This is ISS status report #140 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:
Space Headaches Experiment
Weekly questionnaires were filled in by ISS Commander Kevin Ford (his 18th and 19th) and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn (their 10th and 11th) on 1 and 8 March 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.
On 4 March Russian ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin conducted his second session as a subject of the Immuno experiment, providing blood and saliva samples in addition to filling in a Stress Test Questionnaire. Similar sessions of the experiment were undertaken by ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy (his 2nd) and Roman Romanenko (his 1st) on 5 and 7 March respectively. The cosmonauts assisted each other with the venous blood draw. After the three sessions the blood samples were centrifuged in the Russian Plazma-03 Centrifuge before being inserted into the MELFI-3 freezer unit by one of the US segment-based Flight Engineers (Chris Hadfield or Tom Marshburn). The Immuno experiment is jointly performed under a bilateral 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.
Resupply items for the Energy experiment were transported to the ISS on the SpaceX-2 Dragon spacecraft which berthed to the ISS on 3 March. These were transferred to Columbus following their arrival in preparation for upcoming experiment activities. The Energy experiment aims at determining the energy requirements of astronauts during long-term spaceflights and has so far had two test subjects, ESA astronaut André Kuipers and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
The data gathered allows for the determination of each astronaut’s Total Energy Expenditure which will in turn allow for the calculation of the Activity Energy Expenditure. These results will help with deriving an equation for the energy requirements of astronauts.
ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, on 27 February ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn completed measurements for NASA’s Integrated Cardiovascular experiment assisted by ISS Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield. The session consisted of an echography scan using Human Research Facility 1 equipment in Columbus together with ECG and heart rate measurements being taken. The aim of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment is to determine the degree, development and clinical significance of cardiac atrophy and identify its mechanisms.
Marshburn carried out an ambulatory monitoring session of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment from 5-7 March. This included 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. Relevant data for the experiment was downloaded to the Human Research Facility laptop afterwards.
Hadfield also used the ultrasound equipment on 5 March to undertake a spinal ultrasound scan as part of an investigation to characterise spinal changes during and after spaceflight (assisted by Marshburn).
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.
Succesful troubleshooting was also undertaken to resolve a communication problem (discovered on 6 February) between the two active DOSTEL detectors and the European Physiology Modules facility in which they are located. Ground analysis determined the likely problem was a failed memory card. As such an exchange of memory card was performed on 5 March. After the exchange normal communications could be established with a successful data downlink and data acquisition has now resumed with both passive and active detectors. The active detectors undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements for the experiment.
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 8 March a cumulative total of 76 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 closed on 23 February after a period of data acquisition which started on 11 February. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR, which is located on the external platform of Columbus, are open for the facility to acquire scientific data when the ISS is in the correct orbital profile with relation to the Sun. The SolACES instrument from SOLAR was kept in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) hereafter for the remainder of the reporting period.
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 8 March. One long-duration run was performed to check whether the convective pattern observed in the fluid has reached a steady-state configuration. To do so, the duration of acquisition of the scientific pictures is made significantly longer than the typical thermal times. One no-rotation run was also performed 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 inner spheres and the co-centric shell of the experiment cell. Data for all planned set points for each run (and some additional points) could be gathered. However an issue during the second run indicated that a harddisk of the Video Management Unit in the Fluid Science Laboratory was broken. This was swapped out by Chris Hadfield on 8 March and further analysis is needed to determine if any data is lost from the last research runs.
The Geoflow-2 and -2b experiments (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. The Geoflow-2 investigation 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 which will be the next experiment to take place in the Fluid Science Laboratory 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 characterised. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, and the chemical and food industries.The FASES experiment is due for upload on ATV-4 in June 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 8 March. On 27, 28 February the MICAST-2 sample was processed inside the Solidification and Quenching Furnace of the Materials Science Laboratory. ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield exchanged the MICAST-2 sample for a SETA-2 sample on 8 March. Processing of this sample 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. A new Vessel ID command file was uplinked on 6 March.
