ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 90, Increment 26/27

Columbus logo
25 March 2011

This is ISS status report #90 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 Department in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus and Payload Operations Management and Mission Science teams from the ISS Utilisation 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 ongoing research taking place inside the Russian Segment of the ISS and in the US Destiny and Japanese Kibo laboratories. The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:

European science and research facilities inside the Columbus Laboratory

Biolab and experiments
Biolab’s Handling Mechanism gripper, which was removed from the facility on 12 February was returned to Earth on Soyuz 24S on 16 March.

Biolab is a multi-user facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates. Due to the still ongoing functional recovery activities for the Biolab facility the TripleLux experiments’ planning was revised and TripleLux-A was de-manifested from the ULF-6 / STS-134 flight mainly due to the Biolab microscope failure which will be returned from the ISS on ULF-6 / STS-134 and repaired on ground. The objective of the TripleLux experiments is to further understand the cellular mechanisms underlying the aggravation of radiation responses, and the impairment of the immune function under spaceflight conditions.

European Drawer Rack
The Erasmus Recording Binocular 2 (ERB-2) was detached from the European Drawer Rack on 20 March for undertaking filming activities (see below). It was reattached thereafter. On 25 March the European Drawer Rack and ERB-2 were activated and data for ERB-2 was downlinked via the facility.

The European Drawer Rack is a multi-user experiment facility which will also host the Facility for Adsorption and Surface Tension (FASTER) and the Electro-Magnetic Levitator payload from 2012 onwards. FASTER is a Capillarity Pressure Tensiometer developed for the study of the links between emulsion stability and physico-chemical characteristics of droplet interfaces. The Electro-Magnetic Levitator will investigate thermophysical properties of metal alloys under weightlessness, supporting both basic and namely industrial research and development needs.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow-2 / FASES experiments
ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli installed the Geoflow-2 experiment into the Fluid Science Laboratory’s lower Central Experiment Module on 19 March after retrieving the Experiment Container from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle 2 (ATV-2). Hereafter Nespoli released the Facility Core Element by removing locking pins (which protect it against mechanical loads outside of use). Nespoli also installed four Anti Vibration Mounts. On 21 March the Geoflow-2 experiment Container was powered on and testing carried out to determine optimal camera exposure times during experiment runs.

The following day Geoflow-2 run 1 was started, followed on consecutive days by two additional runs. Geoflow-2 (which follows on from the Geoflow experiment with new scientific objectives and a different experiment configuration) is 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 the incompressible fluid will be nonanol and not silicon oil as in the first Geoflow experiment. Nonanol varies in viscosity with temperature (unlike silicon oil) to provide a different aspect of research with more of a simulation to Earth’s geophysical conditions.

These first runs of Geoflow-2 involved a non-rotation (or very low rotation) at the lowest possible temperature (20 deg C) at the outer sphere and a 6.5 kV central force field to simulate a gravitational effect. The temperature gradient from outside to inside was varied in each of the experiment runs. Good interferometric images have already been received on ground. These science runs form part of an exhaustive scientific programme of experiment processing which will last a couple of months.

The subsequently planned Fluid Science Laboratory experiment “Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability” (FASES) has been undergoing extensive science testing using the flight sample cells in the Engineering Model of the Fluid Science Laboratory at the MARS User Support and Operations Centre (USOC) in Naples, Italy. These tests allowed a full proof of scientific verification of the emulsions’ composition and the optical diagnostics’ adjustment. The execution of the FASES experiment will require the upgrade of the FSL Video Management Unit which will be tentatively returned to Earth by ULF-7 / STS-135 for the upgrade implementation, after the execution of the GeoFlow-2 experiment. The flight of the FASES Experiment Container will now be rescheduled to a later Progress launch in 2012. This experiment will be studying emulsion properties with advanced optical diagnostics. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, and in the chemical and food industries.

European Physiology Modules facility and related experiments
The European Physiology Modules facility was activated on 17 March for downlink of data from the DOSIS experiment (see below). On 23 March ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli carried out tests on the Cardiolab Arterial Blood Pressure Holter including testing the connection between the holter device and the European Physiology Modules laptop. This is in advance of the CARD experiment which examines increased cardiac output and lowerered blood pressure (caused by dilated arteries) in the face of increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system (which normally constricts arteries) in weightlessness. The Arterial Blood Pressure Holter is one of the sensor devices of Cardiolab, which itself is one of the Science Modules of the European Physiology Modules facility. Cardiolab is used for performing scientific studies of the adaptation of the cardiovascular system to weightlessness.

