This is ISS status report #165 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 28 March two different astronauts have taken part in the Space Headaches experiment. Weekly questionnaires were filled in on 20 and 28 March by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata and ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio (their 19th and 20th). The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 37S.
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.
Reversible Figures Experiment
ISS Commander Koichi Wakata carried out his 5th session of the Reversible Figures experiment in the Columbus laboratory on 18 March. During the session 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
Body Mass Measurements were undertaken on 26 March by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata and ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio using the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) in Human Research Facility 1 in Columbus.
Biolab Facility Testing and EMCS Experiment GRAVI-2
Due to the delay in the launch of the SpaceX-3 Dragon logistics spacecraft to the ISS, additional testing has been taking place with the Biolab facility. These ground-commanded tests took place on 17 and 18 March and included Life Support Module functional and tightness testing, a Handling Mechanism Force Margin test and a Rotor Alignment test.
The GRAVI-2 experiment (executed in the European Modular Cultivation System - EMCS) will make use of Biolab’s thermal storage capabilities following the launch of the experiment to the ISS on SpaceX-3 (tbd in April). The TripleLux-B experiment will be the next experiment to make full use of the Biolab facility capabilities, currently scheduled for launch to the ISS on the SpaceX-5 spacecraft in Autumn 2014.
The GRAVI-2 experiment continues the research undertaken within the GRAVI-1 experiment in determining the threshold of perception of gravity by lentil roots. The TripleLux-B experiment will compare the cellular mechanisms of vertebrate (rodent) and invertebrate (blue mussel) cells which cause impairment of immune function in weightlessness. Biolab is a multi-user facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates.
Data acquisition has been on-going for the Dose Distribution inside the ISS 3D (DOSIS-3D) experiment using the two active detectors. On 27 March the monthly data downlink was performed via the European Physiology Modules in which the active detectors are installed. A new set of passive detectors for the experiment were deployed at various locations around the Columbus laboratory on 28 March by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata. These arrived on Soyuz 38S. The previous set of passive detectors had been returned to Earth on Soyuz 36S on 11 March. 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.
A new Sun Visibility Window (the 75th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) opened on 15 March and continued until 25 March. 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 science programme for SOLSPEC continued throughout this period.
As SolACES is placed in a heated configuration (during which no science acquisition is possible) outside of Sun Visibility Windows and during thruster firings, as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation, there has been a slight impact during this window. This was due to an ISS debris avoidance manoeuvre undertaken on the night of 16/17 March (SolACES warming from 16-18 March) and the high probability of a second ISS debris avoidance manoeuvre on 21 March (SolACES warming from 20-21 March) though this was subsequently cancelled, and very briefly on 23 March though this was also subsequently cancelled. The next Sun Visibility Window is scheduled to open on 16 April.
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)
Experiment runs are temporarily on hold for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment while a troubleshooting programme is being implemented to resolve an issue with one of the branches of the FASES Peltier elements for thermal conditioning of the experiment cells. The first step had already been undertaken on 13 March with ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio reconfiguring cabling to bypass an over-temperature protection electronics box to determine if this was the cause of the lack of power to the heating elements. This was ruled out by ground-commanded testing on 19 March as activation of the FASES experiment/Fluid Science Laboratory produced the same issue. Mastracchio reconfigured the cabling back on 23 March. On 26/27 March additional troubleshooting steps were undertaken by injecting high/low current into the Thermal Environmental Control/Peltier board to check on the response.
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.
FASTER Experiment in the European Drawer Rack (EDR)
ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio upgraded the Space Acceleration Measurement System (SAMS) Control Unit laptop in the US Laboratory to a new T61P unit on 19 March, though this has experienced a number of post-installation checkout issues currently being resolved. The next use of the SAMS is for ESA’s FASTER payload operations which are due to start following launch to the ISS on the SpaceX-3 Dragon spacecraft in mid-April and subsequent integration into the European Drawer Rack (EDR). SAMS measures vibrations and transient acceleration disturbances resulting from ISS vehicle activities, systems operations, experiment operations, crew movements, and ISS structure thermal expansion and contraction.
The Facility for Adsorption and Surface Tension (FASTER) experiment is a Capillarity Pressure Tensiometer developed for the study of the links between emulsion stability and characteristics of droplet interfaces. This research has applications in industrial domains and is linked to investigations such as foam stability/drainage/rheology.
Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and Batch 2a experiments
A MICAST-2 sample is currently located in the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) awaiting processing in the future. MICAST-2 forms part of the Batch 2a solidification experiments which also includes the CETSOL-2 and SETA-2 experiments.
