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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 145 Increment 35/36: 4 – 17 May 2013

28/05/2013 468 views 1 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #145 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 Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Expedition 35 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn completed their final weekly questionnaires (their 20th) on 12 May (prior to their return to Earth) 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.

Immuno Experiment
On 8 May Russian ISS Expedition 35 Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko conducted his second and final session as a subject of the Immuno experiment (assisted by ISS Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin), providing blood and saliva samples in addition to filling in a Stress Test Questionnaire. After the session the blood samples were centrifuged in the Russian Plazma-03 Centrifuge before being inserted into the MELFI-3 freezer unit. These activities conclude the in-flight sessions for the Immuno experiment. All blood samples from Romanenko and former test subjects Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin are stowed in MELFI-3. These are planned for return with Soyuz 34S.

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, blood and urine 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.


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 20 May for centrifuging blood samples for NASA’s joint Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol for ISS Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield and ISS Expedition 35 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn. Human Research Facility 1 in Columbus was used on 6 May for undertaking spinal ultrasound scans for Hadfield and Marshburn.

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.


Biology Research
Seedling Growth Experiment
The joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth experiment completed two experiment runs (2nd and 3rd runs) in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) in Columbus in the two weeks until 20 May. For the 2nd run (which started on 2 May) the experiment started following ground commanding to hydrate the seeds in the experiment containers. The seeds were hereafter 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 down, exposing the seedlings to 0.1g, 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 before being placed in one of the MELFI freezer units. Following sample containers for the following run being placed in EMCS Seedling Growth run 3 was started on 11 May. This followed the same procedures for run 2 but with a gravity level of [0.3g?] from day 5. Activities were completed on 17 May with processed samples from the EMCS inserted into a MELFI freezer unit and new samples for run 4 placed inside the EMCS. This run was due to start on 18 May.

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 and the new set of passive detectors which were deployed at various locations around the Columbus laboratory on 3 April. 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
The TriTel (Tri-Axis Telescope) experiment came to a successful conclusion on 10 May with a cumulative total of 139 days of data being gathered using its active cosmic radiation detector hardware and passive detectors located inside the Columbus laboratory. ISS Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield carried out the close out activities on the final day, with data downlinked and a USB of data and the passive radiation detectors packed for return on Soyuz 33S.

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 was active since 6 November 2012. The accompanying set of passive detectors (which were launched on Soyuz 33S)  had been installed in the Columbus laboratory since 22 December 2012.


Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
A new Sun Visibility Window (the 65th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) opened on 12 May. 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 in a warm-up configuration (as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation) for a majority of the Sun Visibility Window due to the scheduled undocking of Soyuz 33S on 13 May and the reboost of the ISS by Progress 51P on 17 May. The latest Sun Visibility Window is scheduled to end on 24 May.

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range for more than 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)
The experiment container for the Geoflow-2/2b experiments was removed from the Fluid Science Laboratory in Columbus and stowed by ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy on 13 May. Two days later the Fluid Science Laboratory was activated to perform a high rate data downlink test in advance of the FASES experiment which will be the next experiment to take place in the Fluid Science Laboratory following launch to the ISS on ATV-4 in June and immediate execution following docking. The purpose of the test, which proceeded well, was to assess if more data bandwidth (~24Mbps instead of 16Mbps) could be routed end-to-end from the Fluid Science Laboratory to ground, in support of the FASES experiment.

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 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.


Technology Research
Vessel Identification System (Vessel ID)
Successful data acquisition is on-going for the Vessel Identification System (commonly known as the Automatic Identification System, AIS), using its Norwegian receiver, and telemetry is still being successfully received by the Norwegian User Support and Operation Centre (N-USOC) in Trondheim via ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Germany. On 7 May a software upgrade for the Norwegian receiver was uplinked, and initialised by the following day. An engineering assessment is still 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.

The firmware of the ESA’s NightPod Tracking Device was successfully upgraded on 7 May by ISS Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield. A post-upgrade check-out activity was undertaken hereafter, which consisted of photographing different ground sites during ISS night passes. The NightPod 'tracking device' supports a Nikon D3s camera in taking high-definition pictures of the Earth, especially at night. In a global outreach effort. The footage will be available for the public on the internet. The payload will also be used for education purposes in order to teach children and students about geography and demographic distribution on Earth.