The European Physiology Modules facility is equipped with different Science Modules to investigate the 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.

DOSIS
The Dose Distribution inside the ISS (DOSIS) experiment is progressing well during its time on orbit, with the instrument still acquiring data using one of the active DOSTEL detectors (DOSTEL-2) in the European Physiology Modules facility. On 17 March monthly data was downlinked for the experiment via the European Physiology Modules. The passive detectors for DOSIS were already deinstalled and returned to earth on STS-132 Shuttle Atlantis, after which they were sent to the research team to undergo scientific analyses. The DOSIS experiment determines the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside European Columbus laboratory using different active and passive detectors spread around the laboratory. This is the first time that 'area dosimetry' has been undertaken on Columbus to measure the spatial radiation gradients inside the module.

Pulmonary Function System (in Human Research Facility 2)
No activities were carried out using the Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks until 25 March. The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA’s Human Research Facility 2, which was relocated from the US Destiny laboratory to the Columbus laboratory on 1 October 2008. The Pulmonary Function System is an ESA/NASA collaboration in the field of respiratory physiology instrumentation, which analyses exhaled gas from astronauts' lungs to provide near-instant data on the state of crew health.

European Modular Cultivation System
One of the experiment containers for the Genara-A experiment was returned to Earth with Soyuz 24S on 16 March to undergo an investigation on corrosion. The cell culture chambers for the Genara-A experiment (which already took place in the European Modular Cultivation System in mid 2010) are back with the science teams following their return to Earth on STS-133 Shuttle Discovery, which landed on 9 March. Genara-A is studying plant (Arabidopsis) growth at molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space. The tentative next experiment in the European Modular Cultivation System is a NASA experiment, SeedGrowth. The next ESA experiment is the Gravi-2 experiment which is currently scheduled in the October/November 2011 timeframe. Gravi-2 builds on the Gravi experiment in determining the gravity threshold response in plant (lentil) roots.

The European Modular Cultivation System, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and is being operated jointly with NASA under a bilateral barter agreement which was renewed after the initial 2 years time frame.

Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES)
No activities were carried out using the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) in the two weeks until 25 March. Once the facility is fully commissioned it will be used for undertaking neuromuscular and exercise research on the International Space Station. 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.

Following completion of an electrical checkout of the system (i.e. with no functional testing), MARES will be placed in its on-orbit stowage configuration. In the future this will be tentatively followed up by functional testing of MARES in two parts: the first part without a crew member using the system, the second functional testing with a crew member in the loop using the system. These two commissioning parts will include testing of hardware and software as well as testing downlink capabilities.

MARES consists of an adjustable chair with a system of pads and levers that fit to each astronaut and cover different movements, a 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.

Coloured Fungi In Space
The dry spore biocontainer for the Coloured Fungi In Space experiment remains on orbit and is scheduled to return with Soyuz 26S in September 2011. This follows the return of the three live culture biocontainers for the short-term part of the experiment with STS-133 which landed on 9 March. The Coloured Fungi In Space experiment is undertaking an examination of the survival and growth of different coloured fungi species, which can be relevant to spacecraft contamination, panspermia and planetary protection issues.

Erasmus Recording Binocular 2
After inserting fresh batteries into the Erasmus Recording Binocular 2 (ERB-2), ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli carried out Station fly-through including the Columbus laboratory, the European-built Nodes 2 and 3 and the Cupola attached to Node 3, the Japanese laboratory the US laboratory and the Russian segment of the ISS. Hereafter Nespoli continued filming inside Columbus recording extra footage. ERB-2 is a high definition 3D video camera conceived by the Erasmus Centre of ESA’s Human Spaceflight Directorate and takes advantage of high-definition optics and advanced electronics to provide a vastly improved 3D video effect for mapping the Station.

