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Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 82, Increment 25/26

03/12/2010 265 views 0 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

This is ISS status report #82 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 and Japanese Kibo laboratories. 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 experiments
Following a period of extensive functional testing no further activities were undertaken using the Biolab facility in the two weeks until 3 December. Biolab is a multi-user facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates. Due to the still ongoing functional recovery activities for the Biolab facility the TripleLux experiments’ planning was revised and TripleLux-A was de-manifested from the ULF-6 / STS-134 flight mainly due to the Biolab microscope failure which will be returned from the ISS and repaired on ground. The objective of the TripleLux experiments is to further understand the cellular mechanisms underlying the aggravation of radiation responses, and the impairment of the immune function under spaceflight conditions.

European Drawer Rack, Kubik Incubators and PADIAC/SPHINX Experiments
The Experiment Containers for the SPaceflight of Huvec: an Integrated Xperiment’ (SPHINX) were removed from the Kubik-6 incubator inside the European Drawer Rack on 24 November. The containers were placed in soft pouches and transferred to the Soyuz 23S spacecraft, which undocked from the ISS and landed in Kazakhstan on the morning of 26 November. The Kubik-6 incubator had been set to 6 deg C in order to keep the samples inside the SPHINX experiment containers in a refrigerated state. This followed seven days of processing of the SPHINX experiment in the Kubik-6 incubator at 36.5 deg C. Once the samples were transferred from Kubik-6 the incubator temperature was set to 38 deg C for drying out. The following day (25 November) the incubator was deactivated and the SPHINX data file was transferred from the Kubik-6 incubator to mass memory unit of the European Drawer Rack. The objective of the SPHINX experiment is to determine how HUVEC (Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells) modify their behaviour when exposed to real weightlessness. This could provide better knowledge of endothelial function, which could be useful for clinical application. Endothelial cells, which line the interior of the heart and blood vessels, are important in many aspects of vascular function.

Samples for the PADIAC (PAthway DIfferent Activators) experiment, which had been stowed in one of the European-built MELFI freezers (at -95 deg C), were also transferred to Soyuz 23S and returned to earth. Like SPHINX, this experiment had been processed in the European Drawer Rack using Kubik incubators. The scientific objective of the PADIAC experiment is to determine the different pathways used for activation of T cells, which play an important role in the human immune system. Samples for SPHINX and PADIAC were returned to the relevant science teams on 29 November

The Kubik incubators are portable incubators with microgravity and centrifuge accommodations which were designed in the frame of the ISS Soyuz missions for biology experiments processing. The European Drawer Rack is a multi-user experiment facility which will also host in the future the Facility for Adsorption and Surface Tension (FASTER) and the Electro-Magnetic Levitator payload from 2012 onwards. FASTER is a Capillarity Pressure Tensiometer developed for the study of the links between emulsion stability and physico-chemical characteristics of droplet interfaces. The Electro-Magnetic Levitator will investigate properties of metal alloys under weightlessness, supporting basic and industrial research.

Fluid Science Laboratory and FASES/Geoflow-2 experiments
No activities were undertaken with the Fluid Science Laboratory in the two weeks until 3 December. The Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment is undergoing extensive science testing using the flight sample cells in the Engineering Model of the Fluid Science Laboratory at the MARS User Support and Operations Centre (USOC) in Naples, Italy. This replanning follows the demanifesting of FASES from the 39P Progress launch in September (due to the upgrade constraints of the Video Management Unit of the Fluid Science Laboratory). The flight of the Experiment Container will now be rescheduled to a later Progress launch after the Video Management Unit has been upgraded. The FASES experiment will be studying emulsion properties with advanced optical diagnostics. Results of the FASES experiment hold significance for oil extraction processes, and in the chemical and food industries.

The GeoFlow-2 experiment has been stowed in the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) of ATV-2 Johannes Kepler for launch in mid February 2011 and subsequent processing of an exhaustive scientific programme for a couple of months in the Fluid Science Laboratory. Final science and experiment operations preparation activities are currently taking place at the involved USOCs.

