ESA title
Science & Exploration

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

212 views 0 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

24 October 2008

This is the 12th 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 which is scheduled for the end of 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 within the following days 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 and NeuroSpat experiment
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 two subsequent diet parameter runs of the experiment have been successfully performed by US astronaut Greg Chamitoff by using both Human Research Facility and European Physiology Modules facility functions. All samples for the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment are in the European-developed MELFI freezer awaiting 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.

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 before his return on Shuttle flight STS-126 (ULF-2) in November. The 3D-Space experiment also makes use of EPM facility services for data handling.

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 on-orbit 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. In resolution of this issue PLEGPAY experiment 1 is scheduled to be disabled within the following days. This will allow for normal operations of the temporarily inactive EuTEF experiments to resume. 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.

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 disabling of experiment 1 in resolution of 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 awaiting the start of the next Sun observation window, which is due to open on 28 October. Engineering teams are working on a software update, which will allow for the acquisition of 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

Passive dosimeters of the ALTCRISS experiment were returned to earth with the Expedition 17 crew on Soyuz flight 16S, which landed on the morning of 24 October in Kazakhstan This long-term experiment has been monitoring radiation measurements in different locations on the ISS.

Relevant items of the Nitric Oxide Analyser (NOA) experiments were returned to earth with the Expedition 17 crew on Soyuz flight 16S, which landed on the morning of 24 October in Kazakhstan.

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 cumulative 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. The phantom will be tentatively re-located during Increment 18 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory (pending some technical feasibility assessments conclusion and agreements with JAXA).

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 and were taking place in three KUBIK incubators from ESA in the Russian Segment of the ISS. The experiments were processed between 3 and 8 days in space.

The progress of each individual experiment was as follows:

  • BASE B and C
    The Bacteria Adaptation to Space Environment (BASE) experiments were started in the KUBIK 3 incubator on 18 October. These experiments 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.


    Chemically fixed samples for the ROALD experiment are currently in the MELFI freezer awaiting return to earth. ROALD stands for the ROle of Apoptosis in Lymphocyte Depression and aims to determine the roll 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.


    XENOPUS samples were returned to earth on 24 October. 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 were returned to earth on flight 16S with the Expedition 17 Crew on 24 October and immediately transported back to the scientists. 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 were filled in by Soyuz Space Flight Participant Richard Garriott who returned with the Expedition 17 crew on 24 October. 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 at a later stage. 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 were filled in by Space Flight Participant Richard Garriott who returned with the Expedition 17 crew on 24 October. 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

Expedition 17 preparations for return to Earth

  • Soyuz descent drill
    On 18 October Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov, Oleg Kononenko and US space flight participant Richard Garriott spent three hours in the TMA-12 Descent Module to conduct the Soyuz descent drill, a standard training exercise for every crew returning on a Soyuz. The training used a Descent Simulator application on a Russian laptop.


  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    On 20 and 21 October Volkov and Kononenko completed their final training sessions with the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suits, assisting each other and supported by ground specialists. The suits, which provide stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, help to evaluate and re-establish the Russian crewmembers tolerance to gravity on return to earth.


  • Private Medical Conferences
    On 22 October Volkov and Kononenko had their regular pre-descent Private Medical Conferences.


  • Soyuz TMA-12 cargo transfers
    Volkov and Kononenko spent several hours during the week with final packing and stowing of items to be returned to earth with them in the in the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft.

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, and carrying out tasks involving, various different systems in the US and Russian Orbital Segments of the ISS including atmosphere control and oxygen generation systems, thermal control systems, environmental control and life support systems, electrical power systems, computer systems, water supply, waste management, payloads, crew data support, medical equipment and physical training equipment. The official Expedition 17 to Expedition 18 change of command ceremony took place on 22 October at 19:40 (CEST).

Soyuz TMA-12/16S final undocking preparations
After entering the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft on 23 October, Volkov performed the standard pre-undocking communications check, as Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov configured the communications systems in Zvezda for undocking. With the returning crewmembers all in the Soyuz spacecraft, Volkov and Kononenko activated the spacecraft around 22:00 (CEST) followed by closing the Soyuz ISS hatches, assisted by NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff. The departing crew then carried out the standard one-hour leak check on the interhatch area.