European science and research facilities outside the Columbus laboratory in open space

SOLAR
The SOLAR facility was not acquiring data in Sun Pointing Mode in the two weeks until 25 March following closure of the Sun visibility window on 8 March. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR are open when the ISS is in the correct orbital profile with relation to the Sun. The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range currently for around 3 years on-orbit. This has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. Following the conclusion of the detailed technical feasibility study for on-orbit lifetime extension the science team will be able to continue gathering further science data in a period of increasing solar activity up to 2013 and possibly beyond.

Vessel Identification System (Vessel ID)
Successful data acquisition is ongoing 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 in the past months since its installation in Columbus. The failed LuxAIS receiver was returned to Earth on Soyuz 24S on 16 March. The same day system files for the Vessel Identification System were uplinked and installed.

The Vessel Identification System consists of the two different on-board receivers (NORAIS and LuxAIS), which were scheduled to be alternated every three months or so, and the ERNO-Box, which is used as a data relay for the Vessel Identification System, whose antenna was installed on the outside of Columbus during an EVA on 21 November 2009. 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 VIS data which is continuously acquired on Columbus.

European science inside the US Destiny Laboratory

Material Science Laboratory in the Material Science Research Rack
The final first batch MICAST sample which completed processing in the Solidification and Quenching Furnace of the Material Science Laboratory on 18 January has been sent for analysis following return to Earth on STS-133 Shuttle Discovery which landed on 9 March. This sample followed an additional twelve CETSOL/MICAST experiment samples that had already been processed in the Low Gradient Furnace (which was replaced with the Solidification and Quenching Furnace earlier in January) with analysis undertaken by the relevant science teams on ground. The second batch of CETSOL/MICAST samples will be the next to be processed in the Material Science Laboratory followed by samples for the SETA experiment.

ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1, which was launched together with a total of six sample cartridges for NASA and for ESA’s MICAST and CETSOL projects on STS-128/17A under a cooperation agreement with NASA and is now installed in the US Laboratory on the ISS. Seven more sample cartridges were launched on 16 November 2009 with STS-129/ULF-3. Project scientists have already presented very promising preliminary scientific results stemming from analysis of the first samples. This constitutes an excellent basis for further materials research with international collaboration.

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 will be 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.

Microgravity Science Glovebox and associated experiments
On 17 March DLR’s Capillary Channel Flow experiment hardware was removed from the Microgravity Science Glovebox and stowed by ISS Flight Engineer Catherine Coleman. Capillary Channel Flow is a versatile experiment for studying a critical variety of inertial-capillary dominated flows important for innovations in the containment, storage, and handling of large liquid inventories (fuels, cryogens, and water) aboard spacecraft. On 21 March Coleman carried out annual certification activities on the Glovebox, checking out sensors and subsystems and additional cleaning tasks. ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli also gathered hardware recently delivered to the ISS for setting up the NASA Boiling eXperiment Facility–Nucleate Pool Boiling eXperiment (BXF-NPBX) in the Glovebox. The following day Nespoli installed the experiment hardware into the working volume of the Microgravity Science Glovebox and made associated cable connections. Nespoli continued activities on 24 March when he checked out Ethernet/LAN connections with the facility laptop.

The flash disks for the SODI-Colloid experiment which took place in the Microgravity Science Glovebox in September/October 2010 have now been sent to the science team following return to Earth on STS-133 Shuttle Discovery, which landed on 9 March. The Colloid experiment covers the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions. The focus is on materials that have a special interest in photonics, with emphasis on nano-structured, periodic dielectric materials, known as photonic crystals, which possess appealing properties and make them promising candidates for new types of optical components. Colloid is the second in the series of three SODI experiments and further experiment runs may be resumed later during 2011. The first SODI experiment performed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox was IVIDIL (Influence of Vibrations on Diffusion in Liquids), which was successfully completed on 20 January 2010.

The subsequent DSC experiment (‘Diffusion and Soret Coefficient Measurements for Improvement of Oil Recovery’) will be the third and final SODI experiment processed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox which is now tentatively foreseen towards the end of 2011 after the implementation of the partially re-defined liquid mixtures in conjunction with the new ELIPS project DCMIX. Further batches of DSC experiments and potentially additional runs of the Colloid experiment are planned for 2012.

