This is ISS status report #131 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.
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:
ISS Commander Sunita Williams undertook her fourth and final session of ESA’s Thermolab and EKE experiments in conjunction with NASA’s Maximum Volume Oxygen (VO2 Max) experiment on 24 October. Data was downlinked to ground after the session. The joint experiments use the ESA-developed Portable Pulmonary Function System to record a variety of pulmonary measurements during varying degrees of exercise on the CEVIS Cycle Ergometer. If the post-flight baseline data collection sessions prove successful this will bring on-orbit activities for the experiment to a successful conclusion with the required amount of human test subjects.
Thermolab is investigating thermoregulatory and cardiovascular adaptations during rest and exercise in the course of long-term exposure to weightlessness. The EKE experiment has specific goals to develop a diagnostic tool for the assessment of endurance capacity from oxygen uptake and heart rate in response to changes in exercise intensity and the development of a physiological model to explore the transport of oxygen from the lungs to muscle cells. The Maximum Volume Oxygen (VO2 Max) protocol is aimed at measuring oxygen uptake and cardiac output in particular, during various degrees of exercise. 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.
Circadian Rhythms Experiment
Science data for the fourth session of ESA’s new Circadian Rhythms experiment, (undertaken by ISS Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide from 16 – 18 October) was downlinked along with the Thermolab data on conclusion of the Thermolab session on 24 October.
The main objective of the Circadian Rhythms 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.
Water and urine samples for the Energy experiment for ESA astronaut André Kuipers (as the first test subject) and for NASA astronaut Don Pettit (as the control subject) were returned to earth on the SpaceX-1 Dragon spacecraft, which splashed down in the Pacific on 28 October. The samples arrived in Europe on 31 October.
The Energy experiment aims at determining the energy requirements of astronauts during long-term spaceflight. This is undertaken through analysis of samples and data gathered on-orbit in order to determine Total Energy Expenditure which will in turn allow for the calculation of the Activity Energy Expenditure to help derive an equation for energy requirements.
Reversible Figures Experiment
ISS Commander Sunita Williams carried out her fourth and final session of ESA’s new Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 29 October. Williams connected the hardware to a multipurpose laptop in the Columbus module, donned the dedicated visor and conducted the experiment protocol in a free-floating position. Hereafter ISS Flight Engineer Kevin Ford also undertook his first session of the experiment.
The experiment is investigating the adaptive nature of the human neuro-vestibular system in the processing of gravitational information related to 3D visual perception. It involves the comparisons of pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight perceptions with regards to ambiguous perspective-reversible figures to assess the influence of weightlessness. During the science run, a series of ambiguous figures are displayed for about 60-120 seconds and the crew is prompted to specify, by pressing pushbuttons on a mouse, which percept is visualized first and then every subsequent change in perception.
Space Headaches Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Kevin Ford started filling in daily questionnaires as a subject for the Space Headaches experiment following his launch on Soyuz 32S on 23 October. Ford completed filling in the daily questionnaires for the experiment on 29 October. The first two questionnaires, which were filled in on paper during Soyuz transfer to the ISS were photographed and downlinked. On the ISS the questionnaires were filled in in electronic form and also downlinked. Following completion of the daily questionnaires, Kevin Ford started filling in weekly questionnaires for the experiment on 2 November.
In addition to the European human research activities, Akihiko Hoshide conducted his fourth and final session of NASA’s Sprint/VO2Max protocol. During the session, he used ESA’s Portable Pulmonary Function System (PPFS) and additional sensors to undertake oxygen uptake measurements. This will help to evaluate changes during long-duration missions and to allow more accurate estimation of the crewmembers’ aerobic capacity during and after space flight.
The protocol evaluates the use of high intensity, low volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in ISS crewmembers during long-duration missions. It includes a special exercise regime which diverts from the regular exercise regime and uses an abbreviated VO2Max protocol.
