This is ISS status report #138 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:
Highlight: ESA’s Columbus Laboratory was attached to the European-built Node 2 of the ISS five years ago on 11 February 2008 following its launch to the ISS on 7 February 2008. Columbus was launched on the STS-122 mission aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis which included ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel and Léopold Eyharts who undertook the first steps in commissioning Europe’s permanent ISS Laboratory.
Space Headaches Experiment
Weekly questionnaires were filled in by ISS Commander Kevin Ford (his 16th and 17th) and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn (their 8th and 9th) on 15 and 22 February 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 2012 (for Ford) and Soyuz 33S on 19 December 2012 (for Hadfield and Marshburn).
Headaches can be a common astronaut complaint during space flights. This can negatively affect mental and physical capacities of astronauts/cosmonauts which can influence performance during a space mission.
Reversible Figures Experiment
ISS Commander Kevin Ford carried out his fourth and final session as a subject of the Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 22 February. Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn carried out their third sessions the same day. For each astronaut’s session the experiment instruments were connected to a laptop in the Columbus laboratory before a dedicated visor was donned and the experiment protocol was conducted the in a free-floating position.
The experiment is investigating the adaptive nature of the human neuro-vestibular system in the processing of gravitational information related to 3D visual perception. It involves the comparisons of pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight perceptions with regards to ambiguous perspective-reversible figures to assess the influence of weightlessness. During the science run, a series of ambiguous figures are displayed for about 60-120 seconds and the crew is prompted to specify, by pressing pushbuttons on a mouse, which percept is visualized first and then every subsequent change in perception.
Circadian Rhythms Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn successfully carried out his third session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment from 18 - 20 February. During the session Marshburn donned the Thermolab sensors, on the forehead and chest, and the Thermolab unit. Hereafter measurements were taken for 36 hours. ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield started his third 36-hour session of the experiment on 21 February. This was a repeat of a session carried out from 15 - 17 February which had to be repeated due to a faulty sensor. On 22 February the crew took the opportunity to explain the experiment during a public affairs event that was live streamed to Youtube.
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.
On 12 February ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield upgraded the laptop of the European Physiology Modules facility to a new generation T61p laptop. New software was transferred and installed from the ground and new Cardiolab software was installed by the crew. The same day ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn performed calibration of the Gas Management System of the Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2. The calibration is planned every three years and is required in preparation for future research activities during Expeditions 35/36. The Pulmonary Function System is an ESA/NASA collaboration in respiratory physiology instrumentation, which analyses exhaled gas from astronauts' lungs to provide near-instant data on the state of crew health
ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facilities in Columbus were used for centrifuging blood samples for ISS Commander Kevin Ford and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn in the two weeks until 22 February. This included samples for NASA’s Pro-K/Nutrition /Repository experiment. The samples were then placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezer units. The three non-Russian astronauts also undertook body mass measurement using Human Research Facility equipment on 11 February. Human Research Facility 1 equipment in Columbus was also used for undertaking an ultrasound eye scan for Kevin Ford on 22 February.
Biolab Facility maintenance
On 15 February successful troubleshooting was performed on the Biolab facility by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield removed the Push and Pool Tool which got stuck between the facility incubator and Handling Mechanism working volume. On 20 February Hadfield replaced the rotor belts on the two facility centrifuges and removed Life Support Modules 1 and 2. The old equipment will be returned on the next SpaceX Dragon flight for assessment and refurbishment. Biolab is a multi-user facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates.
Data acquisition has been on-going for the Dose Distribution inside the ISS 3D (DOSIS-3D) experiment using 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. A communication problem, discovered on 6 February, between the two active DOSTEL detectors and the European Physiology Modules facility in which they are located is still undergoing assessment by the relevant engineering team. These detectors undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements. Since the internal memory capacity of the active DOSTEL detectors only allows for about a month of data recording, it is assumed that science data is currently being lost.
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 TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment. Up until 22 February a cumulative total of 62 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.
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 62nd) for the Solar facility to acquire data opened on 11 February. 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. The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was kept in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) until 13 February in connection with the docking of Progress 50P. SolACES was then cooled down in order to undertake science acquisition. SolACES was placed back in warm-up configuration on 21 February in connection with an ISS reboost the following day. On 15 February the Solar facility celebrated its fifth year in orbit since its installation on Columbus.