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.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
No activities were carried out using the Portable Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks until 25 March. The Portable Pulmonary Function System is an autonomous multi-user facility supporting a broad range of human physiological research experiments under weightless conditions in the areas of respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic physiology.

European science inside the Japanese Kibo Laboratory

Matroshka
Passive radiation dosimeters for the Matroshka experiment, which took place in the Kibo laboratory were returned to earth on Soyuz 24S which landed on 16 March. They will hereafter be returned to DLR in Cologne, Germany for analysis. Following deinstallation of the Matroshka facility on 10 March the Matroshka phantom was relocated to the Russian segment of the ISS. ESA’s Matroshka payload, which has been located in the Japanese Kibo laboratory since 4 May 2010, had been continuously acquiring data about the radiation environment inside the ISS. The accumulated radiation levels were being measured using the passive radiation dosimeters (including PADLES type from JAXA) which were installed inside the Matroshka Phantom, which simulates a human body (head and torso). In the long-term Matroshka may again be accommodated on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit which are of relevance for EVA activities.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

GTS-2 (Global Transmission Service)
The Global Transmission Service was deactivated on 31 May 2009 though following negotiations with Russian representatives, the instrument will be tentatively reactivated in the near future for continuation of the so-called test mode as a cooperative European-Russian experiment on the ISS. This experiment is intended to test the receiving conditions of a time and data signal for dedicated receivers on the ground. The time signal distributed by the GTS has special coding to allow the receiver to determine the local time anywhere on the Earth without user intervention. The main scientific objectives of the experiment are to verify under real space operation conditions: the performance and accuracy of a time signal transmitted to the Earth’s surface from low Earth orbit; the signal quality and data rates achieved on the ground; and measurement of disturbing effects such as Doppler shifts, multi-path reflections, shadowing and elevation impacts.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

Expose-R
The deintegrated sample trays for the Expose-R facility are being disassembled at the Microgravity User Support Centre (MUSC) located at the DLR German Aerospace Centre in Cologne, Germany and experiment samples are being prepared for return to the science teams. The sample trays were returned to Earth on STS-133/ULF-5 Shuttle Discovery which landed on 9 March.

The Expose-R payload was retrieved in the frame of a Russian EVA on 21 January. It was installed outside the Zvezda Service Module during the Russian- based spacewalk on 10 March 2009, and concluded science acquisition following almost 2 years of exposure to the harsh open space environment (Solar UV, cosmic radiation, vacuum). The facility had been functioning extremely well and continuously acquiring scientific data during this time.

Expose-R hosted a suite of nine new astrobiology experiments (eight from ESA, one from IBMP, Moscow), some of which could help understand how life originated on Earth. The experiments were accommodated in three special sample trays, which were loaded with a variety of biological samples including plant seeds and spores of bacteria, fungi and ferns.

The individual Expose-R experiments have been as follows:

  • AMINO: Photochemical processing of amino acids and other organic compounds in Earth orbit
  • ENDO: Response of endolithic organisms to space conditions
  • OSMO: Exposure of osmophilic microbes to the space environment
  • SPORES: Spores in artificial meteorites
  • PHOTO: Measurements of vacuum and solar radiation-induced DNA damages within spores
  • SUBTIL: Mutational spectra of Bacillus subtilis spores and plasmid DNA exposed to high vacuum and solar UV radiation in the space environment
  • PUR: Responses of Phage T7, Phage DNA and polycrystalline uracil to the space environment
  • ORGANIC: Evolution of organic matter in space
  • IMBP: Exposure of resting stages of terrestrial organisms to space conditions.

Expose-R complements the first exobiology science package that was performed in Expose-E, a twin facility which had been in operation on ESA’s EuTEF facility outside of Columbus since February 2008 until EuTEF’s return to Earth with the STS-128/17A Shuttle Flight in September 2009.

In addition a new exobiology experiment complement (three European and one Russian) for the tentative Expose-R2 mission has been identified and the joint implementation discussions for a collaborative undertaking with the Russian partners is commencing.

Non-European science and research facilities inside the Columbus Laboratory

Human Research Facility 1
During the two-week period until 25 March activities were carried out using NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 with the support of ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. ISS Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly completed another week-long session of NASA’s Sleep experiment on 13 March during which data was transferred to a Human Research Facility 1 laptop from the Actiwatch he was wearing to monitor sleep patterns and light exposure levels. Final download of the data from the Actiwatch was completed on 15 March.

