano (ESA) and Karen Nyberg (NASA) having been on the ISS since May 2013.
  • Soyuz TMA-10M post-docking activities
    ISS attitude control was handed back from Russian to US systems after docking. Video of the docking and structural dynamics measurements were downlinked by the crew and the standard leak check between the Soyuz and the ISS was carried out. 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. The standard crew safety briefing followed. The Soyuz spacecraft was deactivated and the crew quarters for the new crew members were set up. The three Sokol spacesuits and their gloves were also set up for drying out and the six crew members carried out an Emergency Roles and Responsibilities Review to discuss emergency response planning.


Cygnus Spacecraft Docking

  • Pre-docking Activities
    Following the launch of Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft on 18 September, the rendezvous and docking of the spacecraft to the ISS was delayed by a number of days due to a tracking satellite issue and also to allow Soyuz 36S to dock to the ISS. Cygnus is a commercial unmanned spacecraft under NASA contract which is on its very first flight to the ISS. Following the originally scheduled docking date of 22 September the Cygnus spacecraft had been flying in a parking orbit behind the ISS. On 22 September Robotics Ground Controllers surveyed the relevant berthing mechanism on Node 2 and configured the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2) for capturing the Cygnus spacecraft. An uplink of the Relative Global Positioning System Software Patch and associated re-integration of the Cygnus Flight Computers took place on 26 September. Cygnus, which is capable of carrying up to 2.7 tonnes of cargo and on its demo flight is delivering around 600 kg of crew supplies.
  • Cygnus Docking
    On 29 September the Cygnus spacecraft was captured by Canadarm 2, with ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg as robotic arm operators, and berthed to the Earth-facing port of the European-built Node 2. Cygnus was captured at 13:01 (CEST) and manoeuvred into position at the docking port. Following berthing, a vestibule leak check was undertaken, and the Node 2 hatch was outfitted. On 30 September the Cygnus hatch was opened, allowing the crew to enter the new logistics spacecraft for the first time and all cargo has now been transferred from Cygnus into the ISS. Cygnus will remain attached to the ISS until 22 October.


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, NASA samples were installed inside MELFI units for ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins for the Pro-K experiment (blood and urine), the Salivary Markers immunology experiment (blood, urine, saliva) and the Microbiome experiment (saliva)

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week period until 4 October in order to undertake numerous runs for NASA’s 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 were undertaken on different days by ISS Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg.

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.

Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Activities
Orbit Correction System thrusters of Europe’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) called “Albert Einstein” were used to carry out a reboost of the ISS on 2 October. This raised the orbital altitude of the ISS, setting up phasing for future ISS traffic activities.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 4 October include: maintenance activities on NASA’s  Combustion Integrated Rack and additional test runs with the Amine Swingbed hardware which is testing a more efficient way of removing carbon dioxide from the ISS cabin atmosphere.  

(*)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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