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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

8 August 2008

This is the first status report from the European Space Agency outlining the European science activities that are taking place on the ISS. As this is the first report, it will also include an outline of activities that have taken place in the past weeks/months for different European experiments and experiment facilities. Hereafter an updated status report will appear on a weekly basis.

ISS Utilisation Programme

The principal focus of the European utilisation of the ISS is the Columbus laboratory, which was launched and 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 ongoing research taking place in the US Destiny laboratory and the Russian Segment of the ISS. The current status of the European science package is as follows:

European science inside the Columbus Laboratory

Biolab and WAICO experiment
The second run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots experiment (WAICO) is scheduled to start at the end of 2008 once all pending Biolab facility functionality issues have been resolved including an outstanding smoke detector issue and retrieval of remaining experiment containers from one of the two Biolab centrifuges. The first run of the WAICO plant growth experiment did experience certain difficulties at the end of the cultivation period but the experiment objectives were partially achieved and plants grown under weightlessness were returned to Earth for detailed lab analysis.

In connection with resolution of the smoke detector issue, the ISS crew exchanged a power supply module in Biolab on 25 July. The following day Biolab was activated from ground for about 1 hour, and positive data was collected from the smoke detector sensor. On 4 August the rack was activated and a five hour test was performed and eventually confirmed the full functionality of the sensor which is a mandatory safety feature of each ISS rack facility. This status now allows for the operation of Biolab to re-test the centrifuges and remove the remaining experiment containers.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Commissioning activities have continued successfully with software upgrades of the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Video Management Unit and Rack Interface Computer. On 4 July a functional performance check out of Fluid Science Laboratory optical equipment was successfully completed (Optical Check-out 1).

On 22 July the crew removed optical targets 1 and 3 from the facility and installed optical target 2 in preparation for an additional optical equipment test (Optical Check-out 2), which was successfully started the following day. Optical targets are fixed diagnostic test elements placed, instead of an experiment, in the optical path between the various Fluid Science Laboratory illumination sources and CCD cameras. These are used for on-orbit performance testing of the Fluid Science Laboratory’s various optical measurement modes.

Optical Check-out 2 was continued and successfully completed on 24 July in order to test the Video Management Unit’s recording capabilities in advance of starting the Geoflow experiment. Optical target 2 was removed on 28 July and the Geoflow experiment container was installed by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff. Following the repositioning of an Experiment Container feedthrough panel on 5 August that was affecting the nominal function of a laser safety switch, the Geoflow experiment container was functionally checked out on 6 August followed by an optical check out with complete success.

The first science operations of the Geoflow experiment were started on 7 August. The Geoflow experiment will investigate 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 like global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
Commissioning of the European Drawer Rack and the integrated Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility Electronics Unit were successfully completed. The Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility is a multi-user facility, which will tackle problems of protein crystallisation in space. Its very sophisticated in-situ optical experiment diagnostics equipment will allow for precise monitoring of the protein crystals’ growth conditions. Its Processing Unit with various protein solutions will be flown in active mode (for continuous conditioning of samples) to the ISS on Shuttle flight ULF-2, which is due for launch in November.

European Physiology Modules
Commissioning of the European Physiology Modules facility is complete and the final calibration of one of the facility’s science modules called the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM) will be scheduled towards the end of September. This module will be used for different types of non-invasive brain function investigations and 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.

Ground preparations have concluded for the flight experiment of SOLO, which is carrying out research into salt retention in space. Consumables for the experiment will be launched to the ISS on Progress flight 30P in September, with the experiment planned to be carried out at the end of Increment 17 by the NASA crew member and also use the European Physiology Modules rack capabilities.

NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff has already successfully performed 3 experiment sessions of 3D-Space during Increment 17, the last session being completed on 30 July. This 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 experiment also uses the European Physiology Modules laptop capabilities for data handling.

Flywheel Exercise Device
The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS in order to become an advanced exercise device for European astronauts. It 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.

European science outside the Columbus Laboratory in open space

European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF)
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 and astronomy. It continues to operate well with a majority of the experiments actively collecting science and technology data and one experiment powered down having completed its science objectives. A minor data link issue, which is not affecting science acquisition but occasionally necessitating a reboot of EuTEF is currently under investigation.

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. A software patch is currently being developed to fix a data link error encountered by the DEBIE-2 and FIPEX instruments. However a work-around allows for regular science data acquisition. DEBIE-2 successfully performed a 24 hour experiment run on 8 July, several between 13 July and 15 July, and multiple daily runs starting from 28 July up to the present day.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope, which is continuing to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle Cargo Bay. It is currently inactive as planned.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. Its planned activation on 10 July was delayed due to low equipment temperatures.
  • EXPOSE: This series of exobiology experiments is continuing to acquire scientific data.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. The last science acquistion occurred between 30 July and 2 August.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire scientific data. This data will help to evaluate the effects of open space on materials being considered for future use on spacecraft in low earth orbit. It had a period of inactivity due to low temperatures and a data link error but was reactivated on 30 July.
  • 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 not acquiring scientific data but is in ready mode, awaiting additional experiment runs.
  • 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 1/2/3, which had been running since 16 June was paused on 10 July for Station activities. Tribolab is currently in Standby Mode. It is planned to restart the Ball bearing experiment in mid-August.

The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range. The individual instruments (SOVIM, SOLSPEC, SOLACES) were powered off to troubleshoot a Local Area Network connectivity issue between Columbus and SOLAR. This was carried out by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff on 21 July. Once communications for a power feeder were rerouted through a different Ethernet network switch in Columbus, SOLAR started to resend data to the ground and all functionality for SOLAR is now recovered. SOLAR has been acquiring scientific data since the latest Sun observation window opened on 31 July and will continue until 12 August.

MISSE-6A and -6B
The Materials on the ISS Experiment (MISSE) is in fact a US multi-investigator experiment provided by NASA but located on the outside of the Columbus laboratory. The experiment is receiving power and the experiments are continuing as planned. 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) 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 performed as an ISS operational device since its initial commissioning/test phase in the autumn of 2007. Recently the ISS crew resolved an outstanding data transfer issue, making ANITA once again fully operational, by reinserting a data cable on 18 July.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

This long-term experiment is continuing to monitor radiation measurements in the Russian Zarya module. On 22 July, the crew successfully performed the rotation of the ALTEINO instrument. A memory card exchange and downlink of information occurred on 4 August.

The inhalation/exhalation procedures for the Nitric Oxide Analyser 2 (NOA-2) experiment were successfully provided by Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Volkov before starting and after completing the 6h 18min Russian EVA number 20, which began on 10 July. Analysing the nitric oxide levels in the samples provided helps to determine the presence, or not, of symptoms of decompression sickness as seen in scuba divers, i.e. heightened nitric oxide levels, and thus determine the effectiveness of decompression techniques associated with spacewalks.

Expedition Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko conducted the periodic change-out of the memory cards for the long-term Matroshka 2B radiation investigation. 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 will continue to measure the radiation dose experienced by crew members inside the ISS.

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.

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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