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Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report
Increment 17/18

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

17 October 2008

This is the 11th 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 and research facilities 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 in Increment 18 well before the actual 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 have already been delivered for a launch on Progress flight 31P in November 2008 and the plant seeds will follow in conditioned state tentatively on Shuttle flight 2J/A in spring 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
After four successful science runs in Fluid Science Laboratory the Geoflow Experiment Container is still stored outside of the Fluid Science Laboratory awaiting re-installation at the earliest convenience After detailed engineering analysis the removal of the Geoflow Experiment Container can be avoided in future and the experiment runs can proceed further without constraints under ground commanding from the responsible User Support and Operations Centres (MARS and E-USOC). The large Geoflow 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 of the experiment unit 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 successful 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 comprising 3 crystallisation cycles.

European Physiology Modules
A test of the commanding capability of the European Physiology Modules was performed on 16 October following the installation of a new component on the telemetry system at the Facility Responsible Centre CADMOS. An “FCC to Setup” telecommand was sent and successfully received at the Columbus Control Centre confirming the successful new installation.

Final calibration of the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM) is scheduled 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. De Winne will be a subject in the NeuroSpat experiment as will Canadian Space Agency astronaut and fellow Expedition crew member Bob Thirsk. The two astronauts will assist each other with experiment procedures. NeuroSpat will investigate the ways in which crew members’ three-dimensional perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness.

SOLO experiment
The Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment was successfully completed on 14 October. The second session of the SOLO experiment, which was started on 9 October was again performed by NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff undertaking a low sodium diet. Body mass measurements using Human Research Facility 1 were carried out on 12 and 14 October. The second measurement was delayed until after the midday meal due to a temporary problem with commanding capability of Columbus and the docking of Soyuz 17S with the Expedition 18 Crew. On 13 October blood samples were taken and centrifuged in Human Research Facility 2 and 24-hour urine sample collection was carried out from 13-14 October. All samples were placed in the European-developed MELFI freezer for download on the ULF-2 Shuttle flight in November.

The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The experiment also uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility. The first SOLO session, which included a normal level sodium diet was carried out between 3 and 8 October.

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.

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 space biology 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.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was 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.MSG will play again an important role for ESA science during 2009 for the execution of the triple SODI experiment series.

European science and research facilities 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 safety constraints for the ISS, visiting transportation vehicles and EVA activities. So far there are no ISS, Shuttle and ATV related hazards.

EuTEF is currently cleared to be reactivated for 8-hour periods every other day and science acquisition is ongoing for three of the instruments (Dostel, Expose and MEDET) during this period. After reactivation on 12 October, the following reactivation period of EuTEF was shifted from 14 October to 15 October due to the docking of Soyuz 17S transporting the Expedition 18 Crew to the ISS. Science acquisition for all the remaining EuTEF experiments and instruments can be resumed within about a week with a full activation of the whole platform after safing PLEGPAY through deletion of some software code in the memory of the instrument.

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) continued 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) are currently in idle mode due to the latest Sun observation window closing on 4 October. The facility will be fully reactivated in the near future for the subsequent observation period. The engineering teams also work on a software update which will allow to also acquire science data during shorter sun visibility cycles.

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

Closeout activities for Expedition 17 were carried out on 14 October. Kononenko deactivated hardware in Zvezda and packed a data storage card for return on Soyuz TMA-12. Afterwards he deinstalled the ALTCRISS AST Spectrometer and reinstalled it in the Zvezda Service Module. This long-term experiment has been monitoring radiation measurements in different locations on the ISS. The following day Expedition 18 Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov retrieved a new dosimeter kit from Soyuz TMA-13, mounted it on the ALTCRISS hardware and activated the spectrometer. On 16 October he deactivated the spectrometer and downlinked the first data. He reactivated the spectrometer the following day.

The Nitric Oxide Analyser (NOA) experiments have been completed for Expedition 17. Items which will be returned to earth with the Expedition 17 crew on Soyuz flight 16S in October have already been stowed.

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 the end of 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.