Data acquisition has been on-going for the Dose Distribution inside the ISS 3D (DOSIS-3D) experiment using the two active DOSTEL detectors located inside the European Physiology Modules facility to undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements. In addition a second set of passive detectors (delivered on Soyuz 32S) were installed in different locations around Columbus by Sunita Williams on 26 October. This followed up from the first set of passive detectors which gathered data in the Columbus laboratory from May to September 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.
Data acquisition has been on-going for the ALTEA (Anomalous Long Term Effects in Astronauts)-Shield experiment in the so-called “shielding” configuration since its relocation to EXPRESS Rack 3 in Columbus on 8 June. The experiment set up consists of three silicon radiation detectors: a reference detector without any shielding materials attached (used for comparative purposes) and two additional detectors covered with two shielding tiles made currently of Kevlar with a different thickness of tile on each detector. Up until 2 November 83 cumulative days of science acquisition had been taken with the Kevlar tiles and the science team has formally confirmed the validity of the data. This surpasses the minimum requirement of 40 days and preferred target of 60 days, and follows on from a session including 54 cumulative days of science acquisition using polyethylene tiles. It is planned to continue the current measurement period until the ALTEA-Shield hardware is temporarily put into ISS storage and in support of statistical analyses.
The shielding part of the ALTEA-Shield experiment is testing the two different types of shielding materials (and different thicknesses of each material) against cosmic rays. This follows the ALTEA-Survey part of the ALTEA-Shield experiment series which finished in December 2011 with 112 cumulative days of science acquisition in its most recent location. The Survey part of the experiment had been undertaking a 3-dimensional survey of the radiation environment in the US laboratory.
The active cosmic radiation detector for the TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment was transported to the ISS on progress 49P which launched and docked to the Station on 31 October. This active detector is able to provide a 3-dimensional mapping of radiation entering Columbus i.e determining the level of radiation and direction with which it travels into/through Columbus. Once the active detector is successfully checked out, an accompanying set of passive detectors will also be launched to the ISS.
Fluid Science Laboratory Upgrade
A ground-commanded software upgrade of the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Optical Diagnostic Module was performed on 30 October. Software checkout activities will continue in the near future. Current testing and upgrade activities are being undertaken in advance of the FASES experiment which is due for upload on ATV-4 in April 2013.
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 58th) for the Solar facility to acquire data closed on 25 October. This latest window had been open since 15 October. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR, located on the external surface of Columbus, are open for the facility to acquire scientific data when the ISS is in the correct orbital profile with relation to the Sun. During the reporting period testing of command sequences were also undertaken in connection with the upcoming Sun visibility window bridging event currently scheduled to take place between 30 November and 13 December. As the Sun visibility windows last for around 12 days there has not been the chance to undertake solar measurements during a full Sun rotation cycle which lasts around 27 days. The bridging event will remedy this by taking measurements outside of the standard Sun visibility windows (hence joining two windows together) through a slight rotation of the ISS in this period to put the Solar facility in the correct profile in relation to the Sun. The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) from 24 October in connection with Soyuz 32S and Soyuz 49P docking and a debris avoidance manoeuvre (due to thruster firings)
The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range currently for more than four years on-orbit. This has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. An extension to the payload’s time in orbit could see its research activities extend up to early 2017 to monitor the whole solar cycle with unprecedented accuracy.
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 two years since its installation in Columbus.
The Vessel Identification System is testing the means to track global maritime traffic from space by picking up signals from standard AIS transponders carried by all international ships over 300 tonnes, cargo vessels over 500 tonnes and all types of passenger carriers. Meanwhile various service entities have been asking to get access to the Vessel ID data which is continuously acquired on Columbus.
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 2 November include:
On 22 October ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Sunita Williams took air samples in Columbus (as well as the Russian Service Module and US Laboratory). On 24 October Williams carried out visual microbial analysis and data recording on surface and air samples she had collected with ISS Flight Engineer and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide in Columbus (as well as in the US and Japanese laboratories, the Russian Zarya Module and the three Station Nodes) on 19 October.
