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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 137 Increment 34 : 12 January 2012 – 25 January 2013

29/01/2013 809 views 2 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #137 from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s science-related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past two weeks for different European experiments and experiment facilities.

The report is compiled by ESA’s ISS Utilisation and Astronaut Support Department in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus Operations teams from the ISS Programme and Exploration Department.

ISS Utilisation Programme
The principal focus of the European utilisation of the ISS is the Columbus laboratory, which was launched and permanently attached to the ISS in February 2008. In addition to the science taking place using the internal and external experiment facilities of the Columbus laboratory, ESA also has some further on-going research taking place inside the Russian Segment of the ISS and in the US Destiny laboratory within international scientific collaboration agreements. 

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

Human Research
Space Headaches Experiment
Weekly questionnaires were filled in by ISS Commander Kevin Ford (his 12th and 13th) and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn (their 4th and 5th)  on 18 and 25 January as part of the Space Headaches experiment, which is determining the incidence and characteristics of headaches occurring within astronauts in orbit. The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 32S on 23 October (for  Ford) and Soyuz 33S on 19 December (for Hadfield and Marshburn).

Headaches can be a common 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 Chris Hadfield successfully carried out his second session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment from 18 - 20 January. During the session Hadfield donned the Thermolab sensors, on the forehead and chest, and the Thermolab unit. Hereafter measurements were taken for 36 hours. ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn successfully carried out his second 36-hour session of the experiment from 20 - 22 January. These sessions used a new spare harness for the Thermolab temperature probes as a session of the experiment for Marshburn, which started on 14 January, had to be aborted due to the failure of the cable linking the temperature sensors and the Thermolab electronic box. Data downlink from the Thermolab Sensor Unit will be undertaken via ESA’s Portable Pulmonary Function System.

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.

Immuno Experiment
On 15 January Russian ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Oleg Novitskiy conducted his first session as a subject of the Immuno experiment, providing blood and saliva samples in addition to filling in a Stress Test Questionnaire. A similar session of the experiment was undertaken by Russian ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin the following day. The cosmonauts assisted each other with the venous blood draw. After both sessions the blood samples were centrifuged in the Russian Plazma-03 Centrifuge before being inserted into the MELFI-3 freezer unit. The Immuno experiment is performed under a cooperation agreement with Roscosmos.

The aim of the IMMUNO experiment is to determine changes in stress and immune responses, during and after a stay on the ISS. This will include the sampling of saliva and blood to check for hormones associated with stress response and for carrying out white blood cell analysis, as well as filling out periodic stress level questionnaires. The results will help in developing pharmacological tools to counter unwanted immunological side-effects during long-duration missions in space.

Percutaneous Electrical Muscle Stimulator 2 (PEMS-2)
On 17 January ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield performed a successful checkout of the PEMS-2 device which will be needed for activities with the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) in the Columbus laboratory. The PEMS device supports neuromuscular research and will be used to deliver electrical pulse stimulation to non-thoracic muscle groups of the human test subject, thereby creating contractile responses from the muscles. 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. MARES consists of an adjustable chair with a system of pads and levers that fit to each astronaut and cover different movements; the 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.


ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, the Human Research Facilities in Columbus were used for centrifuging blood samples for NASA’s Pro-K/Nutrition /Repository experiment on 21 January for Tom Marshburn, and on 22 January for Chris Hadfield. The samples were then placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units.

ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn carried out an Ambulatory Monitoring session of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment from 18 to 20 January. The NASA Integrated Cardiovascular experiment consists of an ultrasound echo session and an Ambulatory Monitoring session, which includes 24-hr blood pressure measurement using ESA's Cardiopres device, 48-hr ECG measurement with a holter device and 48-hr activity measurements using two Actiwatches. The associated ultrasound scan using Human Research Facility 1 equipment was carried out on Marshburn on 22 January along with ECG and heart rate measurements being taken, with Kevin Ford assisting as Crew Medical Officer. The aim of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment is to determine the degree, development and clinical significance of cardiac atrophy and identify its mechanisms.

The three non-Russian crew members (Hadfield, Marshburn, and Ford) also used the ultrasound equipment to undertake spinal ultrasound scans for the first time as part of an investigation to characterise spinal changes during and after spaceflight, and ultrasound eye scans to study the effect of weightlessness on eyesight.


Biology Research
Kubik-6 Incubator Maintenance
On 24 January, Chris Hadfield carried out an inspection and replacement activity on seals of the Kubik Interface Drawer front panel located in the European Drawer Rack in Columbus.


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 DOSTEL detectors located inside the European Physiology Modules facility to undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements, and a second set of passive detectors (delivered on Soyuz 32S) which were installed in different locations around Columbus on 26 October 2012. This followed up from the first set of passive detectors which gathered data in the Columbus laboratory from May to September 2012 before being returned to earth for analysis. The passive detectors are used in order to undertake 'area dosimetry' i.e. to measure the spatial radiation gradients inside the Columbus module.