European Physiology Modules and Experiments
The European Physiology Modules facility was activated by ISS Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly on 30 November, in support of ground activities by the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany, and a Mass Memory Unit Transfer was successfully completed. A batch file transfer on the Facility Control Computer was undertaken and batch files were executed. A high rate data downlink was completed to the facility’s User Support and Operations Centre (CADMOS in Toulouse). This was undertaken with different file sizes up to 80 Mb. 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.

The Dose Distribution inside the ISS (DOSIS) experiment is progressing well during its time on orbit, with the instrument still acquiring data using one of the active DOSTEL detectors (DOSTEL-2) in the European Physiology Modules. The passive detectors for DOSIS, which were deinstalled and returned to earth on STS-132 Shuttle Atlantis, are currently undergoing scientific analyses. The DOSIS experiment determines 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' has been undertaken on Columbus to measure the spatial radiation gradients inside the module.

Vessel Identification System (VIS)
Following the swap back to the original Norwegian receiver for the Vessel Identification System (commonly known as the Automatic Identification System, AIS) on 27 October, data acquisition is ongoing 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 in the past months since its installation in Columbus.

The Vessel Identification System consists of the two different receivers (NORAIS and LuxAIS), which are alternated every three months or so, and the ERNO-Box, which is used as a data relay for the Vessel Identification System, whose antenna was installed on the outside of Columbus during an EVA on 21 November 2009. 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 VIS data which is continuously acquired on Columbus.

Pulmonary Function System (in Human Research Facility 2)
No activities were carried out using the Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks until 3 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.

European Modular Cultivation System
EXPRESS Rack 3 in which the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) is located was activated for undertaking vibration measurement on 22 – 23 November. On 23 November ISS Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly performed a relief valve check on the EMCS. Culture chambers for the Genara-A experiment (which took place in the European Modular Cultivation System) are currently in a General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator (GLACIER) until their return by Shuttle on Shuttle mission ULF5. The temperature of GLACIER was increased (from -95 deg C) for 20 minutes on 24 November to get rid of some frost that had built up on a cold head. In this time the highest temperature measured was -77 deg C. Genara-A is studying 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. ESA’s Gravi-2 experiment is planned to follow in fall 2011 after a further NASA experiment, called SeedGrowth.

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 is being operated jointly with NASA under a bilateral barter agreement which was renewed after the initial 2 years time frame.

Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES)
No activities were carried out using the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) in the two weeks until 3 December. Once the facility is fully commissioned it will be used for undertaking neuromuscular and exercise research on the International Space Station. MARES is capable of assessing the strength of isolated muscle groups around joints to provide a better understanding of the effects of weightlessness on the muscular system.

Following completion of an electrical checkout of the system (i.e. with no functional testing), MARES will be placed in its on-orbit stowage configuration. In the future this will be followed up by functional testing of MARES in two parts: the first part (during Expedition 26) without a crew member using the system, the second functional testing (during Expedition 27/28) with a crew member using the system. These two commissioning parts will include testing of hardware and software as well as testing downlink capabilities.

MARES consists of an adjustable chair with a system of pads and levers that fit to each astronaut and cover different movements, a main box containing the facility motor and control electronics to which the chair is connected by an articulated arm, as well as dedicated experiment software. The system is considerably more advanced than equivalent ground-based devices and a vast improvement on current muscle research facilities on the ISS.

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

The latest Sun visibility window for the SOLAR facility to gather scientific data opened on 3 December. Sun visibility windows for SOLAR are open when the ISS is in the correct orbital profile with relation to the Sun. The SOLAR payload facility has been studying the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range currently for more than 2 ½ 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 2013 and possibly beyond.

European science inside the US Destiny Laboratory

Material Science Laboratory in the Material Science Research Rack
No activities were carried out using ESA’s Material Science Laboratory in the two weeks until 3 December. The 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. Seven more sample cartridges were launched on 16 November 2009 with STS-129/ULF-3. Twelve of the CETSOL/MICAST experiment samples have been processed to date with the processed samples currently being analysed by the relevant science teams on ground. The final NASA MICAST sample, which will complete processing of the first batch of CETSOL/MICAST samples, will be processed following the upcoming exchange of the Material Science Laboratory’s Low Gradient Furnace to its Solidification and Quenching Furnace. This will in turn be followed by the second batch of CETSOL/MICAST samples for processing and samples for the SETA experiment.