Soyuz TMA-12/16S undocking and landing
On the morning of 24 October the Expedition 17 crew members Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko and Spaceflight participant Richard Garriott returned to Earth in the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft, thus completing flight 16S to the ISS. Undocking from the ISS took place just before 02:16 (CEST) with the Soyuz being pushed slowly away from the Station. The Soyuz carried out a separation burn a few minutes later. Following a deorbit burn at around 04:45 (CEST) the Soyuz went through module separation prior to reentry. Following atmospheric re-entry the landing took place on the Kazakh Steppes at 05:37 (CEST), 09:37 local time. The crew were transferred by helicopter to Kustenai in Kazakhstan and thereafter on to Star City near Moscow. Volkov and Kononenko completed a mission of 199 days in space, Garriott 10 days. The ISS Crew downlinked footage of the undocking prior to starting their sleep period.

Japanese Remote Manipulator System
In the Japanese Kibo Laboratory on 19 October, Chamitoff and Fincke activated the Laptop Terminal of the Japanese Robotic Manipulator System, and performed Checkout 4 of the Japanese robotic arm. For this test Chamitoff had to fly the Main Arm around Exposed Facility Unit 13 on the Pressurised section of the Kibo laboratory in order to capture images using the television camera on the end effector of the Main Arm.

This was followed by operations to verify how small a command the crewmember can input using the hand controllers in Manual Mode. This is expected to be used on Flight 2J/A and subsequent flights should the robotic arm operator be requested to get a payload closer to an Exposed Facility Unit. On 21 October Chamitoff performed Checkout 1 on the Main Arm. This is a test of the robotic arm’s Region Check Function, by moving the arm in Manual mode and Joint Auto mode. In addition, Greg will perform a dynamic response test by moving designated joints in Joint Auto Mode.

Space Station Remote Manipulator System
On 19 October Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineer 2 Greg Chamitoff conducted the pre-launch checkout of two Robotics Workstations, which included testing of Display and Control Panel and the Rotational Hand Controller switches for the subsequent operations of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System. After calibrating the Rotational and Translational Hand Controllers, Fincke and Chamitoff performed the 1-hr. checkout manoeuvre, grappling Power and Data Grapple Fixture 1 on the Mobile Base System.

Japanese Kibo laboratory activities
Mike Fincke retrieved the Reference Cell cartridge from the Solution Crystallization Observation Facility in the Japanese Kibo laboratory on 19 October. As part of facility check-out procedures he removed an accelerometer of the Microgravity Measurement Apparatus from the cell.

The following day Fincke installed a cable from the Inter-orbit Communication System Rack to Kibo’s hatch for connection to the Destiny Robotics Workstation. The Inter-orbit Communication System is Japan's system for uplinking and downlinking data between Kibo and the Mission Control Room at the Tsukuba Space Center.

Preparations for Shuttle flight STS-126/ULF-2

  • Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre Preparations
    Chamitoff and Fincke conducted their second 30 minute Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training on 22 October, 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.


  • EVA preparations
    On 20 October Chamitoff and Fincke made preparations in the US Quest Airlock for spacewalks during the upcoming ULF-2 mission, by resizing an Extravehicular Mobility Unit or EMU for Mission Specialist Steve Bowen as well as other spacewalk preparations. Two days later they prepared tools for the four planned spacewalks.


  • Centreline Berthing Camera
    On 22 October Chamitoff and Fincke also installed a Centreline Berthing Camera System at the Node 2 Nadir hatch, powered it up and checked it out. This camera will be used to assist with the docking of the European-developed Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) ‘Leonardo’ at Node 2’s nadir port. The MPLM pressurised logistics module will be brought to the ISS on Shuttle flight ULF-2 in November and transferred from the Shuttle cargo bay to Node 2 by the Station’s robotic arm.


  • Cargo return
    A number of hours were spent by Chamitoff and Fincke during the week pre-packing, 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.

Oxygen generator leak check
On 19 October, Kononenko and Lonchakov continued the extended leak check of a spare Liquid Unit for the Elektron O2 generator.

Condensate Water Processor
After some steam or smoke was seen coming from Zvezda’s Condensate Water Processor on 20 October and the Water Distribution and Heating Unit exhibited increased temperature, the crew deactivated the system and closed all related valves, then replaced the Water Distribution and Heating Unit with an on-board spare.

Soyuz TMA-13 ventilation system
Supported by ground monitoring on 18 October, Lonchakov performed troubleshooting in the Soyuz TMA-13 on a fan of the Descent Module’s ventilation system.

Laptop repair
Chamitoff repaired a laptop in the US Airlock on 18 October by transferring its hard disk drive to another laptop shell.

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.

Fill in your name and email address below to receive a notification when the latest status report is made available online.

Related Links