Columbus logo
Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 160 Increment 38: 4 – 17 January 2014

24/01/2014 1017 views 1 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #160 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
In the two weeks until 17 January three different astronauts have taken part in the Space Headaches experiment. Weekly questionnaires were filled in on 10 and 17 January by ISS Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins (his 15th and 16th), Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata (their 9th and 10th). 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
Following a combined session in December ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata successfully completed his second session of the Circadian Rhythms experiment from 7 - 9 January. During the session Wakata donned the Thermolab temperature sensors, on the forehead and chest, and the Thermolab unit along with an activity monitoring armband. Hereafter measurements were taken for 36 hours. On conclusion of the experiment Wakata downlinked the experiment data for the two sessions he has so far undertaken.

The main objective of the experiment is to get a better basic understanding of any alterations in circadian rhythms in humans during long-duration spaceflight. This will provide insights into the adaptation of the human autonomic nervous system in space over time, and will help to improve physical exercise, rest and work shifts, as well as fostering adequate workplace illumination in the sense of occupational healthcare in future space missions.

Reversible Figures Experiment
Sessions of the Reversible Figures experiment were carried out in the Columbus laboratory on 13 January by ISS Flight Engineers Koichi Wakata (3rd session) and Michael Hopkins (5th session). During the sessions the experiment instruments were connected to a laptop in the Columbus laboratory before a dedicated visor was donned and the experiment protocol was conducted in a free-floating position.

The experiment is investigating the adaptive nature of the human neuro-vestibular system in the processing of gravitational information related to 3D visual perception. It involves the comparisons of pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight perceptions with regards to ambiguous perspective-reversible figures to assess the influence of weightlessness. During the science run, a series of ambiguous figures are displayed for about 60-120 seconds and the crew member is prompted to specify, by pressing pushbuttons on a mouse, which percept is visualized first and then every subsequent change in perception.


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 6 January for ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata for NASA’s new Cardio Ox experiment. Cardio Ox 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 will relate them to the risk of developing atherosclerosis (thickening of artery walls as a result of the accumulation of calcium and fatty materials). Urine collections were also undertaken and stored in a MELFI freezer unit.

The equipment was additionally used on 7 January for undertaking thigh and calf ultrasounds for Koichi 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.

Outside of ultrasound measurements Human Research Facility 2’s refrigerated centrifuge was used on 7 (for Koichi Wakata) and 12 (for Michael Hopkins) January for spinning blood samples for NASA’s combined Biochemical Profile/Pro K/Repository protocol. Centrifuged blood samples were placed in a MELFI freezer unit.

Body Mass Measurements were undertaken on 15 January by Michael Hopkins using the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) in Human Research Facility 1.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
Following more than four successful years of activities within different human research projects, ESA’s Portable Pulmonary Function System unit on the ISS has failed. This will have a minimum impact on the scheduled science activities as a spare flight unit could be launched on ATV-5 (details of recovery options still under discussion). The Portable Pulmonary Function System is an autonomous multi-user facility supporting a broad range of human physiological research experiments under weightless condition in the areas of respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic physiology.


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 1 October. From 6 – 8 January the active detectors of DOSIS were set to a higher acquisition mode due to increased solar activity. Several observations were made in this period by the joint ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) which revealed a giant sunspot with subsequent high activity (coronal mass ejection). The active detectors for DOSIS-3D 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 earlier 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 73rd  Sun Visibility Window for the SOLAR facility opened on 15 January. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR, which is located on the external platform of Columbus, are open for the facility to acquire scientific data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) when the ISS is in the correct orbital profile with relation to the Sun. This was the first window following the now-resolved problem with the ISS External Thermal Control System which led to the Solar facility being placed into survival mode for almost three weeks in December. The first data acquisition started for the SOLSPEC instrument on 16 December. The SolACES instrument was still being kept in a heated configuration by the end of the reporting period (17 January) in an attempt to recover as much as possible from the very cold period it experienced in survival mode. It will only be possible to assess if there was any impact for the SolACES spectrophotometers functionality when SolACES starts data acquisition in spectrometer mode, i.e. when it is taken out of a heated configuration.

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.


