ESA title
Columbus logo
Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 142 Increment 35: 23 March – 5 April 2013

09/04/2013 826 views 0 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #142 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
ISS Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn filled in weekly questionnaires (their 14th and 15th) on 29 March and 5 April for 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 in Soyuz 33S on 19 December 2012. 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.

Energy Experiment
The Energy experiment, which aims at determining the energy requirements of astronauts during long-term spaceflight, started on 26 March with ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn as the second test subject (following on from ESA astronaut André Kuipers and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide). Marshburn consumed dedicated food on the first day of the experiment and a baseline drinking water sample was taken from the Potable Water Dispenser (from which Marshburn drank for the duration of the experiment).

On the second day a baseline urine sample was provided by Marshburn prior to imbibing a Double Labelled Water isotope. Oxygen Uptake Measurements were also undertaken on Marshburn at rest using the ESA/NASA Pulmonary Function System in order to measure Resting Metabolic Rate. After consuming a dedicated breakfast Marshburn carried out additional Oxygen Uptake Measurements and provided additional urine samples to determine what level of Double Labelled Water is directly excreted from the body. For the remainder of the 11-day period, Tom Marshburn logged his dietary intake (daily) and provided urine samples every other day and water samples were taken. On the last day of the experiment (5 April) Marshburn transferred the activity data from the Energy Armband he had been wearing through the experiment to the laptop of the European Physiology Modules Facility for downlink and all dietary data logs were transferred to ground.

At the end of the experiment period the data gathered will allow for the determination of Tom Marshburn’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 which will allow for optimal planning when considering upload of food supplies to be sufficient but not excessive. ISS Commander Chris Hadfield will be the next test subject for the experiment.


ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facilities in Columbus were used for undertaking ultrasound eye scans for Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn on 4 April. The scans are gathering information on intraocular pressure and eye anatomy.


Biology Research
Seedling Growth Experiment
The joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth experiment was started in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) in Columbus on 21 March following ground commanding to hydrate the seeds in the experiment containers. The seeds were kept at 1g with white light for 4 days to allow them to germinate and grow. On the 5th day, the rotor in which the experiment containers were installed was stopped, exposing the seedlings to 0g, and at the same time, photostimuli (red or blue light from the side) was started and the response of the seedlings to these conditions was observed for 2 days. On 28 March Marshburn removed the samples from the European Modular Cultivation System and placed them in one of the European-built MELFI freezers on orbit. He also set up experiment containers for run 2 of the experiment.

The Seedling Growth experiment is in total a series of three experiments until 2015 where the last experiment also uses the ESA developed FixBox. Seedling Growth builds on previous space flight experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana seeds and studies the effects of various gravity levels on the growth responses of plant seedlings (roots and shoots; wild type and genetically modified). The research will provide insight into the cultivation of plants during space flight on long-term missions. Understanding plant development mechanisms will also aid in improving crop production and agricultural yields on Earth.


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 detectors (as the second set of passive detectors were returned to earth for scientific analysis on Soyuz 32S which landed on 16 March). A new set of passive detectors were transported to the ISS on Soyuz 34S which docked with the Station on 29 March. These were deployed at various locations around the Columbus laboratory on 3 April by ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy. As such data acquisition with both active and passive detectors is once again underway. On 5 April the monthly data downlink was performed via the European Physiology Modules in which the active detectors are installed and a memory card was exchanged.

The active detectors undertake time-dependent cosmic radiation measurements for the experiment, while 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 5 April a cumulative total of 104 days of data has been gathered using its active cosmic radiation detector hardware and passive detectors located inside the Columbus laboratory. On 26 March the science team confirmed that the instrument is functioning normally based on the assessment of the data that was recently downlinked. 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 63rd) for the Solar facility to acquire data closed on 26 March (having been open since 16 March). 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 placed in a  warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) on 27 March.  

