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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report
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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

20 March 2009

This is ISS status report No. 33 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 inside and outside the Russian Segment of the ISS and the US Destiny laboratory. 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 with the Biolab facility this week due to the strong involvement of the crew in the visting Shuttle mission 15A. The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (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, currently scheduled for launch around mid June 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
On 17 March, vibration measurements were taken from sensors in the Fluid Science Laboratory during the Shuttle docking. These were downlinked to ground. Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of excellent scientific data, are currently on hold awaiting download (on the current Shuttle flight), repair and upload of the Geoflow Experiment Container.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
The Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility was launched in active mode to the ISS on 15 March. On 19 March, ISS Flight Engineers Koichi Wakata and Sandra Magnus transferred the Processing Unit from the Shuttle mid-deck to the Columbus Laboratory and installed it in Locker 2 of the European Drawer Rack. Connections were then made to the Electronics Unit, which is already installed. Full commissioning of all functions of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility (namely optical diagnostics at the level of the growth reactors). started on 20 March and will last a few days before science operations will commence.

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. The European Drawer Rack is an experiment facility housing the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is an advanced ISS research payload for the detailed in-situ investigation of protein crystallisation in space.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
No operations were carried out with the European Physiology Modules facility this week. NeuroSpat will be the first experiment to make full use the European Physiology Modules facility. This will take place when the next European astronaut arrives on the Station. This will be Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne at the end of May this year. 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
Experiment samples for the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment from ISS Commander Mike Fincke as the second human subject are currently stowed in the European-developed MELFI freezer awaiting return to Earth by Shuttle. SOLO is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The SOLO experiment also uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run of 3D-Space with ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata as the second human test subject is planned for 23 March. 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 rack of the Columbus Laboratory for deployment and first functional checkout tentatively still during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight 15A in March 2009. The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS with Columbus 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 experiment activities were carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) 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 which is expected to be continued. Currently an option to perform a 2nd run of JAXA’s combined Cell Wall / Resist Wall experiment is being explored. This experiment is also of high interest for the European scientists involved in ESA’s Multigen plant physiology experiment. Genara is the next ESA experiment to take place in the European Modular Cultivation System and 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. This experiment will take place at the end of Increment 20. After Genara, the execution of the next NASA experiment TROPI-2 is planned.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
No experiment activities were carried out in the Microgravity Science Glovebox this week. 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 again play an important role for ESA science during 2009 for the execution of the triple SODI (IVIDIL, DSC, Colloid) experiment series for advanced research in vibration effects on diffusion in liquids, diffusion measurements in petroleum reservoirs and the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions, respectively.

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. During the week a spontaneous reboot and data errors occurred, however the situation was successfully recovered and there were no major impacts on science activities. The cause of this situation is under investigation 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 data acquisition during the week though the occurrence of empty science packets after a certain amount of time caused by a sensor unit error continues. The instrument is being power cycled when required in order to overcome this situation Troubleshooting of this issue is ongoing.
  • 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. There is currently no image acquisition taking place.
  • EXPOSE-E: This series of exobiology experiments is continuing to acquire scientific data. On 20 March the automatic closure of the EXPOSE-E lids occurred as required when the temperature rose beyond + 58 deg C.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. A new period of science acquisition, which started on 11 March, was completed as planned on 15 March. A new science script, which was started in 18 March was interrupted on 19 March due to a data error.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. On 16 March ground commanding changed the detection rate of the spectrometer back to 60 ms. 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 is currently shut down and ground teams are still analysing the outcome of the full memory dump in connection with deletion of Experiment 1.
  • TRIBOLAB: Tribolab is currently not acquiring scientific data. Troubleshooting activities continue on the experiment’s shaft driver motor. 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 SOLAR facility has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. On 18 March calibration of the SOLSPEC instrument was performed successfully. SOLAR is currently in survival mode awaiting the next Sun observation window, which is predicted to open on 22 March. 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. A study for on-orbit lifetime extension is being initiated on request of the science team to gather more data in a period of increasing solar activity.

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 the Russian Zarya module. On 17 March, a memory card exchange was performed. The instrument is inactive for the time being.