Human Research Facility 2
Human Research Facility 2 was activated on 24 March for blood processing. Blood samples for ISS Flight Engineer Catherine Coleman for the Canadian Space Agency’s Vascular Blood Collection protocol were centrifuged in the facility’s Refrigerated Centrifuge. Samples were thereafter stowed in one of the European-built MELFI freezers. Activities were supported by the Columbus Control Centre. Paolo Nespoli assisted Coleman as Crew Medical Officer for undertaking the blood draw.

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. On 21 and 24 March the Columbus Control Centre took part in an emergency communications proficiency check together with an ISS crew member and the control centres in Houston, Huntsville Alabama, Moscow and Tsukuba, Japan. On 21 March NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Catherine Coleman was the ISS crew member and involving the VHF site at Wallops Station, Virginia. On 24 March ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli was the ISS crew member and involving the VHF sites at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California and the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, USA.

Activities of ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli

  • System and payload activities
    During the last two weeks in addition to what is stated in the rest of the report, ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli: configured and checked out an Audio Terminal Unit in a crew quarters in Node 2; swapped out Portable Breathing Apparatus masks and carried out an audit and inspection of ISS portable emergency provisions; and checked out noise coming from the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS). CEVIS is currently out of use until the source of noise heard during exercise can be identified and rectified.

  • Experiment activities
    In addition to the European science programme detailed above ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli has carried out additional science activities in support of the science programmes of ESA’s ISS partners. This included: being a subject for NASA’s ‘Reaction Self Test’ experiment which looks into how planned sleep shift for ISS crews affects performance; and swapping out a Bio sample for processing on the Bio Base in NASA’s Fluids Integrated Rack in the US laboratory. Paolo also assisted Catherine Coleman as crew Medical Officer for NASA’s Integrated Cardiovascular experiment by preparing Actiwatches and electrocardiogram electrode sites.

  • Health status activities
    The crew undertake health status checks on a regular basis. During the past two weeks Paolo Nespoli was the subject of: a NASA acoustic measurement protocol during which the crew had to wear acoustic dosimiters; a PanOptic eye test; a Russian body mass measurement protocol; and the Russian Biochemical Urinalysis assessment. In addition Nespoli carried out a regular emergency medical video training session focussing on intravenous fluid infusion.

  • Other activities
    During the last two weeks Nespoli 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. Nespoli also: initiated one run of the Air Quality Monitor, used for identifying volatile organic compounds in the ISS cabin atmosphere; and carried out a new module emergency procedure drill with the other crew members to familiarise them with changes associated with the Permanent Multipurpose Module which arrived on STS-133 Shuttle Discovery. In addition Nespoli used the Service Module amateur radio equipment on numerous times in the two-week reporting period to conduct live radio sessions with students respectively at: the Sculo Media Statale "Francesco d' Assisi" and Didattico Don Lorenzo Milani, Modugno, in Bari, Italy; Fair Lawn High School, Fair Lawn, New Jersey, USA; Luitpold-Gymnasium Muenchen, Munich, Germany; SIP Cossar / Da Vinci, Gorizia, Italy; and the Istituto Comprensivo di Verano Brianza - Scuola Media in Verano Brianza, Italy. Towards the end of the reporting period Nespoli carried out a number of educational activities for ISS partners.

Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • Exercise Equipment
    No activities were carried out on the exercise equipment in Node 3 in the two weeks until 25 March in addition to regular use, inspection and servicing of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device and T2/COLBERT treadmill in which ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli was involved.

  • 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 past two weeks include:

    • Water Recovery System rack 2: Urine Processor Assembly
      The Recycle Filter Tank Assembly which filters pre-treated urine for processing into water was again replaced on 15 March by Catherine Coleman. The Urine Processor Assembly was deactivated on 21 March due to Water Processor Assembly maintenance (see below). It was reactivated after maintenance completion.

    • Water Recovery System rack 2: Water Processor Assembly
      On 21 March the Waste and Hygiene Compartment was configured to using an internal container due to Water Processor Assembly maintenance. The following day this was carried out by Coleman. Maintenance included replacing an expended waste water filter and a failed waste water solenoid valve. The Waste and Hygiene Compartment was configured back to feeding the Urine Processor Assembly afterwards.

