ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 163 Increment 38: 15 – 28 February 2014

Columbus logo
Columbus logo
4 March 2014

This is ISS status report #163 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
In the two weeks until 28 February three different astronauts have taken part in the Space Headaches experiment. Weekly questionnaires were filled in on 21 and 28 February by ISS Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins (his 21st and 22nd), Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata (their 15th and 16th). The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 36S for Hopkins and Soyuz 37S for Mastracchio and Wakata.

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.

Circadian Rhythms Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata successfully started his fourth session (session 5 as sessions 1 and 2 were combined into one session in December) of the Circadian Rhythms experiment on 27 February. At the start of the session Wakata donned the Thermolab temperature sensors, on the forehead and chest, and the Thermolab unit along with an activity monitoring armband. Hereafter measurements were scheduled to be 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.

Reversible Figures Experiment
Sessions of the Reversible Figures experiment were carried out in the Columbus laboratory on 19 February by ISS Flight Engineers Koichi Wakata (4th session) and Michael Hopkins (6th and final session). During the sessions the experiment instruments were connected to a laptop in the Columbus laboratory before a dedicated visor was donned and the experiment protocol was conducted 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 member is prompted to specify, by pressing pushbuttons on a mouse, which percept is visualized first and then every subsequent change in perception.

ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 (HRF-1) in Columbus was used by ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata on 20 February for undertaking spinal ultrasound scans on ISS Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins. The spinal ultrasound scans are part of a NASA investigation to characterise spinal changes during and after spaceflight.

Human Research Facility 2’s refrigerated centrifuge was used on 28 February for spinning blood samples for NASA’s Pro-K protocol (for Michael Hopkins) which is testing the hypothesis that a diet with a decreased ration of animal protein to potassium leads to a decreased loss of bone mineral. Centrifuged blood samples were placed in a MELFI freezer unit.

Body Mass Measurements were undertaken on 26 February by Michael Hopkins and Koichi Wakata using the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) in Human Research Facility 1.

Biology Research
Biolab Facility Maintenance
ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio performed Biolab Temperature Controlled Units 1 and 2 cleaning and silica bag exchange on 17 February. Following the activity Biolab was activated and a Temperature Controlled Unit health check was undertaken. Two days later Mastracchio exchanged the gloves of Biolab’s Bioglovebox.

These activities are in advance of the GRAVI-2 experiment (executed in the European Modular Cultivation System - EMCS) that will make use of Biolab’s thermal storage capabilities following launch to the ISS on SpaceX-3 in mid-March 2014. The TripleLux-B experiment will be the next experiment to make full use of the Biolab facility, currently scheduled for launch to the ISS on the SpaceX-5 spacecraft in Autumn 2014.

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 the set of passive detectors which were deployed at various locations around the Columbus laboratory on 1 October 2013. On 27 February the monthly data downlink was performed via the European Physiology Modules in which the active detectors are installed.  The active detectors for DOSIS-3D 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 earlier 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.

Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The most recent new Sun Visibility Window (the 74th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) closed on 21 February, having been open since 9 February. 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 next Sun Visibility Window is scheduled to open on 15 March.

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range since 2008. 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
FASES Experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
Research continued for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment in the two weeks until 28 February. The first phase of processing (optical scan and stirring for emulsion preparation) of a sample with liquid composition of 0.5% water and 99.5% paraffin with 0.02% surfactant concentration was completed. However, based on science team assessment the emulsion has not been deemed good enough to proceed with phase 2 (emulsification).

The FASES experiment, installed inside the Fluid Science Laboratory, investigates the effect of surface tension on the stability of emulsions. Thin emulsions of different compositions are stored inside 44 individual sample cells through which the emulsions are being optically and thermally characterised. The overall experiment duration is estimated with a minimum of 9 months. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, and the chemical and food industries.

Materials Research
Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and Batch 2a experiments
The CETSOL-2 sample located in the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) was processed on the night of 17-18 February. On 24 February ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio performed a Gas Supply Drawer exchange. The following day Mastracchio exchanged the processed CETSOL-2 sample for another MICAST-2 sample (which is scheduled to be processed on 5-6 March). This was followed by the associated chamber leak check. CETSOL-2 and MICAST-2 form part of the Batch 2a solidification experiments which also includes the SETA-2 experiment.

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 28 February 2014 include:

  • Radiation Dosimeter Installation
    ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio deployed numerous RaDI-N2 radiation sensors throughout the ISS on 26 February including in the Columbus Laboratory. RaDI-N2 is part of a Russian investigation designed to characterize the neutron radiation environment inside the ISS.  The results of this investigation will be used to define the risk to ISS crewmembers’ health and in the development of advanced protective measures for future space flights.  
  • Ham Radio Sessions
    The amateur radio equipment in Columbus was used by ISS Flight Engineer and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata for undertaking ham radio sessions with students in New Jersey and Virginia, USA on 19 February, with Australian Air League cadets in South Australia on 21 February, and students in Kansas, USA on 28 February.
  • Weekly and Periodic 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. The  fortnightly reboot of the Portable Workstation 1 laptop and the Columbus LAN switch readout were also performed

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 28 February 2014 include:
    • Waste and Hygiene Compartment
      ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins replaced the recycle tank in the Waste and Hygiene Compartment in Node 3 on 19 February. Two days later he performed a manual fill of the compartment’s flush water tank.
  • Cupola Activities
    The European-built Cupola Observation Module attached to Node 3 is proving a valuable ISS asset especially for observing/controlling external robotics and Earth Observation activities. ISS Flight Engineer and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata set up JAXA’s 4K Ultra High Definition camera and Cosmo Shoot laptop in the Cupola Module and carried out a session of the Cosmo photography project to capture images of the Earth surface on 17 February. Selected imagery included views of auroras, Sochi, Tokyo, and Yokohama.