Together with NASA a joint Material Science Laboratory/Materials Science Research Rack operations technical interface meeting has been performed at the Microgravity User Support Centre (MUSC), ESA’s Facility Responsible Centre for the Materials Science Laboratory. This meeting comprised operations, engineering, science, and agency representatives. The smooth and highly successful Material Science Laboratory experimentation has been highlighted and the scientists presented very promising preliminary scientific results stemming from analysis of the first samples. This constitutes an excellent basis for further materials research with international collaboration.

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. The SETA (Solidification along a Eutectic path in Ternary Alloys) experiment will be 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.

Microgravity Science Glovebox and SODI experiments
Following the successful conclusion of the SODI-Colloid experiment and the relocation of the European-built Microgravity Science Glovebox rack from Columbus back to the US Laboratory on 21 October, no activities were carried out using the Microgravity Science Glovebox in the two weeks until 3 December.

The Colloid experiment covers the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions. The focus is on materials that have a special interest in photonics, with emphasis on nano-structured, periodic dielectric materials, known as photonic crystals, which possess appealing properties and make them promising candidates for new types of optical components. Colloid is the second in the series of three SODI experiments. The first SODI experiment performed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox was IVIDIL (Influence of Vibrations on Diffusion in Liquids), which was successfully completed on 20 January.

The subsequent DSC experiment (‘Diffusion and Soret Coefficient Measurements for Improvement of Oil Recovery’) will be the third and final SODI experiment processed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox which is now tentatively foreseen in the second part of 2011 after the ongoing re-definition of the liquid mixtures.

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.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
No activities were carried out using the Portable Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks until 3 December. The Portable Pulmonary Function System is an autonomous multi-user facility supporting a broad range of human physiological research experiments under weightless conditions in the areas of respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic physiology.

The ALTEA (Anomalous Long Term Effects on Astronauts) Shield experiment has been ongoing and acquiring data via five of its silicon detector units. On 30 November the detectors were deactivated and stowed. The experiment aims at obtaining a better understanding of the light flash phenomenon, and more generally the interaction between cosmic rays and brain function, as well as testing the effectiveness of different types of shielding material. The experiment is currently undertaking a 3-dimensional survey of the radiation environment in the US laboratory.

European science inside the Japanese Kibo Laboratory

ESA’s Matroshka payload, which has been located in the Japanese Kibo laboratory since 4 May, is continuously acquiring data about the radiation environment inside the ISS. The accumulated radiation levels are being measured using the passive radiation dosimeters (including PADLES type from JAXA) which were installed inside the Matroshka Phantom, which simulates a human body (head and torso). Following agreements with JAXA and Roscosmos, the joint long-duration experiment run will be performed 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.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

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 in the future. 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 functioning well and continuously acquiring scientific data. Data for the Expose-R payload was copied from a Service Module Multiplex computer onto a laptop by ISS Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Kaleri as part of ISS Expedition handover activities. A tentative return of the sample trays was foreseen for November 2010 which allowed for a scientifically beneficial extension of the open space exposure period to more than 1.5 years, though a recent request from Roscosmos will lead to a mission extension until spring 2011 when the sample trays are retrieved via an EVA and returned to Earth either by Shuttle or the next Soyuz in March.

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 two 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 2009.

In addition a new experiment complement for the tentative Expose-R2 mission has been identified and the implementation in collaboration with the Russian partners is commencing.

Non-European science and research facilities inside the Columbus Laboratory

Human Research Facility 1
During the two-week period until 3 December activities were carried out using NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 with the support of ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. ISS Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly carried out a week-long session of NASA’s Sleep experiment from 22 - 29 November during which data was transferred to a Human Research Facility 1 laptop from the Actiwatches they were wearing to monitor sleep patterns and light exposure levels.

Human Research Facility 2
Final blood draw activities on ISS Flight Engineer Shannon Walker in connection with NASA’s NUTRITION/Repository/Pro K protocol were carried out on 22 November. Samples were spun in the Refrigerated Centrifuge of Human Research Facility 2 before being placed in one of the European-built MELFI freezers. The following day she closed out activities for the experiment including removal of the rotor from the refrigerated centrifuge.

