ESA title
Columbus logo
Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 153 Increment 36: 24 August – 6 September 2013

13/09/2013 383 views 1 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #153 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 US Destiny laboratory and the Russian ISS Segment within international scientific collaboration agreements.

The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:

Human Research
Space Headaches Experiment
ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano continued filling in weekly questionnaires (his 13th and 14th) on 30 August and 6 September as part of the Space Headaches experiment. The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 35S on 28 May.

The Space Headaches experiment is determining the incidence and characteristics of headaches occurring within astronauts in orbit. 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 26 and 27 August ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano inserted Phase Change Material cartridges into one of the MELFI freezer units for conditioning, in preparation for the return of samples from the Immuno experiment. The on-orbit samples will be returned inside a so-called Mini-ECCO sample container on Soyuz 34S on 10 September. The Immuno experiment concluded all on-orbit operations in May 2013.

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 1 in Columbus was used for undertaking ultrasound scans on 30 August for ISS Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg in connection with NASA’s Ocular Health protocol. This included an ultrasound eye scan and a cardiac ultrasound with blood pressure.

This followed up activities with Parmitano and Nyberg undergoing visual tests, a tonometry eye exam which measures introcular eye pressure, and a fundoscope eye exam as well as providing blood pressure and vital sign data. The Ocular Health protocol is gathering physiological data in order to characterise the risk of microgravity-induced visual impairment/intracranial pressure on crewmembers assigned to long-duration ISS missions.

The ultrasound equipment was used again on 6 September for undertaking spinal ultrasound scans on Karen Nyberg with the assistance of Luca Parmitano. The spinal ultrasound scans are part of a NASA investigation to characterise spinal changes during and after spaceflight.


Biology Research
Biolab Facility Maintenance
Successful troubleshooting was completed for the Biolab Microscope cassette on 28 and 29 August by Luca Parmitano. On 28 August the microscope cassette was removed with the extended Flow-Through-Cell (FTC) holder. This confirmed that the FTC-holder had  partially snapped out of the grabber inside the microscope housing. The FTC-holder was released from the grabber and moved back into the cassette. Hereafter the microscope could be initialized by ground commanding. The following day Parmitano re-installed the microscope cassette with the support of ground teams. The subsequent microscope functional test revealed good results concluding a successful troubleshooting on the Microscope and its mechanisms.

Biolab is a multi-user facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates.

European Modular Cultivation System Maintenance
ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy replaced a Rotor-Based Life Support System unit on centrifuge A of the European Modular Cultivation System on 3 September. Each centrifuge contains two sets of Rotor-Based Life Support Systems, which provide the experiment containers with air humidity control, filtration and water supply. Each life support system is shared between two experiment containers.

The European Modular Cultivation System, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and is being operated jointly with NASA under a bilateral barter agreement. The next ESA experiment to take place in the facility is the Gravi-2 experiment which builds on the initial Gravi experiment in determining the gravity threshold response in plant (lentil) roots. The Gravi-2 experiment is scheduled for launch on the SpaceX-3 spacecraft in December.


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 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. On 6 September Luca Parmitano collected in all of the passive detector packages for return to Earth on Soyuz 34S for analysis.

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.


Solar Research
SOLAR Facility
The latest Sun Visibility Window (the 68th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) concluded on 27 August, having been open since 16 August. 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) at the end of the Sun Visibility Window in preparation for an upcoming reboost of the ISS using ATV-4 thrusters on 31 August and unberthing of HTV-4.

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
FASES Experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
Engineering teams are still working on modifications of the commands sent to the sample carousel for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment for the transfer of the sample cells to the processing position. Whilst this is on-going a go-ahead has been given to resume science operations for a reduced number of samples already located in the near vicinity of the FASES Thermal Control Unit, i.e. the optical observation zone. On 29 August an optical check-out on one of these samples was performed and completed as foreseen, with results suggesting that this sample cell is still relevant for science.

On 4 September ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano installed a Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) terminator for the Video Management Unit of the FSL in order to resume data recording on orbit. As this step did not resolve the issue a workaround will remain in place to downlink data to ground in real time during experiment runs.

The FASES experiment, installed inside the Fluid Science Laboratory, investigates the effect of surface tension on the stability of emulsions. Thin emulsions of different compositions are stored inside 44 individual sample cells through which the emulsions will be optically and thermally characterised. The overall experiment duration is estimated with a minimum of 9 months. 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.

