This is ISS status report #146 from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s science-related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past two weeks for different European experiments and experiment facilities.
The report is compiled by ESA’s ISS Utilisation and Astronaut Support Department in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus Operations teams from the ISS Programme and Exploration Department.
ISS Utilisation Programme
The principal focus of the European utilisation of the ISS is the Columbus laboratory, which was launched and permanently attached to the ISS in February 2008. In addition to the science taking place using the internal and external experiment facilities of the Columbus laboratory, ESA also has some further on-going research taking place inside the Russian Segment of the ISS and in the US Destiny laboratory within international scientific collaboration agreements.
The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:
Highlight: ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was successfully launched on Soyuz TMA-09M/35S on a long-duration mission to the ISS on 28 May at 22:31 CEST (02:31 local time on 29 May) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Following the launch together with Roscosmos cosmonaut and Soyuz commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg the Soyuz TMA-09M docked with the ISS just under six hours later, once again increasing the crew of the ISS to six and enabling increased scientific return from the Space Station. Parmitano is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expeditions 36 and 37 as well as undertaking the European Volare mission, which includes a full research programme in life and physical sciences along with an additional complement of educational and public relations activities. Nyberg is also a Flight Engineer for ISS Expeditions 36 and 37 while Yurchikhin is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 36 and will become ISS Commander for Expedition 37.
Space Headaches Experiment
Following launch in Soyuz 35S on 28 May, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano started filling in his daily questionnaires as part of the Space Headaches experiment, which is determining the incidence and characteristics of headaches occurring within astronauts in orbit. This will continue in the first week following launch at which time the regularity with which he will fill in the questionnaires will be reduced to weekly.
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.
Seedling Growth Experiment
The joint ESA/NASA Seedling Growth 1 experiment completed its 4th and final experiment run in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) in Columbus on 24 May. For the 4th run (which started on 18 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 centrifuge in which the experiment containers were installed was slowed down, exposing the seedlings to 0.7g, 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 by ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy.
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.
On the final day of the experiment Cassidy also upgraded the software of the laptop for EXPRESS Rack 3 in which the EMCS is located. Hereafter he loaded the laptop with the payload specific software including for the European Modular Cultivation System
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. Due to an Energetic Solar Particle Event the active detectors were switched to a higher data acquisition rate (around 2.5MB/day instead of ~150KB/day) from 24 – 29 May in coordination with the science team. On the final day Chris Cassidy switched the data acquisition rate back to its previous configuration. 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.
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 65th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) closed on 24 May. The data acquisition period had been open since 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) until 20 May (due to a possible debris avoidance manoeuvre, and associated thruster firings, which was subsequently not necessary). Hereafter the instrument was cooled down in order to undertake science acquisition until the end of the Sun Visibility Window. It was again placed in a warm-up configuration hereafter.
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.
FASES Experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
On 21 May the Fluid Science Laboratory was activated and additional high rate data testing was successfully performed in advance of the FASES (Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability) experiment. Various data rates were tested on the FSL side and the corresponding Advanced Payload Switch configuration was analysed. FASES will be the next experiment to take place in the Fluid Science Laboratory following launch to the ISS on ATV-4 on 5 June and immediate execution following docking, which is currently scheduled for 15 June. The overall experiment duration is estimated with minimum 9 months.
The FASES 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.
Materials Science Laboratory and Batch 2a experiments
Following venting procedures of the Materials Science Laboratory/Materials Science Research Rack on 21 May, processing of a SETA-2 cartridge started inside the Materials Science Laboratory. SETA-2 is one of the three Batch 2a solidification study experiments along with the CETSOL-2 and MICAST-2 experiments. Processing of the cartridge had to be stopped prematurely on 22 May as the associated Standard Payload Computer (SPLC) of MSL experienced a reboot during the solidification phase with only 7mm processed. Unfortunately the sample cannot be remelted and the laptop reboot is being investigated.
ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1 in the US Laboratory. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
Columbus Local Area Network (LAN)/Portable Workstations
The recording of the LAN traffic on Columbus laptops was started on 18 May as a measure to determine the reason/resolution of High Rate Multiplexer bursts occurring, which have been seen in the past. On 27 May a software patch was installed on both Portable Workstation laptops in Columbus along with a software patch on the Mission Management Computer to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
The Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany was involved in a joint training exercise with the ISS crew and all the ISS control centres on 21 May to test emergency response. The exercise simulated an ammonia leak in the ISS Moderate Temperature Loop.
DC to DC Converter Redundancy
Direct Current to Direct Current Unit redundancy has been re-established on Columbus Power Distribution Unit 2 following successful repowering of a DC to DC Converter Unit.
Ham Radio Session
ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy used the amateur radio equipment in Columbus for undertaking a ham radio session with students at the Anacapa School in Santa Barbara, California on 22 May covering topics including life in space and requirements to become an astronaut.
Backup Control Centre Checkout
On 23 May the annual Backup Control Centre checkout was performed. For the duration of the test all telemetry/telecommand capability was configured via the Payload Operation Integration Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The test from the Columbus Control Centre side could be confirmed successful by test commanding.
