This is ISS status report #158 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:
Space Headaches Experiment
In the two weeks until 29 November three different astronauts have taken part in the Space Headaches experiment. Weekly questionnaires were filled in on 22 and 29 November by ISS Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins (his 8th and 9th), Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata (their 2nd and 3rd). The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 36S for Hopkins and Soyuz 37S for Mastracchio and Wakata.
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.
Circadian Rhythms Experiment
Koichi Wakata started his first session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment on 20 November though the session was stopped the next morning as the Thermolab unit donned by Wakata (with associated temperature sensors) for the session experienced a problem at the level of its battery compartment, and no temperature recording was on-going. Photographs of the unit underwent engineering assessment and on 28 November Wakata was able to remove the battery stuck inside of the Thermolab Control Unit. Procedures are currently being developed and to accommodate a repair opportunity and a subsequent recovery session.
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.
ISS Partner Research
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 (HRF-1) in Columbus was used for undertaking an ultrasound scan on 18 November for ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata for NASA’s new Cardio Ox experiment which is studying levels of biomarkers in blood and urine that are affected by oxidative and inflammatory stress before, during, and after long duration spaceflight and relate them to the risk of developing atherosclerosis (thickening of artery walls as a result of the accumulation of calcium and fatty materials). Urine and blood collections were completed on 20 and 21 November, with samples stored in a MELFI freezer unit. Prior to storage the blood samples were spun in the refrigerated centrifuge of Human Research Facility 2, also in Columbus.
Further ultrasounds were undertaken by Michael Hopkins on 22 November 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 Hopkins undergoing visual tests, a tonometry eye exam which measures intraocular 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 equipment was additionally used on 22 November for undertaking thigh and calf ultrasounds for Wakata for NASA’s Sprint protocol which is evaluating the use of high intensity, low volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in ISS crewmembers during long-duration missions. As part of the experiment Wakata carried out the first of six Sprint VO2 sessions on 27 November. The joint Sprint and VO2 Max protocol includes a special exercise regime which diverts from the regular regime for the rest of the crew and uses an abbreviated VO2 Max protocol using the ESA-developed Portable Pulmonary Function System during exercise. Sprint VO2 max is a test that measures oxygen uptake, ventilatory threshold, and other physiological parameters for evaluation of the Sprint exercise protocol.
Outside of ultrasound measurements Human Research Facility 2’s refrigerated centrifuge was used for spinning blood samples for NASA’s Microbiome experiment (for Rick Mastracchio) which is investigating the impact of space travel on the human immune system and the microbes that live in and on the human body; and for NASA’s Pro K/Repository protocol (for Michael Hopkins) which is testing the hypothesis that a diet with a decreased ration of animal protein to potassium leads to a decreased loss of bone mineral. Centrifuged blood samples were placed in a MELFI freezer unit.
Body Mass Measurements were undertaken on 27 November by Michael Hopkins and Koichi Wakata using the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) in Human Research Facility 1.
Biolab Facility Maintenance
With confirmation that the Biolab microscope is now performing nominally a Biolab Commissioning Run (with preparatory activities) was successfully completed from 25 - 29 November. Preparatory activities were undertaken by Rick Mastracchio on the first day, including assembling the Triplelux Experiment Container and installing it into Biolab’s Automatic Temperature Controlled Stowage. The following day a ground conducted functional test of the Handling Mechanism Arm along with centrifuge calibration was undertaken, followed by a Life Support Module nitrogen flushing. On 27 November Mastracchio installed the Triplelux Experiment Container onto incubator rotor A for ground-commanded viability testing. The following day the Triplelux Experiment Container was swapped to rotor B for the same viability testing. This second experiment simulation was completed during the night with Mastracchio removing and stowing the Triplelux Experiment Container on 29 November.
The TripleLux-B experiment will be the next experiment to make full use of the Biolab facility, currently scheduled for launch to the ISS on the SpaceX-5 spacecraft in Autumn next year. This will be preceded by the Gravi-2 experiment (executed in the European Modular Cultication System - EMCS) that will make use of Biolab’s thermal storage capabilities (in the Thermal Control Unit – TCU) following launch to the ISS on SpaceX-3 in early 2014.
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 1 October. 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.
A new Sun Visibility Window (the 71st) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) opened on 17 November. 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. This window is the start of the third Solar Bridging campaign which will join windows 71 and 72 together (following up the campaigns in November/December 2012 and June/July 2013).
This campaign is an extended period of science acquisition which includes two Sun Visibility Windows and a bridging event during which the ISS will be slightly rotated in order to continue science acquisition and join the two Sun Visibility Windows together. As the Sun visibility windows last for around 12 days this bridging event will make it possible to undertake solar measurements during a full Sun rotation cycle (which lasts around 27 days). The bridging period will also be the third time that the attitude of the Space Station has been changed for science reasons.