The Vessel Identification System has acquired an extensive amount of data for more than 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 6 September include:

  • Portable Workstation Recovery
    Recovery of the Portable Workstation 1 laptop in Columbus was performed by NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy on 3 September in conjunction with ground teams. Cassidy set up the ghost restore programme and restored the laptop image as part of the software reload. No data was available following LAN cable connection, though after swapping power/data cables over from Portable Workstation 2 good connectivity was achieved and the reload was completed.
  • Lighting Maintenance
    A Lamp Housing Assembly was replaced by ESA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano on 5 September.
  • ESA Uplink Capabilities
    A new software version was installed at ISS Mission Control Center – Houston on 5 September to fix a problem affecting ESA data uplink. A No-Op test command was sent afterwards to confirm a good forward link. The problem affecting the file transfers from the Columbus Control Centre to the Mass Memory Unit on orbit was attributed to the Front End Processor located at control centre in Houston caused by a software modification.
  • 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 checkouts, and smoke detector tests.


Activities of ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano

  • Experiment Activities
    In addition to the European science programme detailed in other parts of this report ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has carried out other research activities in support of the science programmes of ESA’s ISS partners. This included: being a subject of NASA’s ‘Reaction Self Test’ experiment which looks into how planned sleep shift for ISS crews affects performance; being a subject for NASA’s Microbiome experiment, providing bodily samples, taking water samples and filling in questionnaires in order to investigate the impact of space travel on the human immune system and the microbes that live in and on the human body; removing and re-installing alignment guides for the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US Laboratory for performing the Italian Combustion Experiment for Green Air (ICE-GA) which observes how different fuels burn in weightlessness (with a focus on second/third generation biofuels, or fundamental biofuel surrogates); transferring accumulated imagery and additional tasks for NASA’s  Binary Colloidal Aggregated Test 3 (BCAT-3) experiment which will help manufacturers develop stronger, smarter materials for such things as faster computers and advanced optical devices; and taking part in the SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) study along with NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy which involved using smartphones to control bowling-ball-sized satellites during an inspection task inside the station.
  • Other activities
    During the two weeks until 6 September, Parmitano and the other ISS crew members have had their regular Planning Conferences with ESA’s Columbus Control Centre as well as Mission Control in Houston and Moscow, and the Japanese Flight Control Team at the Tsukuba Space Centre. In addition Parmitano: collected and tested water samples from the station’s water supply; gathered items for disposal on the first flight of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS which is scheduled for launch on 17 September; and used the Diapason instrument in the US Laboratory to measure the atmospheric composition on-board the ISS.


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 6 September include:
    • Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack
      The Major Constituent Analyzer in the Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack in Node 3 failed on 31 August. Alternative sensors are currently being used to monitor the air until the mass spectrometer of the Major Constituent Analyzer is replaced in the future. In addition the Node 3 Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly (also in the Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack) was replaced since it recently failed to reach its commanded position on two separate occasions. The new unit is operating nominally.
    • Water Recovery System racks: Urine Processor Assembly
      The Urine Processor Assembly unexpectedly shutdown during a processing cycle and a subsequent attempt to restart the system. Ground experts are assessing the problem and considering the need for replacing the Fluids Control and Pump Assembly which pumps urine from a wastewater storage tank to the Distillation Assembly of the Urine Processor Assembly for initial processing. There is one spare Fluids Control and Pump Assembly on orbit and an additional unit is scheduled to arrive on SpaceX-3.
    • Water Recovery System racks: Drinking Water
      All six crew members are temporarily drinking water from US supplies as higher than normal coliform levels were detected in the Russian water during a regular test. Several components in the Russian water lines have now been replaced and the ports were flushed with hot water. Ground specialists are assessing data to confirm that the flushing cleared the contamination and water samples will be returned to ground for further analysis.


HTV-4 Undocking and Robotics Activities

  • Undocking Preparations: Robotics Activities
    In advance of the departure of the fourth Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-4) from the ISS, robotics activities were undertaken to transfer items to and from the Exposed Pallet (delivered on HTV-4) prior to placing the pallet back into HTV-4 external storage. From 26 – 30 August ground operators at the Mission Control Center in Houston used the Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm 2) to remove a spare Main Bus Switching Unit, a spare Utility Transfer Assembly and the Test Project-4 payload from the Exposed Pallet and attach them to external stowage locations on the station’s truss. The Space Test Project-3 payload was also moved from the Station’s truss to the Exposed Pallet (for disposal). With this complete Luca Parmitano and Chris Cassidy assisted ground controllers on 30 August in removing the Exposed Pallet  (with the Space Test Project-3 payload) from the Exposed Facility on the Japanese Kibo Laboratory by the Japanese Robotic Arm, handing it back to Canadarm 2, and transferring the Exposed Pallet back into HTV-4 unpressurised storage. Hereafter Canadarm 2 was used to grapple HTV-4 in preparation for its unberthing.
  • Undocking Preparations: Internal Activities
    In preparation for undocking HTV-4, Chris Cassidy installed and activated the “i-Ball” Reentry Recorder which is a private sector-developed device designed to gather environmental data during re-entry. The data analysis will lead to an identification of breakup phenomenon of the vehicle and decrease in the reentry debris risks. At the same time, another purpose is to obtain design data for the future reentry vehicles. Furthermore items for disposal were placed inside the departing logistics spacecraft while other items were removed for re-use: HTV lights, smoke detectors, portable fire extinguishers and breathing apparatus. Hereafter the HTV hatch was closed; control panel assemblies were installed at the Node 2 nadir (Earth-facing) hatch where HTV-4 is docked; ventilation, atmosphere revitalisation, and power and data lines were removed and the Node 2 hatch was closed.
  • HTV-4 Undocking
    On 4 September the inter-hatch vestibule was depressurised, a leak check was undertaken, the docking mechanism bolts were removed and latches deployed. Robotic ground controllers unberthed the HTV-4 from the Earth-facing port of the European-built Node 2 at 14:07 a.m. After being moved to its release position NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg used the robotic workstation, in the European-built Cupola module, to release HTV-4 at 18:21 (CEST). HTV-4 is scheduled to go through its planned destructive re-entry into earth’s atmosphere on 7 September.