The Vessel Identification System has acquired an extensive amount of data for nearly three years since its installation in Columbus. The Vessel Identification System is testing the means to track global maritime traffic from space by picking up signals from standard AIS transponders carried by all international ships over 300 tonnes, cargo vessels over 500 tonnes and all types of passenger carriers. Meanwhile various service entities have been asking to get access to the Vessel ID data which is continuously acquired on Columbus.
Crew User Interface System Enhancement (CRUISE)
The CRUISE technology experiment was successfully started in the two weeks until 8 March. Software was loaded onto the European Drawer Rack laptop in Columbus by ISS Commander Kevin Ford who carried out the first demonstration session the following day. This consisted of a procedure displays activity followed by a Voice Activated Procedure Viewer activity, tested in support of a standard Columbus system procedure (cleaning a Return Grid Housing). The activity went smoothly.
The CRUISE experiment is a technology demonstration testing voice guided procedure execution with real-time command and telemetry elements included, which aims to significantly improve crew members’ operations and performance such as shortening task-to-completion time whilst reducing the occurrence of system-human error.
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 8 March include:
Columbus Video Support
Columbus video equipment was used for filming/downlinking the CRUISE technology demonstration activities in Columbus on 27 February and the Fluid Science Laboratory hard disk exchange on 8 March. Columbus video recording equipment was also used for recording: troubleshooting activities for the Amine Swingbed hardware on 26 February; SpaceX-2 capture and berthing on 3 March; an exercise session of ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device in Node 3 on 5 March; and testing with NASA’s Robonaut robotics hardware on 7 March during KU Band Loss of Signal.
Cabin Heat Exchanger
Cabin Heat Exchanger 1 in Columbus underwent a 16-hour dryout procedure starting on 23 February.
Video and Interconnection Ground Subnetwork (IGS) Migration
Following a set of successful test failures undertaken on 27 February to test automatic failure procedures, migration of the Video and IGS networking equipment between the Columbus Control Centre and NASA’s Huntsville Operations Support Center started on 4 March, firstly upgrading the backup system of the ESA Rack at Hunstville, then switching all traffic to the backup systems and upgrading the primary systems.
In preparation for the ISS power down activities required for the approach, capture and berthing of the SpaceX-2 Dragon spacecraft, a pre-heat of the Columbus external shell was initiated on 2 March.
GLACIER Freezer Installation
ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn installed a GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator) freezer inside EXPRESS Rack 3 in Columbus on 6 March to store research samples at ultra-cold temperatures. The unit will remain unpowered until it is needed. The samples which were launched inside it, have been transferred to the MELFI freezer units on the ISS.
Ham Radio Sessions
Canadian Space Agency astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking ham radio sessions on 25 February and 7 March. Kevin Ford used the equipment for a similar session on 28 February.
In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including the passive Water Pump Assembly 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 8 March include:
Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack: Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
The Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, a subsystem of the Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack in Node 3 was out of use for most of the two week reporting period as one of its valves could not reach its intended position. During this period the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in the US Laboratory took over the function of carbon dioxide removal from the ISS cabin atmosphere. However with new equipment which arrived on the SpaceX-2 Dragon spacecraft maintenance/servicing activities were undertaken on both the Node 3 and US Laboratory Carbon Dioxide Removal Assemblies. Two new generation desiccant/sorbent beds were installed in the Node 3 system and two valves were replaced. One of the replaced dessicant/sorbent beds from the Node 3 system was used as replacement for a degraded unit in the US Laboratory system..
- Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack: Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
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 Russian ISS Flight Engineers Evgeny Tarelkin, Oleg Novitskiy and Roman Romanenko. Samples that arrived in one of the GLACIER freezer units which was installed in Columbus were also transferred to the MELFI units.
Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week reporting period until 8 March to undertake research activities for NASA’s Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures-2 experiment. On 26 February Chris Hadfield installed the research hardware inside the Working Volume of the Microgravity Science Glovebox. After the arrival of the experiment container on SpaceX-2, Hadfield installed it in the Glovebox on 4 March and the experiment was started. Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures-2 is a materials science experiment which studies the growth rate of tin particles suspended in liquid containing molten tin/lead alloy (a process called coarsening).
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.