The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range since 2008. 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)
Following updates to some ground-commanding operational procedures experiment runs resumed for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) in the two-week reporting period. Two different samples were processed between 25 – 27 November, the first sample with liquid composition of 99.5% water / 0.5% hexane, the second with liquid composition of 98% water / 2% hexane. For the second sample the feedback from the science team is that the emulsification was good and the volume fraction is consistent with the 2% hexane. Image analysis of the recent samples being processed (so-called ITEM-S type samples) will allow the extraction of the emulsion structure with deduction of droplet size and droplets clustering with respect to time.
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.
SODI DCMIX-2 Experiment and Microgravity Science Glovebox Activities
The ground-commanded optical tests for the Selectable Optical Diagnostics Instrument (SODI) inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox have been on-going in the two-week period until 29 November. The Spanish User Support and Operations Centre in Madrid acquired images for various settings of the SODI laser diodes and cameras. These tests progressed well and quickly. The FTP transfer protocol problem between SODI and the MSG laptop was resolved and the science team reported highest quality for the acquired images for two of the lasers and high quality of the acquired images for the third one. An optical checkout without a cell array was completed successfully on 26 November. This facility is now ready for the installation of the SODI DCMIX-2 samples which arrived on Progress 53P on 29 November.
The SODI DCMIX experiments are supporting research to determine Soret diffusion coefficients in different petroleum field samples and refine petroleum reservoir models to help lead to more efficient extraction of oil resources. The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within the Early Utilisation barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of materials science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment.
Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and Batch 2a experiments
On 26 November Rick Mastracchio exchanged the processed CETSOL-2 sample located in the MSL Solidification and quenching furnace for a MICAST-2 sample. Following a leak check this new sample is awaiting melting and solidification processing. CETSOL-2 and MICAST-2 form part of the Batch 2a solidification experiments which also includes the SETA-2 experiment.
ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1 in the US Laboratory and jointly operated under a bilateral cooperation agreement. 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.
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 29 November include:
Ham Radio Sessions
The amateur radio equipment in Columbus was used for undertaking ham radio sessions with Salisbury Middle School, in Salisbury, New Brunswick, Canada and with schools in Stobierna, Poland on 20 and 27 November respectively. The first contact was undertaken by ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, the second by ISS Flight Engineer and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata.
Condensate Water Separator Assembly
ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins performed Condensate Water Separator Assembly Desiccant Module inspection in Columbus on 28 November. Based on the colour indication observed in the Desiccant Module unit inspection window, a replacement of the unit was performed.
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 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 29 November include:
Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack
The Sabatier reactor was successfully restarted following several purges to eliminate water from the system and a change in the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly operations to provide dryer CO2 to the Sabatier. Experts suspect that the accumulation of moisture in the CO2 accumulator blocks the flow through the laminar element, which leads to shutdowns and start-up problems. Hopkins installed a CO2 check valve in the Sabatier system on 27 November in order to help preserve the life of the Sabatier compressor. The new check valve will prevent back pressure from entering the compressor. The Sabatier reactor combines carbon dioxide coming from the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly with H2 (hydrogen) from the Oxygen Generator System to form H2O (water) and CH4 (methane). The water is sent to the Waste Water Bus and reprocessed through the Water Processor Assembly. The methane is vented overboard.
- Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack
Progress M-21M/53P Launch
Launch and Docking Preparations
On 18 November The Russian/Roscosmos ISS crew members (ISS Commander Oleg Kotov and ISS Flight Engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mikhail Tyurin) tested the TORU manual docking system. Kotov and Tyurin practiced manual rendezvous techniques using the TORU system four days later. The TORU system allows ISS crew control of the Progress spacecraft from the Russian Service Module should the automatic KURS systems on Progress fail.
Launch and In-Orbit Testing
The Russian Progress M-21M spacecraft on logistics flight 53P to the ISS was launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz-U rocket on 25 November at 21:53 CET (02:53 local time on 26 November) with cargo consisting of 800 kg propellants, 50 kg oxygen and air, 420 kg water and more than 1400 kg dry cargo. Progress 53P carried out a Station fly-by on 27 November with a closest approach to around 1.6 km at 22:53 (CET). This was in order to test its upgraded Kurs automated rendezvous system before it is integrated into the newer Soyuz-MS and Progress-MS spacecraft. Following the test Progress 53P spent the following 48 hours flying above and behind the ISS to set up final rendezvous and docking manoeuvres with the ISS.