    The departure of HTV-4 will clear the way for the arrival of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus logistics spacecraft which is due for launch on its first demonstration flight to the ISS on 17 September and due to arrive at the ISS on 22 September.


Soyuz TMA-08M/34S and Expedition Crew Return Preparations

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    ISS Commander Pavel Vinogradov and ISS Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin (both representing Roscosmos) carried out orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test sessions using the TVIS treadmill whilst wearing Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suits. The Chibis suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Soyuz crewmember would cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth.
  • Suit Checks
    Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy performed the standard leak checks of their Sokol pressure suits, worn in the Soyuz spacecraft on 30 August.
  • Cargo Transfers
    In the two-week period until 6 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 28S or for disposal in the Soyuz Orbital Module. Return items include radiation dosimeters for ESA’s DOSIS-3D experiment.
  • Soyuz 34S Descent Drill
    A standard Soyuz descent drill was carried out by Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin on 4 September. The descent drill, which took place in the Descent Module of the Soyuz 34S 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. On 6 September a similar descent drill was undertaken by the two cosmonauts along with Chris Cassidy.
  • Soyuz TMA-08M/34S Motion Control Test
    Vinogradov and Misurkin, supported a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz TMA-08M Motion Control System on 6 September including testing the pilot’s translational hand controller and the braking thrusters.


Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Activities
Orbit Correction System thrusters of Europe’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) called “Albert Einstein” were used to carry out a reboost of the ISS on 31 August. This raised the orbital altitude of the ISS, setting up phasing for the departure of Expedition 36 crewmembers in the Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft on 11 September (CEST) and arrival of three Expedition 37 crewmembers following their launch in Soyuz TMA-10M on 25 September. The reboost lasted 3.5 min. The departing crew members consist of ISS Commander Pavel Vinogradov (Roscosmos) and ISS Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy (NASA) and Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos). Oleg Kotov (Roscosmos), Michael Hopkins (NASA) and Sergey Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos) are the crew members awaiting launch.

In addition Vinogradov refilled water containers from ATV-4’s storage tanks and oxygen and air were transferred from the ATV tanks and stored on the ISS for future use. This was the last ATV-4 oxygen transfer, while two more air transfers are planned.

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, saliva samples were installed inside MELFI-3 for Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg for NASA’s Microbiome experiment and Parmitano inserted Phase Change Material cartridges into a MELFI unit for conditioning, in preparation for the return of samples from the Immuno experiment.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was active in the two-week period until 6 September in order to undertake runs for NASA’s InSPACE-3 (Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions 3) experiment. InSPACE-3 studies the fundamental behaviour of magnetic colloidal fluids under the influence of various magnetic fields. On-orbit activities were undertaken on different days by ISS Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg.

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.

EMU Troubleshooting
Following the water leak experienced with Luca Parmitano’s spacewalking suit (Extravehicular Mobility Unit or EMU) during the 16 July US spacewalk, additional troubleshooting steps have been undertaken. On 27 August Parmitano and Cassidy assembled and powered up the empty suit and once again observed water leaking into the helmet which confirmed a malfunction in the water separator loop, allowing water to enter the ventilation loop. With the issue reproduced, during the following weekend Nyberg and Cassidy checked and replaced spacesuit equipment with the assistance of Mission Control in an attempt to narrow down the cause and location of the leak. This hasn’t as yet solved the issue so further troubleshooting will be carried out once a replacement of the suspected fan/pump water separator arrives on Soyuz TMA-10M on 25 September.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 6 September include: a test on the Amine Swingbed hardware to assess the payload's CO2 removal performance; additional ground-commanded tele-robotic testing of NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot hardware; installation of an HTV-4 delivered freezer unit inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory; microbial air and surface sampling/testing throughout the ISS; and stowing tools and equipment used during the Russian spacewalks on 16 and 22 August.   

(*)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.


Related Links