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Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 60
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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

29 January 2010

This is ISS status report #60 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.

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
On 17 January ISS Flight Engineer Timothy Creamer took additional pictures of the adapter tool, damaged during maintenance activities on 8 January. Engineering and science teams are currently evaluating how to solve the issue and are assessing the science impact in case the Quick Disconnect at one of the Experiment Container positions cannot be recovered. A Biolab software update and flushing of the Life Support Module with gaseous nitrogen were successfully performed by Biolab’s User Support and Operations Centre (MUSC) in Cologne, Germany via ground commanding on 21 January. On 27 January Timothy Creamer performed an exchange of the Biolab Life Support Modules 1 and 2. This was followed by a Life Support Modules tightness test, which was carried out from the ground. On 29 January ISS Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi calibrated the nitrogen gas pressure regulator and successfully performed the nitrogen gas valve check. The Life Support Modules tightness test was also successfully performed.

The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment, which was the first experiment to take place in Biolab, is now planned 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 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 within a short-duration flight scenario for the up- and download part whjch is under detailed elaboration. 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 29 January. 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
On 18 January, after the completion of Microgravity Vibration Isolation System activities, ISS Flight Engineer Noguchi locked the Facility Core Element to the Fluid Science Laboratory in preparation for the Soyuz 20S vehicle relocation. The transfer to the Video Management Unit and the downlink to ground of the files recorded during the commissioning activities of the Microgravity Vibration Isolation System were partially performed on 18, 19 and 26 January, and were successfully concluded on 27 January.

The Microgravity Vibration Isolation Subsystem is incorporated within the Fluid Science Laboratory. It is equipped with an extremely sensitive accelerometer that can monitor movements or vibration aboard the Station and it has been designed to isolate the core element of the Fluid Science Laboratory from vibrations of the ISS, and from disturbances generated within the rack itself.

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 in Naples, the launch of the Experiment Container is foreseen on Progress flight 39P in early September 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 are in progress 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 Modules facility in the two weeks up until 29 January. The facility is equipped with Science Modules to investigate the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The experiment results will also contribute to an increased understanding of terrestrial problems such as the ageing process, osteoporosis, balance disorders, and muscle wastage.

No further runs of the PASSAGES experiment were carried out in the two weeks up until 29 January. PASSAGES is designed to test how astronauts interpret visual information in weightlessness: it aims at studying the effects of microgravity on the use of the ‘Eye-Height’ strategy for estimating allowed actions in an environment, and whether this could possibly decrease after a long exposure to weightlessness.

The Dose Distribution inside the ISS (DOSIS) experiment is progressing well. 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

3D Space
No activities were carried out with the 3D Space experiment in the two weeks up until 29 January. 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.

Flywheel Exercise Device
No further activities were carried out using the Flywheel Exercise Device in the two weeks up until 29 January. 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.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
On 26 January ISS Commander Jeff Williams successfully completed his fourth Thermolab experiment session in conjunction with the VO2Max experiment. Thermolab uses the ESA-developed Portable Pulmonary Function System to investigate thermoregulatory and cardiovascular adaptations during rest and exercise in the course of long-term exposure to weightlessness. The Maximum Volume Oxygen (VO2 Max) is aimed at measuring oxygen uptake and cardiac output in particular, during various degrees of exercise.

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.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
No activities were carried out using the Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks up until 29 January. 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 29 January 2010. 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
On 25 January ISS Flight Engineer Creamer carried out maintenance activities on the European Modular Cultivation System in preparation for the new NASA experiment TROPI-2, which will be performed in February. Creamer installed water pump tubes on the three new rotor-based Life Support System boxes and performed a software upgrade on the European Modular Cultivation System laptop. Additionally, water pump servicing and the uplink of schedule and database files for the TROPI-2 experiments were conducted from the ground.

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 for the following experiments to be undertaken in the facility: Tentatively in early 2010 the execution of the next NASA experiment TROPI-2 is planned. 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. After a further NASA experiment Seedgrowth ESA’s Gravi-2 experiment will be following towards the end of 2010.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Selectable Optical Diagnostics Instrument (SODI) installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox was powered down after the ‘Influence of Vibrations on Diffusion in Liquids’ (IVIDIL) experiment was successfully completed on 20 January. The IVIDIL hardware was removed and stowed by Noguchi on 28 January.

