This is ISS status report #144 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
ISS Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn filled in weekly questionnaires (their 18th and 19th) on 26 April and 3 May 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.
Circadian Rhythms Experiment
ISS Commander Chris Hadfield successfully carried out his fifth and final session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment from 24 - 26 April. 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 completed his fifth and final 36-hour session of the experiment from 30 April - 2 May.
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.
Reversible Figures Experiment
ISS Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn carried out their fourth and final sessions as subjects of the Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 26 April. 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.
Vessel Imaging Experiment
The Vessel Imaging experiment (in conjunction with NASAs Integrated Cardiovascular experiment)) came to a successful conclusion of all on-orbit activities for all test subjects on 2 May with Tom Marshburn undertaking the final ultrasound scanning session. The session consisted of an echography scan for both experiments using Human Research Facility 1 equipment in Columbus together with ECG and heart rate measurements being taken. On the ESA side support came from DAMEC and CADMOS, two of the User Support and Operations Centres for ESA, via the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany. The science team have confirmed good imagery from the scans.
Marshburn also started out his final ambulatory monitoring session of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment on 3 May. This will include 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.
ESAs Vessel Imaging experiment evaluates the changes in central and peripheral blood vessel wall properties and cross sectional areas of long-duration ISS crewmembers during and after long-term exposure to weightlessness. A Lower Body Negative Pressure programme runs in parallel to Vessel Imaging. Flow velocity changes in the aorta and the middle cerebral and femoral arteries are used to quantify the cardiovascular response to fluid shifts. Vessel Imaging aims to optimise the countermeasures used routinely during long-duration space missions. The aim of the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment is to determine the degree, development and clinical significance of cardiac atrophy and identify its mechanisms.
ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facility 2 in Columbus was used in the two weeks until 3 May for centrifuging blood samples for NASA’s joint Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol for ISS Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy and for CSA’s Vascular experiment for Chris Hadfield. Human Research Facility 1 in Columbus was used for an ultrasound activities on 25 April as well as for undertaking a spinal ultrasound scan for Chris Cassidy on 30 April. The following day the facility’s equipment was used for undertaking body mass measurements for all non-Russian crew members.
CSA’s Vascular experiment is investigating the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the cardiovascular system and NASA’s joint Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol is studying different aspects of the influence of nutrition on space physiology. The Spinal Ultrasound scans are being used to characterize spinal changes during and after spaceflight.
Seedling Growth Experiment
The joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth experiment was restarted in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) in Columbus on 2 May following ground commanding to hydrate the seeds in the experiment containers. The seeds will be 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 are installed will be slowed down, exposing the seedlings to 0.1g, and at the same time, photostimuli (red or blue light from the side) will be started and the response of the seedlings to these conditions will be observed for 2 days before being placed in one of the MELFI freezer units. In advance of starting the second run of Seedling Growth, a water flow test was performed on 30 April on EXPRESS Rack 3 (in which the EMCS and a GLACIER freezer unit are located) to confirm that the rack could support cooling of both the EMCS and the GLACIER freezer simultaneously. The following day ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn replaced the rotor belts of the EMCS centrifuges and cleaned the volume inside the centrifuges to remove any possible debris.
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.
Data acquisition has been on-going for the Dose Distribution inside the ISS 3D (DOSIS-3D) experiment using the two active detectors and the new set of passive detectors which were deployed at various locations around the Columbus laboratory on 3 April. A monthly downlink of data from the active detectors was undertaken via the European Physiology Modules facility (in which the active detectors are located) on 30 April and the science team have confirmed good quality of data. 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.
Data acquisition has been on-going for the TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment. Up until 3 May a cumulative total of 132 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 64th) for the Solar facility to acquire data closed on 29 April. This window had been open since 17 April. 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 25 April due to the scheduled docking of Progress 51P. It was kept in a warm-up configuration hereafter. In addition to science acquisition, the Solar facility software upgrade was completed on 2 May.