The Russian Progress 53P spacecraft docked with the aft port of the ISS Russian Service Module on 29 November at 23:30 (CET). Progress 53P had undertaken an automatic approach to the ISS. When the Progress was about 60 meters from the docking port, it went into an unexpected station keeping mode at which point ISS Commander Oleg Kotov took over manual control of the vehicle using the TORU system to successfully dock the logistics spacecraft. After docking, ISS attitude control was returned first to Russian systems and then to US systems.
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 four-week reporting period, samples were installed inside MELFI units for: NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio for NASA’s Salivary Markers immunology experiment (saliva), and NASA’s Microbiome experiment (blood, saliva, body, ISS surface); JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata for NASA’s new Cardio Ox experiment (blood, urine); and NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins for NASA’s Pro K/Repository protocol (blood, urine). Samples were also placed inside one of the freezer units for JAXA’s Aniso Tubule Experiment for processing. After watering seeds in a sample chamber on 18 November, Koichi Wakata stowed the chamber in one of the MELFI for a five-day preparation for sprouting, simulating the winter season for plants. The Aniso Tubule experiment investigates the roles of cortical microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins in gravity-induced growth modification of plant stems. Wakata retrieved the seeds he had watered on 22 November and exposed the seeds to light for approximately 8 hours before placing them in a light-proof bag.
ISON Comet Recording
Koichi Wakata set up and performed a first checkout of JAXA’s 4K Ultra High Definition camera in the ESA-built Cupola Observation Module on 18 November. This was in preparation for a JAXA live public affairs event on 4 December during which video images of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) Comet will be captured using the camera system. The ISON Comet originates from the Oort Cloud region of our solar system and is now travelling toward the Sun. The comet reached its closest approach to the Sun on 28 November. If it comes around the Sun without breaking up, the comet will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere with the naked eye. Further checkouts of the system were undertaken between 22 – 27 November.
A total of four cube satellites were successfully deployed using the Japanese Kibo Laboratory’s Small Satellite Orbital Deployer on 19 and 20 November. Koichi Wakata opened the Kibo airlock hatch before extending the slide table with the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer out onto the laboratory’s Exposed Facility. The Small Satellite Orbital Deployer was then transferred to the Japanese Robotic Arm and subsequently the NASA nano satellites TechEdSat-3p, ArduSat-1, ArduSat-X and JAXA’s Pico Dragon were deployed over the two days.
Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) Testing
On 19 November ground specialists together with Michael Hopkins on orbit tested repairs made to an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), one of the US spacewalking suits. This had been repaired following a 16 July spacewalk during which ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano experienced a water leak inside the suit. The suit was checked for functionality and telemetry, checking the spacesuit's cooling loop and water separator and especially checking for water and gas leaks. Hopkins monitored the test during tests where the suit was pressurized beyond what a spacewalker would normally experience.
ISS 15 Year Anniversary
On 20 November the ISS marked 15 years in orbit following the launch of its first element (Zarya) on 20 November 1998. Two weeks later, on 4 December 1998, Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched with the second element (Unity), which was attached to Zarya on 6 December 1998. Four days later the STS-88 crew members became the first people to enter the ISS.
Tracking Data Relay Satellite (TDRS)-172 Testing
On 20 November Rick Mastracchio successfully performed S-Band and Ku-Band communications checks with the Mission Control Centre in Houston in an effort to checkout NASA’s new TDRS-172 satellite. Meanwhile, Flight Controllers received telemetry and sent commands to ISS. These tests are part of a series of checkout activities following the satellite’s launch in January 2013. The spacecraft includes several modifications from older satellites in the TDRS System, including redesigned telecommunications payload electronics and a high-performance solar panel designed for more spacecraft power to meet growing S-band requirements.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two-week period until 29 November include: monitoring the Internal Thermal Control System loops for a suspected small leak; successful upload of a software patch for the Improved Payload Ethernet Hub Gateway (iPEHG) to increase the supported number of static routes, minimize payload data loss and decrease recovery time following an iPEHG reset; replacement of a water heating and distribution unit in the Russian Service Module; installation of an Inter-Orbit Communication System data multiplexer in the Japanese laboratory which helps to provide independent communications between the laboratory and the Japanese Tsukuba Space Centre; cleaning a US laboratory Inter-Module Ventilation fan to improve airflow; swapping out batteries in the four US Crew Quarters; installing a new manifold bottle inside the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US laboratory; testing a pistol grip tool (type of cordless drill used on spacewalks); installing new low-noise fans in the Zvezda Service Module; a solar array mast structure photo survey; and installing two new Joint Station LAN cables which will provide Ethernet connectivity to visiting vehicles berthed to the Node 2 nadir port.
(*)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.
Subscribe to the mailing list through the link to the right and receive a notification when the latest status report is made available online.