BIO-4 Experiment Package
This is the fourth in a series of small short-duration space biology experiments that started in 2005. Four new biology experiments were launched on Soyuz 17S from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 12 October. Some were immediately moved to three KUBIK incubators from ESA for processing in the Russian Segment of the ISS after arriving at the Station on 14 October. The experiments will be processed for between 3 and 8 days in space.

The status of each individual experiment is as follows:

  • BASE B and C
    The experiment containers are currently in the Soyuz 17S spacecraft. The incubator for the BASE experiments was set up on 17 October. The experiments will start on 18 October. The Bacteria Adaptation to Space Environment (BASE) experiments will determine how several different bacterial species adapt to spaceflight conditions: weightlessness, cosmic radiation, electromagnetism etc., building on research from previous spaceflight experiments. Data from this study will be useful to determine if adaptation to spaceflight conditions may modify the ability of bacteria to deteriorate the spacecraft environment, act as pathogens or function in recycling systems.


    The KUBIK Incubator for the ROALD experiment was set at 37°C on 14 October. Hereafter the experiment containers were installed and the centrifuge activated. Fixed samples were transferred to the MELFI freezer some time later. Three additional sample transfers were carried out, one additional on 14 October and one each on 15 and 16 October. ROALD stands for the ROle of Apoptosis in Lymphocyte Depression and aims to determine the role that programmed cell death (apoptosis) plays in reduced immune response in weightlessness. Apoptosis is a normal function in human and animal cells and T-lymphocytes are a class of white blood cell important in immune response. Various aspects of the apoptotic process will be assessed using human T-lymphocytes.


    The KUBIK incubator for Xenopus was activated and the temperature set at 21°C on 14 October. The experiment were installed and activated thereafter. This experiment will study cellular modifications within the vestibulo-ocular system of a developing amphibian (Xenopus laevis) during adaptation to weightlessness. The vestibulo-ocular system is the system of the body responsible for maintaining balance. The main purpose of this project is to characterise the effect of weightlessness on development of this system in Xenopus laevis tadpoles at early and late development stages.

The processed samples for Xenopus and the BASE experiments will be returned to earth on flight 16S with the Expedition 17 Crew. The ROALD samples will be returned on Shuttle flight STS-126 in November. The BIO missions on Soyuz sortie flights provide special short-duration mission opportunities in addition to the utilisation of ESA’s biology facilities Biolab and EMCS in Columbus.

Daily MOP questionnaires have been filled in by Soyuz Space Flight Participant Richard Garriott during the week. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. After the flight on ground also a reference test in a centrifuge will be performed. The objective of this experiment is to obtain an insight into this process and could help in developing countermeasures to space motion sickness.

Daily Muscle questionnaires have been also filled in by Space Flight Participant Richard Garriott during the week. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. The objective of this experiment is to assess the occurrence and characteristics of back pain in weightlessness. The results will be correlated to data related to back pain and atrophy obtained in ground-based studies. It is thought that the deep muscle corset atrophies during spaceflight leading to strain and hence pain in certain ligaments, in particular in the iliolumbar region in the back. The deep muscle corset plays an important role in posture when in the upright position.

Columbus systems information

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

ISS general system information and activities

Soyuz TMA-13 launch and docking
The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft, was launched successfully on 12 October from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:01 CEST on flight 17S to the ISS. The Soyuz was transporting two ISS crew members to the ISS (Expedition 18 Commander and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke and Expedition 18 Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov) and American spaceflight participant Richard Garriott. The Soyuz TMA-13 docked with nadir port of the Zarya module of the ISS two days later on 14 October. On the ISS this was monitored on video equipment inside the Zvezda Module.