The aim of the DOSIS-3D experiment is to determine the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside the ISS and follows on from the DOSIS experiment previously undertaken in the Columbus laboratory. Comparison of the dose rates for the DOSIS-3D and the DOSIS experiments shows a difference in dose level which can be explained due to the different altitude of the Station during the measurements. The DOSIS-3D experiment will build on the data gathered from the DOSIS experiment by combing data gathered in Columbus with ISS International Partner data gathered in other modules of the ISS.

TriTel Experiment
Data acquisition has been on-going for the TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment. Up until 25 January a cumulative total of 34 days of data has been gathered using its active cosmic radiation detector hardware and passive detectors located inside the Columbus laboratory. The active detector hardware includes three different detector types which are able to provide a 3-dimensional mapping of radiation entering Columbus i.e determining the time-dependent level of radiation and direction with which it travels into/through Columbus. The active detector hardware has been active since 6 November 2012. The accompanying set of passive detectors (which were launched on Soyuz 33S)  have been installed in the Columbus laboratory since 22 December 2012.


Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 61st) for the Solar facility to acquire data opened on 17 January. 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. Science acquisition activities were halted temporarily in connection with the Robotic Refuelling Mission activities (see ISS general system information and activities below). The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was taken out of a warm-up configuration during the Sun Visibility Window. While outside of a Sun Visibility Window the SolACES instrument remained in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation). The current observation window is scheduled to close on 30 January.

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range currently for nearly five 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.


Fluids Research
Geoflow-2b Experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
Science runs and additional activities for the Geoflow-2b experiment inside the Fluid Science Laboratory continued in the two-week period until 25 January. On 14 January an optical fine-tuning test was continued to gather additional images at various camera and optical setup settings, in order to best improve the quality of the science images. Five no-rotation runs were carried out between 14 - 24 January. Two of these runs completed data acquisition for all the set points. One run was missing data for just one (of 14) set point. One run completed 8 (of 25) set points due to delays starting the science run and the fifth run experienced a glitch in the Video Management Unit causing the loss of images for a few set points. Any missing set points will be rescheduled in the future. All five experiment runs were investigating lower central Rayleigh numbers (dimensionless number associated with buoyancy driven flow indicating the presence and strength of convection within a fluid body). The experiment set up called for a high voltage difference across the two spheres within the experiment container. A number of errors were again experienced during the FSL activation sequences for the Central Experiment Module and Optical Diagnostic Module but these were recovered. This has caused a delay in starting the scheduled experiment runs. All science images and Microgravity Measurement Apparatus data acquired during the scientific runs have been successfully downlinked for analysis.

Geoflow-2 and -2b (which follow on from the initial Geoflow experiment with new scientific objectives and a different experiment configuration) are investigating the flow of an incompressible viscous fluid held between two concentric spheres rotating about a common axis as a representation of a planet. This is of importance for astrophysical and geophysical problems such as global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets. For Geoflow-2 and -2b the incompressible fluid is nonanol which varies in viscosity with temperature (unlike silicon oil as in the first Geoflow experiment) to provide a different aspect of research with more of a simulation to Earth’s geophysical conditions. Geoflow-2 has already undertaken about 14 months of research from March 2011 – May 2012. Geoflow-2b is physically still the same experiment set up as Geoflow-2, only with a different set of scientific boundary variables.

Current testing and functional upgrade activities for the Fluid Science Laboratory are also being undertaken in advance of the FASES experiment which is due for upload on ATV-4 in April 2013 and immediately following execution.


Materials Research
Materials Science Laboratory
A successful check-out of the repaired Solidification Quenching Furnace (in the Materials Science Laboratory), containing a Sample Cartridge Assembly for the MICAST-2 experiment installed inside, was completed on 15 January. Activities included a  facility leak check, chamber venting, and progressive heating of the Sample Cartridge Assembly up to 500 deg C. All temperatures were confirmed to be stable, and  good thermal coupling was confirmed between the Solidification Quenching Furnace cool zone and the Sample Cartridge Assembly. Activities were concluded with the furnace being brought back down to ambient temperature.

With the checkout complete, research activities for the Batch 2a experiments (MICAST-2, CETSOL-2, SETA-2) were successfully restarted on 23 January with the processing of a MICAST-2 sample. Sample processing was completed by the following day.

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.

Very promising preliminary scientific results have already been presented from the first batch of CETSOL/MICAST samples that were processed in Materials Science Laboratory in 2009/2010 which constitutes an excellent basis for further materials research with international collaboration.


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. On 10 January an update of the Command Time Table was transferred successfully to the Norais receiver and started executing commands for a sampling experiment in the Mediterranean and Pacific Ocean. This sampling experiment was completed on 13 January

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.

NightPod Tracking Device
The ISS crew used the NightPod device on 20 and 24 January to take some night photographs of Earth from the ESA-built Cupola Observation Module. The NightPod 'tracking device' supports a Nikon 3DS camera in taking high-definition pictures of the Earth, especially at night. In a global outreach effort. The footage will be available for the public on the internet. The payload will also be used for education purposes in order to teach children and students about geography and demographic distribution on Earth.