The SOLAR payload facility is studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range. 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.
Geoflow-2b and FASES Experiments 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 22 February. Two long-duration runs were performed to check whether the convective pattern observed in the fluid has reached a steady-state configuration. Three other no-rotation 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.
All science images and Microgravity Measurement Apparatus data acquired during the scientific runs have been successfully downlinked for analysis.
In addition, on 13 February the Central Experiment Module software of the Fluid Science Laboratory was downgraded to a previous version as part of troubleshooting measures. After the downgrade successful automatic testing of the facility’s Central Experiment Module and Optical Diagnostic Module were performed. The most recent software was again reloaded and the same test undertaken. The Optical Diagnostic Module test was performed without any errors, however the Central Experiment Module experienced a previous problem which prevents it transitioning to an optical mode needed for the upcoming FASES experiment. This optical mode can be set once the Central Experiment Module errors are cleared (as is currently undertaken for the Geoflow-2b experiment) though forward planning to resolve the issue is still under way.
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.
The FASES experiment investigates the effect of surface tension on the stability of emulsions. Thin emulsions of different compositions will be stored inside sample cells through which the emulsions will be optically and thermally characterized. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, chemical industry and food industry.The FASES experiment is due for upload on ATV-4 in April 2013 with immediate execution following docking.
Materials Science Laboratory
Research activities continued for the Batch 2a experiments (MICAST-2, CETSOL-2, SETA-2) in the two weeks until 22 February. On 12 February ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield exchanged the CETSOL-2 sample (which had been processed inside the Materials Science Laboratory from 6-7 February) for a MICAST-2 sample. Processing of the MICAST-2 sample inside the Solidification and Quenching Furnace of the Materials Science Laboratory is currently undergoing planning.
ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1 in the US Laboratory. 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.
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 22 February include:
Columbus 5th Anniversary
ESA’s Columbus Laboratory was attached to the European-built Node 2 of the ISS five years ago on 11 February 2008 following its launch to the ISS on 7 February 2008. Columbus was launched on the STS-122 mission aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis which included ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel and Léopold Eyharts who undertook the first steps in commissioning Europe’s permanent ISS Laboratory.
Columbus Video Camera Upgrade
A new HD video camera was installed in Columbus by NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn on 12 February. This was followed by a successful checkout.
Columbus Video Support
Columbus video equipment was used for filming/downlinking the European Physiology Modules laptop upgrade, Pulmonary Function System calibration, and video camera upgrade activities on 12 February; Biolab maintenance activities on 15 February; and ultrasound eye scan activities on 22 February. Columbus video recording equipment was also used for recording: activities with the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US Laboratory on 13 February; testing with NASA’s Robonaut robotics hardware on 14, 15 February; JAXA robotics operations on 18 February (during KU Band Loss of Signal); and from 18 - 20 February for the InSpace-3 experiment inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox in the US Laboratory during KU Band Loss of Signal.
Ham Radio Session
Tom Marshburn used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking a ham radio session on 9 February.
Internal Thermal Control System
ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford used the Fluid Servicing System to carry out a refill of the Internal Thermal Control System cooling loops in Columbus, with about 3 litres of water coolant, on 14 February (following similar procedures in other US segment modules on 12, 13 February). Canadian Space Agency astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield collected a coolant sample during the activities for return to Earth on SpaceX-2 for analysis.
Emergency On-board Training
The Columbus Control Centre took part in a joint Emergency On-board Training session with the ISS crew and all the other ISS ground centres on 14 February. The training session was to simulate response for an on-board ammonia leak.
European Drawer Rack Software Update
Software for the European Drawer Rack and its laptop was upgraded on 21 February with the rack software upgraded from ground and the laptop software upgraded by Chris Hadfield on orbit.
In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including the passive Water Pump Accumulator checkout, Water On/Off Valve cycling, and smoke detector tests.