Water Pump Assembly Activities
On 31 May a contingency water activity was successfully performed with 2.1 litres of Internal Thermal Control System coolant transferred from Water Pump Assembly 2 to Water Pump Assembly 1.
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 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 31 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 22 and 27 May respectively.
Recycle Tank Replacement
A Water Recovery System recycle tank was replaced by ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy on 31 May.
- Water Recovery System racks: Sampling activities
ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy performed a regular six-month maintenance activity on the T2/COLBERT treadmill in the European-built Node 3 on 27 May as an ‘ISS as Testbed for Analog Research (ISTAR)’ activity. The ISTAR objectives are to explore how mission operations can be optimised in the presence of communication delays of several minutes, similar to what would be experienced on exploration missions to Mars, near-Earth asteroids, or other targets in deep space. As part of the maintenance activities Cassidy cleaned the closeout panels, the interior of the rack space and the filter screen. He also inspected various critical parts of the system.
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 (Arabidopsis thaliana seedling samples).
Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active on 30 May. Chris Cassidy exchanged a video recorder in the facility though this has not eliminated the current issue of an anomalous status indication and non-recognition of the inserted tape and further investigation is on-going. This does not impact current activities in the Glovebox as the next experiment requiring three operational video recorders is set to start in August. Cassidy also undertook 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.
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.
Solar Array Thermal Control System Leak Update
Following the ammonia leak discovered in the Photovoltaic Thermal Control System on 9 May and the associated spacewalk which replaced the suspect coolant pump on 10 May, all power loads that were removed from the leaking power channel (2B), have been restored. The performances of the 2B Photovoltaic Thermal Control System, following the replacement are nominal. The data that is still acquired from the replaced Pump and Flow Control Subassembly shows that the ammonia quantity in its accumulator is decreasing. This gives additional confidence that the leak has been resolved.
ATV-4 Launch Preparations
Following the installation of the control panel for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4) called “Albert Einstein” inside the Russian Service Module on 17 May, ISS Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov tested some video equipment that will be used during the arrival ATV-4 in June and also during the docking of the Soyuz TMA-09M on 29 May.
Soyuz TMA-09M/35, Expedition 36/37 Crew Launch and Docking
Soyuz TMA-09M Launch and Docking
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was successfully launched together with Roscosmos cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg in the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft on flight 35S to the ISS on 28 May at 22:31 CEST (02:31 local time on 29 May) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Parmitano and Nyberg are Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 36 and 37. Yurchikhin is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 36 and will become ISS Commander for Expedition 37. Following orbital insertion, Soyuz TMA antennas and solar arrays were deployed. This was the second 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 “Rassvet” Mini Research Module 1 on 29 May at 04:10 (CEST). This brought the crew of the ISS once again up to a total of six with ISS Commander and Roscosmos cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy (NASA) and Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos) having been on the ISS since March 2013.
Soyuz TMA-09M post-docking activities
ISS attitude control was handed back from Russian to US systems after docking. Video of the docking and structural dynamics measurements were downlinked by the crew and the standard leak check between the Soyuz and the ISS was carried out. On completion the hatches were opened at 06:14 (CEST) 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. The standard crew safety briefing followed. The Soyuz spacecraft was deactivated and the crew quarters for the new crew members were set up. The following day the three Sokol spacesuits and their gloves were set up for drying out. On 31 May the six crew members carried out an Emergency Roles and Responsibilities Review to discuss emergency response planning.
Russian Treadmill Installation
A new Russian (BD-2) treadmill was installed in the Russian Service Module in the two weeks until 31 May to replace the older TVIS (Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System) treadmill. ISS Commander Pavel Vinogradov and ISS Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin removed and partially dismantled the TVIS treadmill on 20 May. They unpacked the elements of the new treadmill from Progress 51P the following day and assembled and installed the BD-2 treadmill on 21, 22 May. The new treadmill was checked out on 23 May. The crew was able to run on the treadmill and downlinked photos and a video of the session to ground specialists for evaluation. Vinogradov installed a low-noise fan on the treadmill assembly on 24 May. With the completion of installation and check out the TVIS treadmill was completely disassembled and stowed in Progress for disposal. On 30 May structural loads and dynamics data were collected using the ISS Wireless Instrumentation System (IWIS). Luca Parmitano set-up the IWIS equipment while Alexander Misurkin exercised on the treadmill.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 31 May include: activation and checkout of the new fundoscope (used for undertaking eye examinations); recovery of the EXPRESS Rack 1 laptop by replacing a hard drive and reloading software; hardware replacement of a fuel reservoir and additional equipment inside the Combustion Integration Rack in the US Laboratory; photography of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Wake Radiator to assist with characterizing potential surface discoloration; installation of the Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack Combustion Chamber and associated gas leak check; deployment of radiation dosimeters throughout the ISS; replacement of connectors on some of the pumps in the Russian segment of the station; filling Progress 51P with items for disposal; deactivation of a Ku-band receiver following 12 years of service on the ISS; and successful test runs with 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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