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Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report
Increment 18

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

30 January 2009

This is ISS status report No. 26 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
Ground crews successfully commanded a functional checkout and testing of Biolab’s Life Support Module on 29 January. On 5 February it is planned to remove the Reference Experiment Containers in Biolab and replace them with the actual Experiment Containers to be used for the second run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment. An Incubator/Handling Mechanism leak test is also scheduled to take place on the same day.

The next run of the WAICO experiment in Biolab, will take place during Increment 19 following the arrival of the science part of the experiment. This science part with plant seeds will be transported in conditioned state tentatively on Shuttle flight 2J/A in June 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Geoflow scientific activities are currently on hold due to unexpected temperatures in the Geoflow Experiment Container during science run#10 on 9 January. In resolution of this issue, the Geoflow Experiment Container is scheduled for removal from the Fluid Science Laboratory on 4 February for return to ground in order to carry out detailed failure analysis and repair. Initial analysis of the problem, suggests that some SF6 gas has entered the thermal fluid loop around the Geoflow experiment cell which could cause the unexpected temperatures. Planning on the resumption of future runs of the overall exhaustive Geoflow science programme will continue on resolution of this issue.

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
There were no operations involving the European Drawer Rack this week. The European Drawer Rack is an experiment facility housing 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 was delivered to the Belgian User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels for filling of the solution growth reactors with a variety of different protein solutions. This Processing Unit will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck on the upcoming flight 15A, which is due for launch on 12 February 2009. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 subsequent crystallisation cycles. The final set of organic protein macromolecules will be returned to Earth on the subsequent Shuttle flight 2J/A for detailed analysis in various European science labs.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
There were no operations involving the European Physiology Modules Facility this week. 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. NeuroSpat will also serve an experiment from the European Commission within the SURE project.

SOLO experiment
Portable Clinical Blood Analyzer kits are currently inside the European-developed MELFI freezer for subsequent runs of the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment. 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. The next experiment run is still optionally planned during the ongoing Increment 18 after the Shuttle flight 15A.(if available crew time allows) in order to proceed with biomedical statistics.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run is still planned during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight 15A. 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 during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight 15A in February 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 advanced crew 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 2008. 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
No activities were carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System this week. This space biology facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and has been operated for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA. The on-orbit maintenance performed during Increment 18 is 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 better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was activated on 27 and 30 January in support of the US InSPACE experiment installation and first four experiment runs. The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox 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. The Microgravity Science Glovebox has been continuously used for NASA experiments and will also 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)
The EuTEF platform has been operated continuously with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives. 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 been performing continuous experiment runs since 16 January following the software update on the same day. The software update allows the DEBIE-2 and FIPEX instruments to carry out scientific data acquisition simultaneously.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It continues 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 due to completion of the first part of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. It carried out a successful image acquisition session on 26 January, though there were no additional successful attempts before the end of the week.
  • EXPOSE-E: 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 instrument finished a period of science acquisition on 25 January and started another period on 28 January. Following the software update on 16 January, the FIPEX and DEBIE-2 instruments have been able to carry out simultaneous experiment runs since the installation of Columbus on the Space Station.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. The acquisition frequency, which was increased on 19 January, has been set back to its default value. 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.
  • 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. PLEGPAY was activated and Experiment 1 was deleted on 30 October in resolution of the latest ISS safety concerns. Ground teams are now analysing the outcome of the full memory dump of the PLEGPAY instrument that was performed. PLEGPAY is currently shut down.
  • TRIBOLAB: In connection with troubleshooting measures for the Ball Bearing Experiment shaft motor, the motor was activated and monitored for 10 minutes on 27 January. During this time, temperature and current remained within allowable limits. Two days later the motor was successfully operated for 28 minutes and successful operation of the motor continued the following day. Additional troubleshooting activities will continue in the weekend prior to the restart of science acquisition for the Ball Bearing Experiment next week. 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 11th Sun observation window for the SOLAR facility, which started on 15 January, closed on 28 January. SOLAR is now again in idle mode. The SOLACES and SOLSPEC instruments of SOLAR were acquiring scientific data for a majority of the time until the closure of the Sun observation mode and are now also in idle mode. The SOVIM instrument is currently non-operational. The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun’s irradiation 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 two large MISSE-6 trays will be returned to Earth in the frame of the 17A Shuttle flight in August 2009. The experiment will evaluate the effect of the space environment on a large variety of exposed materials.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

This long-term experiment is continuing to monitor radiation measurements in different locations on the ISS, currently in Zvezda.

