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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 57
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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

18 December 2009

This is ISS status report #57 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 Human Spaceflight Coordination Office in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus and Payload Operations Management and Mission Science teams from the ISS Utilisation Department.

The SODI-IVIDIL experiment continues numerous successful runs in the Microgravity Science Glovebox in ESA’s Columbus Laboratory. However, with a temporary reduction in the ISS crew to two following undocking of Soyuz TMA-15/19S on 1 December with ESA astronaut Frank De Winne, CSA astronaut Bob Thirsk and Roscosmos cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, ISS science activities are also temporarily reduced until Soyuz TMA-17/21S docks on 22 December to again increase the ISS crew to five permanent ISS crew members.

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 ongoing research taking place inside and outside the Russian Segment of the ISS and in the US Destiny laboratory. The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:  

European science and research facilities inside the Columbus Laboratory

Biolab and near-term experiments
No activities were carried out using the Biolab in the two weeks up until 18 December 2009.The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment, which was the first experiment to take place in Biolab, has been deferred until spring 2010 and will take place after the science samples of the experiment are launched in conditioned state on Shuttle flight 19A. WAICO deals with the effect that gravity has on the spiralling motion (circumnutation) that occurs in Arabidopsis plant roots. It is suspected that this spiralling mechanism is an internal mechanism in the plant, independent of the influence of gravity.

The TripleLux-B experiment will tentatively be the next experiment after WAICO-2 to take place in the Biolab facility during Increment 23/24. The objective of this experiment is to further understand the cellular mechanisms underlying the aggravation of radiation responses, and the impairment of the immune functions under spaceflight conditions.

The ArtEMISS-A experiment will also tentatively be one of the following experiments to take place in the Biolab facility. This will be tentatively performed on ISS still during a Shuttle sortie flight, which is envisaged in Increment 24/25. The purpose of this experiment is to determine the effect of spaceflight conditions, including weightlessness and radiation on the algae Arthrospira sp. The form, structure and physiology of the algae will be examined along with a genetic study of the organism. This data is important for determining the reliability of using Arthrospira sp. in spacecraft biological life support systems in such projects as MELISSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative).

European Drawer Rack
No activities were carried out with the European Drawer Rack in the two weeks up until 18 December. The European Drawer Rack is a multi-user experiment facility which had been continuously active and providing power, data and temperature control to the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility before the conclusion of 3½ months of successful experiment runs in July.

Fluid Science Laboratory and FASES/Geoflow-2 experiments
No activities were carried out using the Fluid Science Laboratory in the two weeks up until 18 December. The upgrades of the video system are in progress in order to support the next experiments with demanding requirements.

The Flight Acceptance Review for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment has started and after the Experiment Sequence Test in the associated User Support and Operations Centre MARS, the launch of the Experiment Container is foreseen on a Progress flight mid 2010. This experiment will be studying emulsion properties with advanced optical diagnostics. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, chemical industry and in the food industry.

The hardware modifications for the implementation of the GeoFlow-2 experiment have been started in order to launch it tentatively on ATV-2 at the end of 2010.

European Physiology Modules
No activities were carried out with the European Physiology Module in the two weeks up until 18 December. The following experiments have recently used functions of the European Physiology Modules rack in the Columbus laboratory:


  • 3D Space
    No further sessions of the 3D-Space experiment were performed in the two weeks up until 18 December. This human physiology study investigates the effects of weightlessness on the mental representation of visual information during and after spaceflight. Accurate perception is a prerequisite for spatial orientation and reliable performance of tasks in space. The experiment has different elements including investigations of perception of depth and distance carried out using a virtual reality headset and standard psychophysics tests.


  • Integrated Cardiovascular
    ISS Commander Jeff Williams performed his third Integrated Cardiovascular Ambulatory Monitoring session from 7 to 9 December. The NASA Integrated Cardiovascular Experiment consists of an a ultrasound Echo session and of an Ambulatory Monitoring session, which includes 24-hr blood pressure measurement using ESA’s Cardiopres device, 48-hr ECG measurement with a holter device and 48-hr activity measurements using an Actiwatch.

Flywheel Exercise Device
No further activities were carried out using the Flywheel Exercise Device in the two weeks up until 18 December. The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS with Columbus in order to become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts and serving human physiology investigations in the area of advanced crew countermeasures.

