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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 167 Increment 39: 12 – 25 April 2014

02/05/2014 2634 views 3 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #167 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 25 April three different astronauts have taken part in the Space Headaches experiment. Weekly questionnaires were filled in by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata, ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio (their 23rd and 24th) and ISS Flight Engineer Steve Swanson (his 3rd and 4th) on 18 and 24 April. The weekly questionnaires follow on from one week of filling in daily questionnaires during the first week after launch on Soyuz 37S for Wakata and Mastracchio and Soyuz 38S for Swanson.

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.

Skin-B Experiment
ISS Flight Engineer Steve Swanson undertook his second session of ESA’s Skin-B experiment on 25 April. The session consisted of three different non-invasive measurements taken on the inside part of the forearm. This included skin moisture measurement with a corneometer; trans epidermal water loss measurement to determine barrier function of the skin with a tewameter; and surface evaluation of the living skin with a UVA-light camera (visioscan).

The Skin-B experiment will help to develop a mathematical model of aging skin and improve understanding of skin-aging mechanisms, which are accelerated in weightlessness. It will also provide a model for the adaptive processes for other tissues in the body.

ISS Partner Research in Columbus
In addition to the European human research activities, NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 (HRF-1) in Columbus was used by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata on 16 April for undertaking spinal ultrasound scans on ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio. The spinal ultrasound scans are part of a NASA investigation to characterise spinal changes during and after spaceflight.

The ultrasound equipment was again used on 25 April for thigh and calf ultrasounds for ISS Flight Engineer Steve Swanson 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.


Biology Research
GRAVI-2 Experiment and European Biology Facilities in Columbus

The GRAVI-2 experiment was launched to the ISS on 18 April on the SpaceX-3 Dragon logistics spacecraft which docked with the ISS on 20 April. ESA’s Biolab facility was activated on 20 April in preparation for the experiment. For this purpose Biolab’s Thermal Control Unit 1 was set to 4 deg C.  The GRAVI-2 seeds and fixatives were placed inside Thermal Control Unit 1 (TCU-1) on 22 April by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata.

Following this initial thermal conditioning phase of the experiment the samples for the GRAVI-2 experiment will be processed in 2 runs of around 30 hours in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS). After chemical fixation the samples will then be returned on SpaceX-3. The GRAVI-2 experiment continues the research undertaken within the GRAVI-1 experiment in determining the threshold of perception of gravity by lentil roots.

ISS Partner Research in Columbus
NASA’s T-Cell Activation in Aging experiment was undertaken in Columbus on 21 April. The KUBIK-3 and -6 Incubators were prepared on 19 April with KUBIK-6 acting as a back-up for KUBIK-3. KUBIK-3 was deployed in front of the European Drawer Rack in Columbus by ISS Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio. The ten experiment containers, which arrived at the ISS on 20 April on board the SpaceX-3 Dragon spacecraft, were installed into KUBIK-3 by Mastracchio the following day. After 2.5 hours regeneration time Mastracchio performed the experiment activation. After 1.5 hours activation time sample fixation was undertaken on the first six experiment containers which were inserted into one of the MELFI freezer units. After 4 hours activation time the same process was undertaken on the remaining four experiment containers. The following day Mastracchio performed the experiment data downlink via the European Drawer Rack. Samples will be returned on SpaceX-3.

T-cells, a type of white blood cell,  have surface chemical receptors that must trigger together to activate the body's immune system properly. The T-Cell Activation in Aging  experiment is studying the cause of human immune system depression in weightlessness.


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 28 March. On 23 April the monthly data downlink was performed via the European Physiology Modules in which the active detectors are installed. 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 latest Sun visibility window (the 76th) for the Solar facility to acquire data with its two active instruments (SOLSPEC and SolACES) opened on 16 April. 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. In advance of the latest Sun visibility window the SolACES instrument was taken out of a heated configuration (during which no science acquisition is possible). This heated configuration is used as a work-around to protect the instrument’s optics from degradation outside of the Sun visibility windows and during thruster firing activities (ISS reboosts, spacraft dockins/undockings etc.)

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)
Following numerous successful experiment runs, research is temporarily on hold for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment while a troubleshooting programme is being implemented to resolve a couple of constraining technical issues. In the two weeks until  25 April ISS workarounds have been identified and are in work to allow correct high rate data downlink from the FSL Video Management Unit during FASES operations. Efforts are also on-going to resolve the lack of power to one of the branches of the FASES Peltier elements for thermal conditioning of the experiment cells.

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)
The Facility for Adsorption and Surface Tension (FASTER) payload was launched on 18 April on board the SpaceX-3 Dragon spacecraft which docked with the ISS two days later. It is now awaiting integration into the European Drawer Rack (EDR). The 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 Research
Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and Batch 2a experiments
A MICAST-2 sample is currently located in the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) awaiting future processing. 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.