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.

Activities in the European-built Node 3


  • Exercise Equipment
    In addition to regular use, inspection and servicing of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) and the T2/COLBERT treadmill in Node 3, yearly maintenance was carried out on the T2 treadmill on 29 November by Scott Kelly followed by an unmanned activation and checkout of the system. The following day accumulated data was retrieved by Kelly and transferred to the file server for downlink, as no T2 exercise data had been retrieved on ground since 14 November and the treadmill was not visible on the OpsLan network. Following steps to troubleshoot the software issue with the treadmill, the rack was rebooted by ground controllers and visibility was restored.


  • 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. Outside of standard water sampling procedures, no significant procedures took place involving the Regenerative ECLSS in the two weeks until 3 December.


  • Internal Thermal Control System
    Ammonia coolant samples were taken from the Moderate Temperature Loop of the Internal Thermal Control System in Node 3 on 30 November. This will be returned to ground for analysis.

Minus-Eighty degree Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)
Currently there are three European-built MELFI freezers on the ISS: MELFI 1 and MELFI 3 in the Japanese laboratory and MELFI 2 in the US laboratory. Samples for the PADIAC (PAthway DIfferent Activators) experiment were removed from the MELFI 1 freezer in the Japanese laboratory and returned to earth in Soyuz 23S which landed on 26 November. Samples were placed in the MELFI freezers related to: NASA’s Nutrition/Repository/Pro K protocol for ISS Expedition 25 Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Shannon Walker and ISS Expedition 26 Commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (blood and urine); NASA’s Integrated Immune experiment for Walker and ISS Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock (blood and saliva); and JAXA’s MYCO experiment for Wheelock and Walker (body), MELFI 1 also contains blood and urine samples from ESA’s Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment.

ISS Expedition 25/Soyuz 23S Return Preparations, Undocking and Landing


  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    From 22-24 November Yurchikhin carried out an additional orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test session and two cardiovascular evaluation sessions wearing the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit, the first session whilst using the TVIS treadmill, and the cardiovascular evaluations whilst using the Russian VELO ergometer. The Chibis suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Russian crewmembers would cope with, and prepare them for, exposure to gravity on return to Earth.


  • Soyuz 23S Descent Drill
    Yurchikhin, Wheelock and Walker carried out a Soyuz Descent training exercise on 22 November in Soyuz 23S. The exercise involved the use of a computer simulation and review of Soyuz descent procedures, emergency descents, off-nominal situations and crew responsibilities by the three ISS Crew members.


  • Soyuz TMA-19/23S Motion Control Test and Return Preparations
    Yurchikhin, Wheelock, and Walker supported a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz TMA-19 Motion Control System on 22 November including testing the pilot’s translational hand controller and the braking thrusters. On 24 November Yurchikhin also removed temperature and lighting equipment from the Soyuz Orbital module for reuse after Soyuz undocking. In the lead up to undocking all relevant samples and equipment had been packed into Soyuz 23S for return to earth including samples for ESA’s SPHINX and PADIAC experiments.


  • Suit Checks
    On 22 November Yurchikhin, Wheelock, and Walker carried out fit checks of their protective Kentavr anti-g suits. These suits are worn under their Sokol suits during return and landing to help the long-duration crewmembers with the return into Earth’s gravity.


  • Change-of-Command Ceremony
    The official handover from ISS Expedition 25 to Expedition 26 took place on 24 November with all crew members present and with Doug Wheelock handing over commandership to Scott Kelly.