The Dose Distribution inside the ISS (DOSIS) experiment is progressing well and the monthly data downlink is working perfectly. The DOSIS experiment will determine the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside European Columbus laboratory using different active and passive detectors spread around the laboratory. This is the first time that 'area dosimetry' is being undertaken on Columbus to measure the spatial radiation gradients inside the module. DOSIS will continue to record the radiation environment in the Columbus laboratory for at least one year.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
No activities were carried out using the Portable Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks up until 18 December. 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. The Portable Pulmonary Function System currently supports the combined VO2max (NASA) and ThermoLab (ESA) experiments on orbit.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
No activities were carried out using the Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks up until 18 December. The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA Human Research Facility 2, which was relocated from the US Destiny laboratory to the Columbus laboratory on 1 October 2008. The Pulmonary Function System is an ESA/NASA collaboration in the field of respiratory physiology instrumentation, which analyses exhaled gas from astronauts' lungs to provide near-instant data on the state of crew health.

Wearable Augmented Reality (WEAR)
No further sessions of the WEAR experiments were carried out in the two weeks up until 18 December. WEAR is demonstrating the usability of augmented reality technology on the ISS. The system will be worn by astronauts and will assist them when performing onboard tasks. When carrying out these tasks WEAR will allow the astronaut to consult procedures and manuals hands-free, with relevant information for the assigned task being displayed on a partially see-through screen before the astronaut’s eyes. The astronaut will control the system via voice commands. The main objective of this experiment involves assessing the maturity, suitability and overall usefulness of the technologies used in WEAR: object recognition, speech recognition, barcode reading, augmented reality and integration of multiple data sources such as the ISS Inventory Management System. The assessment will be based in the improvement observed using WEAR on a standard Columbus maintenance procedure.

European Modular Cultivation System
Replacement screws for the door to the centrifuge compartment of the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) were located by ISS Commander Jeff Williams as expected on 15 December. This space biology facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and has been operated for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA which is expected to be continued.

The return of EMCS to full functionality makes it possible to for the following experiments to be undertaken in the facility: Genara is tentatively the next ESA experiment to take place in the European Modular Cultivation System and will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth at molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space. Tentatively in early 2010 prior to Genara, the execution of the next NASA experiment TROPI-2 is planned with ESA’s Gravi-2 experiment following after the first part of Genara.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
Numerous runs of the first SODI ‘Influence of Vibrations on Diffusion in Liquids’ (IVIDIL) experiment have been successfully performed in the two weeks up until 18 December with varying frequency/amplitude of vibration stimuli and varying imposed temperature gradients. Run 28 was performed after a shortened pre-heating period in order to reduce the impact of the undocking of the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module of Mini-Research Module 2. The run was not stopped during undocking. There were a couple of minor events including a lack of vibration sensor measurements on 10 December and a minor script interruption on 14 December but these have not affected science acquisition to any notable degree. Upon the preliminary analysis of the results of experiment runs from Cell Array 2, the science team have requested some specific runs in order to be able to properly interpret the fluid behaviour of Cell Array 2 and look in more detail into the role of the applied temperature gradient in the cell.

In addition to the SODI-IVIDIL experiment the triple SODI (Selectable Optical Diagnostics Instrument) experiments also includes the ‘Diffusion and Soret Coefficient Measurements for Improvement of Oil Recovery’ (DSC) experiment and the Colloid experiment, which covers the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions. The DSC and Colloid experiments will be launched on future Shuttle flights in the time frame until spring 2010.

The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment. The Microgravity Science Glovebox has been continuously used for NASA experiments and will again play an important role for ESA’s SODI experiment series.

European science and research facilities outside the Columbus laboratory in open space

SOLAR has been in pointing mode since on 15 December following the start of a new Sun observation window. The platform was put in idle mode on 7 December for the undocking of the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module of Russian Mini-Research Module 2.

The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range during a 2-year timeframe on-orbit. The SOLAR facility has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. The detailed technical feasibility study for on-orbit lifetime extension has been successfully concluded and the science team will be able to continue gathering further science data in a period of increasing solar activity up to the maximum level in 2013.

European science inside the US Destiny Laboratory

Material Science Laboratory in the Material Science Research Rack
No activities were carried out using the Material Science Laboratory in the two weeks up until 18 December. ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1, which was launched together with a total of six sample cartridges for NASA and for ESA’s MICAST and CETSOL projects on STS-128/17A under a cooperation agreement with NASA and is now installed in the US Laboratory on the ISS.

CETSOL and MICAST are two complementary material science projects, which carry out research into the formation of microstructures during the solidification of metallic alloys. 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. Results of these experiments will help to optimise industrial casting processes.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be relocated to the Japanese Kibo laboratory and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters which were uploaded on the Progress 35P flight, which docked to the Station on 18 October. JAXA have already confirmed the technical accommodation feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/trilateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged for another experiment run until mid 2010. Roscosmos concurs to the proposed trilateral agreement and also JAXA’s concurrence has been received. In the long-term Matroshka may again be accommodated on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit which are of relevance for EVA activities.

