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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 63
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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

12 March 2010

This is ISS status report #63 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 Department 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
A Handling Mechanism Positioning Test was successfully performed on ESA’s Biolab facility on 5 March. Biolab is a facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates.

The second part 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 in early April. 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 subsequent experiment, Triplelux-A, is scheduled to follow during Expedition 25/26)

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 12 March. 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 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and FASES/Geoflow-2 experiments
ISS Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi replaced the damaged left drawer handle on the lower Central Experiment Module of the Fluid Science Laboratory on 4 March. The following day Noguchi installed two new hard disks and a tape recorder to upgrade the Video Management Unit of the facility. On 8 March the Video Management Unit software was updated. A communications problem with the newly installed Video Management Unit hardware occurred which is being looked into. 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
The European Physiology Modules facility was activated on 1 March for a session of the CARD experiment (See below) by ISS Commander Jeff Williams. The experiment utilised the facilities Cardiolab module for undertaking cardiovascular measurements including use of Cardiolab’s arterial blood pressure device. On 3 March Williams put on and activated the European Physiology Modules Cardiopres equipment for 24 hour blood pressure monitoring (along with an ECG holter for 48 hours) at the start of his final session of NASA’s Integrated Cardiovascular experiment (See Human Research Facility 1). Data from Cardiopres is downloaded to the facility and then transferred across to NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 laptop during experiment procedures. The European Physiology Modules facility was also used on 9 March for downlink of data from the DOSIS experiment (see below). The European Physiology Modules facility is equipped with different science modules to investigate the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body, with experiment results contributing to an increased understanding of terrestrial problems such as the ageing process, osteoporosis, balance disorders, and muscle wastage.

3D Space
ISS Flight Engineer Timothy Creamer performed his third session of the 3D SPACE experiment on 11 March. 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.

The Dose Distribution inside the ISS (DOSIS) experiment is progressing well, with the instrument constantly acquiring data. Monthly data download via the European Physiology Modules facility occurred on 9 March. 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.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
No activities were carried out using the Portable Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks up until 12 March. 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) and CARD Experiment
On 1 March ISS Commander Jeff Williams carried out activities for ESA’s CARD experiment. This included three rebreathing sessions with the Pulmonary Function System, blood pressure measurement (see European Physiology Modules above), and 24 hour urine collection. Similar procedures were carried out the following day but without the rebreathing protocol due to a Columbus telemetry problem and with the inclusion of a blood draw. The blood samples were centrifuged in Human Research Facility 2 before being placed in the European-built MELFI freezer. On 9 March an additional blood draw for the CARD experiment was undertaken and samples were again centrifuged before being placed in the European-built MELFI Freezer (see below).

The CARD experiment examines increased cardiac output and lowers blood pressure (caused by dilated arteries) in the face of increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system (which normally constricts arteries) in weightlessness.

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.

European Modular Cultivation System
The first run of NASA’s Tropi-2 experiment was completed on 1 March in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS). ISS Flight Engineer Timothy Creamer removed the experiment containers, replacing them with new ones for the second run. Two days later, following completion of sample hydration, the second run of NASA’s Tropi-2 experiment was carried out. This continued from 3-9 March. Once the experiment was stopped on 9 March the samples were processed and placed in the MELFI freezer. TROPI is a plant growth experiment which investigates how plant roots from Arabidopsis thaliana respond to varying levels of light and gravity.

The European Modular Cultivation System, 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.

Genara-A is the next ESA experiment to be launched on STS-132 / ULF-4 and 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. Before or after a further NASA experiment, SeedGrowth, ESA’s Gravi-2 experiment is planned to follow towards the end of 2010.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
In resolution of a telemetry problem for the DSC (‘Diffusion and Soret Coefficient Measurements for Improvement of Oil Recovery’) experiment, believed to be related to loose connections, troubleshooting activities were carried out in the past two weeks. DSC is one of the Selectable Optical Diagnostics Instrument (SODI) experiments that will take place inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox. A network cable was reconnected between the Glovebox and its laptop on 2 March by ISS Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi. He followed this two days later by checking the configuration of SODI and the Microgravity Science Glovebox along with reconnection of cameras, and reinserting the flash disk for DSC inside the Image Processing Unit. Further steps took place on 8 March with temporary removal of the SODI hardware from the Microgravity Science Glovebox and inspection/photography of fine connectors underneath. Imagery will be downloaded for analysis. On 12 March Jeff Williams reinstalled the SODI equipment into the Glovebox together with the IVIDIL hardware (IVIDIL was the first SODI experiment to successfully take place) in order to perform a functional checkout.