In addition to the SODI-IVIDIL experiment the triple SODI experiments also includes the ‘Diffusion and Soret Coefficient Measurements for Improvement of Oil Recovery’ (DSC) experiment (to be launched with Progress 36 on 3 February) 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 is currently in survival mode after the last Sun Observation Window ended on 17 January. The SOLSPEC instrument was temporary switched off on 21 January for power down during the relocation of the Soyuz 20S vehicle. Thruster firing and the calibration of the SOLSPEC instrument were performed on 26 January.

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
A software update of the Materials Science Research Rack-1 was successfully performed on 18 January. The processing of Material Science Laboratory cartridges resumed on 20 January. The processing of the CETSOL#3 Sample Cartridge Assembly was successfully completed on 22 January. Following exchange for the MICAST#3 Sample Cartridge Assembly on 27 January processing started the same day and was successfully completed by the following day. MICAST#3 was exchanged for MICAST#6 on 28 January and a chamber leak test was performed in preparation for processing next week.

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, is operating nominally and science acquisition is on-going. A tentative return of the sample trays is foreseen for autumn 2010 which allows a scientifically beneficial extension of the open space exposure period of 50%.

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
ISS Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Creamer’s started another week-long session of the NASA SLEEP (Sleep-Wake Actigraphy and Light Exposure during Spaceflight) experiment on 18 January.

Human Research Facility 2
The Human Research Facility 2 was activated in the last two weeks to support blood operations related to the new Vascular Blood Collection protocol and NASA’s Pro-K experiment, which is aimed at evaluating dietary countermeasures to lessen bone loss of the astronauts. On 27 January Creamer changed the calibration gas bottle of the Gas Delivery System, replacing it with the original bottle.

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. Main points of interest are as follows:

  • Smoke Detector
    On 19 January ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Tim Creamer inspected and cleaned a Return Grid Sensor Housing and replaced a failed Smoke Detector mounting clamp with a spare. The following day Creamer inspected and cleaned Optical Smoke Sensor 2.


  • Batteries replacement
    ISS Flight Engineer and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi successfully replaced the batteries of the Portable Workstation 2 and Fluid Science Laboratory laptops.

Post Russian EVA 24 activities
On 17 and 18 January ISS Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Oleg Kotov performed final EVA close-out activities to re-integrate the Progress 35P cargo ship, docked at the nadir port of the Pirs Docking Compartment, with the ISS. Activities included: installing the quick disconnect clamps of the docking and internal transfer mechanism, installing the ventilation and heating air duct, and dismantling the docking mechanism between the cargo ship and the Docking Compartment.

STS-130/20A Mission EVAs
On 18 January Noguchi and Creamer started preparations for the upcoming STS-130/20A Mission EVAs. Activities included, among others, the recharge of batteries to be used in the EVAs, and the configuration of tools and equipment for the EVAs.

Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)
The European-built MELFI freezer was used in the last two weeks to store blood and urine samples related to Timothy Creamer’s Nutrition/Pro K protocol, as well as blood samples from William’s new Vascular Blood Collection protocol. Also, Creamer’s hair samples were stored in MELFI, as part of the first onboard Hair Experiment performed on 19 January by Creamer and Noguchi.

Soyuz TMA-16/20S relocation
The Soyuz TMA16/20S vehicle was successfully relocated from the Service Module aft port to the Mini-Research Module 2 “Poisk” Module on 21 January. ISS Commander Williams and ISS Flight Engineer Suraev successfully completed the relocation in 22 minutes. This was the first time that a vehicle has docked to the new Russian module that arrived at the ISS in November. Prior to the relocation a hot firing test of the Soyuz Motion Control System thrusters was performed on 19 January, and the onboard Internal Wireless Instrumentation System was reconfigured on 20 January to monitor vibrations during the relocation. Structural dynamics data and the photo/video recordings of the activity were downlinked on 22 January.