Cygnus Spacecraft Undocking

  • Undocking Preparations
    The ISS crew carried out various preparations prior to unberthing of the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft. ISS Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata configured Cygnus and the Node 2 vestibule on 17 February in preparation for unberthing. The Cygnus hatch was closed followed by the removal of power, data, and air revitalization system jumpers. Hereafter, the Node 2 nadir hatch was closed and the following day depressurization and a leak check of the vestibule between the Node 2/Cygnus hatches was performed.
  • Cygnus Undocking
    On 18 February the Cygnus spacecraft was successfully unberthed from the ISS using the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2). With Michael Hopkins and Koichi Wakata at the controls of Canadarm 2 Cygnus was demated from the Earth-facing docking port at Node 2 at 11:15 (CET) and manoeuvred into its release position. The Cygnus spacecraft was released at 12:42 (CET). After moving Canadarm 2 away from the ISS the Cygnus undertook a departure burn to behind the ISS in order to undertake activities to characterize the spacecraft performance during free-flying operations. The Cygnus spacecraft undertook its planned destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on 19 February loaded with trash from the ISS. This completed the first ISS commercial cargo mission of the Cygnus spacecraft which is a commercial unmanned spacecraft under NASA contract.

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 installed inside MELFI units for: JAXA’s Aniso Tubule experiment which investigates the roles of cortical microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins in gravity-induced growth modification of plant stems; and NASA’s Pro-K experiment (blood, urine) for ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins.

Microgravity Science Glovebox Activities
The Microgravity Science Glovebox in the US Laboratory was active in the two weeks until 28 February in connection with research activities for NASA’s Burning and Suppression of Solids – 2 (BASS-2) experiment, which makes use of NASAs Smoke Point In Coflow Experiment (SPICE) hardware inside the Glovebox. Activities started with cleaning the SPICE hardware following the observation of soot. This activity was followed by several burn tests. After completion of these tests a small area of discoloration was observed on the experiment door. Following a functionality test of the door interlocks it has been concluded that an air leak between the door and the frame allowed a fraction of hot combustion gases to be drawn toward the leak causing observed heat damage. This is being assessed prior to restarting research activities. BASS-2 explores how different substances burn in weightlessness with benefits for combustion on Earth and fire safety in space.

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

Japanese Robotics Activities: Cubesat Satellites
All 16 Dove CubeSats (mini satellites) have now been successfully deployed outside the Japanese laboratory following the launch of the last four CubeSats on 15 February. This was delayed from the previous reporting period due to an issue opening doors on the associated locations on the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform. On 19 February the platform together with the mini-satellite deployment mechanism was placed back onto the Japanese airlock slide table and brought back inside the airlock.  The following day ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata repressurised the Japanese airlock, opened the airlock inside door, and swapped the empty deployment mechanism for a new mechanism full of new mini-satellites for deployment. The Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform with deployment mechanism was again placed inside the airlock and the inner hatch was closed.

On the morning of 25 February Wakata again depressurised the airlock, opened the outer hatch and extended the slide table out to the Japanese Laboratory’s Exposed Facility. Ground controllers then grappled the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform and deployment mechanism and manoeuvred it into position for Cubesat mini-satellite deployment. Between 25 – 28 February a further 17 Cubesats were deployed. The Cubesats programme contains a variety of experiments covering areas such as Earth observation and advanced electronics testing. Following deployment of all the satellites the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform was again placed back onto the slide table inside the airlock, the outer airlock hatch was closed and the airlock repressurised.

Additional Robotics
Robotics Ground Controllers powered up the Mobile Servicing System on the Station’s truss on 26 February in order to undertake Phase 3 of the Commissioning of the Backup Drive Unit of the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator ‘Dextre’ which is used for intricate robotics activities. The commissioning activities consisted of using the Backup Drive Unit to individually drive each of the joints in both Dextre arms to verify that each joint would correctly move to the commanded position. The ground also performed checkout of Dextre camera and tools in preparation for the upcoming operations. The following day ISS Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata undertook a robotic training session to train for the robotic capture of the SpaceX-3 Dragon spacecraft which is scheduled for launch to the ISS on 16 March.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two weeks until 28 February 2014 include: swapping out a fibre optic cable for the Light Microscopy Module inside the Fluids Integrated Rack in the US Laboratory; troubleshooting on the Internal Audio Subsystem (responsible for distribution of voice and caution and warning tones in the US segment of the ISS) which had lost redundancy; orthostatic tolerance evaluations on returning crew members (ISS Commander Oleg Kotov and ISS Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, both representing Roscosmos) and additional return preparations; removal of the Active Rack Isolation System from EXPRESS Rack 2 and additional rack modification; removing temporary power jumpers used to power the Robotic Work Station in the US laboratory from an alternate power controller; upgrading software on an EXPRESS Rack laptop; replacing an Internal Thermal Control Systems Maintenance Canister in the Japanese laboratory in order to maintain biocide (Ortho-Phthalaldehyde) levels in the system and taking water samples; replacement of the Pump Inlet Filter on one of the US EVA suits; replacing a manifold bottle and fixing one of the two Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus needles in the US laboratory’s Combustion Integrated Rack; and replacing an avionics package and a white light lamp in the Fluids Integrated Rack inside the US 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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