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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

3 October 2008

This is the 9th ISS status report from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s 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 also assessing in detail the results of the rotor A on-orbit 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 final 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 science run of the experiment WAICO is scheduled to start in Biolab during Increment 19. The Experiment Containers will be launched on Progress flight 31P in November 2008 and the seeds in conditioned state tentatively on a Shuttle flight in spring 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
After four successful science runs in Fluid Science Laboratory the Geoflow Experiment Container is currently stored outside of the Fluid Science Laboratory awaiting re-installation upon crew time availability and further experiment runs under ground commanding from the responsible User Support and Operations Centres (MARS and E-USOC). After detailed engineering analysis the removal of the Geoflow Experiment Container can be avoided in future and the experiment runs can proceed without constraints. The large science programme of more than 100 runs of the Geoflow experiment will continue throughout Increments 18, 19 into Increment 20, up to the tentative return on the Shuttle flight 17A in August 2009.

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.

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. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months.

European Physiology Modules
Final calibration of the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM) has been rescheduled to be carried out during Increment 18. 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.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA Human Research Facility number 2, which was relocated from the US Destiny laboratory to the Columbus laboratory on 1 October. 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
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 for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA. The on-orbit maintenance of the European Modular Cultivation System will be performed during Increment 18 in anticipation of the Genara experiment during Expedition 19/20. Genara is the next 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.

SOLO experiment
The Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment was started on 3 October by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff and will be completed by 14 October before the Soyuz docks with the Expedition 18 Crew. This will be covered by two subsequent sessions of six days each. During the first session Chamitoff will follow a special high-salt diet. The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The experiment uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility and Human Research Facility.

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 human physiology study investigates the effects of weightlessness on the mental representation of visual information during and after spaceflight. Accurate perception is a prerequisite for spatial orientation and reliable performance of tasks in space. The experiment has different elements including investigations of perception of depth and distance carried out using a virtual reality headset and standard psychophysics tests.

Flywheel Exercise Device
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 in the area of countermeasures.

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, visiting transportation vehicles and EVA activities.

EuTEF was cleared to be reactivated for limited 4-hour periods every other day and science acquisition is ongoing for three of the instruments (Dostel, Expose and MEDET) during this period. Recently the activation periods have been extended to 8 hours. Science acquisition for the remaining 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 without interruption 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) started a Sun observation period on 27 September which has just been concluded. The SOVIM and SOLSPEC instruments have been acquiring scientific data through the week with the SOLSPEC science team assessing the effect that crossing the South Atlantic Anomaly had on the data. The team noticed higher than expected background radiation levels. The SOLACES instrument is currently in idle mode to check out two microcontroller units, which had a synchronisation problem on 30 September.

The SOLAR facility was put into safe mode for a period on 29 September due to an ISS attitude change in order to observe the ATV re-entry (See ISS general system information). SOLAR was put back in pointing mode thereafter. The facility was also put into safe mode on 2 October in connection with a Station reboost by the Progress 30P spacecraft, though was put back in pointing mode after the reboost was rescheduled to 4 October.

The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range during a 2-year timeframe on-orbit.

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.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

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

The two Russian cosmonauts: ISS Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight engineer Oleg Kononenko successfully performed their final session of the Nitric Oxide Analyser 1 (NOA-1) experiment on 30 September. Items which will be returned to earth with the Expedition 17 crew on Soyuz flight 16S in October have already been packed away. 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 Matroshka 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 until October with a subsequent return of the passive dosimeters on Shuttle flight STS-126 (ULF-2) for detailed evaluation on Earth.

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
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was activated on 30 September by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff to carry out another session of the SHERE (Shear History Extensional Rheology Experiment). 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.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems continue to work extremely well.

Human Research Facility racks relocation
Following preparations in Columbus on 30 September, Volkov assisted Chamitoff in relocation of Human Research Facility 2, which houses the Pulmonary Function System, from the US Destiny laboratory to Columbus on 1 October. After connecting all necessary resource cables and powering up the facility, Chamitoff checked out Human Research Facility 2 and configured its laptop. The same relocation and check out process was repeated for Human Research Facility 1 the following day. These two facilities study of the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body. Ground controllers did notice the water flow through Human Research Facility 2 to be less than expected. Columbus Control Centre teams payload experts are looking into the situation.

Smoke Detector
A smoke detector did give a false alarm in Columbus on 30 September but the likely cause of this is thought to be some dust particles close to the sensor.