  • Soyuz TMA-19/23S, Expedition 25 Undocking and Landing
    Following Soyuz activation on the evening of 25 November, Russian communications systems were configured, the clamps between the Soyuz TMA-19 and the Russian “Rassvet” Mini Research Module 1 to which it is docked were removed, the hatches between the Soyuz and “Rassvet” were closed and relevant leak checks were carried out. Undocking of Soyuz TMA-19 with Yurchikhin, Wheelock, and Walker, occurred at just after 02:23 (CET) on 26 November followed by a 15 sec separation burn three minutes later. At 04:54 (CET) the Soyuz spacecraft performed its deorbit thruster burn lasting 4 min 24 sec. This caused a deceleration of 115m/sec. 25 minutes later the spacecraft went through module separation, with atmospheric reentry occurring at 05:23 (CET). The parachute was deployed 8 minutes later with landing at 05:46 CET (10:46 local time) north-east of the city of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan. Yurchikhin, Wheelock, and Walker had spent 163 days in space. From here the crew was flown to Kustanai in Kazakhstan by helicopter. Yurchikhin was flown on to Star City in Moscow, while Wheelock and Walker were flown directly to Houston. Undocking of Soyuz TMA-19 marked the end of Expedition 25 and the start of Expedition 26. Prior to undocking procedures the ISS was first handed over from US to Russian attitude control and then to free drift prior to clamp removal. After undocking ISS attitude control was again handed back to US systems. An internal pressure anomaly was experienced in the Descent Module of Soyuz 23S prior to undocking/during landing which is currently under investigation though parameters were within required limits and did not violate flight rules.

STS-133/ULF-5 Mission Preparations


  • Launch Delay
    Technicians finished applying replacement foam to the external tank of Shuttle Discovery following the necessity to repair a gaseous hydrogen leak at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate and cracks on two aluminium brackets called stringers on the external tank. Analysis of the repair work has been ongoing during the two weeks until 3 December though the requirement for additional testing on the stringers has led to rescheduling of the launch of Discovery on its last flight to no earlier than 3 February.


  • Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre Preparations
    On 20/21 November Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri undertook R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre training sessions. This involved photographing ground sites from two windows in the Russian Service Module with a D2X digital still camera using 400 and 800 mm lenses. The delay in the Shuttle launch means that ISS Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos) and Shannon Walker (NASA) will no longer be involved in the exercise. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the STS-133/ULF5 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.

US Airlock Activities
On 22 November, as part of crew handover activities, Doug Wheelock and Scott Kelly checked out the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue units in the US Airlock, in preparation for the STS-133/ULF5 spacewalks currently scheduled for February. The SAFER units are propulsive units used by EVA astronauts in the unlikely event that they become detached from the ISS during a spacewalk. Kelly also filtered the cooling loops of two EVA suits and the Airlock for particulate matter and biomass and Wheelock started recharge of EVA suit batteries. The recharge was terminated the following day.

ISS Reboost
The ISS was reboosted to a higher orbiting altitude on 25 November. The reboost, which lasted 7 min 38 sec, was carried out by Progress 39P rendezvous and docking thrusters and increased ISS altitude by 1.62 km. The reboost was undertaken in connection with phasing for Soyuz TMA-20/25S launch, and STS 133/ULF5 launch.

Russian Radio Data Transmission System
From 30 November – 3 December the new Radio Data Transmission System for Russian payloads was installed by ISS Expedition 26 Flight Engineers and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka in the Russian Service Module. The system will enable the downlinking of large data files from the ISS Russian Segment using Russian communication resources. Activities included: routing cables; installing and connecting up two Power Switch Assemblies, three sensor units and a memory unit; installing additional wiring and connecting it up to onboard systems such as BITS2-12 onboard telemetry measurement system. The external antenna for the Radio Data Transmission System will be mounted on the Service Module exterior during Russian EVA-27, currently scheduled for 21 January.

Russian SKV-2 Air Conditioner
Major maintenance was carried out by Oleg Skripochka on the Russian SKV-2 air conditioner in the Service Module in order to return functionality for condensate pumping. On 30 November, after carrying out functionality checks on the condensate evacuation pump and condensate lines, Skripochka replaced the pump. The following day he conducted tests on the new evacuation pump.

Other Activities
Other activities that have taken place in the two-week period until 3 December include: sampling from the Russian Condensate Water Processor and Modified Water Distribution and Heating Unit in the Service Module; refreshing ISS cabin air with oxygen from Progress 39P tanks, replacing eight of ten smoke detectors of the Service Module fire detection system; and a rapid depressurisation training session for the three remaining ISS crew members.

(*)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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