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range for 5 years. 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 and FASES Experiments in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
Science runs for the Geoflow-2b experiment inside the Fluid Science Laboratory were restarted on 2 April with data being directly transferred to ground rather than being recorded while an FSL Video Management Unit error is being resolved. Two non-rotation runs were undertaken: a long-duration run with the high voltage set to the highest possible value and a normal-duration run with the high voltage set to an intermediary value. The normal-duration run which started on 4 April completed all 8 of its set points. For the long-duration run For the long-duration run, which started on 2 April the data set is not yet complete due to Ku-band communications unit maintenance activities that took longer than expected on 3 April and the High Rate Communications Outage Recorder functionality was not available at all times during the loss of Ku-band. Some of the lost data points will be repeated in the future.

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 44 individual 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.


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.

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.


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  5 April include:

  • Ham Radio Sessions
    ISS Commander and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking a ham radio session with a school in Macon, Georgia on 3 April.
  • Columbus Video Support
     Columbus video recording equipment was used for recording during: the unberthing/release of the SpaceX-2 Dragon spacecraft on 26 March, the docking of Soyuz 34S on 29 March, and the Ku-band Communication Unit installation at the beginning of April.
  • Weekly Activities
    In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including cycling of Interface Heat Exchanger valves, the passive Water Pump Assembly checkout, Water On/Off Valve cycling, and smoke detector tests.


SpaceX Dragon Unberthing and Landing

  • Unberthing Preparations
    Transfer of return cargo to the SpaceX-2 spacecraft was completed by Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn on 25 March. This included the GLACIER 1 freezer that was removed from EXPRESS Rack 2 (with samples) and samples from the MELFI freezer units. Hereafter they closed the hatch into the Dragon spacecraft and removed Atmosphere Revitalization System and data cables from the vestibule between Dragon and Node 2 and closed the Node 2 hatch. The Dragon communications unit and control panel were installed along with additional equipment needed for the unberthing. Ground controllers also manoeuvred the Station’s principal robotic arm into position for unberthing the Dragon spacecraft.
  • Unberthing and Landing
     The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was unberthed from the ISS on 26 March at 11:56 (CET) with Hadfield and Marshburn as robotic arm operators on the ISS. Dragon was manoeuvred into release position and released from the robotic arm. After undertaking a series of departure burns the spacecraft eventually was in the correct profile to undertake its deorbit burn. Following atmospheric re-entry and parachute deployment the Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean around 17:34 CET (09:34 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. The undocking occurred one day later than originally scheduled due to bad weather at the landing site. Dragon returned around 1200 kg of cargo of samples and cargo from orbit. This was the second commercial SpaceX Dragon spacecraft mission. Dragon is a commercial unmanned spacecraft under NASA contract.


Soyuz TMA-08M/34S and Expedition 35/36 Crew Launch and Docking

  • Soyuz TMA-08M Launch and Docking
    The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft was launched on flight 34S to the ISS on 28 March at 21:43 CET (02:43 local time on 29 March) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew consisted of Roscosmos cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. Misurkin and Cassidy are Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 35 and 36. Vinogradov is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 35 and will become ISS Commander for Expedition 36. Following orbital insertion, Soyuz TMA antennas and solar arrays were deployed. This was the first time that a four-orbits-to-docking manoeuvre had been undertaken for a Soyuz (crewed) launch, with the journey lasting only around six hours rather than the usual two days (or 34 orbits). This had been tested on a number of recent Progress launches to the ISS. Prior to Soyuz TMA docking the ISS crew configured relevant communications and video equipment. The Soyuz spacecraft docked successfully with the Russian “Poisk” Mini Research Module 2 on 29 March at 03:28 (CET). This brought the crew of the ISS once again up to a total of six with ISS Commander and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn (NASA) and Roman Romanenko (Roscosmos) having been on the ISS since December 2012.
  • Soyuz TMA-08M 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 and, on completion, the hatches were opened and the usual crew greeting took place. Quick disconnect clamps were installed at the interface between the Soyuz and the ISS to further stabilise the connection, and the Russian crew members then started transfer of high priority cargo to the ISS. The standard crew safety briefing followed and the Soyuz spacecraft was deactivated.