Columbus Lighting Units
A couple of failures occurred in lighting units in Columbus in the two-week reporting period. Sunita Williams started repair procedures on 30 October.
Columbus Vacuum Dumping Device
Annual cycling of the Columbus Vacuum Dumping Device was performed on 27 October.
Vehicle Proximity Operations
Standard steps were taken in connection to docking of Soyuz 32S and Progress 49P, and unberthing of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. This included inhibition of vacuum and venting from Columbus, and Station-wide power down procedures which had minimal impact on Columbus systems.
EVA Video Footage
Almost two hours of video was recorded from Columbus during the US-based EVA on 1 November during the KU band loss of signal. The video was downlinked after the spacewalk.
Activities in the European-built Node 3
Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide have been using the T2/COLBERT treadmill and Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to conduct NASA’s Sprint protocol which diverts from the regular exercise regime. This was in addition to the regular use, inspection and servicing of ARED and the T2/COLBERT treadmill. During the 1 November spacewalk (see below) ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford swapped the Pacebook of the T2/COLBERT treadmill with a Station Support Computer. This was due to a Pacebook malfunction.
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 2 November include:
Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
Sunita Williams and Akihhiko Hoshide used the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) to sample water from the Water Recovery System racks on 22 and 30 October respectively.
Water Recovery System racks: Processing
Sunita Williams successfully replaced the full Recycle Filter Tank Assembly in Water Recovery System rack 2 on 2 November with a new unit. Hereafter she drained the brine from the full unit into a container for disposal.
Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
On 23 October Sunita Williams disconnected, lubricated and reconnected the leaking Hydraflow Air Selector Valve of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in Node 3
- Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
SpaceX Dragon Unberthing and Landing
In the days preceding unberthing, cargo was transferred to the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft by ISS Commander Sunita Williams and ISS Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide for return to earth. This included a GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator) freezer, filled with samples. In addition, samples for ESA’s Energy experiment, Portable Pulmonary Function System maintenance items, and the Biolab Life Support Module 3 were on the itinerary of items returned to earth with Dragon.
The Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2) was moved into position by ground controllers on 24 October in preparation of grappling the Dragon spacecraft. On 27 October Williams configured the Robotic Workstations in the European-built Cupola Observation Module and the US laboratory to support robotics operations. Hoshide and Williams hereafter closed the Dragon hatch and removed Atmosphere Revitalization System and data cables from the vestibule between Dragon and Node 2. The following day the remaining cabling was removed from the vestibule, the Node 2 hatch was closed and vestibule depressurization was carried out followed by a leak check.
Unberthing and Landing
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was unberthed from the ISS on 28 October at 12:19 (CET) with Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide as robotic arm operators. Dragon was manoeuvred into release position and released from the robotic arm at 14:28 (CET). After undertaking a series of departure burns the spacecraft eventually was in the correct profile to undertake its deorbit burn (at 19:28 CET). Following atmospheric re-entry and parachute deployment the Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean around 20:20 CET (12:20 local time) a few hundred km west of the California coastline. With the mission complete all related equipment on the ISS has either been reconfigured or removed and stowed. Dragon returned almost a tonne of samples and cargo from orbit. Following the first demo flight in May, this was the first commercial SpaceX Dragon spacecraft mission. Dragon 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 placed in the MELFI units for JAXA’s Resist Tubule experiment (Arabidopsis plant), JAXA’s MICROBE-3 experiment (Microbial Detection Sheets and agar tube), for JAXA’s Medaka Osteoclast payload (water quality strips, Medaka fish) and a waste water sample from the humidifier of JAXA’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility. On 25 October samples were relocated to MELFI-3 from the EXPRESS Rack 6 GLACIER freezer for NASA’s Plant Signalling experiment (seed cassettes) and samples were relocated from MELFI-3 to the EXPRESS Rack 6 GLACIER freezer for NASA’s Human Research Programme (blood mesh bags) for return on SpaceX Dragon (see above). In addition the MELFI-2 freezer was activated in the Kibo laboratory to provide redundancy for cold stowage of science samples and to protect for a possible delay in the return of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft; and the crew removed the failed Electronics Unit from the spare slot in MELFI-1, for return on Dragon. On 30 October and 2 November Hoshide and Williams respectively inserted 16 ice bricks each (half of which were +4 deg C ice bricks, the other half -32 deg C ice bricks) into the MELFI-1 freezer for future storage requirements.