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 20 May include:

  • Columbus Lighting
    ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy replaced a failed Modular Lighting Unit in Columbus on 6 May.
  • Columbus Portable Workstation Laptops
    A Columbus System Laptop Image software patch was installed on both Portable Workstation Laptops in Columbus on 7 May.
  • Ham Radio Sessions
    ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking a ham radio session with groups in the city of Gary, Indiana on 8 May.
  • Columbus Video Equipment
    Columbus video camera equipment was used to film/record/downlink footage during the two weeks until 20 May including the removal of the Geoflow-2/2b experiment container from the Fluid Science Laboratory in Columbus on 13 May.
  • Weekly Activities
    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.


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 20 May include:
    • Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
      The Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) was used to sample water from the Water Recovery System racks on 8 and 13 May respectively. Water samples were also collected for return to Earth on Soyuz 33S
    • Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
      On 8 May ISS Flight Engineers and NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn replaced an Air Selector Valve of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in Node 3 due to non-optimal behaviour of the valve. The Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly removes carbon dioxide and trace contaminants from the station atmosphere and monitors the composition of the air.


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 for ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Roman Romanenko (blood, saliva); the joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth experiment (Arabidopsis thaliana seedling samples); and NASA’s joint Nutrition/Repository/Pro-K protocol for ISS Expedition 35 Commander and CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield and ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn (blood, urine).

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week reporting period until 20 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. The sessions involve processing of 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-19M/51P Activities

  • Post-Docking Activities
    Following the docking with the ISS of the Russian Progress M-19M spacecraft on logistics flight 51P, cargo transfer activities have been on-going in the two weeks until 20 May. Activities have been carried out on orbit by the Russian crew members Pavel Vinogradov (ISS Expedition 35 Flight Engineer and ISS Expedition 36 Commander), and Alexander Misurkin (ISS Expedition 35/36 Flight Engineer),.
  • ISS Reboost
    On the morning of 8 May Progress 51P thrusters were fired for more than 14 minutes in order to reboost the ISS to a higher orbital altitude in connection with phasing for Soyuz 33S undocking and Soyuz 35S docking. Another reboost was undertaken using Progress 51P thrusters in the night of 17 to 18 May in connection with phasing for Soyuz 35S docking at the end of May. The second reboost lasted 15 minutes.


Robotics Activities
The Robotic Refueling Mission tertiary tasks operations continued on the starboard truss outside the ISS on 6 May, conducted by ground controllers. These activities are performed using both the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2) and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator which utilised specially designed tools to perform servicing tasks on a simulated satellite. The tasks included cutting through some Kapton tape, lifting up multi-layer insulation typically found on space hardware, snipping wires and replacing the insulation. 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.

Robonaut Testing
Test activities continued for NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot technology demonstrator on 7, 8 May. ISS Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn set up the hardware on the first day before ground-commanded testing was undertaken, with the robotic hardware commanded to undertake a number of manual tasks on the Station including turning fasteners, opening panel covers and opening zippers on a protective cover. The activities also included vision recognition confirmation, stow pose, and waist spin operations. Robonaut was designed with the intention of eventually supporting future operations in the EVA environment as well as certain Intravehicular Activity situations.

Solar Array Thermal Control System Leak and Related Spacewalk

  • Ammonia Leak
    An ammonia leak in the Photovoltaic Thermal Control System was discovered by the ISS crew on 9 May. The crew reported seeing white flakes coming from the P6 truss section on the port-side of the ISS. Additional video footage and telemetry allowed the Mission Control Center in Houston to confirm an increase in the leak rate on a channel of the Thermal Control System that would cause a shutdown limit to be reached on that channel by 10 May. The leak was known about previously, with steps already undertaken though the leak rate had increased significantly by 9 May. Ammonia is used as a coolant for heat distribution externally in the same way as water is used as a coolant internally with an individual cooling loop for each of the 8 solar arrays which supply power to ISS payloads and systems. To avoid an automatic shutdown a power channel switchover was undertaken, switching payloads powered by the leaking channel across to another channel to avoid any impact on science. The leaking Thermal Control System loop was then isolated and placed into dormant mode. The leak of ammonia coolant was coming from an area near or at the location of a Pump and Flow Control Subassembly.
  • Spacewalk
    On 11 May a 5-hour, 30-minute spacewalk was undertaken by Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn to assess the location of the leaking ammonia and carry out repairs. After opening the suspect Pump Flow Control Subassembly, which contains the mechanical systems that drive the cooling functions for the port truss, and carrying out an inspection, no flakes were seen and no suspicious nor impacted areas were obvious. The EVA astronauts replaced the suspect coolant pump with a spare unit stored on the external surface of the ISS which was then powered on from ground and worked as planned with no leaks noticed by the crew which stayed in the area during the initial tests. Long-term monitoring of the pump will be required to determine whether the pump replacement has fixed the leak.