ATV-2 “Johannes Kepler” Activities

  • ISS Reboost
    ESA’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-2), called Johannes Kepler, which is docked to the aft port of the ISS Service Module, performed a reboost of the ISS on 18 March. The ISS gained 3.8 km in altitude during the reboost which lasted just short of 15 minutes and was carried out to help place the ISS in the correct orbital profile for the launches of Soyuz 26S and STS-134/ULF-6 Shuttle Endeavour in April.

  • Additional ATV activities
    Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Expedition 27 Commander Dmitry Kondratyev updated software on a Russian system laptop with new ATV-2 displays on 17 March. On 18 March Paolo Nespoli set up the ATV’s Gas Control Panel and performed an ISS cabin atmosphere pressurisation from the ATV Gas Delivery System (lasting 3 hours). Nespoli and Coleman carried out cargo transfer activities in the ATV while the repressurisation was taking place. This included deploying a Temporary Stowage Rack, relocating a Recycle Filter Tank Assembly (used in Water Recovery System rack 2) to the Permanent Multipurpose Module and locating the Geoflow-2 experiment in a cargo bag for installation in the Fluid Science Laboratory the following day.

Soyuz TMA-01M/24S, Expedition Crew: Preparations, Undocking and Landing

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    On 13 and 14 March Roscosmos cosmonauts and ISS Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka carried out their final orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test sessions using the VELO ergometer whilst wearing Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suits. 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.

  • Soyuz 24S Descent Drill
    A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by Roscosmos cosmonauts and ISS Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut and ISS Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly on 13 March. The descent drill, which took place in the Descent Module of the Soyuz 24S spacecraft, is for the review of Soyuz descent procedures including emergency procedures and manual undocking. The training session used a descent simulator application on a Russian laptop together with a descent hand controller.

  • Soyuz TMA-01M/24S Return Preparation
    Kaleri and Skripochka supported a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz TMA-01M Motion Control System on 13 March including testing the pilot’s translational hand controller and the braking thrusters. The following day ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev performed a check out of communication between the Russian “Istochnik-M” Telemetry Reception and Recording system with the attached Soyuz 24S. This is important especially for retrieving telemetry during Soyuz module separation prior to re-entry and landing. Kaleri stowed a number of science payloads in the Soyuz descent module for return to earth. Over the following two days Kaleri also removed temperature and lighting equipment from the Soyuz Orbital module for reuse after Soyuz undocking.

  • Change of Command
    The official Russian change of command document was signed between Expedition 26 and 27 commanders (Kaleri and Kondratyev) on 13 March. This was followed later by the official change of command ceremony. However as with all Expeditions, Expedition 27 will officially begin following undocking of the departing Expedition Commander.

  • Soyuz TMA-01M/24S, Expedition 26 Undocking and Landing
    On 15 March clamps were removed between the Soyuz TMA-01M and the Poisk Module to which it is docked. Following Soyuz activation, the hatches between the Soyuz and the Poisk Module were closed and relevant leak checks were carried out. Undocking occurred at 05:26 (CET) followed by a 10-sec separation burn three minutes later. Post-undocking tests were then undertaken stemming from an instrumentation failure experienced by Soyuz 24S following launch. The two tests checked the manual local vertical/local horizontal attitude-keeping mode of the new digital Soyuz avionics systems, and test data from the roll rate instruments installed in the Neptun-ME crew console in Soyuz 24S by Kaleri in February. Both tests were successful providing the crew with two available automatic and two manual landing modes. Another manual separation burn (20 sec) occurred between the two tests at 05:39. At 08:03 (CET) the Soyuz spacecraft performed its deorbit thruster burn lasting 4 min 17sec. This caused a deceleration of 115m/sec. Approximately 20 minutes later the spacecraft went through module separation, with atmospheric reentry occurring at 08:31 (CET). The parachute was deployed at 08:40 with landing at 08:54 (CET), 01:54 local time north of the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan. Kelly, Kaleri and Skripochka had spent 179 days in space. From here the crew were flown to Kustanai in Kazakhstan. The cosmonauts were flown on to Star City in Moscow. Kelly was flown to Houston. Undocking of Soyuz TMA-01M marked the end of Expedition 26 and the start of Expedition 27, which consists currently of Commander Dmitry Kondratyev (Roscosmos) and ISS Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli (ESA) and Catherine Coleman (NASA) until three additional crew arrive in April.