In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be tentatively relocated during Increment 18 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters. JAXA reported positively about the technical feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/tri-lateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged. In the long-term Matroshka may be accommodated again on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels which are of relevance for EVA activities.

GTS-2 (Global Transmission Service)
The instrument is functioning well after its reactivation on 15 January following a short period of inactivity whilst awaiting prolongation of its operational agreement. The Global Transmission Service (GTS) had been continuously on since early 2008. 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.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

The Expose-R facility is currently stowed inside the Russian segment of the Space Station following the power interface problems that deferred its installation/activation outside the Russian segment of the ISS during the 23 December EVA. This failure was due to previously disconnected power cables inside the Zvezda Service Module. Recovery options and consultation with the science team about science impacts due to the external installation deferral are in progress and a decision is expected soon of how to proceed. In connection with this the next Russian EVA, which will install Expose-R on the Russian segment of the ISS will not be carried out before mid-March.

Expose-R is a suite of nine new astrobiology experiments (eight from ESA, one from IBMP, Moscow), some of which could help understand how life originated on Earth. This suite of experiments was transported to the International Space Station on Progress flight 31P, which docked with the ISS on 30 November. The experiments are accommodated in three special sample trays, which are loaded with a variety of biological samples including plant seeds and spores of bacteria, fungi and ferns, which will be exposed to the harsh space environment (Solar UV, cosmic radiation, vacuum), during the upcoming spacewalk, for about one and a half years.

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


  • AMINO: Photochemical processing of amino acids and other organic compounds in Earth orbit
  • ENDO: Response of endolithic organisms to space conditions
  • OSMO: Exposure of osmophilic microbes to the space environment
  • SPORES: Spores in artificial meteorites
  • PHOTO: Measurements of vacuum and solar radiation-induced DNA damages within spores.
  • SUBTIL: Mutational spectra of Bacillus subtilis spores and plasmid DNA exposed to high vacuum and solar UV radiation in the space environment.
  • PUR: Responses of Phage T7, Phage DNA and polycrystalline uracil to the space environment.
  • ORGANIC: Evolution of organic matter in space.
  • IMBP: Exposure of resting stages of terrestrial organisms to space conditions.

Expose-R complements the exobiology science package that is performed in Expose-E, a twin facility which has been in operation on EuTEF since February 2008.

European education activities on the ISS

Video Lesson ESA-1 filming
The third and final session of the Video Lesson ESA-1 activity is scheduled to take place during Increment 18, again presenting a number of scripted scenes for the ESA educational programme 'An ordinary meal'. The theme of the various scenes is 'A Celebration Meal' undertaken in the Service Module, Node 1 and the European-built Node-2. The scenes, highlight the importance of communal and celebratory eating, particularly in space where it provides a key opportunity for communication between crew members. It also describes ISS food and the differences between American and Russian food. The clips are intended to provide 16-18 years old European students with selected aspects of life on board the ISS, focusing on the social and cultural value of food and the research on plant growing in a weightless environment.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have been working well. Regular maintenance activities are planned and ongoing during the ULF-2 stage, which is the time period following the undocking of Shuttle flight ULF-2 until the next Shuttle flight, which is due for launch on 12 February 2009. Planning and preparation for the next stage of activities is currently ongoing.

ISS general system information and activities *

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus carried out activities with the new Water Recovery System, which forms part of the Regenerative ECLSS, needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew in 2009. Potable water samples were taken twice during the week. Microbiology analysis was carried out on samples using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. Two days after the first samples were taken, additional microbial analysis was undertaken on those samples. The crew also performed daily flushes of the Potable Water Dispenser during the week with an increased amount of 1l of deionized water, as latest results indicate that not enough iodine was getting into the system to kill off any microbes present. Samples taken previously from the Potable Water Dispenser were found to have bacteria growing. This is thought to be due to the water being stagnant and not used.

Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator checkout
Ground controllers from the Canadian Space Agency used the Station’s robotic arm to relocate the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator back to the Power and Data Grapple Fixture on the US Destiny Laboratory on 26 January. Hereafter the robotic arm was moved to the start location for the subsequent robotic arm operations. On 28 January robotics checkout and training was carried out in preparation for ISS Shuttle flight 15A, which is due for launch on 12 February. The robotic arm operations covered: the checkout of the Power and Data Grapple Fixture on the European-built Node 2; grappling Power and Data Grapple Fixture 1 of the Mobile Base System, which moves along the Station’s truss; and positioning the robotic arm for translation to two different worksites on the truss.

US Airlock activities
During the week Sandra Magnus and Mike Fincke spent time regenerating expended Metal Oxide canisters used for CO2 removal from the US Extravehicular Mobility Units during spacewalks. These will be used during the upcoming STS-119/15A spacewalks in February. On 28 January Fincke updated the timeout parameters for the Battery Charger Modules, which are used for charging the Rechargeable EVA Battery Assemblies and Helmet Light batteries. The following day Magnus and Fincke also spent time resizing the Extravehicular Mobility Units for the spacewalks.

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
Commander Mike Fincke encountered a scraping noise from the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device caused on 26 January due to a left arm racking mechanism not fully retracting. Documentary exercise footage was shot the following day for analysis. On 30 January Fincke removed and stowed the Interim Resistive Exercise Device, from Node 2, which was being used until the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device was fully commissioned.

After powering up the new General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator (GLACIER) hardware, Mike Fincke supported ground controllers on 30 January in starting the cooling cycle of the hardware by removing desiccant packs from the freezer. The GLACIER units are ultra-cold freezers that will store samples as low as -185 degrees C. GLACIER is part of the Cold Stowage Fleet of hardware which includes the European-developed MELFI freezer and the Microgravity Experiment Research Locker/Incubator (MERLIN).

Acoustic tests
In addition to standard ISS acoustic measurements, Mike Fincke used a Sound Level Meter to check the functionality of the Caution and Warning tones in the new Crew Quarters and Waste and Hygiene Compartment on 26 January.

Compound Specific Analyzer
On 26 January Sandra Magnus performed standard sensor calibration on Compound Specific Analyzer-Oxygen units.

Waste and Hygiene Compartment
Sandra Magnus successfully carried out troubleshooting activities on the Waste and Hygiene Compartment Dose Pump in order to clear an LED indicator.

Russian Thermal Control System
On 26 January Lonchakov successfully performed functional and leak tests on two solenoid valves of the Russian Thermal Control System in the Service Module Transfer Compartment. The valves would be used to relieve line pressure by venting coolant into space.

TMA-13 air conditioner
Yuri Lonchakov undertook maintenance activities on an air conditioner in the Soyuz TMA-13 Descent Module during the week. After gathering relevant tools and equipment and preparing the worksite, Lonchakov replaced a failed fan unit, which had exhibited sporadic behaviour.

Progress fuel/oxidizer transfers
Fuel and oxidizer were transferred from Progress 31P to storage tanks in the Russian Zarya module on 29 January.

Pirs Docking Compartment hatch door checkout
The Pirs Docking Compartment’s vestibule hatch door was checked out on 29 January by Yuri Lonchakov due to a high pressure issue experienced during the last EVA. Lonchakov inspected bearings and carried out a functional test of the hatch door its rotation mechanisms and its seals. The check out proved successful.

Russian Satellite Navigation System
Mission Control Centre in Moscow performed additional testing of the ASN-M Satellite Navigation System on 29 January. The testing involved a third attempt to switch a navigation computer to prime mode.

Russian Pressure Control and Atmospheric Monitoring System
Lonchakov calibrated and tested the gas analyzer of the Service Module Pressure Control and Atmospheric Monitoring System on 30 January. The gas analyzer is an automated system for measuring CO2, O2, and H2O in the air as well as the flow rate of the gas being analyzed.

Reboost update
Assessment of the ISS reboost on 14 January suggests that the strong structural vibrations experienced were due to the incorrect parameter settings uploaded to Service Module engine gimballing control system.

(*)These activities are highlights of the past week and do not include the standard periodic operational/maintenance activities on the ISS or additional research activities not mentioned previously. Information compiled with the assistance of NASA sources.

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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