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.
Geoflow-2b and FASES Experiments in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
Science runs for the Geoflow-2b experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory reached a successful conclusion on orbit with completion of the final scheduled long-duration no-rotation run on 23 April. For this science run for which the high voltage is set to highest possible value, data was directly transferred to ground rather than being recorded on orbit due to an FSL Video Management Unit error which is currently being resolved.
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 the Geoflow-2 and -2b experiments 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 with Geoflow-2b carrying out an additional 4 months of research from December 2012 – April 2013.. Geoflow-2b is physically still the same experiment set up as Geoflow-2, only with a different set of scientific boundary variables.
The FASES (Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability) 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 Container is due for upload on ATV-4 in June 2013 with immediate execution in FSL following docking.
Materials Science Laboratory
A successful leak check of the Materials Science Laboratory was performed on 22 April, opening the way to restarting the Batch 2a experiments (CETSOL-2, MICAST-2, SETA-2). This will start with processing of the SETA-2 cartridge currently installed inside the Materials Science Laboratory.
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.
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. There have been a couple of minor issues in the reporting period resulting in loss of some data. A Columbus LAN switch failure caused the loss of about five hours of data in the evening of 30 April. An engineering assessment is also on-going to resolve the loss of a certain amount of data when transitioning in the communication range from Loss-of-Signal to Acquisition-of-Signal.
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 3 May include:
Water On/Off Valve Replacement
ISS Commander and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield replaced Water On/Off Valve 7 in Columbus with a new generation Mk II valve with the support of the Columbus Control Centre (Col-CC) on 23 April and proper functionality has been confirmed. The replacement involved demating cables from EXPRESS Rack 3 and rotating the rack down, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the worksite. The replacement was undertaken since the original valve was prone to contamination and potential malfunctioning. In addition Col-CC also completed commissioning of the Water On/Off Valve 8 Mk II valve by updating the command software variable.
Water Pump Assembly 2 Activities
The check-out of the Water Pump Assembly 2 in Columbus was performed by NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy on 30 April with the support of the Columbus Control Centre. The checkout has confirmed that the pump has failed and needs to be replaced. For the checkout, Water Pump Assembly 2 was disconnected from the Thermal Control Systems of Columbus and despite several attempts the pump could not be activated. A spare pump is manifested on ATV-4 which is scheduled to arrive in June. In the meantime Columbus is running nominally on Water Pump Assembly 1.
Ham Radio Sessions
ISS Commander and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking ham radio sessions with different locations in Canada on 20, 29 April and 3 May. In addition NASA astronauts and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn used the equipment for undertaking ham radio sessions with groups in Lewiston, Maine (USA) and Bari, Italy respectively on 23 and 27 April.
Columbus Video Equipment
Columbus video camera equipment was used to film/record/downlink footage for a number of activities in the two weeks until 3 May including replacement of Water On/Off Valve 7 in Columbus on 23 April, sessions of ESA’s Reversible Figures experiment on 26 April, replacement of the rotor belts of the European Modular Cultivation System on 1 May and NASA ultrasound activities in April.
In addition to the above activities some standard weekly activities have taken place in Columbus including cycling of Interface Heat Exchanger Water On/Off Valves, Water Pump Assembly checkout, the Columbus LAN Switch Readout activity 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 NASA’s joint Nutrition/Repository/Pro-K protocol for ISS Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield (blood, urine) and for Chris Hadfield for CSA’s Vascular experiment (blood). In addition the MELFI-3 freezer unit was deactivated (and later reactivated) on 3 May and rotated down due to installation of the improved Payload Ethernet Hub.
Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week reporting period until 3 May to undertake research activities for NASA’s Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) experiment, which makes use of NASAs Smoke Point In Coflow Experiment (SPICE) hardware inside the Glovebox. Four sessions were undertaken on 23, 26 and 29 April and 2 May with processing of six different samples. On-orbit activities were undertaken by NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy.