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

ATV re-entry
Europe’s first Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Jules Verne carried out a successful controlled destructive re-entry over a completely uninhabited area of the South Pacific on 29 September. Following a final deorbit burn at 14:58 CEST which slowed its velocity by 70 m/s, the ATV entered the upper atmosphere at an altitude of 120 km at 15:31 CEST. It broke up at an altitude of 75 km with the remaining fragments falling into the Pacific some 12 minutes later.

Prior to this Kononenko set up the Fialka hardware at Zvezda window 9 and used its ultraviolet camera and spectrometer, via laptop 3, to record the re-entry. To view the re-entry from the Station a firing of the Progress spacecraft thrusters took place to reorient the ISS.

ISS reboost/Space debris
The planned reboost of the ISS on 2 October was rescheduled due to space debris from the Kosmos-2421 satellite. The reboost has been rescheduled to take place on 4 October. The purpose of the reboost is to set up orbital phasing for the launch of Soyuz 17S and the landing of Soyuz 16S. The space debris was closely monitored during the week and past the Station with a clearance of about 40 km.

MELFI relocation
Following preparations in the Japanese Kibo laboratory on 3 October, Chamitoff (assisted by Volkov) relocated the European-built Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI) from the US Destiny laboratory to Kibo. Once relocated and all relevant resource cables connected up, Chamitoff performed checkouts on the MELFI electronics box and Portable Computer System laptop, reconfiguring it and MELFI for future use.

US Laboratory Environmental Control and Life Support System
On 29 and 30 September NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff adjusted Manual Flow Control Valves of the Internal Thermal Control System in the Destiny laboratory’s endcone and behind Destiny’s P3 and O3 racks. These valves needed adjusting to optimise the flow in the Internal Thermal Control System in order to install the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) racks. These racks are scheduled to arrive on flight ULF-2 in November. The regenerative ECLSS is required when the ISS has a six-person crew as of next year.

US Oxygen Generation System
Chamitoff reconfigured the Secondary Power System of the Oxygen Generation System in the Destiny laboratory on 1 October.

Elektron Oxygen Generator
Kononenko carried out extended leak checking of a spare Liquid Unit of the Russian Elektron O2 generator on 29 September, charging the unit, which has been in storage for almost two years, with pressurised N2. The aim was to check for leakage and good water passage through the feed line inside the unit and to check the response of the Electronics Unit’s micro switches.

Zvezda Condensate Processor
Kononenko installed a device in the Condensate Processor inlet in the Zvezda Service Module on 29 September, which will be used for monitoring sediments in the system.

Russian Cycle Ergometer
Kononenko undertook maintenance and functionality checks on the Russian cycle ergometer exercise device on 29 September. He replaced parts of the cycle’s generator and reassembled its generator unit with noise-suppressing rubber-metal bushings. He then configured the ergometer for operation.

Japanese Experiment Module: Hard disk drive replacement
Chamitoff removed and replaced recording disks of the Image Processing Unit/Video Recording Unit in the Japanese Kibo laboratory on 2 October. He then spent time troubleshooting of a replaced hard disk drive, checking it for bent connector pins.

Expedition 17 Preparations for return to Earth
Volkov and Kononenko had an hour each on 1, 2 and 3 October for crew departure preparations, finalising their Expedition work prior to their return to Earth later this month. Additional preparations they carried out included:

  • Fit check of Soyuz TMA seats
    On 30 September the Expedition 17 Crew put on their Russian Sokol space suits and communications caps and carried out a 30 minute fit check in their specially contoured shock absorbing seats in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-12/16S spacecraft. The fit check assures that the crewmembers, whose bodies gain in length during longer-term stay in zero-G, will still be adequately protected by the seat liners for their touchdown in Kazakhstan, either emergency or regular return.


  • Orthostatic Hemodynamic Endurance Tests
    On 1 October Volkov and Kononenko assisted each other in carrying out tests to evaluate how they would cope with exposure to gravity on return to earth towards the end of October. These tests consisted of carrying out an exercise protocol while wearing Chibis suits, which provide stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system. These so-called orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests consisted of two one-hour sessions supported by ground specialists.

Progress stowage activities
Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko spent several hours on 1, 2 and 3 October with stowage activities in the Progress M-65 spacecraft, working through a list of items to be disposed of.

ISS greeting via Columbus Control Centre
On 1 October the ISS crew sent a message of greeting via the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany to an ESA/DLR space gala at the Sinsheim-Speyer Museum in Germany, following the opening of its new Buran Hall to the public. The hall contains the flight test model of the Soviet ‘Buran’ space shuttle.

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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