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 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.

HAM Video
HAM Video commissioning activities were successfully completed by ISS Commander Koichi Wakata on 13 April. A pass was performed with four ground stations two in Italy, and one each in France, and the UK.  The ground stations received Wakata’s DATV signal transmission for about six minutes and the video was streamed over a public server. The recorded video of this historical transmission is now available on You Tube (

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 25 April 2014 include:

  • Radiation Sensor Deployment
    On 14 April ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio deployed eight Radi‐N2 experiment bubble detectors in Columbus. The objective of this Canadian Space Agency investigation is to better characterize the ISS neutron environment and define the risk posed to the crewmembers' health and provide the data necessary to develop advanced protective measures for future space flight. The radiation detectors were gathered in on 21 April.
  • Columbus Control Centre Switchover
    The Columbus Flight Control Team transitioned back from the backup control room “K3” to its main control room “K4” following the Columbus software upgrade to cycle 14..
  • Ham Radio Sessions
    The amateur radio equipment in Columbus was used by ISS Commander and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata for undertaking a ham radio session with students in Holly Ridge, North Carolina, USA on 21 April.
  • 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 25 April 2014 include:
    • Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack: Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly/Sabatier Reactor
      The Node 3 Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in the Atmosphere Revitalisation Rack continues to operate nominally after the recent extensive maintenance. Two purges of the Sabatier unit were performed and a third purge is planned in an attempt to eliminate all excess water present in the system.


Progress M-21M/53P Spacecraft Activities

  • ISS Reboost
    On 12 April 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 was in preparation for the undocking and landing of Soyuz 37S scheduled on 13 May and the launch and docking of Soyuz 39S on 29 May.
  • Progress M-21M/53P Undocking Preparations
    Progress 53P was prepared for undocking and subsequent redocking in the two weeks until 25 April in order to test its upgraded Kurs automated rendezvous system. ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev continued with cargo transfer activities to and from Progress 53P, a purge of the Progress 53P propellant line was performed on 19 April and a repressurisation of the ISS atmosphere was undertaken the following day using nitrogen from the Progress 53P tanks. The Progress docking mechanism was installed; Progress electronics were activated; ventilation ducting was removed; quick disconnect clamps which stabilize the connection between Progress 53P and the docking port of the Pirs Docking Compartment were removed; and the Progress/Zvezda hatches were closed, followed by the standard one-hour leak check of the interhatch area and the interface between the fuel/oxidizer transfer line.
  • Progress M-21M/53P Undocking/Redocking
    On 23 April Progress 53P successfully undocked from the aft docking port of the Zvezda Service Module at 10:57 (CEST) and backed away to approximately 500 km from the ISS. Two days later Progress 53P successfully redocked with the ISS to successfully complete a test of the updated KURS-NA rendezvous and docking system following a problem during the initial Progress 53P docking in November 2013 which required the crew to perform a manual docking. Following standard post-docking procedures the hatches into Progress 53P were opened. The logistics spacecraft is scheduled to undock for a final time at the end of its mission on 9 June.


Progress M-22M/54P and Progress M-23M/55P Activities
Following the arrival of Progress 55P at the ISS on 9 April the Russian crew members, ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev and Mikhail Tyurin, continued transferring cargo from the logistics spacecraft to the ISS. In addition on 18 April Progress 54P (which undocked from the ISS on 7 April) performed its planned destructive deorbit into Earth’s atmosphere.


SpaceX-3 Dragon Launch and Docking

  • Launch Preparations
    On 11 April a backup external Multiplexer/Demultiplexer computer failed (see below). This provides redundancy to a number of external systems including one of the joints used for rotating ISS solar arrays and the external Mobile Transporter used for transporting the Station’ principal robotic arm (which will be used to capture SpaceX-3) along the Station’s truss. However engineering teams determined that there was enough additional redundancy to allow the launch of SpaceX-3 to go ahead. The Mobile Transporter was already moved into position on 13 April for an EVA to replace the failed computer and for prepositioning equipment to provide backup camera support for SpaceX-3 capture. The 14 April launch of SpaceX-3 was in turn cancelled due to a helium leak in the separation mechanism of the first stage of the Falcon rocket, which was corrected by the replacement of a defective flow limiter.
  • Launch
    The third commercial SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (SpaceX-3) was launched into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon-9 launcher from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 18 April at 21:25 CEST (15:25 local time) with around 2.2 tonnes of cargo for the ISS. Following insertion into orbit the spacecraft’s solar arrays were deployed. Dragon is a commercial unmanned spacecraft under NASA contract.
  • Capture and Berthing
    Communications equipment and the control panel for the SpaceX Dragon and the Centerline Berthing Camera System at the Node-2 nadir port were activated and the robotic workstations were set up in the US laboratory and Cupola module. The Station’s principal robotic arm was used to capture the SpaceX Dragon on 20 April at 13:14 CEST with ISS Commander Koichi Wakata as robotic arm controller assisted by Rick Mastracchio. Dragon was then moved to a hold position before finally being berthed at the Node 2 nadir port by ground commanding.
  • Post-Docking Activities
    After docking, the Cupola Robotic Workstation and Centerline Berthing Camera System were deactivated and removed and the leak check between Node 2 and Dragon took place. After opening the Node 2 nadir hatch the vestibule between Node 2 and Dragon was fitted with necessary jumpers (power, data etc.). The hatch into Dragon was opened the following day and air ducting was installed. The US laboratory Robotic Workstation and Control Panel for Dragon were also removed and stowed. One of the 16 bolts of the Node 2 nadir docking port could not be closed as expected during the final berthing operations. This does not affect the structural integrity of the connection between SpaceX-3 and Node 2 though options to change out the bolt are being considered while SpaceX-3 is still docked.


