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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

19 December 2008

This is ISS status report No. 20 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
No operations were carried out in the Biolab facility during the week. The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment in Biolab, will take place 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 spring 2009. The eight experiment containers are already inserted into Biolab Teams on ground are working on a troubleshooting plan for a blocked triple-contained fixation syringe.

Further testing of Biolab’s two centrifuges, the automatic chemical fixation system and the atmosphere control system will be carried out soon during Increment 18 well before the actual execution of the second run of the WAICO experiment. These final end-to-end performance verification tests will be carried out using the WAICO-2 experiment containers 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 in spring 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Science run 6 of the Geoflow experiment was carried out in the Fluid Science Laboratory on 15 December with science run 7 being carried out on 18 December. The data for science runs 5 and 6 has now been downlinked though a problem with the quality of the data downlinked for run 7 is currently under investigation. In addition Flight Engineer Sandy Magnus tightened the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Anti-Vibration Mount on 16 December to alleviate the need to lock/unlock the Facility Core Element during ISS reboost activities.

The exhaustive Geoflow science programme of more than 100 runs of the 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 ground infrastructure at the MARS User Support and Operations Centre will also be upgraded to support future science acquisition of the Geoflow experiment.

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 Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility 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 preparatory science 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 mid February 2009. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 crystallisation cycles. The final set of organic protein macromolecules will return to Earth for detailed lab analysis.

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
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 planned during the ongoing Increment 18 to proceed with biomedical statistics.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run is planned during the ongoing Increment 18. 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
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 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 developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. It was activated on 15 December and prepared the NASA Shear History Extension Rheology Experiment (SHERE) for a new experiment run, which included loading the SHERE payload with new software. The Microgravity Science 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. On 19 December EuTEF experienced a data transfer problem following which the platform temporarily shut down. It was reactivated later that day.

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. Scheduled 24-hour experiment runs until 16 December were carried out successfully. A software update is being prepared to increase the duration of the experiments.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It has been 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. Troubleshooting activities were carried out on 17 and 18 December but no high rate data was received on ground. The machine is currently switched off to resolve the situation.
  • 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. A new science run was started on 17 December as science acquisition for this instrument alternates with DEBIE-2.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. 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 had been ongoing, though it is currently in standby mode to resolve an issue with the experiment shaft motor.

SOLAR is currently in idle mode awaiting the next Sun visibility window, which is due to start on 26 December. Currently also waiting on troubleshooting analysis for SOLAR’s SOVIM instrument. 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. Matroshka hardware is temporarily located in the Zarya module to make room for upcoming EVA activities. The Phantom will be tentatively relocated during Increment 18 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory (pending some technical feasibility assessments conclusion and agreements with JAXA) and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters. 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 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.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

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 Expose-R payload will be installed on the outside of the Russian segment of International Space Station (ISS) during a spacewalk early in the morning on 23 December. 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 science that is performed on Expose-E, a twin facility which has been in operation on EuTEF since February 2008.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have worked extremely well. Regular maintenance activities are planned for the ULF-2 stage, which is the time period after the undocking of Shuttle flight ULF-2 until the next Shuttle flight.

ISS general system information and activities *

ISS reboost test
An ISS reboost test was carried out using Progress 31P thrusters on 17 December just before 05:00 (CET). The lateral thrusters of the Progress spacecraft were fired for a total of 9 m 28 s. This exercise was carried out to test the lateral thrusters in supporting a debris avoidance manoeuvre when a Soyuz is docked to Zvezda’s aft docking port. The test also starts the phasing to bring the ISS in the correct orbital profile for the launches of Shuttle flight STS-119/15A and Progress flight 32P.

Russian EVA preparations
During the week a number of activities were carried out by Lonchakov, assisted by Fincke, in preparation for the next Russian EVA, scheduled to start early in the morning of 23 December (CET). This included:

  • EVA suit and tools preparation and check-out
    In the Pirs Docking Module from where the spacewalk will originate, the Orlan battery packs were charged, replaceable units were installed on the Orlan suits such as oxygen tanks, batteries for telemetry units, CO2 removal canisters etc. and the spacesuits were resized. Hereafter the spacesuits were outfitted with additional items including those relating to communications, EVA tools and activities, and monitoring astronaut/cosmonaut health status etc. Necessary EVA tools and equipment were also gathered together in the Pirs Docking Module.