Orbital Debris/ISS Reboost
At the beginning of the reporting period a cloud of orbital debris from a US Thorad Agena launcher was being monitored for the possibility of it coming in close proximity to the ISS. The time of closest approach was calculated to occur on 24 October. However it was subsequently determined that it posed no threat of a collision with the ISS so no further action was required. Further debris from the Iridium 33 communications satellite was being monitored with a total of six close approaches calculated on 1 November (CET). A debris avoidance manoeuvre of the ISS was therefore undertaken using the Progress 48P engines on the night of 31 October to 1 November just after midnight.. The manoeuvre lasted 10 mins , and increased the ISS altitude by 0.6 km placing it at a mean altitude of 413.3 km.
- EVA Preparations
Numerous preparatory activities were carried out in the US Airlock by ISS Commander Sunita Williams and ISS Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide on 31 October, the day before the spacewalk. This included installing batteries and metal oxide carbon dioxide removal canisters inside the US EVA suits, and configuring and preparing EVA tools, tethers and systems. The following day prior to the spacewalk the EVA astronauts (Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide) carried out standard pre-EVA procedures to remove nitrogen from their bodies prior to a spacewalk.
- EVA 1
The EVA started at 13:29 (CET) on 1 November from the US Airlock and lasted 6 hours 37 min. The EVA astronauts installed a bypass to isolate the 2B Photovoltaic Thermal Control System radiator, which is suspected to leak ammonia. Subsequently, the ground commanded the successful deployment of the Trailing Thermal Control Radiator, which had been retracted during the relocation of the P6 truss section during the STS-120 mission in 2007. The EVA astronauts also inspected the port-side Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (one of the major joints which rotate the principal ISS solar arrays.
- Post EVA procedures
Standard procedures were undertaken after the EVA including reconfiguring communications equipment and downlinking EVA camera imagery. The day after the spacewalk these procedures continued with removal of the carbon dioxide absorption canisters and batteries from the EVA suits, dumping and filling EVA suit feedwater tanks, and scrubbing the EVA suit/system water lines for particulate matter.
Soyuz TMA-06M/32S, Expedition 33 Crew: Launch and Docking
Soyuz TMA-06M Launch and Docking
The remaining three members of the ISS Expedition 33 Crew were successfully launched in the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft on flight 32S to the ISS on 23 October at 12:51 CEST (16:51 local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz crew consisted of Soyuz Commander and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and Roscosmos cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin both of whom will be Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 33 and 34 and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford who will be a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 33 and Commander of ISS Expedition 34. Following orbital insertion, Soyuz TMA antennas and solar arrays were deployed and various orbital burns were carried out over the following two days to bring the Soyuz in the vicinity of the ISS to begin docking procedures. Prior to Soyuz TMA-06M docking the ISS crew configured relevant communications and video equipment. The Soyuz spacecraft docked successfully with the Russian Poisk Module on 25 October at 13:29 (CET) bringing the crew of the ISS once again up to a total of six.