Soyuz TMA-13 post-docking activities
Video of the docking was downlinked by Expedition 17 Commander Sergei Volkov and the 1 hour interface leak check between the Soyuz and the ISS was carried out by Lonchakov and Fincke. On completion the hatches were opened and the usual crew greeting took place. Quick disconnect clamps were installed at the interface between the Soyuz and the ISS to further stabilise the connection and intermodule air ducting was set up inside the Soyuz spacecraft. NASA astronaut and Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff’s Soyuz seat liner (in the Soyuz TMA-12) and Garriott’s Soyuz seat liner (in the Soyuz TMA-13) were swapped over along with their Sokol spacesuits. This is because Chamitoff will remain on the Station as the second ISS Expedition 18 Flight Engineer until his return in November and Garriott will return on the Soyuz TMA-12 after an 11-day mission on the ISS. The structural data of the docking coming from the Remote Sensor Units of the Internal Wireless Instrumentation System was downloaded by Volkov later that day.

Lonchakov installed a local temperature sensor switch of the BITS2-12 onboard telemetry system in the Soyuz TMA-13 on 15 October. Two days later he dismantled two television cameras and their light units inside the TMA-13 for return on Soyuz TMA-12.

Expedition 17 preparations for return to Earth

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    On 13 and 17 October Volkov and Kononenko had their third and fourth preliminary training sessions with the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suits, assisting each other and supported by ground specialist in their one-hour sessions. The suits, which provide stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, help to evaluate how the Russian crewmembers would cope with exposure to gravity on return to earth towards the end of October.


  • Soyuz TMA-12 Motion Control System check out
    On 11 October Volkov and Kononenko spent an hour in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-12 supporting a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz motion control system. This had been deferred from the day before. This checkout was in preparation of a possible contingency relocation of the spacecraft in the unlikely event that the Soyuz TMA-13 was unable to dock to Zarya’s nadir port and also in preparation of undocking of Soyuz TMA-12 on 23 October for its return to earth. The checkout included tests of the pilot’s hand controller, the DPO braking thrusters, and propulsion system tank pressurisation. Attitude control was handed over to Russian thruster control during the tests.

Expedition 17/18 handover activities
The ISS Expedition 17 and Expedition 18 crews had several hours scheduled on a daily basis during the week for carrying out handover activities. This included familiarisation with various different ISS systems in the US and Russian Orbital Segments of the ISS including atmosphere control and oxygen generation systems, Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, video, audio, communications systems, proximity operations systems, hatches, EVA systems and tools, manual docking systems, the Inventory Management System and physical training equipment.

US Laboratory Environmental Control and Life Support System
On 11 October Chamitoff completed the last flow rate adjustment for a Manual Flow Control Valve in the Destiny laboratory. These valve adjustments are needed in advance of installation of the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System arriving on flight ULF-2 in November, which is itself needed in advance of a six-person crew as of next year.

Soyuz/Zvezda communications test
On 16 October Volkov and Lonchakov conducted a multi-element communications test between Soyuz TMA-12, the Zvezda Service Module and Soyuz TMA-13. The test lasted about 30 minutes.

Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre preparations
Chamitoff and Fincke conducted their first 30 minute Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training, using a digital still camera with 400 and 800mm lenses at different Zvezda Service Module windows. This involved mapping of ground features and prepares crewmembers for photographing the underside of the Shuttle Orbiter on its arrival on 16 November. 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.

ISS atmosphere repressurisation
The ISS atmosphere was repressurised for an hour on 15 October with O2 from Progress 30P’s tanks.

MELFI drawer
On 14 October Chamitoff freed a stuck drawer of the European-developed Minus Eighty degress Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI) and prepared it for samples from the BIO-4 experiment package from the KUBIK-2 incubator (see European science inside the Russian ISS Segment).

Pre-packing STS-126/ULF-2
From 15-17 October Fincke and Chamitoff had several hours planned for packing hardware, which is due to be returned to earth with the STS-126 Space Shuttle, scheduled for launch on flight ULF-2 to the ISS on 14 November.

Orbital debris
Orbital debris was being closely monitored by specialists in the Mission Control Center – Houston. One occurrence is debris from a Chinese CZ-2C rocket and calculated to come within a distance of just over 10 km of the ISS on Saturday 18 October. The origin of the additional orbital debris is unknown and calculated to come within about 86.5 km of the ISS, also on Saturday.

Martin Zell
ESA Head of ISS Utilisation Department

Markus Bauer
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer

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

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