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Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report
Increment 17

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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

19 September 2008

This is the 7th status report from the European Space Agency outlining the European science related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past week for different European experiments and experiment facilities, and additional information about European ISS systems and key ISS events for the time period. 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.

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 in the US Destiny laboratory and the Russian Segment of the ISS. The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:

European science inside the Columbus Laboratory

Biolab and WAICO experiment
Following the successful testing of Biolab’s centrifuge B on 5 September, ground crews are still assessing the results of the rotor A test from 22 August.

Further testing of Biolab’s two centrifuges, the automatic chemical fixation system and the atmosphere control system will be carried out prior to the execution of the second run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment. These end-to-end performance verification tests will be carried out using the empty WAICO-2 experiment containers, which will finally replace the remaining experiment containers from the WAICO-1 run currently on centrifuge B and the Reference Containers on centrifuge A.

The second run of the experiment WAICO is scheduled to start in Biolab during Increment 19.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
On 16 September the Geoflow Experiment Container was removed from the Fluid Science Laboratory by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff in connection with mechanical loads due to the docking of Progress 30P on 17 September (see also ISS General System Information).

The Geoflow experiment investigates the flow of a viscous incompressible fluid between two concentric spheres rotating around a common axis under the influence of a simulated central force field. This is of importance for astrophysical and geophysical problems, such as global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets.

Geoflow will remain on the Station, returning in 2009. A large sequence of additional runs of the Geoflow experiment will continue throughout Increment 18.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
The European Drawer Rack houses the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is an advanced ISS research payload for the investigation of problems of protein crystallisation in space. Its very sophisticated in-situ optical experiment diagnostics equipment will allow for precise in-situ monitoring of the organic protein crystals’ growth conditions.

After completion of the exhaustive science preparation programme on ground, the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility with a variety of different protein solutions will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck on flight 15A, which is due for launch in February 2009.

European Physiology Modules
Final calibration of the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM) is scheduled towards the end of the ongoing mission increment. This science module is a subsection of the European Physiology Modules facility and will be used for different types of non-invasive brain function investigations. It can also easily be reconfigured to support research in the field of muscle physiology.

NeuroSpat, the first experiment to use the European Physiology Modules facility will take place when the next European astronaut arrives on the Station. This will be Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne. NeuroSpat will investigate the ways in which crew members’ three-dimensional perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness.

SOLO experiment
Following docking of Progress 30P (see also ISS General System Information) on 17 September, consumables for the SOLO experiment were transferred into the ISS the following day. This included blood analyser measurement pouches containing control solution and cartridges. These were transferred to the European-built Minus Eighty degrees Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI) located in the Destiny laboratory. All additional kits for the SOLO experiment were also transferred to the European Transport Carrier located in the Columbus laboratory. The first session of the SOLO experiment is scheduled to be carried out on 5 October by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff. The experiment will use capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility and Human Research Facility. The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects.

3D-Space experiment
NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff has already successfully performed three experiment sessions of 3D-Space during Increment 17, the latest session being completed on 30 July. He is due to undertake a fourth session later in the October timeframe about two weeks before his return on Shuttle flight STS-126 (ULF-2) in November. This 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
The Flywheel Exercise Device will be removed from its storage location in the European Transport Carrier of the Columbus Laboratory for deployment and first functional checkout after Shuttle flight 15A in early 2009. It was launched to the ISS in order to become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts and serving human physiology investigations.

European science outside the Columbus Laboratory in open space

European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF)
EuTEF has been operating well on orbit with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives. The facility was put in survival heater mode on 1 September in order to resolve an issue with one of the instruments (PLEGPAY) in conjunction with environmental constraints for the ISS, transportation vehicles and EVA activities. EuTEF has now been cleared to be reactivated for a 4-hour period every other day. On 18 September the instruments Dostel, Expose and MEDET, were reactivated though no science acquisition was possible during that period. Science acquisition for the EuTEF experiments and instruments will continue on resolution of the current full activation constraints. EuTEF is a fully automated, multi-user payload facility mounted on the outside of the Columbus laboratory carrying a suite of experiments that require exposure to the open space environment. The experiments cover a variety of disciplines including material science, physics, astrobiology, astronomy and space technology.