GTS-2 (Global Transmission Service)
The Global Transmission Service was temporarily deactivated on 31 May though negotiations with Russian representatives are ongoing for reactivation of the instrument and continuation of the so-called test mode. GTS will be tentatively a cooperative European-Russian experiment on ISS. This experiment is intended to test the receiving conditions of a time and data signal for dedicated receivers on the ground. The time signal distributed by the GTS has special coding to allow the receiver to determine the local time anywhere on the Earth without user intervention. The main scientific objectives of the experiment are to verify under real space operation conditions: the performance and accuracy of a time signal transmitted to the Earth’s surface from low Earth orbit; the signal quality and data rates achieved on the ground; measurement of disturbing effects such as Doppler shifts, multi-path reflections, shadowing and elevation impacts.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

The Expose-R facility, which was installed outside the Zvezda Service Module during the Russian-based spacewalk on 10 March 2009, has been functioning well. A tentative return of the sample trays is foreseen for fall 2010 which allows a scientifically beneficial extension of the open space exposure period of 50%. On 7 December Expose-R experienced a cumulative loss of UV, Radiation and Temperature data due to a payload computer crash, though a replacement is currently planned on 28 December.

Expose-R hosts a suite of nine new astrobiology experiments (eight from ESA, one from IBMP, Moscow), some of which could help understand how life originated on Earth. This suite of experiments was transported to the International Space Station on Progress flight 31P, which docked with the ISS on 30 November 2008. The experiments are accommodated in three special sample trays, which are loaded with a variety of biological samples including plant seeds and spores of bacteria, fungi and ferns, which are exposed to the harsh space environment (Solar UV, cosmic radiation, vacuum), for about one and a half years.

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


  • AMINO: Photochemical processing of amino acids and other organic compounds in Earth orbit
  • ENDO: Response of endolithic organisms to space conditions
  • OSMO: Exposure of osmophilic microbes to the space environment
  • SPORES: Spores in artificial meteorites
  • PHOTO: Measurements of vacuum and solar radiation-induced DNA damages within spores
  • SUBTIL: Mutational spectra of Bacillus subtilis spores and plasmid DNA exposed to high vacuum and solar UV radiation in the space environment.
  • PUR: Responses of Phage T7, Phage DNA and polycrystalline uracil to the space environment.
  • ORGANIC: Evolution of organic matter in space.
  • IMBP: Exposure of resting stages of terrestrial organisms to space conditions.

Expose-R complements the exobiology science package that was performed in Expose-E, a twin facility which had been in operation on ESA’s EuTEF facility outside of Columbus since February 2008 until EuTEF’s return to Earth with the STS-128/17A Shuttle Flight in September.

Non-European science and research facilities inside the Columbus laboratory

Human Research Facility 1
On 7 December ISS Commander Jeff Williams started another week-long session of the NASA SLEEP (Sleep-Wake Actigraphy & Light Exposure during Spaceflight) experiment, wearing his Actiwatch device from which to log data to the Human Research Facility 1 laptop. On 10 December Williams replaced the lithium batteries in the Actiwatch devices and downloaded the Actiwatch data to the Human Research Facility 1 laptop. On 18 December the facility was activated for data downlink and body mass measurement by Williams (using the SLAMMD equipment) but a hardware problem prevented the mass measurement taking place.

Human Research Facility 2
The Human Research Facility 2 was activated on 11 December to support ISS Commander Williams session of NASA’s Nutrition Experiment. ISS Flight engineer Suraev assisted Williams with the blood draw. After samples were centrifuged in the Human Research Facility Refrigerated Centrifuge they were stowed in the European-built Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer (MELFI). This NASA experiment is a study of human physiologic changes during long-duration space flight. It includes measures of bone metabolism, oxidative damage, nutritional assessments, and hormonal changes.

ISS general system information and activities *

Columbus laboratory
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.

Mini-Research Module 2
The Instrumentation/Propulsion Module of the Russian Mini-Research Module 2 successfully undocked from the ISS on 8 December at 01:16 CET. After a nominal de-orbit burn from 05:48 to 05:59, the module started entering the upper atmosphere at 06:27 CET and went through its scheduled break up over the Pacific five minutes later. Following undocking ISS attitude control was handed back from Russian to US systems. Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev recorded and downlinked the undocking from the Russian Service Module.

The Mini-Research Module 2, called ‘Poisk’, which means ‘Search’ or ‘Quest’, is almost a copy of the Pirs Docking Module and acts as an airlock and docking port for Russian spacecraft. It will be first used as a docking port in January 2010, when the Soyuz TMA-16/20S will be relocated from the Service Module aft port. In addition the ‘Poisk’ module can accommodate external research payloads. It was launched to the ISS on 10 November, docking on 12 November.

Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)
In the last two weeks NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Jeff Williams continued and completed a session of the NASA Nutrition experiment, including blood draw and 24-hour urine collection. Urine and blood samples were placed in the European-built MELFI freezer. On 12 December Williams performed the periodic check of the nitrogen pressure on the MELFI-1 and MELFI-2 racks. Four days later Williams put fixation tubes from the NASA’s APEX-C experiment in MELFI-2.

Local Area Network (LAN) Activities
Crew Support and OpsLAN activities were carried out between 5 and 14 December. A majority of Crew Support LAN activities were carried out in the weekend of 5/6 December before error messages were received and new files were uplinked. On 11 and 12 December Williams worked with ground personnel on reload activities related to the OpsLAN transition to T61p laptops. The work focused on reloading the A31p file server and A31p Station Support Computer Clients, as well as configuring two T61p laptops as ISS servers. COLBERT treadmill and Advanced Resistive Exercise Device software needed updating with the transition to the new T61c File Server. On 14 December Williams completed the swap of two A31p hard disk drives in order to reattempt the Crew Support LAN reload.

Elektron O2 generator
The Russian Elektron O2 generator was reactivated by ground commanding on 6 December, after being deactivated due to the high temperature inside the Service Module during the recent extremely high Beta-angle period. As well as carrying out the daily checks of the generator’s aerosol filters, Suraev carried out extended leak checking of the spare BZh Liquid Unit. The aim was to check for leakage and good water passage through the feed line inside the unit and to check the response of the Electronics Unit’s micro switches.

Air Quality Monitor
Jeff Williams completed sampling sessions with the Air Quality Monitor on 7 and 14 December. This device is being used for identifying volatile organic compounds in the ISS cabin atmosphere. This new technology is being evaluated over a period of several months.

Beta Gimbal Assembly 2A
On 8 December ground engineers succeeded in unlatching the Beta Gimbal Assembly 2A, one of the principal joints for rotating the Station’s solar arrays. This could not be unlatched after Soyuz 19S undocking, due to the fact that the Station was in a very high solar beta region, and hence the paraffin components in the locking mechanism could not sufficiently warm up for the latching mechanism to operate properly. The mechanism started to work nominally once the Station moved to a warmer solar beta region. All Beta Gimbal Assemblies are now currently operating in auto-track mode.

US Internal Thermal Control System
On 8/9 and 16/17 December Jeff Williams connected (and the following day disconnected) jumpers to the Low Temperature Loop of the Internal Thermal Control System in support of activation of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly. This is in turn in support of a session of the NASA SPHERES activity.

Russian Segment Electrical Power System
On 9 December ISS Flight engineer Suraev performed maintenance activities in the Service Module on the Russian Segment’s Electrical Power System, repairing the battery-to-airduct interface sealing and replacing one of the eight 800A batteries.

Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 Leakage
A minor leak in the Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 was observed on 9 December, however this is considered of no concern. A final check was performed on 11 December and no further leak checks will be required.

Russian Thermal Control System
On 11 December ISS Flight Engineer Suraev performed maintenance activities on the Russian Thermal Control System, refilling loop 1 with coolant after checking for free gas volumes in the refill panel and compensator. Cavity volumes and pressure checks were carried out afterwards.

Multiplexer/Demultiplexers Software Transition
On 14 December ground engineers started the transition of the 11 onboard Multiplexer/Demultiplexer computers to new EXT R6 software. This was successfully completed on 16 December.

Node 3 arrival preparations
On 15 December in preparation for the arrival of the European-built Node 3 in February 2010, the ISS crew completed the final data cable connections in Node 1 for Video/Audio Bus Channel A.

TVIS Treadmill
Maintenance was successfully carried out on the TVIS treadmill by the ISS crew on 16 December in the Russian Service Module. This included replacement of Gyro Wire Ropes and two blue bumpers.

Emergency Depressurisation Training
The ISS crew carried out an emergency practice session on 17 December as a familiarization with procedures and hardware in the event of a rapid cabin depressurization. The two crew members were supported by US and Russian ground teams throughout.

US Airlock activities
Jeff Williams set up one of the Extravehicular Mobility Units in the US Airlock on 17 December and initiated scrubbing of its water loop to remove particulate matter.

Other Activities
During the past two weeks: the crew inspected an Automated Transfer Vehicle spare duct smoke detector and its mounting clamp; Suraev checked out the Kriogem thermostatic container on 10 and 11 December in the Pirs Docking Compartment and reconnected 14 cables to the Kurs automatic rendezvous and docking system in the Service Module on 14 December; Williams set up a Japanese system laptop for troubleshooting; and urine was transferred to an empty storage tank of the Progress M-03M/35P spacecraft docked at the Pirs Docking Compartment 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.

Martin Zell
ESA Head of ISS Utilisation Department

Markus Bauer
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer

Weekly reports compiled by ESA's Human Spaceflight Coordination Office.

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