SpaceX-2 Dragon Launch, and Docking
The second commercial SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (SpaceX-2) was launched into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon-9 launcher from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 1 March at 16:10 CET (10:10 local time). Following insertion into orbit the spacecraft’s solar arrays were deployed but a problem initially occurred in the propulsion system causing lack of pressure to three of the four propulsion chains which lead to lack of thruster control for attitude control and orbital manouevres. However they were eventually pressurised after several attempts though this did lead to additional, but successful, thruster testing to verify proper functionality which caused a slight delay in SpaceX-2 arriving at the Station. Dragon is a commercial unmanned spacecraft under NASA contract.
ISS Arrival Preparations
On 25 February ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield checked out the Commercial UHF Communication Unit (automated rendezvous system) with the SpaceX Control Centre in California. The following day he checked out and installed the Centerline Berthing Camera System in Node 2, used during berthing of the spacecraft to the ISS. Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn also went through training simulations on the ROBoT simulator in preparation for berthing the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.
Capture and Berthing
On 3 March the communications equipment and control panel for the SpaceX Dragon and the Centerline Berthing Camera System at the Node-2 nadir port were activated and the robotic workstations were set up in the US laboratory and Cupola module. The Station’s principal robotic arm was used to capture the SpaceX Dragon on 3 March. This was 24 hours after the original planned date. Dragon was then moved to a hold position before finally being berthed at the Node 2 nadir port. The new ISS logistics spacecraft delivered about 677 kg of cargo, and will return ~1370 kg of downmass after its departure.
After docking, the Cupola Robotic Workstation and Centerline Berthing Camera System were deactivated and removed and the leak check between Node 2 and Dragon took place. After opening the Node 2 nadir hatch the vestibule between Node 2 and Dragon was fitted with necessary jumpers (power, data etc.). The hatch into Dragon was then opened and air ducting was installed. The US laboratory Robotic Workstation and Control Panel for Dragon were also removed and stowed. Over the next few days cargo transfer activities were undertaken, transferring cargo to the ISS and transferring return cargo into Dragon.
Japanese Robotics Activities
Japanese robotic arm tests were successfully undertaken on 28 February. After the robotic arm software was updated, Japanese flight controllers in Tsukuba, Japan manoeuvred the Japanese laboratory’s Small Fine Arm in order to gather data on the robotic arm’s joint angles and sensitivity. This is to verify that the arm can be operated solely from ground to perform routine tasks.
Soyuz TMA-06M/32S and Expedition Crew Return Preparations
Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin carried out orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test sessions using the TVIS treadmill whilst wearing Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit in the two week period until 8 March. 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.
Sokol Leak Check
A leak check of the Sokol suits worn in the Soyuz spacecraft during flight to and from the ISS was undertaken by ISS Commander Kevin Ford and ISS Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin in the Russian segment of the station on 5 March in preparation for return to Earth on 15 March.
Soyuz 32S Descent Drill
A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin on 7 March. The descent drill, which took place in the Descent Module of the Soyuz 32S spacecraft is for the review of 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.
ISS Robotics Activities
On 5 March the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm-2) was used via ground commanding to undertake a survey of the unpressurised cargo area of the Dragon spacecraft in preparation for activities the following day. On 6 March the robotics team at the Mission Control Centre in Houston used Canadarm-2 to extract a pair of grapple bars from the unpressurised cargo area and stowed them temporarily on an external payload attachment point on the Mobile Base System of the Station’s truss. These bars, which together weigh about 270 kilos, can be used to remove failed radiators on the station’s S1 and P1 truss segments, should that ever be deemed necessary. They are scheduled to be moved to the S1 and P1 truss segments during an Expedition 36 spacewalk involving ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 8 March include: upgrading software in the US orbital segment of the ISS; an emergency Soyuz descent drill by the Soyuz 33S crew (Romanenko, Hadfield and Marshburn); replacement of a Russian Joint Station LAN interface router; replacement of a failed gearbox of the Amine Swingbed hardware which is testing a more efficient way of removing carbon dioxide from the ISS cabin atmosphere; remote testing of NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot hardware; and replacement of the manifold bottle in the Combustion Integrated Rack in the Destiny laboratory.
(*)These activities are highlights of the past two weeks and do not include the majority of standard periodic operational/maintenance activities on the ISS or additional research activities not mentioned previously. Information compiled with the assistance of NASA sources.
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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