The status of each individual experiment is as follows:

  • DEBIE-2: The ‘DEBris In orbit Evaluator’ is designed to be a standard in-situ space debris and micrometeoroid monitoring instrument. It has successfully performed multiple 24 hour experiment runs, though is currently in standby mode. A software update is being prepared to increase the duration of the experiments.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope, and was continuing to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS, until 1 September. It is now part of the EuTEF intermittent activation programme.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle cargo bay. It is currently inactive due to completion of the first part of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. It is currently switched off.
  • EXPOSE: This series of exobiology experiments was continuing to acquire scientific data up until 1 September when it was paused. It is now part of the EuTEF intermittent activation programme.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. Science acquisition was paused on 1 September.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) was continuing to acquire scientific data until 1 September. Data from this experiment will help to evaluate the effects of open space on materials being considered for future use on spacecraft in low earth orbit. It is now part of the EuTEF intermittent activation programme.
  • PLEGPAY: The PLasma Electron Gun PAYload is the study of the interactions between spacecraft and the space environment in low earth orbit, with reference to electrostatic charging and discharging. It is currently shut down, awaiting the resolution of the safety issue by engineering experts via operational measures to eliminate the latest ISS safety concerns.
  • TRIBOLAB: This series of experiments covers research in tribology, i.e. the research of friction in mechanisms and lubrication thereof under long-term open space conditions. The Ball Bearing experiment number 4 was paused on 1 September.

The Solar facility and its individual instruments (SOVIM, SOLSPEC, SOLACES) were reactivated on 18 September with the next Sun observation period due to start on 26 September. The facility had been powered off for part of the week in connection with Hurricane Ike closing Johnson Space Center and, therefore, the switch to the backup ISS Mission Control Centre at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range.

MISSE-6A and -6B
The US materials exposure experiment is receiving power from Columbus and the experiments are continuing as planned. The Materials on the ISS Experiment (MISSE) is a US multi-investigator experiment provided by NASA but located on the outside of the Columbus laboratory. The experiment will evaluate the effect of the space environment on a large variety of exposed materials.

European science inside the US Destiny Laboratory

The Analyzing Interferometer for Ambient Air (ANITA) is deactivated and already packed for return to earth on Shuttle flight ULF-2 in November 2008. This instrument monitors low levels of potential contaminants in the ISS cabin atmosphere with a capability of simultaneously monitoring 32 different trace gases. The experiment tests the accuracy and reliability of this technology as a trace-gas monitoring system for the ISS and future spacecraft. ANITA is a cooperative investigation with NASA and has continuously served as an ISS operational device after its initial science commissioning/test phase in autumn 2007.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA Human Research Facility number 2 in the US Destiny Laboratory on the ISS. 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. The two Human Research Facilities have been rescheduled to be relocated to the Columbus laboratory in the week of 22-28 September.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

This long-term experiment is continuing to monitor radiation measurements in the Russian Zarya module.

No sessions of the Nitric Oxide Analyser (NOA) experiments were scheduled for this week. The next session of the NOA-1 experiment is planned for 30 September.

The NOA-1 experiment tests the levels of expired nitric oxide in ISS crew members. Increased levels of expired nitric oxide are an early and accurate sign of airway inflammation especially in asthma, but also in occupational dust inhalation. This is important in weightlessness since dust does not settle. NOA-2 is a similar experiment but the procedures are undertaken by astronauts pre- and post-EVA, where the levels of nitric oxide are used to determine the presence, or not, of symptoms of decompression sickness as seen, for example, in scuba divers, i.e. heightened nitric oxide levels.

The facility is located in the Russian Pirs Docking Module. The Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. Matroshka-2B continues to measure the radiation dose experienced by crew members inside the ISS at least until October.

GTS-2 (Global Transmission Service)
The Global Transmission Service (GTS) is continuously on since early 2008 and will tentatively continue until spring 2009.

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.

European-developed NASA payloads in the Columbus Laboratory

Microgravity Science Glovebox
There were no activities carried out in the Microgravity Science Glovebox this week. This facility, developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA, 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.