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. On 19 March a new set of command files was uplinked and installed.
The Vessel Identification System has acquired an extensive amount of data for almost four 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.
On 16 and 23 March ISS Commander Koichi Wakata performed a short activity to adjust the frequency settings of the Ham Video instrument following the installation in the Columbus laboratory on 6 March. ISS HAM Video will produce valuable imagery for use in education and promotion activities. Footage will help to stimulate the public interest in the International Space Station in general, and more specifically generate an interest in children through providing a means to promote an interest in scientific research topics.
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 28 March 2014 include:
US Segment Audio System Troubleshooting
Audio Terminal Unit 2 in Columbus was replaced on 21 March by ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio. This unit was suspected of causing errors in the Audio subsystem of the US orbital segment of the ISS. After the replacement Audio Terminal Unit 2 was re-integrated and performed successful voice checks with the crew. Errors still occurred after the replacement on fibre optic bus B, though these were able to be cleared by ground teams who are monitoring the situation to make sure that these were just transient start-up problems. In the meantime Audio Terminal Unit 2 is considered healthy and working nominally on bus A.
Solar Array Maximum Power Output Test
On 17 and 21 March Heater Control Unit 2 in Columbus was heated up for a period in support of a Solar Array Maximum Power Output Test.
EXPRESS Rack 3 Laptop Updates
EXPRESS Laptop Computer and Rack Interface Controller software updates for EXPRESS Rack 3 in Columbus were performed on 20 March.
Ham Radio Sessions
The amateur radio equipment in Columbus was used by ISS Commander and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata for undertaking ham radio sessions with students in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA and Melbourne, Australia on 20 and 25 March respectively.
Columbus CO2 sensor
The prime CO2 sensor in the Columbus laboratory failed on 28 March. There is no impact to operations in the laboratory since the back-up sensor is working nominally.
Weekly and Periodic 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 28 March 2014 include:
Water Recovery System: Catalytic Reactor
Following replacement of the catalytic reactor in the Water Processing Assembly in Water Recovery System Rack 1 on 6 March, leak testing on the removed unit was undertaken by ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio on 18 March. This was in order to determine if on-orbit repair was possible. This identified eleven water leaks at multiple seal locations. The Water Recovery System recycles condensation and urine into drinkable water.
Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack: Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly/Sabatier Reactor
ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio performed leak checking on the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly to identify the source of water in the system’s Sabatier Reactor. The air duct checked indicated no leaks in the system.
Waste and Hygiene Compartment/Urine Processor Assembly
As part of Waste and Hygiene Compartment troubleshooting to eliminate bacteria and fungus believed to be causing gas problems in the Urine Processor Assembly, Rick Mastracchio replaced piping, filled the flush water tank, and replaced the dose pump on 17 March, and performed a shock treatment of the internal urine components of the Waste and Hygiene Compartment using water and pre-treat solution on 20/21 March. The shock is intended to clean the Waste and Hygiene Compartment components and deter further microbial growth until the system can be reconfigured for urine processing through the Urine Processor Assembly. The Waste and Hygiene Compartment urine filter hose was also replaced and a new EDV urine container was installed to remove potential contamination locations. As a final step, on 21 March the Waste and Hygiene Compartment pre-treat tank was replaced.
After system restart the Waste and Hygiene Compartment is performing nominally but the Urine Processor Assembly experienced an unexpected shutdown, which is being investigated. A partial and a full fill of the Waste and Hygiene Compartment flush tank was performed and confirmed that there is no longer a backflow through the dose pump into the pre-treat tank.
- Water Recovery System: Catalytic Reactor
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. ISS Commander Koichi Wakata set up JAXA’s 4K Ultra High Definition camera in the Cupola Module on 18 March and recorded an educational video to be aired in Japan in April, showing observations of Japan at night from the ISS.
Soyuz TMA-12M/38S, Expedition 39/40 Crew Launch and Docking
Soyuz TMA-12M Launch and Docking
The Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft was launched on flight 38S to the ISS on 25 March at 22:17 CET (03:17 local time on 26 March) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew consisted of NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. Skvortsov and Artemyev are Flight Engineers for ISS Expeditions 39 and 40. Swanson is a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 39 and will become ISS Commander for Expedition 40. Following orbital insertion, Soyuz TMA 38S antennas and solar arrays were deployed. However the Soyuz spacecraft was unable to complete its third thruster burn to fine-tune its approach to the ISS. As such it was not able to complete an expedited four-orbits-to-docking manoeuvre lasting only around six hours and has reverted to the usual two days (or 34 orbits) which was the standard rendezvous profile until last year. The problem was subsequently traced to a hand controller test which interfered with the calculation of the angular rate for the attitude manoeuvre. Two rendezvous burns/manoueuvres were carried out nominally the following day. Prior to Soyuz TMA docking the ISS crew configured relevant communications and video equipment. The Soyuz spacecraft docked successfully with the Russian “Poisk” Mini Research Module 2 at 00:53 (CET) on 28 March. This brought the permanent crew of the ISS up to a total of six together with ISS Commander and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata and ISS Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos).