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.
Progress M-17M/49P Deorbiting
Following its undocking from the ISS on 15 April, Progress M-17M carried out a planned destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on 21 April loaded with waste and excess equipment from the ISS. This completed logistics flight 49P to the ISS. Progress M-17M remained in orbit for a number of days after undocking in order to perform several days of thruster firings to help calibrate Russian radar systems on the ground.
Progress M-19M/51P Launch and Activities
Launch and Docking
The Russian Progress M-19M spacecraft on logistics flight 51P to the ISS was launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz-U rocket on 24 April at 12:12 CEST (16:12 local time,) with cargo consisting of 800 kg propellants, 50 kg oxygen and air, 420 kg water and 1580 kg dry cargo. Even though the Kurs-A antenna did not deploy after launch the Russian Progress 51P spacecraft docked with the Station at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on 26 April at 14:25 (CEST) under automatic Kurs system control following the upload of a software patch that allowed the automatic docking with only one Kurs antenna. Progress 51P had undertaken the standard two-days-to-docking manoeuvre (or 34 orbits) compared to the newly developed four-orbits-to-docking manoeuvre due to phasing and orbital mechanics associated with this launch date. 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 51P and the Zvezda Service Module was performed after docking followed by hatch opening. Hereafter the quick disconnect clamps were installed to stabilise the connection between Progress and the Station, Progress 51P 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..
On 28 April Progress 51P thrusters were fired for nearly 12 minutes in order to reboost the ISS to a higher orbital altitude in connection with phasing for Soyuz 33S undocking on 14 May and Soyuz 35S docking on 28 May.
Test activities continued for NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot technology demonstrator on 24, 25 April. ISS Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn set up the hardware and put on telerobotics gear, including a special helmet and gloves that allowed him to command the robot by having it copy his movements. Activities also included voice commanding. These latest activities are demonstrating the ability to effectively control Robonaut from the ISS as all previous Robonaut commanding has been from the ground. This capability will allow the astronauts to make real-time decisions and control Robonaut’s actions from inside the station. Robonaut was designed with the intention of eventually supporting future operations in the EVA environment as well as certain Intravehicular Activity situations.
In addition the Robotic Refueling Mission tertiary tasks operations have been on-going, being conducted by ground controllers. The video quality of the Robotic Refueling Mission camera caused some difficulties to the ground controllers though a reasonable quality was achieved after several settings. These activities are performed using both the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2) and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator and included the un-stow of a Wire Cutter Tool and a Safety Cap Tool, the stowage of the safety cap that was contained in the Safety Cap Tool into the Safety Cap Receptacle, and the retrieval of a Sub Miniature Version A Adapter.
The Robotic Refueling Mission uses fine-tuned robotics to test the concept that satellites never meant to be serviced can be fuelled and fixed in space.
On 22 April Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new Antares rocket was launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, USA, for its first test flight. This first test launch, which delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload into Earth's orbit, will enable the rocket to eventually carry experiments and supplies to the International Space Station aboard a Cygnus cargo spacecraft. The Cygnus spacecraft will become another of NASA’s commercial resupply spacecraft to the ISS.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 3 May include: clear up activities following the 19 April spacewalk; testing the connectivity between one of the Main Bus Switching Units and a Russian environmental system air handler; replacing one of the needles of the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus in the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US laboratory due to a damaged fuel line; an emergency simulation exercise by all six station crew members; cleaning of the cooling loops of the U.S. EVA suits in the US Airlock; installation of two new advanced payload Ethernet hubs which updates the orbital laboratory’s local area network by enhancing the data rate traffic; replacing a laptop computer for the Space Acceleration Measurement System; and a successful leak check on the Amine Swingbed hardware, which is testing a more efficient way of removing carbon dioxide from the ISS cabin atmosphere;
(*)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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