The DSC experiment was launched with Progress 36 on 3 February and arrived at the ISS on 5 February. It is the second of the triple SODI experiments, which also includes the Colloid experiment, which covers the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions.

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 was in Survival Mode and not acquiring science for most of the two weeks up until 12 March due to the orbital profile of the ISS though was commanded into Sun pointing mode on 9 March as the new Sun observation window opened. Some telemetry downlink gaps occurred after the platform started acquiring data though this had improved by the following day and was back to normal by 11 March following some troubleshooting measures.

The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range for more than two years on-orbit. The SOLAR facility has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. Following the conclusion of the detailed technical feasibility study for on-orbit lifetime extension 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 with the Material Science Laboratory in the two weeks up until 12 March. 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 (including PADLES type from JAXA) which will be tentatively uploaded on the next Progress flight (37P in April). JAXA has prepared the technical accommodation of Matroshka in the KIBO laboratory and now the final implementation steps and bi-/trilateral agreements with JAXA and Russia are in progress for a joint experiment run until HTV-2 arrives in 2011. 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 deactivated on 31 May 2009 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, celebrated a year installed on orbit outside of the ISS on 10 March. The payload, 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 ISS Flight Engineer Timothy Creamer completed a week-long session of NASA’s Sleep experiment from 1-7 March. Data from sensors which monitors the crewmembers’ sleep/wake patterns and light exposure is downloaded to the facility’s laptop. On 5 March Jeff Williams underwent an ultrasound scan as part of NASA’s Integrated Cardiovascular experiment which is looking into Cardiac Atrophy and Diastolic Dysfunction During and After Long Duration Spaceflight.

Human Research Facility 2
Human Research Facility 2 was activated on 1 and 12 March to centrifuge blood samples from NASA’s Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol, and on 2 and 9 March to centrifuge blood samples from ESA’s CARD experiment (See ‘Pulmonary Function System (in Human Research Facility 2) and CARD Experiment’ above). The samples were thereafter stowed in the European-built MELFI freezer.

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:

  • The Columbus Data Management System has now been fully recovered after being out of service for some time.


  • The Columbus Control Centre took part in Toxic Spill and Depressurisation Training exercises together with the Mission Control Centres in Houston, Moscow and Tsukuba and the ISS Expedition 22 crew on 3 March. This exercise covered emergency response to an ammonia leak inside the ISS.

Activities in the European-built Node 3

  • Exercise Equipment
    Activities in the European-built Node 3 in the two weeks until 12 March included regular inspection of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED).


  • Node 3 Vestibule Leak Check
    On 2 March a pressure equalization valve was installed in Node 3. Hereafter the Intermodule Ventilation air duct was removed, the Nodes 1 and 3 hatches were closed, and the vestibule between depressurized in order to perform a leak check. Following the successful leak check the vestibule was repressurised, hatches opened and ventilation re-installed.


  • Pressurized Mating Adaptor 3 (PMA-3)
    PMA-3 on the endcone of Node 3 was repressurized on 3 March and an overnight leak check was carried out. On 4 March the hatch into PMA-3 was opened and the Mating Adaptor was prepared for subsequently stowing different items of cargo. The hatch into node 3 was hereafter closed.


  • Regenerative ECLSS
    During the past two weeks activities have been carried out with the two Water Recovery System racks and the Oxygen Generation System rack, which 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. This included ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams replacing the Recycle Filter Tank Assembly in the Water Recovery System on 4 March. Following relocation of the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA) to Node 3 on 1 March, samples from the Potable Water Dispenser were analysed using TOCA on 3 March.

Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)
Over the two weeks until 12 March, samples were placed in the European-built MELFI-1 freezer for ESA’s CARD experiment (blood), and NASA’s Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol (blood and urine) and Tropi-2 experiment (plant samples). Samples were also retrieved for processing for JAXA’s Nanoskeleton - Production of High Performance Nanomaterials in Microgravity - experiment.

On 8 March MELFI-2 was prepared by Jeff Williams for receiving samples, by inserting a total of 26 ice-bricks for insertion in Dewars 3 and 4 of the European-built freezer. Over the two weeks until 12 March samples were placed in the European-built MELFI-2 freezer for CSA’s APEX-Cambium (Advanced Plant Experiments on Orbit-Cambium) experiment.