Activities in the European-built Node 3
Regenerative ECLSS and Additional Environmental Control Racks
The two Water Recovery System racks, together with the Oxygen Generation System rack, form the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) which is necessary in support of a six-person ISS crew to help reduce upload mass. Other environmental control racks in Node 3 include an Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack and a Waste and Hygiene Compartment. Highlights of the two weeks until 22 February include:
Water Recovery System racks: Software upgrades
The software for the Urine Processor Assembly in Water Recovery System rack 2 was upgraded by ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn on 11 February. The upgraded software mainly optimises the Urine Processor Assembly operations from the ground. It calculates when the Recycle Filter Tank Assemblies/Advanced Recycle Filter Tank Assemblies need to be replaced or emptied. It also terminates the processing cycle and isolates the assemblies from the Waste Storage Tank Assembly on shutdown/stop to prevent its bellows from over-extension. Marshburn also upgraded software for the Water Processor Assembly in the Water Recovery System racks on 14 February.
Water Recovery System racks: Water Recycle Tank
Kevin Ford replaced a water recycle tank in one of the Water Recovery System racks on 22 February.
- Water Recovery System racks: Software upgrades
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 NASA's Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol (blood, urine).
Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active between 11 - 20 February to undertake NASA research activities (6 experiment runs) for the InSPACE-3 (Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions 3) experiment. This completes all 47 runs of the experiment. The hardware was removed from the Glovebox on 21 February and stowed. 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 Chris Hadfield and Kevin Ford. On 22 February the Glovebox was activated to carry out the yearly certification inspections and sensor analysis (also carried out by Chris Hadfield).
Progress M-16M/48P Undocking/Deorbit
On 9 February Progress M-16M/48P successfully undocked from the Russian Pirs Docking Compartment at 14:15 (CET). Three minutes later Progress 48P performed its first separation burn to move to a safe distance from the ISS. About three hours after undocking the Progress spacecraft undertook its deorbit burn to place it into a planned destructive reentry into Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
Progress M-17M/49P Activities
In addition to loading of Progress 49P with items for disposal, the thrusters of Progress 49P were used to undertake a reboost of the ISS on 22 February. The ISS was reboosted to a higher orbiting altitude in connection with phasing for undocking of Soyuz TMA-06M and docking of Soyuz TMA-08M, both in March.
Progress M-18M/50P Launch
Launch and Docking
The Russian Progress M-18M spacecraft on logistics flight 50P to the ISS was launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz-U rocket on 11 February at 14:41 CET (19:41 local time,) with cargo consisting of 800 kg propellants, 50 kg oxygen and air, 420 kg water and 1350 kg dry cargo. The Russian Progress 50P spacecraft docked with the Station at the Pirs Docking Compartment at 21:35 (CET) under automatic Kurs system control. This was the third 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 50P and the Pirs Docking Compartment was performed on 12 February followed by hatch opening by ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts, Roman Romanenko and Oleg Novitskiy. Hereafter the quick disconnect clamps were installed to stabilise the connection between Progress and the Station, Progress 50P 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 the crew could start transferring cargo to the ISS. The following day the control panel of the Russian TORU manual docking system was removed from the Russian Service Module and stowed. The TORU system acts as a manually controlled backup to the automatic Kurs docking system.
SpaceX Dragon Preparations
In the two weeks until 22 February the station residents were preparing for the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in March. This included packing items for return to earth in the logistics spacecraft. The non-Russian crew also undertook robotics traing for the arrival of the Dragon spacecraft, practicing the capture and berthing of the logistics spacecraft with the Station’s principal robotic arm.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 22 February include: Upgrading software in the US orbital segment of the ISS; swapping out the Vehicle Cabin Atmosphere Monitor locker in EXPRESS rack 2; replacing two manifold bottles in the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US Laboratory; replacing a power supply system in the Russian Zarya Module; remote testing of NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot hardware; replacing condensate lines in the Russian Service Module; scrubbing EVA suit/system water lines for particulate matter; collecting water samples for on-board sampling and return to earth for analysis; replacing a water separator in the US laboratory; a Soyuz seat fit check by ISS Commander Kevin Ford and ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin in the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft in preparation for return to Earth; removing an antenna switching unit; replacing a treadmill vibration isolation system gyroscope cable; and additional environmental sampling activities.
(*)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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