ISS Reboost
The ISS successfully performed two reboosts on 22 and 24 January using the Service Module Main Engines. The combination of the two reboosts will set up phasing for the Progress 36P launch and for rendezvous launch opportunities for the Shuttle STS-130/20A mission.

Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 Relocation
ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and ISS Flight Engineer Timothy Creamer, assisted by ISS Flight Engineer Noguchi successfully relocated the Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 from the Node 1 port-side docking mechanism to the European-built Node 2 zenith (upper) docking port on 23 January using the Station’s principal robotic arm. This was in connection with the upcoming installation of the European-built Node 3 on the port side of Node 1. Preparatory activities carried out on 22 January included the installation of the Pressure Control Assembly at the Pressurized Mating Adapter 3, as well as depressurization and leak checking of the Pressurized Mating Adapter 3.

Vozdukh CO2 Removal System
The Russian Vozdukh CO2 Removal System failed on 22 January. Troubleshooting activities were performed by Suraev and the system was recovered on 29 January after replacing the vacuum Pump Control Unit.

Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre Preparations
On 22 January ISS Flight Engineer Suraev carried out his first R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre training session taking images of the ground with a digital still camera with a 400mm lens. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the STS-130/20A Shuttle during its pitch manoeuvre during rendezvous and docking. During the manoeuvre at a distance of about 180 m from the Station, the photographers will only have around 90 seconds to take high-resolution digital photographs of all thermal protection tile areas and door seals on Shuttle Endeavour, to be downlinked for launch debris assessment.

Dragon Grappled Free Flyer
On 25 January ISS Commander Williams installed and checked out the communication equipment in preparation for the arrival of the Dragon Grappled Free Flyer vehicle at the ISS later this year.

US Lab Thermal Control System
ISS Commander Williams installed an Antimicrobial Applicator module in the Internal Thermal Control System Moderate Temperature Loop in the US laboratory on 25 January. Once activated, the module introduced an antimicrobial agent into the loop’s coolant. The following day Creamer removed the module and took a sample of coolant from the Thermal Control System for analysis.

Progress 36P
On 26 January ISS Flight Engineers Suraev and Kotov checked out the TORU manual rendezvous and docking system, used as a backup to the automatic Kurs system, in preparation for the upcoming arrival of the Progress 36P logistics vehicle.

Oxygen Generator System
On 26 January Tim Creamer purged a hydrogen sensor of the Water Delivery System, which forms part of the Oxygen Generator System Rack. Hereafter he reconnected the hydrogen sensor for Water Delivery System activation. Two days later Williams purged an uninstalled hydrogen sensor.

Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
Jeff Williams and Tim Creamer carried out maintenance on the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in the Kibo laboratory on 28 and 29 January. The astronauts removed the Assembly from the Atmosphere Revitalization rack and replaced an absorbent bed.

Water Processor Assembly
Despite further attempts to recover the system in the previous weeks, the Water Processor Assembly is still malfunctioning due to a possible blockage in the line. In the last two weeks the Water Delivery System was connected to the Potable Water Dispenser to continue providing water until the Mostly Liquid Separator can be replaced and a new filter installed after the arrival of Shuttle Flight STS-130/20A. However, during the two-week period, the Potable Water Dispenser stopped dispensing water, possibly due to the presence of air bubbles in the system lines. The crew will use Russian potable water until the system is restored.

Air Quality Monitor
Williams and Creamer completed several sampling sessions with the Air Quality Monitor in the last two weeks. 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.

Earth Observation Activities
In the last two weeks, during Crew Earth Observation activities, the crew took photographs of the Haiti disaster area.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place in the two-week period include: replacing the water-conditioning unit of the condensate water processor in the Service Module; supporting troubleshooting of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System Hot Backup; prepacking return cargo for Shuttle Flight 20A; carrying out a new run of the Russian/German Plasma Crystal-3 Plus (PK-3+) experiment; routing and installation of a contingency secondary electrical jumper to provide power to the US Airlock shell heaters during the 20A mission; relocating the Mobile Transporter from Worksite 5 to Worksite 4; investigating hard line communications issues between the Soyuz TMA-17/21S vehicle and the Zarya module; and the crew carrying out their first joint on-board fire drill training.

(*)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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