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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

7 November 2008

This is ISS status report No. 14 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 still empty WAICO-2 experiment containers, which will replace the remaining 4 WAICO-1 experiment containers removed by US astronaut Greg Chamitoff from centrifuge B on 29 October, and the Reference Containers on centrifuge A.

The second science run of the experiment WAICO is scheduled to start in Biolab during Increment 19 in spring 2009. The Experiment Containers have already been delivered for a launch on Progress flight 31P which is scheduled for 26 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
The Geoflow science runs are scheduled to resume after the Shuttle STS-126/ULF-2 mission and following Progress 30P undocking and Progress 31P docking. 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
All samples for the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment, which is already complete for Greg Chamitoff as the first test subject, 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 used 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 on 23 November before his return on Shuttle flight STS-126 (ULF-2). 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
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 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, which 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. The Microgravity Science Glovebox will play an important role in 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. Following a period of intermittent science acquisition, and the disabling of PLEGPAY experiment 1 on 30 October, the facility was again permanently activated on 5 November.

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 successfully performed a 24-hour experiment run, which started on 5 November. A software update is being prepared to increase the duration of the experiments.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. After reactivation on 5 November it is again continuously gathering 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 is switched off as the temperature is currently too low for activation.
  • EXPOSE: This series of exobiology experiments is again continuing without interruption to acquire scientific data following reactivation on 5 November.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. It continued with science acquisition on 6 November following completion of the latest 24-hour run of the DEBIE-2 experiment.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is again continuing to acquire continuous scientific data following reactivation on 5 November. 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: 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 reactivated on 6 November.

The latest science acquisition cycle for the SOLAR facility started on 29 October following the opening of the latest Sun observation window. Of its individual instruments (SOVIM, SOLSPEC, SOLACES) the SOLSPEC instrument is continuing to acquire scientific data. The SOLACES instrument was acquiring data until 6 November, but was temporarily stopped due to a mechanical issue with a spectrometer. This is being assessed by the science team. The SOVIM instrument is currently still in idle mode in order to resolve a power/telemetry issue. Engineering teams are also 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. However NASA is currently in discussion with ESA on a continuation of on-orbit operations. 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 has been monitoring radiation measurements in different locations on the ISS. ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov removed a memory card for the experiment and downloaded all the data to a Russian laptop. He inserted a new memory card on 3 November.

No activities for the Nitric Oxide Analyser (NOA) experiments were carried out in the past weeks.

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 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 was 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 took 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. Telemetry data from KUBIK Flight Models 1 and 3, which was received on ground on 29 October and is now under analysis from the payload development team.

The progress of each individual experiment was as follows:

  • BASE B and C
    The in-orbit activities for the Bacteria Adaptation to Space Environment (BASE) experiments are now complete. 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.


    The in-orbit activities for the XENOPUS experiments are now complete. This experiment studies 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.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems continue to work extremely well. During the week ISS Flight Engineer 2 Greg Chamitoff spent two hours in the Columbus laboratory on 6 November installing an Antimicrobial Applicator module in the Thermal Control System loop. Once activated, the module introduced an antimicrobial agent (Ortho-phthalaldehyde) into the loop’s coolant. The following day Chamitoff disconnected and removed the module and a small amount of fluid was drained from it for analysis. The Antimicrobial Applicator module is now stowed for return to Earth. 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

Space Shuttle STS-126/ULF-2 pre-launch preparations

  • External Stowage Platform 3 relocation
    During the week Chamitoff worked in the Japanese Kibo laboratory to set up and activate a video camera on the Kibo robotic arm. The purpose of this was for viewing the relocation of External Stowage Platform 3 by the Station’s Canadarm 2 robotic arm. Afterwards Chamitoff and ISS Commander Mike Fincke used Canadarm 2 to move the stowage platform from the upper side of the P3 truss to the Common Attachment System of the Mobile Base System. This is located on the Mobile Transporter, which can translate along the Station’s truss. Ground commanding then relocated the Mobile Transporter from work site 7 on the truss to work site 5. This relocation is in preparation for the ULF-2 flight, scheduled for launch on 14 November. During the mission a Nitrogen Tank Assembly will be removed from the stowage platform and stowed in the Shuttle’s cargo bay for return to earth, and a piece of equipment called a Flex Hose Rotary Coupler will be stowed on the platform. Russian segment thrusters were disabled during the relocation.