European Modular Cultivation System
All activities for the Expedition 17 Crew related to the European Modular Cultivation System have now finished. The facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on plant cells, roots and physiology. It was developed by ESA and has been operated under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA. European Modular Cultivation System maintenance will be performed during Increment 18 in anticipation of the Genara experiment during Expedition 19/20. Genara is an ESA experiment that will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth activity at a molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems continue to work extremely well. On 15 September, NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff worked in the Columbus laboratory in preparation of the relocation of the two Human Research Facilities to Columbus from the US Destiny laboratory later this month. Columbus has been in an operational configuration that is compatible with its command/control via the ISS Backup Control Centre due to Hurricane Ike causing the temporary closure of the ISS Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas (See ISS General System Information). The only other minor systems issues for Columbus include the need to upload a new part for the intermodule ventilation system, which is foreseen to be uploaded to the ISS in November on Shuttle flight ULF-2, and the exchange of a Condensate Water Separator Assembly Desiccant Module, which needs to be manifested on one of the next flights.

ISS general system information

These are highlights of last weeks activities and do not include much detail of the standard maintenance activities that takes place on a regular basis to keep ISS systems and life support functioning normally.

ATV post-undocking
The ATV Control Centre in Toulouse continues to monitor ‘Jules Verne’, Europe’s first Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) following its undocking from the ISS on 5 September. The ATV is now in its rephasing period, which will last just over 23 days and will bring the ATV into the correct position at the correct time for reentry to be viewed from the ISS and two specially-equipped observation planes in the South Pacific on 29 September.

Progress M-65/30P docking
The Progress M-65 spacecraft on ISS logistics flight 30P docked to the aft Zvezda docking port of the ISS at 20:43 on 17 September. The Russian ISS crew members monitored the docking from the TORU control station in Zvezda from which they could also control the spacecraft if necessary. Once hooks were closed between the Progress and the ISS, Zvezda returned to active attitude control and the ISS was manoeuvred back to its principal orbital attitude (Torque Equilibrium Attitude). The originally planned docking on 12 September was delayed due to a possible lack of support from the Johnson Space Center in Houston in connection with Hurricane Ike. Progress M-65 delivered 2.4 tonnes of cargo to the ISS including attitude control propellant, oxygen and air, food and dry cargo.

Progress activities after docking
After docking of the Progress M-65 spacecraft, the TORU control system in Zvezda was shut down and leak checks were performed on the inter-hatch area and the propellant line interface between Progress and Zvezda. The hatches were opened at 22:15 CEST and quick disconnect clamps were installed to further strengthen the connection between the Progress to Zvezda. Air sampling was then carried out in the Progress vehicle, the spacecraft was powered down and a ventilation/heating air duct was installed. Video equipment was also removed that was used during the docking.

The following day Volkov and Kononenko spent several hours unloading, transferring and stowing important cargo from the Progress spacecraft including consumables for the European SOLO experiment. Afterwards Volkov worked in Progress installing equipment, which connects Zvezda with the Progress attitude control and main thruster systems and hooking up connectors in order to command these systems from Zvezda.

NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff also downloaded vibrational data of the docking coming from remote sensors in different parts of the Station.

Progress thruster tests
On 19 September, the Progress M-65 spacecraft was scheduled to test of its thrusters to ensure proper functionality in providing attitude control, reboost and debris avoidance capabilities for the Station.

Japanese Experiment Module outfitting
On 18 September, Chamitoff carried out outfitting in the Japanese Kibo laboratory including connecting umbilicals between the Kibo laboratory and the Interorbit Communications System Rack. The following day he continued with outfitting activities by assembling and installing foot restraints in Kibo. These are used by astronauts to remain fixed in location whilst undertaking tasks. He also replaced failed lighting equipment.

Russian Thermal Control System
On 16 September, ISS Commander Sergei Volkov replaced a failed pump panel in the Russian internal thermal control system in Zvezda.

Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint misalignment
Temporarily misaligned gear teeth occurred during Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint operations in connection with the Progress docking. This joint rotates thermal control radiators, used for dispersing excess heat from the Station. Two occurrences of the misalignment were recovered automatically and once manually.

ISS Mission Control Center – Houston: Hurricane Ike
The Johnson Space Center in Houston, location of NASA’s ISS Mission Control Center remained closed all week in connection with Hurricane Ike with control centre responsibilities being carried out by the Backup Control Center at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Due to command/telemetry capabilities in this situation, certain reconfiguration of ISS systems had taken place including the Columbus laboratory being temporarily placed into an appropriate configuation and Japanese Kibo modules being powered down. Control Centre responsibilities were handed back to Houston on 19 September and the Johnson Space Center is scheduled to officially reopen on Monday.

Martin Zell
ESA Head of Research Operations Department

Markus Bauer
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer

Weekly reports compiled by Jon Weems, ESA Human Spaceflight Coordination Office.

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