Soyuz TMA-07M/33S and Expedition 35 Crew Return Preparations, Undocking and Landing

  • Soyuz 33S Descent Drill
    A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by Hadfield, Marshburn and Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko on 6 May. The descent drill, which took place in the Descent Module of the Soyuz 33S 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.
  • 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 the three returning crew members in the Russian segment of the station on 6 May in preparation for return to Earth.
  • Cargo Transfers
    In the two-week period until 21 September, the ISS crew members have been involved in cargo transfer activities packing cargo for either return to earth in the Descent Module of Soyuz 33S or for disposal in the Soyuz Orbital Module.
  • Soyuz TMA-07M/33S Motion Control Test
    Returning crew members supported a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz TMA-07M Motion Control System on 7 May including testing the pilot’s translational hand controller and the braking thrusters.
  • Undocking Preparations
    Prior to undocking the Russian crew members removed temperature and lighting equipment from the Soyuz Orbital module for reuse after Soyuz undocking, and checked out communications from Soyuz 33S to the ground.
  • Change of Command Ceremony
    The official ISS change of command ceremony took place in front of all crew members on 12 May with ISS Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield handing over command to Roscosmos cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. However as with all Expeditions, Expedition 36 will officially begin following undocking of the departing Soyuz/Expedition crew members.
  • Soyuz TMA-07M/33S, Expedition 35 Undocking and Landing
    On 13 May, following the joint crew farewell, the departing crew members (Romanenko, Hadfield and Marshburn) entered the Soyuz spacecraft, and clamps were removed between Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft and the “Rassvet” Mini Research Module 1 to which it was docked. Following Soyuz activation the hatches between the Soyuz and the Rassvet Module were closed and relevant leak checks were carried out. Undocking occurred at 01:08 (CEST) on 14 May. About 3 mins after undocking, the Soyuz performed its first separation burn. At 03:37 (CEST) the Soyuz spacecraft performed its deorbit thruster burn lasting 4 min 45 sec. This caused a deceleration of 128m/sec. 25 minutes later the spacecraft went through module separation, with atmospheric reentry occurring at 04:08 (CEST). The parachute was deployed at 04:16 with landing at 04:31 (CEST), 08:31 local time in southern Kazakhstan. Romanenko, Hadfield and Marshburn had spent 146 days in space. Undocking of Soyuz TMA-07M marked the end of Expedition 35 and the start of Expedition 36, which consists currently of ISS Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov (Roscosmos) and ISS Expedition 36 Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy (NASA) and Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos) until three additional crew arrive at the end of May.


ATV-4 Launch Preparations
On 17 May ISS Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov and ISS Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin installed and tested the control panel for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4) called “Albert Einstein” inside the Russian Service Module. ATV-4 will deliver several tonnes of supplies to the station’s crew when it docks to the aft end of Russian Service Module on 15 June. ATV-4 is currently scheduled to be launched on 5 June.  

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 20 May include: two successful test runs with the Amine Swingbed hardware which is testing a more efficient way of removing carbon dioxide from the ISS cabin atmosphere; and installation of a new HD camera in the US laboratory and upgrading a video encoder card in an associated computer.

(*)These activities are highlights of the past two weeks and do not include the majority of standard periodic operational/maintenance activities on the ISS or additional research activities not mentioned previously. Information compiled with the assistance of NASA sources.

Martin Zell
ESA Head of ISS Utilisation Department

Rosita Suenson
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer

Weekly reports compiled by ESA's ISS Utilisation Department.

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