Education Activities
SPHERES Robotics
Video filmed on the ISS during the recent SPHERES Zero-Robotics Competition was downlinked to the ground on 13/14 January. The SPHERES Zero-Robotics Competition was supported from the Erasmus building of ESA’s ESTEC facility in the Netherlands with European high-school teams present for the livelink competition event with Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn on the Space Station. The algorithms used to control the free-floating satellites inside the ISS during this session were written by competing students from eighteen European teams and twenty-seven US teams.


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  25 January include:

  • Columbus Video Support
    Columbus video equipment was  used on 21 and 23 January for filming/recording the spinal ultrasound sessions in the Columbus laboratory. Columbus video recording equipment was also used on 15 January  for recording activities on NASA’s Combustion Integrated Rack, and ISERV payload in the US laboratory; on 17/18 January in support of Robonaut activities; and on 24 January during a session (Oleg Novitskiy’s) on the ARED exercise device in Node 3.
  • Water Pump Assembly
    On 13 January a switch over from Water Pump Assembly 1 to the Water Pump Assembly 2 in Columbus, in order to support sampling activities for the Internal Thermal Control System, was unsuccessful, with a pump rotor’s failure to start the likely cause. As such operations currently continue using Water Pump Assembly 1.  Troubleshooting of Water Pump Assembly 2 was undertaken on 21 January to verify the availability of its repressurisation/ depressurisation functionality. The system is currently without pump redundancy though a spare unit is being manifested for launch on one of the upcoming flights. Troubleshooting is on-going.
  • Water On/Off Valve Installation
    A newly designed Water On/Off Valve was installed and checked out in the Columbus Low Temperature Loop lines by ISS Flight Engineer and CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield on 18 January, supported by Kevin Ford. This new valve replaces the manifold that was installed in 2010. This new type of valve only requires cycling every six months rather than every week like the standard valves. In order to undertake the replacement, EXPRESS Rack 3 in Columbus needed to be rotated forward to access the maintenance site. Following this maintenance, the crew inspected two adjacent Water On/Off Valves and reported signs of contamination on one of them and a potential issue with its manual override mechanism. Ground teams are assessing the situation and developing a forward plan.
  • Knee Brace replacement
    ISS Commander Kevin Ford and ISS Flight Enginer Tom Marshburn (both representing NASA) performed replacement of a Knee Brace Assembly at the D3 Rack in the Columbus laboratory on 14 January. The rack had to be tilted forward to undertake the replacement which was supported by video equipment in the Columbus laboratory. The braces enable a crew member to remain still during science and maintenance work.
  • Weekly Activities
    In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including Water On/Off Valve cycling, and smoke detector tests.


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 ESA’s Immuno experiment (blood, saliva) for Roscosmos cosmonauts and ISS Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, and for NASA’s Pro-K/Nutrition /Repository experiment (blood, urine) for ISS Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn (NASA) and Chris Hadfield (CSA).

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active four times between 14 - 25 January to undertake NASA research activities (seven experiment runs) for the InSPACE-3 (Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions 3) experiment. InSPACE-3 studies the fundamental behaviour of magnetic colloidal fluids under the influence of various magnetic fields. On-orbit activities for the experiment were undertaken by Kevin Ford and Chris Hadfield.

ISS Reboost
Progress 49P, which is docked to the aft port of the ISS Service Module, performed a reboost of the ISS on 16 January. The reboost placed the ISS in the correct orbital profile for the arrival of the Progress 50P logistics spacecraft in February. The reboost increased the mean altitude of the ISS by around 1.5 km.

Extrensive activities were undertaken in the two week period until 25 January in connection with the Robotics Refuelling Mission which used the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2) and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre) to test techniques to service and refuel satellites to extend their original missions. Canadarm 2 and Dextre made use of specific hardware/tools stowed on EXPRESS Logistics Carrier-4, located on the Station’s truss, which simulate a satellite and the necessary tools needed for such a mission. Over the course of a number of days starting on 14 January, ground controllers used Canadarm 2 and Dextre to cut cap retention wires on the hardware, removed and stored safety caps in order to expose a fill/drain valve positioned on the Robotics Refuelling Mission hardware, attached a nozzle to the valve and simulated refuelling a satellite.

In Addition to the Robotics Refuelling Mission activities, on 25 January a survey of both the Materials International Space Station Experiment-8 (MISSE-8) payload located on an EXPRESS Logistics Carrier, and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 located on the Station’s truss were undertaken.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until  25 January include: an emergency evacuation drill by the ISS crew which simulates an emergency event such as a fire, pressure leak or toxic chemical release; replacing manifold bottles and cartridges in NASA’s Combustion Integrated Rack; routing Ethernet and video cables for a new high-rate communications system in the US laboratory; remote testing of NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot hardware; troubleshooting on recently installed ISERV payload due to ground network issues; installation of sensors in the US laboratory to observe high frequency noise levels generated by ISS hardware and equipment; maintenance on the Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System which is currently not operational; and replacing a spacesuit heat exchanger in the US Airlock.


(*)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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