On 18 March, ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov disassembled the Matroshka Phantom in the Zarya Module and removed 298 thermoluminescent detectors from its torso layers. The detectors and memory card will be returned to Earth with the Shuttle crew. 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 have already confirmed the technical accommodation feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/tri-lateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged for another experiment run until mid 2010. After that in the long-term Matroshka may be accommodated again on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit 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 was installed outside the Zvezda Service Module during the Russian-based spacewalk on 10 March and is functioning well. Expose-R initially experienced power interface problems that deferred its installation/activation outside the Russian segment of the ISS during the 23 December EVA.

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 outside of Columbus since February 2008.

Additional European science

Daily MOP questionnaires have been filled in by four of the STS-119 crew during the week. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. After the flight on ground also a reference test in a centrifuge will be performed. The objective of this experiment is to obtain an insight into this process and could help in developing countermeasures to space motion sickness.

Daily Muscle questionnaires have been filled in by two of the STS-119 crew during the week. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. The objective of this experiment is to assess the occurrence and characteristics of back pain in weightlessness. The results will be correlated to data related to back pain and atrophy obtained in ground-based studies. It is thought that the deep muscle corset atrophies during spaceflight leading to strain and hence pain in certain ligaments, in particular in the iliolumbar region in the back. The deep muscle corset plays an important role in posture when in the upright position.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. Regular maintenance activities are planned during the current 15A stage, following the launch and docking of STS-119 Shuttle Discovery. Planning and preparation for activities in this and subsequent stages is currently ongoing. Some Columbus system equipment, which has undergone maintenance during the past weeks, is awaiting download on Discovery at the end of the STS-119 mission.

ISS general system information and activities *

STS-119/15A Shuttle Discovery launch
STS-119 Space Shuttle Discovery was launched on ISS assembly flight 15A from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 15 March at 19:43 local time. The crew consisted of Shuttle Commander Lee Archambault, Shuttle Pilot Dominic Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, Steven Swanson, Richard Arnold, John Phillips, and Koichi Wakata who will replace Sandra Magnus as ISS Flight Engineer 2. All are NASA astronauts except Wakata who represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

STS-119/15A Shuttle Discovery pre-docking activities

  • Equipment Configuration
    Sandra Magnus installed a temporary Intermodule Ventilation air duct in the European-built Node 2 on 16 March for increased Shuttle ventilation. Fincke also activated equipment in EXPRESS Rack in Destiny for taking structural dynamics readings during Shuttle docking. Other preparations on the docking day itself included configuring communications and video equipment for the Shuttle’s approach and docking with the Space Station.


  • R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre
    During the Shuttle’s R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre prior to docking Fincke and Magnus took high resolution digital photos with 400mm and 800mm lenses. During the manoeuvre at a distance of about 180 m from the station, the photographers had around 90 seconds to take images of all thermal protection tile areas and door seals on Shuttle Discovery, which were downlinked for launch debris assessment.

STS-119/15A Shuttle Discovery docking
Space Shuttle Discovery docked with the ISS at 22:19 (CET) on 17 March with closure of the docking hooks to strengthen the interface between the ISS and the Shuttle seven minutes later. The station was reoriented as planned after the docking, to reduce the risk of orbital debris hitting the Shuttle. Following leak checks on the inter-hatch area and standard post-docking procedures, the ISS/Shuttle hatches were opened at 00:09 (CET).

STS-119/15A Shuttle Discovery post-docking activities
With the ISS/Shuttle hatches open, ventilation ducting was installed into Discovery. After the traditional welcome ceremony the ISS crew conducted the mandatory safety briefing for the Shuttle crew. Koichi Wakata transferred his Soyuz seat liner from the Shuttle to the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft where Yuri Lonchakov installed it. The Soyuz seat liner of Sandra Magnus was removed from the Soyuz and stowed for eventual return to Earth. The Soyuz acts as the crew return vehicle for the ISSS crew.

S6 Truss pre-installation transfer
On 18 March John Phillips and Sandra Magnus used the Station robotic arm to grapple the 14-tonne S6 truss section located in the Shuttle Payload Bay. After being unberthed the truss section was handed over to the Shuttle robotic arm controlled by Antonelli and Acaba. The Mobile Transporter on which the Station robotic arm was located was then moved to the appropriate worksite location on the truss for the subsequent S6 truss installation. Later in the day the S6 truss was handed back to the Station robotic arm and kept in an overnight parked position.