HTV-2 Activities

  • HTV-2 Post-Relocation/Undocking Activities
    Following relocation of the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-2) back to the Earth-facing docking port of Node 2 (following STS-133 undocking) on 10 March, Nespoli and Coleman opened the HTV hatch on 14 March, carried out an atmosphere test and installed portable fire equipment inside. Over the next few days Nespoli carried out extensive cargo activities including relocating cargo in the HTV to different stowage locations around the ISS, installing stowage platforms in HTV and loading trash in the HTV for disposal (during atmospheric re-entry). From 17 March Nespoli (assisted by Coleman) continued work in HTV by removing light fittings, deploying portable fans (due to diffuser blockage by stowage platform installation), and installation of a re-entry breakup recorder.

  • HTV Robotics Training and Activities
    Nespoli and Coleman undertook a robotics training session on 21 March in preparation for grapple, unberthing and release of HTV-2. Nespoli also checked out the Cupola and US laboratory robotics systems preparatory to unberthing.

Shuttle Mission Activities

  • US Airlock
    Following conclusion of the STS-133 mission, activities in the US airlock included, scrubbing the cooling loops of two Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) for particulate matter, and relocating two additional EMUs from the Japanese laboratory back to the US airlock.

  • Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre Preparations
    On 23 March Nespoli undertook an R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre training session, taking images of the ground with digital still cameras with 400mm and 800mm lenses. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the STS-134/ULF-6 Shuttle during its pitch manoeuvre during rendezvous and docking. During the manoeuvre at a distance of about 180 m from the Station, the photographers will only have around 90 seconds to take high-resolution digital photographs of all thermal protection tile areas and door seals on Shuttle Endeavour, to be downlinked for launch debris assessment.

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. Paolo Nespoli and Catherine Coleman inserted numerous ice bricks (-32 deg C) into MELFI units on orbit on 20 and 23 March in connection with upcoming conditioned storage requirements. Coleman further transferred samples to MELFI from a General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator (GLACIER) delivered on STS-133/ULF-5 Discovery. During the reporting period blood samples for ISS Flight Engineer Catherine Coleman for the Canadian Space Agency’s Vascular Blood Collection were stowed in one of the European-built MELFI freezers.

JAXA Control Centre Disruption
The earthquake in Japan caused undersea cables carrying communications between the Japanese Space Station Integration and Promotion Centre at Tsukuba and the Mission Control Center in Houston to be severed causing a loss of command and video capability for the Japanese ISS elements. There was also some structural damage at the Japanese Space Station Integration and Promotion Centre. A backup control centre was set up for voice and data at the Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, USA. However the prime international communication line was recovered on 16/17 March and full command, telemetry and voice capabilities were restored as of 21 March. 24-hour operations from Tsukuba started the following evening.

Robonaut 2
On 15 March NASA’s Robonaut 2 was unpacked and set up by Nespoli and Coleman. The two astronauts then undertook photo/video sessions of the first human-like robot to fly in space with the video being downlinked on 17 March.

Russian Segment Electrical Power System
On 23 March Kondratyev performed a major maintenance activity on the Service Module Power Supply System in the Russian Segment of the ISS by replacing one of the eight 800A batteries.

Soyuz 22S Descent Drill
A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by Kondratyev, Nespoli and Coleman on 24 March in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-20/25S spacecraft. This was in order to review 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.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 25 March include: a Speed Characterization Test on the TVIS treadmill as part of troubleshooting activities; transferring cargo delivered on Progress 41P; tests on the Russian TVS video system; filling a Service Module Rodnik Tank with disinfectant for flushing; replacing different air ducts in the Russian ISS segment; reconfiguring power cables on the Japanese Ryutai and Kobairo racks; and a successful checkout of the Payload Attach System 2, onto which the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 will be attached during the STS-134/ULF-6 Shuttle Endeavour mission in April.

(*)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.

Contact:
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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