Fluids Research
FASES Experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
Numerous different experiment runs were undertaken for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) in the two weeks up until 17 January. This included three opaque samples (mixtures of 10% water / 90% paraffin with different surfactant concentrations) with the samples first being emulsified to help generate heat flux curves corresponding to freezing and heating temperature profiles. This was followed up by rescanning of some transparent samples that were already emulsified to assess the long-term evolution of the emulsions over time. This included samples with liquid compositions of 98% paraffin/2% water; 99.5% water/0.5% hexane with increasing surfactant concentrations; 98% water/2% hexane with increasing surfactant concentrations; and 4% water/96% paraffin with increasing surfactant concentrations.

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 are being 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
Numerous experiment runs have continued for the SODI DCMIX-2 experiment inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox in the US Laboratory in the two weeks until 17 January. This consists in the application of a temperature gradient to various toluene, methanol and cyclohexane composition mixtures and acquiring Mach-Zehnder Interferometry images of the mixtures during thermodiffusion processes. The nominal experimental programme have been very successfully accomplished. The science team has proposed to perform a series of shorter runs with new parameters as science bonus runs, to assess if any change in samples compositions would have occurred with time since filling. These shorter runs include the thermodiffusion study and not the sample relaxation phase afterwards.

The experiment utilises the Selectable Optical Diagnostics Instrument (SODI). 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 Research
Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and Batch 2a experiments
The MICAST-2 sample located in the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) was processed from 8 – 9 January. On 9 January ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio swapped this MICAST-2 sample for a CETSOL-2 sample, which is awaiting processing following successful chamber leak testing. MICAST-2 and CETSOL-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.


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.

NightPod Tracking Device
The full check out of the new firmware of the NightPod 'tracking device' was carried out by ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata on 16 January. After setting up NightPod in the Cupola Observation Module, he successfully acquired images of the coast of Mexico and North America under low light conditions. Afterwards Wakata copied all of the pictures to a Station Support Computer for downlink. The NightPod 'tracking device' supports a Nikon 3DS 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 17 January 2014 include:

  • Internal Thermal Control System Activities
    On 7 January ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, performed Internal Thermal Control System sampling in Columbus. The levels of antimicrobial agent (ortho-phthalaldehyde or OPA) were nominal though the system did lose 180ml of water as a result of the sampling. As such a repressurisation of the system was undertaken and the active pump accumulator pressure is back in nominal range. The sampling confirmed that there are no ammonia micro leaks following the External Thermal Control System loop A failure in December.  Four days later the primary Water Pump Assembly unit in Columbus was switched from unit 2 to unit 1 getting the Columbus configuration back to nominal following resolution of the failure. Internal Thermal Control Systems sampling was also undertaken in the other non-Russian modules of the ISS on 6 January.
  • Ham Radio Sessions
    The amateur radio equipment in Columbus was used on 8 January for undertaking ham radio sessions with students in Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland;  San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy and Williamsburg, Virginia, United States. The first two contacts were undertaken by ISS Flight Engineer and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, the third by ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins.
  • Columbus Shell Heaters
    Columbus shell heater control was switched back from Heater Control Unit 2 to Heater Control Unit 1 on 15 January following resolution of the External Thermal Control System loop A failure.
  • 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 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 17 January 2014 include: 
    • Water Recovery System racks
      ISS Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins swapped out a recycle tank in the Water Recovery System on 8 January.
    • Waste and Hygiene Compartment
      ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio replaced urine hydraulic components in the Waste and Hygiene Compartment on 15 January as part of yearly maintenance activities.
  • Exercise Equipment
     As part of yearly maintenance Michael Hopkins tightened and torqued multiple set screws within the Cylinder Flywheels of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) in Node 3 on 10 January.
  • Cupola Activities
    The European-built Cupola Observation Module attached to Node 3 is proving a valuable ISS asset especially for observing/controlling external robotics and Earth Observation activities. Following the replacement of the failed Cosmo Shoot HDTV Recorder (and subsequent check out) on 10 January, four days later ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata set up JAXA’s 4K Ultra High Definition camera and Cosmo Shoot laptop in the ESA-built Cupola Observation Module to prepare for capturing images of the Earth surface. He removed the hardware later that day. Robotic activities for berthing the Cygnus spacecraft and subsequent robotics activities (see below) were also undertaken on orbit from the Cupola.