STS-119 spacewalk 1

  • Pre-spacewalk campout
    Swanson and Arnold began their 'campout' in the US Quest Airlock on the evening of 18 March. After closure of the hatch into the Crewlock of Quest and depressurisation of the Crewlock from 14.7 to 10.2 psi, the astronauts carried out a masked prebreathe of pure oxygen to help remove nitrogen from their bloodstreams prior to the EVA starting. The next morning after the usual hygiene break the two astronauts were again sealed into the airlock for EVA preparations.


  • Spacewalk 1 – S6 installation
    After Swanson and Arnold donned their Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs), standard EVA procedures were followed including full depressurisation of the Crewlock section of the airlock and standard leak checks. The spacewalkers started the first spacewalk of the 15A mission at 18:16 (CET) on 19 March. This 6h 07min EVA completed all its objectives as well as carrying out one get-ahead task. This included: attaching the S6 truss element to the S5 truss element at the end of the starboard-side truss with the Station’s robotic arm; installing grounding straps for dispersing electrical charge; connecting up the relevant power and data cables between the S5 truss and the S6 truss; releasing restraints for the solar arrays, heat dispersal radiators and Beta Gimbal Assembly (one of the two joints, which turns the solar arrays). This completed attachment of all the ISS truss elements to the Station and now provides the potential for full power for the ISS. Following the spacewalkers re-entering the Station, hatch closure and repressurisation, Swanson and Arnold were assisted by Antonelli and Fincke in carrying out standard post-EVA activities in the Airlock.

Robotic arm relocation
After the spacewalk was complete, Koichi Wakata relocated the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (robotic arm) from the Mobile Transporter on the Station’s truss to the European-built Node-2.

S6 solar array deployment
On 20 March the solar array wings (1B and 3B) of the S6 truss section were fully deployed. The solar arrays add an additional 21-30 kilowatts of usable power to the station, which is one quarter of the station’s full power supply.

STS-119 spacewalk 2 preparations
On 20 March preparations were made for the second spacewalk of the STSA-119 mission including the joint crew EVA procedures review. Following it’s conclusion the spacewalking astronauts (Steven Swanson and Joseph Acaba) began their “campout” in the sealed off airlock at a lower ambient pressure and including pure oxygen prebreathing to help remove nitrogen from the astronauts bloodstreams prior to starting the spacewalk.

SOKOL suit check
On 18 March Wakata and Lonchakov inspected the new SOKOL pressure suit which Koichi would wear as a Soyuz passenger in a contingency return, including conducting a leak check.

ISS crew return preparations

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    During the week Lonchakov carried out medical operation procedures whilst wearing the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit in preparation for his return to gravity on 7 April, assisted by Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus and supported by ground specialists. The suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Russian crewmember would cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth.


  • Soyuz-TMA seat fit-check
    On 20 March, Fincke, Lonchakov and Wakata donned their Sokol spacesuits and carried out a fit-check of the Kazbek shock absorbing seats in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-13 crew return vehicle, docked at the Pirs Docking Compartment.

GLACIER freezer
On 20 March, Magnus and Wakata swapped the GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator) freezer in the Destiny laboratory for a new GLACIER freezer brought up on the mid-deck of Discovery. GLACIER units are ultra-cold freezers that will store samples as low as -185 degrees C.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week activities were carried out 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. This included:

On 17 March Fincke and Wakata serviced the Water Recovery System’s Potable Water Dispenser by injecting iodine solution into its microbial filter for overnight soaking. The following day Magnus carried out a leak check and flush, followed by Potable Water Dispenser sampling. Microbiology analysis of the samples was carried out using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. These samples went through similar sampling two days later.

Urine Processing Assembly maintenance
On 20 March Magnus carried out major in-flight maintenance of the Urine Processing Assembly, replacing the old Distillation Assembly in Water Recovery System Rack 2 with a new Distillation Assembly brought up on Discovery.

Japanese laboratory Cell Biology Experiment Facility
During the week in the Japanese Kibo laboratory, Sandra Magnus supported the Tsukuba Space Center in troubleshooting the failed Cell Biology Experiment Facility temperature controller fan.

Japanese laboratory dosimeters
On 16 March Magnus collected 12 area radiation dosimeters in the Japanese Kibo Laboratory for return on STS-119. Fincke installed 12 new dosimeters two days later.

(*)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 ESA's Human Spaceflight Coordination Office.

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