ISS Multiplexer/Demultiplexer Spacewalk Activities

  • EVA Preparations
    As a backup external Multiplexer/Demultiplexer computer on the International Space Station failed on 11 April preparations were underway to replace the unit during a spacewalk. The primary unit was still functioning normally and there was no immediate impact to space station operations though the replacement was necessary to return redundancy to the system. There are more than a dozen similar units housed on the Station’s truss that route computer commands to various systems on the outpost. When the Mobile Transporter was moved along the Station’s truss on 13 April this provided access to the failed unit.
    On 14 April a fan pump separator of one of the two EVA suits was replaced by ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and checked out the following day. ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio also gathered and configured tools for the EVA, ISS Commander Koichi Wakata flushed cooling loops in the EVA suits and the Airlock and recharged EVA batteries and Swanson and Mastracchio participated in a refresher training of the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER), propulsion units used should a spacewalker become untethered during a spacewalk. On 16 April the EVA suits were resized to fit Swanson and Mastracchio, the airlock was prepared and EVA cameras were configured.
    On 18 April Mastracchio and Swanson installed a new circuit board into the replacement multiplexer/demultiplexer which was then checked out. Final tool and airlock configuration was undertaken the day prior to the EVA.
  • EVA
    On 23 April ISS Flight Engineers and NASA astronauts Steve Swanson and Rick Mastracchio undertook US EVA 26 which replaced the failed external Multiplexer/Demultiplexer. There are 45 Multiplexer/Demultiplexers on the ISS, 24 internally and 21 externally.  After exiting the Quest Airlock they translated to the associated location of the failed unit on the S0 truss section of the ISS where they installed the new 23kg unit. Once the new unit was installed, ground teams powered it up, loaded software, and configured the Multiplexer/Demultiplexer as a viable backup. Swanson and Mastracchio also performed a get-ahead task to characterise the force needed to open doors on the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator ‘Dextre’ to assist with future robotics operations. Once the new Multiplexer/Demultiplexer was declared healthy and functional, the spacewalking astronauts re-entered the ISS. The one hour 36 minute spacewalk officially ended at 17:32 (CEST).


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, processed samples were stored inside the MELFI units for NASA’s T-Cell Activation in Aging experiment; experiment kits were removed from one of the MELFI units for undertaking fixation activities for NASA’s Micro-7 cell biology experiment; units were and transferred to the MELFI freezers and activated for the US National Laboratory Commercial Protein Crystal Growth High Density Modified experiment intended to demonstrate the scientific and commercial value of protein crystallisation on a long-duration microgravity mission and help with the development of new pharmaceutical treatments.


Other Activities
Additional NASA research activities undertaken on the ISS in the past two weeks include: the 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; the Commercial Protein Crystal Growth High Density Modified experiment intended to demonstrate the scientific and commercial value of protein crystallisation on a long-duration microgravity mission; the ‘Reaction Self Test’ experiment which looks into how planned sleep shift for ISS crews affects performance; and the Body Measures experiment which collects anthropometric data to help researchers understand the magnitude and variability of the changes to body measurements during spaceflight.

Additional JAXA research activities undertaken on the ISS in the past two weeks include the Hybrid Training investigation which studies the use of electrical stimulation as part of countermeasures to muscle atrophy for possible use on future exploration missions.

Additional Roscosmos research activities undertaken in the Russian segment of the ISS in the past two weeks include: the Interactions experiment, which studies the impacts of personal, cultural and national differences among crew members; the Identification experiment, which investigates dynamic loads on the station; the Kulonovskiy Kristall experiment which is gathering information about charged particles in a weightless environment; the Bar experiment which is studying tools and procedures to detect pressure leaks inside the space station; the Relaxation experiment, which studies chemical luminescent reactions in the Earth’s atmosphere; the Seiner Earth observation photographic study; and the Matryoshka radiation exposure experiment.

(*)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.

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