Soyuz TMA-12M 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 03:35 CET 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 three Sokol spacesuits and their gloves were also set up for drying out and the six crew members carried out an Emergency Roles and Responsibilities Review to discuss emergency response planning.
SpaceX-3 Dragon Launch/Rendezvous Preparations and Robotics Activities
During power down of the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator ‘Dextre’ outside the ISS on 17 March, a Remote Power Control Module tripped which helps provide power to the Robotic Workstation Display and Control Panel in the US laboratory which will be needed for capture and berthing of the SpaceX-3 Dragon logistics spacecraft. A fatal failure was displayed on the Robotic Workstation though ground controllers proceeded with rebooting the unit which was successful in clearing the fatal failure and other error messages and Dextre was successfully powered down. A week later the power configuration for the Robotic Workstations in the US Laboratory and the Cupola Module were modified as a workaround and to provide power redundancy during Dragon berthing. Successful checkouts were performed hereafter. The errors that occurred are currently under investigation.
On 25 March a ground-commanded checkout of the Mobile Servicing System was carried out. The Mobile Servicing System is a working platform that moves along rails on the Station’s truss and provides lateral mobility for the Station’s principal robotic arm ‘Canadarm 2’. After being powered up on different strings, Canadarm 2’s Latching End Effector snare cables, brake and joints were inspected. On completion Canadarm 2 was manoeuvred into position for SpaceX-3 Dragon capture.
The planned launch of SpaceX-3 Dragon has subsequently been delayed to no earlier than 10 April 2014 due to an issue at the Kennedy Space Center eastern range radar site.
Progress Spacecraft Activities/Debris Avoidance Manouevres
On the night of 16/17 March a Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre was carried out by the ISS using the thrusters of Progress 54P (docked to the Pirs Docking Compartment) to provide a healthy margin of clearance from the projected path of a piece of Russian METEOR 2-5 satellite debris. The manoeuvre lasted 7 min 9 sec and increased the orbital altitude of the ISS by about 800 m. Two further incidences of debris were being monitored during the two weeks until 28 March but these turned out to be of no concern for additional action.
During the two weeks until 28 March excess hardware and equipment and Station garbage was loaded into Progress 54P for disposal by ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. The vehicle is set to depart the station on 7 April for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean. Propellant was also transferred from the Progress 54P tanks to the Russian Service Module tanks.
On 28 March the Progress 53P spacecraft (docked to the aft docking port of the Russian Service Module) was used for undertaking a reboost of the ISS to a higher orbital altitude. This is in preparation for launch and docking of the next Progress spacecraft (Progress 55P) in April. The Progress spacecraft are an important element of logistics supply for the ISS.
Other activities that have taken place on the ISS in the two weeks until 28 March 2014 include: successful repair on one of the station’s food warmers; preparation of a US spacewalking suit with a defective sublimator for return to earth; replacing light bulbs in two of the eight EXPRESS racks aboard the ISS; replacement of a Condensate Water Relief Valve in one of the US spacewalking suits in support of future spacewalks; cleaning of the Japanese Laboratory’s Intermodule Ventilation system; update of ISERV software to improve imagery downlink in support of the search for the missing Malaysian airliner; repair on NASA’s Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS)-II hardware which was damaged during an experiment run on 20 February; and Rack Interface Computer software updates for EXPRESS Racks 2, 4 and 7. Additional ISS Partner research activities undertaken in the past two weeks include: NASA’s FLame Extinguishment eXperiment (FLEX)-2 which studies the rate and manner in which fuel is burned, the conditions that are necessary for soot to form, and the way in which a mixture of fuels evaporate before burning; NASA’s Capillary Flow Experiment which studies how fluids flow across surfaces with complex geometries in a weightless environment to improve fluids modelling; NASA’s Advanced Colloids Experiment which studies microscopic particles suspended in a liquid with possible benefits for commercial products on Earth; and JAXA’s Protein Crystal Growth experiment which will help provide detailed information regarding crystal structure for designing new drugs for diseases and catalysts for ecological applications
(*)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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