  • US Airlock EVA preparations
    In preparation for three EVA’s during the STS-126/ULF-2 mission, Chamitoff and Fincke worked in the US Quest Airlock on 6 November, configuring EVA tools, setting up the Crewlock (from which the astronauts exit the Station) and readying the large Orbit Replaceable Unit bag and staging bags. The following day they removed any non-EVA related items from the Airlock, continued with tool configuration procedures for the upcoming EVAs and carried out battery maintenance for the Extravehicular Mobility Units, the suits used for carrying out spacewalks. Afterwards Fincke filmed the inside of the Airlock to be used for early preparation of the STS-126 crew for their spacewalks.


  • STS-126 Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre preparations
    Chamitoff and Fincke completed their third R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training on 6 November. This involved photographing a Shuttle cutout inside the ISS with a D2X digital still camera using 400 and 800 mm lenses. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the Shuttle Orbiter during its pitch manoeuvre during rendezvous and docking 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.


  • Cargo return preparations
    Fincke and Chamitoff spent several hours across a number of days during the week pre-packing items, which are 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. Prior to this they took part in a prepack conference with ground specialists and training review of the STS-126/ULF2 docked timeline.

H-II Transfer Vehicle arrival preparations
Chamitoff worked in the Japanese Kibo laboratory on 3 November, retrieving two On-orbit Install Worksite Interfaces and together with Mike Fincke, readied cabling for a GPS antenna, required for Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle proximity operations with the ISS.

Internal Wireless Instrumentation System (IWIS)
On 3 November Fincke continued terminated IWIS software commanding and prepared for the “deep sleep” recovery of the Remote Sensor Unit system of IWIS. This system collects structural dynamics data on the ISS structure during specific events such as thruster firings, dockings and undockings. The system remained powered on to collect data during thruster firings on 4 November.

Onboard Radio Command and Measuring System
In the Russian Zarya module Expedition 18 Flight Engineer 1 Yuri Lonchakov carried out extensive maintenance work on the Komparus onboard radio command and measuring system during the week with the assistance of Mike Fincke and after discussing activities with ground specialists. The Komparus system activates and deactivates Zarya’s radio telemetry system. The activities included removing and replacing boxes with electronic components and their cabling

Ham radio contact with Spain
On 3 November ISS Commander Mike Fincke carried out a ham radio exchange with a Secondary School in Cordoba Spain with 900 students related to a project called "Sailing through Space". The project will help students to broaden their knowledge in the field of space and act as a tool to motivate students to study, especially in science and engineering-based subjects.

Japanese Robotic Arm Backup Controller
Greg Chamitoff checked out the Backup Controller of the Japanese Robotic Arm in the Kibo laboratory on 4 November. This was in support of JAXA/Tsukuba operations in the Kibo module.

Japanese Kibo laboratory breathing apparatus
On 4 November Chamitoff replaced a Portable Breathing Assembly, which had a broken communications piece, with breathing apparatus from the spares kit. A replacement for the spares kit will be transported to the ISS on flight ULF-2, scheduled for launch on 14 November.

Resistive Exercise Device
On 4 November Fincke adjusted spiral pulleys of the Resistive Exercise Device, in order to increase canister loading and installed two external splines. Afterwards, Fincke re-calibrated the load settings of the canisters. The calibration allows for accurate execution of exercise protocol objectives.

Zvezda Service Module central computer restart
The Mission Control Centre in Moscow began the restart of the central computer in the Russian Zvezda Service Module on 6 November with a new uplinked Russian Segment communication program. A large number of subsystems need to be activated, reset, inhibited or updated as part of the recovery procedures. These activities are a follow on from the Russian Onboard Telemetry Measurement System repair and checkout.

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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