  • Progress/Pirs hatch closure
    On 16 December Lonchakov was assisted by Fincke in reinstalling the docking mechanism on the Progress spacecraft, which is attached to the Pirs Docking Module. The following day they closed the hatches between Progress 31P and Pirs and performed the standard one-hour leak check. The Progress needs to be isolated from Pirs in order for Pirs to be used as the EVA airlock.


  • Airlock preparation
    Orlan Interface Units and the relevant cooling loops in Pirs and the Service Module Transfer Compartment were checked out. Panelling was also configured in the Transfer Compartment for undertaking EVA leak checks.


  • Astronaut/cosmonaut pre-EVA fitness checks
    In preparation for undertaking a Russian-based spacewalk, both Lonchakov and Fincke assisted each other in undertaking Russian physical fitness checks. This used a cycle ergometer and relevant equipment (ECG, blood pressure cuff, skin electrodes etc.) to perform a cardiovascular assessment.


  • EVA dry run
    On 19 December the crew carried out an EVA dry run, removing air ducts in Pirs, configuring communications systems, donning the Orlan suits and carrying out all necessary checks on communications, medical parameters, leaks, temperature control, water cooling system ops, suit fit checks at reduced suit pressure, and mobility inside Pirs.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week NASA astronauts Mike Fincke (ISS Commander) and Sandra Magnus (ISS Flight Engineer) 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. A storage tank of the Water Recovery System was filled on a couple of occasions with pretreated urine for processing by the Urine Processing Assembly into distillate. On 13 December the distillate was processed into water and used by the Oxygen Generator System to produce the oxygen that the crew are breathing. This is the first time this has taken place and means that all the ECLSS racks are now working together as a closed system.

Samples from the Water Recovery System’s Water Processing Assembly were collected during the week and analysed using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. Samples were also stowed away for return on Shuttle flight 15A and post-flight analysis on ground.

MELFI sample handling activities
Fincke and Magnus carried out activities this week preparing the European-developed Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) for future samples by inserting several ICEPAC capsules into the MELFI freezer drawers. These ICEPACs allow for samples to be returned to Earth on the Space Shuttle with the samples inside still frozen.

Crew Health Care System
Major in-flight maintenance was carried out by Sandra Magnus on the Volatile Organics Analyzer which looks for volatile organic compounds in the station's atmosphere. She removed the assembly from the Crew Health Care System rack and replaced various components before reinstalling it back in the rack. Afterwards Magnus hooked up the Moderate Temperature Loop jumpers to the Crew Health Care System rack.

Fluids and Combustions Facility
Mike Fincke carried out a number of activities on the new Fluids and Combustions Facility/Combustion Integrated Rack on 13 December including removal of launch locks, adjusting the airflow bypass on the Experiment Exchange Unit, setting valve timers and installing an absorber cartridge.

Japanese Kibo laboratory activities
A number of activities were carried out in the Japanese Kibo laboratory during the week by Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus. They supported the Japanese Control Centre in Tsukuba in activating and troubleshooting the Microgravity Measurement Apparatus. On 15 December Sandra Magnus spent time in Kibo installing a position holder in the CO2 Common Gas Supply Equipment in order to keep a Self Shut-off Valve permanently open. The valve’s sudden closure is thought to have contributed to an unexpected pressure drop in the Cell Biology Experiment Facility in August. A Manual Vent Valve had also previously been closed in partial resolution of this problem. A few days later she checked pressure readings in the Common Gas Supply Equipment in order to trace a suspected blockage

Crew Quarter deployment
On 18 and 19 December Sandra Magnus spent around five hours in Node 2 checking out and deploying the first of the two Crew Quarters, which arrived on Shuttle flight ULF-2. This involved making cable connections, applying power, removing launch locks and protective covers, installing sound-proofing etc. These standard ISS rack-sized compartments are used amongst other things as sleeping compartments for the crew members. This Crew Quarter will be initially used by Mike Fincke.

Solar Alpha Rotary Joint test
On 18 December ground controllers successfully concluded a series of tests to accumulate data on the performance of the Starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint while in autotrack mode. Data was collected using the External Wireless Instrumentation System and the Structural Dynamic Measurement System.

Space debris
On 17 November some space debris from a SL-12 rocket passed within ~19km of the ISS. As a precaution the crew took temporary refuge in the Soyuz spacecraft during these activities. No crew action was required.

(*)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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