Soyuz TMA-06M/32S Post-docking Activities
ISS attitude control was handed back from Russian to US systems after docking. The standard leak check between the Soyuz and the ISS was carried out followed by hatch opening and the usual crew greeting. Quick disconnect clamps were installed by Novitskiy and Yuri Malenchenko at the interface between the Soyuz and the ISS to further stabilise the connection and the standard crew safety briefing followed. High-priority payloads were transferred from the Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS and systems were reconfigured to post-docking configuration. Novitskiy and Tarelkin set up the three Sokol spacesuits (worn in Soyuz) and their gloves for drying out, and the Soyuz spacecraft was deactivated. The new crew members then settled into their crew quarters on the ISS. Cargo transfers from Soyuz 32S started hereafter and continued over the next days along with general ISS orientation and handover activities for the new crew members. On 26 October Novitskiy installed local temperature sensor equipment in the newly arrived Soyuz spacecraft and removed television cameras from the Soyuz three days later (for reuse).
Progress 48P Activities
In addition to cargo transfer activities, ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko and Oleg Novitskiy carried out a vehicle-to-vehicle test of the Russian TORU manual docking system on the ISS between the Russian Service Module and Progress 48P on 26 October. The TORU system allows ISS crew control of the Progress spacecraft from the Russian Service Module should the automatic KURS systems on Progress fail.
Progress M-17M/49P Launch
Yuri Malenchenko and Oleg Novitskiy undertook a refresher training on the Russian TORU manual docking system on 30 October in preparation for Progress 49P docking. The TORU system acts as a manually controlled backup to the automatic Kurs docking system. The session included, rendezvous, fly-around, final approach, docking and off-nominal situations such as video or communications loss. The following day Evgeny Tarelkin set up three incubators/refrigerators in the Russian Service Module, Pirs Docking Module and Rassvet Module for receiving biotechnology experiments delivered on 49P.
Launch and Docking
The Russian Progress M-17M spacecraft on logistics flight 49P to the ISS was launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz-U rocket on 31 October at 08:41 CET (13:35 local time,) with cargo consisting of 930 kg propellants, 50 kg oxygen and air, 420 kg water and 1240 kg dry cargo. The Russian Progress 49P spacecraft docked with the Station at the aft port of the Russian Service at 14:33 (CET) under automatic Kurs system control. This was the second time that a four-orbits-to-docking manoeuvre had been undertaken following launch, with the journey lasting only around six hours rather than the usual two days (or 34 orbits). The exercise is designed to test a shortened transit plan to the station for possible use on future Soyuz missions to the complex, possibly as early as the Soyuz 34S in March 2013. After docking ISS attitude control was returned first to Russian systems and then to US systems.
The standard leak check on the interhatch area and the fuel/oxidizer transfer line interface between Progress 49P and the Russian Service Module was performed on 1 November followed by hatch opening. Hereafter the quick disconnect clamps were installed to stabilise the connection between Progress and the Station, Progress 49P was deactivated and ventilation ducting was installed. The Progress docking mechanism was dismantled and air sampling was carried out in the new logistics spacecraft. Hereafter high priority payloads were transferred to the ISS. The day after docking temperature sensor equipment was installed in Progress 49P and cargo unloading activities continued.
On 31 October Yuri Malenchenko set up, tested and configured experiment hardware for the Russian/German KTP-21 Plasma Crystal-3 Plus (PK-3+) experiment in the Russian “Poisk” Mini Research Module 2. This included leak checking the hardware’s electronics box vacuum chamber and testing the video downlink capabilities. On 2 November Malenchenko continued activities in advance of starting research runs. This included loading new software and undertaking a vacuum leak check on the plasma chamber of the PK-3+ hardware. The main objective of this experiment is to obtain a homogeneous plasma dust cloud at various pressures and particle quantities with or without superimposition of a low frequency harmonic electrical field. The PK-3+ experiment was also undertaken during the Astrolab mission with ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 2 November include: a fit check of Kazbek couches in Soyuz TMA-05M by Malenchenko, Hoshide and Williams; functional closure tests on vacuum valves of the Vozdukh carbon dioxide removal system; different forms of environmental monitoring (formaldehyde, air quality, carbon monoxide, ammonia etc); and swapping manifold bottles on the Combustion Integrated Rack.
(*)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.
ESA Head of ISS Utilisation Department
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer
Weekly reports compiled by ESA's ISS Utilisation Department.
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