Crew Return Preparations

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    On 1 March ISS Commander and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev carried out their first training session of the medical operation procedures using the VELO ergometer whilst wearing the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit. The Chibis suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the crewmembers will cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth on 18 March. On 5 and 9 March Suraev carried out his second and third orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test sessions using the TVIS treadmill whilst wearing the Chibis suit in preparation for his return.


  • Suit checks
    On 8 March Suraev and Williams put on their Sokol spacesuits and carried out leak checks in preparation for their return on 18 March in Soyuz TMA-16. Two days later they carried out a fit check of their protective Kentavr anti-g suits. These suits are worn under their Sokol suits during return and landing to help the long-duration crewmember with the return into Earth’s gravity.


  • Soyuz 20S Descent Drill
    On 11 March Suraev and Williams carried out the standard Soyuz emergency descent drill in the Soyuz 20S spacecraft to review Soyuz descent procedures including emergency procedures and manual undocking. The training used a descent simulator application on a Russian laptop together with a descent hand controller.

Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre Preparations
On 2 and 10 March ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Timothy Creamer carried out his first and second R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre training sessions, taking images of the ground with a digital still camera with 400 and 800mm lenses. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the STS-131/19A 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 Discovery, to be downlinked for launch debris assessment.

METOX Canisters
An issue with regeneration of the metal oxide canisters occurred at the start of the two-week period up until 12 March. These canisters are used for carbon dioxide removal during spacewalks and during campout in the airlock the evening prior to a spacewalk. On 1 and 2 March an under temperature error was signaled. This meant that the bake-out oven in which the canisters are regenerated did not reach its minimum temperature of 107 degrees C within two hours of starting the process. The fault is thought to be low voltage to the unit, insufficient air flow around or within the unit, or a failure inside the regenerator itself. This is being looked into as is manifesting more lithium hydroxide canisters on the next Shuttle flight as an initial solution to carbon dioxide removal in connection with EVAs.

ATV Navigation Equipment
Maxim Suraev replaced and configured the Navigation Computer Module of the Russian ASN-M Satellite Navigation Equipment on 3 March. This system is extremely important for the docking of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the next one of which is due to be launched to the ISS in November 2010.

Docking Compartment Thermal Control System
ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kotov replaced a Thermal Control System unit containing a failed coolant pump in the Russian Pirs Docking Compartment on 3 March

ISS receives Collier Trophy
The International Space Station was awarded the 2009 Collier Trophy on 3 March 2010. The Collier Trophy is awarded by the National Aeronautic Association in Washington, USA for the greatest achievement in Aeronautics or Astronautics in the USA. It is considered the top aviation award in the USA.

Docking mechanism disposal
The docking mechanism for the Russian “Poisk” module was removed by Suraev and Kotov for disposal in the Orbital Module of Soyuz 20S

STTS Communication
Suraev and Kotov carried out troubleshooting on the hardline communications problem of the STTS intermodule communication channel between the Zarya module and Soyuz 21S

Japanese Robotic Arm
Working inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory on 10 March, ISS Flight Engineers Soichi Noguchi (JAXA) and Timothy Creamer (NASA) transferred the Small Fine Arm of the Japanese Robotic Manipulator System out of the Kibo airlock and installed it on the Exposed Facility of the Japanese laboratory. Following airlock depressurization the outer hatch was opened and the Small Fine Arm was grappled by main arm of the Japanese Robotic Manipulator System. Testing and checkout activities were carried out on 11 and 12 March.

Space Station Robotic Arm
The Space Station’s principal robotic arm was moved from its base point on the US laboratory, where it was located during STS-130 Shuttle undocking, to a base point on the Mobile Base System (which can travel the length of the ISS truss) in preparation for activities in support of the upcoming STS-131 mission in April.

Waste and Hygiene Compartment
Following troubleshooting by Jeff Williams on 10 March and intense overnight work by Russian and NASA specialists at RSC-Energia and MCC-Houston, the US Waste and Hygiene Compartment toilet was successfully restored to nominal operation.

Service Module Network
On 12 March ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kotov reconfigured the Russian Segment cable network in the Service Module due to new hardware installations last month

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place in the two-week period include: a leak test on the newly installed valve unit of the Common Gas Supply Equipment in the Kibo Laboratory; a functionality checkout of the Smart Switch Router network in the Service Module; replacement of a data storage unit of the BITS2-12 onboard telemetry measurement system; troubleshooting the failed Vibration Isolation System of the TVIS treadmill in the Service module and an autoswitching issue with the Russian Thermal Control System; relocating a Zero-G Stowage Rack to the US Laboratory from the European-built Node 2; and troubleshooting oxidizer valves in the Service Module.

(*)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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