Cygnus Spacecraft Launch and Docking

  • Launch
    Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft was launched successfully into orbit by the Antares launcher from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia on 9 January at 19:07 CET (13:07 local time) on its first commercial flight to the ISS (following its demo flight to the ISS in September). Following insertion into orbit the spacecraft’s solar arrays were successfully deployed and systems were working nominally. The flight had been temporarily delayed a day due to high solar activity on the previous couple of days. Phasing burns were performed over the next couple of days to bring the Cygnus spacecraft in the vicinity of the ISS.  Cygnus is a commercial unmanned spacecraft under NASA contract which is capable of carrying up to 2.7 tonnes of cargo. For this first commercial flight the Cygnus spacecraft is transporting around 1260 kg of cargo. The cargo also includes crew provisions, spare parts, and scientific hardware. The station’s proximity operations hardware for Cygnus was activated on 10 January to provide a beacon for Cygnus, giving it navigational data during the final phase of the rendezvous which started the following day.
  • Cygnus Berthing
    Following final rendezvous manoeuvres to bring the Cygnus spacecraft to the capture point within about 10 metres of the ISS, the spacecraft was captured at 12:08 (CET)  by the Space Station’s principal robotic arm (Canadarm-2) with ISS Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins as the main robotic arm operator. Hereafter ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata took control of Canadarm-2 and manoeuvred the new spacecraft into position before berthing it to the Earth-facing port of the European-built Node 2 at 14:05 (CET) with ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio then leading activities to bolt Cygnus to the Node 2 common berthing mechanism. Following berthing, a vestibule leak check was undertaken by Wakata, and together with Hopkins and Mastracchio the Node 2 hatch was opened, vestibule outfitting took place and the hatch into the Cygnus spacecraft was opened, well ahead of schedule allowing the crew to enter the new logistics spacecraft for the first time. Cygnus will remain attached to the ISS until mid-February when it will be unberthed from the station for a planned destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.
  • Post-berthing Activities
     Following hatch opening cargo transfer activities started and all cargo delivered had been unpacked by 15 January. At this point loading Cygnus with items for disposal has started. On 13 January robotics ground controllers ungrappled Canadarm-2 from Cygnus and walked the robotic arm off so that its Latching End Effector A was facing the Cupola. Mastracchio then took photos from the Cupola Module of the snare cables the Latching End Effector. Hereafter Canadarm-2 was again walked off so that Latching End Effector B was facing the Cupola. Similar photos of the snare cables of this end effector were undertaken the following day by Wakata.


Russian Spacewalk 38 Preparations
ISS Commander Oleg Kotov, and ISS Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy (both representing Roscosmos) were preparing to undertake the 38th Russian ISS spacewalk at the end January to complete work not undertaken in the previous Russian spacewalk on 27 December. This included installation of a dual camera system, jettison of external experiment hardware and installation of a payload boom. The two cosmonauts checked their Russian Orlan spacesuits and set up the suits’ replaceable parts as well as starting to prepare the Pirs docking compartment/airlock for the spacewalk. 

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 installed inside MELFI units for: NASA’s Cardio Ox experiment (urine) for Koichi Wakata, NASA’s Biochemical Profile/Pro K/Repository protocol (blood and urine) for Koichi Wakata and Michael Hopkins, and Group Activation Packs for NASA’s Vaccine-21 experiment which is testing the hypothesis that antibiotics used to treat bacterial grown will exhibit reduced efficacy in space. 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 10 January, Koichi Wakata stowed the chamber in one of the MELFI units for sprouting, simulating the winter season for the 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 14 January and exposed the seeds to light for approximately 6 hours before placing them in the Cell Biology Experiment Unit for cultivation.


Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two weeks until 17 January 2014 include: stowing trash and excess equipment for disposal in the Progress 52P logistics spacecraft which is due to undock on 3 February; an internal ISS Safety Video Survey to identify any areas of concern related to ventilation blockage, flammability hazards, emergency exit paths etc.; successful troubleshooting on the Fluids Integrated Rack loss of communication issue; replacement of an Enhanced Processor Integrated Communications (EPIC) Card for the Payload 1 Multiplexer/Demultiplexer to help resolve a communications issue; an emergency descent drill by Kotov, Ryazanskiy and Hopkins in Soyuz TMA-10M to practice procedures in the unlikely event of an emergency on orbit; an emergency training drill with all six crewmembers to practice ISS emergency responses to a simulated ammonia leak on the ISS; loading software and swapping out a hard drive on the laptop computer that helps operate the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer; replacing a fuel reservoir and a manifold bottle inside the Combustion Integrated Rack; and a power trip which caused loss of power to a low temperature loop pump in the Japanese laboratory which is being assessed for its impact before a spare can arrive in the Summer.


 (*)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