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 5 April include:
    • Water Recovery System 2: Urine Processor Assembly
      The Fluids Control and Pump Assembly in the Urine Processor Assembly was replaced by ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn due to a failure that occurred in the Urine Processor Assembly. However, the Urine Processor Assembly is till not functioning properly. Experts currently suspect that too much water accumulated in the Distillation Assembly condenser in the time following the failure of the Fluids Control and Pump Assembly. A short hose has been installed between the Distillation Assembly and Fluids Control and Pump Assembly to drain water out of the condenser and reduce the Distillation Assembly pressure to normal values before Urine Processor Assembly processing can resume.


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 the joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth experiment as well as generic urine samples. In addition samples were transferred from the MELFI units for return to earth on SpaceX-2 and ISS Comander Chris Hadfield inserted 72 ice bricks (18 of which were +4 deg C ice bricks, 54 of which were -32 deg C ice bricks) into the MELFI-1 and MELFI-3 freezer units for future storage requirements.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week reporting period until 5 April to undertake research activities for NASA’s Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures-2 materials science experiment and NASA’s Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) experiment, which makes use of NASAs Smoke Point In Coflow Experiment (SPICE) hardware inside the Glovebox. The Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures-2 experiment was concluded on 24 March with hardware removed from the Glovebox on 1 April. NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy also configured the SPICE hardware for the BASS experiment on 1 April. On 4 April Cassidy completed the hardware set up for the BASS experiment operations. The following day the first samples were processed.

The Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures-2 experiment studies the growth rate of tin particles suspended in liquid containing molten tin/lead alloy (a process called coarsening).  BASS is testing combustion characteristics of solid fuel samples in order to gain unique data which will help improve numerical modelling, and hence improve design tools and practical combustion on Earth by increasing combustion efficiency and reducing pollutant emission for practical combustion devices.

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.

ISS Reboost
The ISS was reboosted to a higher orbiting altitude on 3 April in connection with phasing for the upcoming Soyuz 33S undocking on 14 May and the Expedition 36/37 launch in Soyuz 35S at the end of May. The reboost lasting 4 min 37 sec was carried out using Progress 49P rendezvous and docking thrusters and increased ISS altitude by 2.1 km.

Ku-Band Communications Unit Installation
On 2 April installation procedures started for upgrading Ku-band communications on the ISS. Marshburn and Hadfield spent much of their day on replacing a Video Baseband Signal Processor with the new High Rate Communications System hardware that will increase the number of station downlink video channels from four to six, the number of space-to-ground audio channels from two to four, increase up and downlink bandwidth as well as additional improved functionality. The Ku-band is a frequency used primarily for satellite communications, and specifically for ISS communications. Following installation of Ku-Band Communications Unit 2, teams at the Johnson Space Center loaded new software and verified good network connectivity. Following additional installation activities the next day successful activation and testing of the newly installed unit was undertaken. A telemetry problem did occur hereafter with about six and half hours of lost telemetry from the new unit though the problem was discovered and resolved. Another new Ku-Band Communications Unit will be installed in the near future.


Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 5 April include: installation of an EXPRESS Logistics Carrier fibre optic cable to correct an onboard issue with the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier High Rate Data Link interface to the Improved Automated Payload Switch; installation of a GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator) freezer unit into EXPRESS Rack 2 in the US laboratory; replacing a hard drive and uploading new software of the EXPRESS Rack 1 laptop; maintenance on the combustion chamber of the Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack in the Kibo laboratory; and replacing two manifold bottles in the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US 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.

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.

Subscribe to the mailing list through the link to the right and receive a notification when the latest status report is made available online.


Subscribe to the mailing list through the link to the right and receive a notification when the latest status report is made available online.

Related Links