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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

6 March 2009

This is ISS status report No. 31 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
ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus exchanged catalytic filters in the Biolab facility on 2 March, supporting the ground-commanded testing of the BioGlovebox seals for containment and the status of the BioGlovebox gloves. The filter exchange involved tilting the rack and returning it back to its upright position. In order to carry out testing Magnus activated the BioGlovebox air circulation. Some remaining items from the first run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment were also retrieved and trashed.

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 in May 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
On 2 March Sandra Magnus repaired a damaged data cable on the Fluid Science Laboratory. The task required removal and later reinstallation of a video bypass connector for opening the facility’s stowage container. A subsystems check-out was successfully performed from the ground. Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of data, are currently on hold awaiting download, repair and upload of the Geoflow Experiment Container.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
With the launch of ISS flight 15A on STS-119 Shuttle Discovery being now rescheduled to 11 March, a new set of solution growth reactors, prepared by the Belgian User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels, were shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in time for the launch. These growth reactors filled with a variety of different protein solutions will replace the growth reactors currently in the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is currently awaiting launch at Kennedy. The swap is necessary due to the aging risk of the protein samples. The Processing Unit will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck.

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 investigation of problems 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 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 are currently stowed in the European-developed MELFI freezer awaiting return to Earth on a future flight. 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 is still planned during the ongoing Increment 18 by JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata as the second human test subject. The first session will already occur during the docked period of Shuttle flight STS-119/15A, which will bring Wakata to the Station, currently scheduled for launch on 11 March from the Kennedy Space Center. 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 during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight 15A in March 2009. This activation may also be anticipated in case the Shuttle launch should still be significantly delayed. 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 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
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was activated on 3 March in support of the US SPICE experiment. 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. 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 science team has again changed the thresholds limits on DEBIE-2 due to the occurrence of empty science packets after a certain amount of time caused by a sensor unit error. The instrument is being power cycled every 30-35hrs 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. The temperature is currently too cold for the instrument to be operated.
  • 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 period of science acquisition which had started on 25 February finished as planned on 1 March.
  • 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 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: The Ball Bearing Experiment was activated on 1 March at 30 rpm but went into non-nominal mode soon after due to over-current conditions. 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, and the latest Sun observation window, which opened on 23 February, ended on 4 March. When not in Sun-pointing Mode the SOLAR facility is now placed in Survival Mode. 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 just being initiated on request of the science team to gather more data in a period of higher 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

The Matroshka hardware has been temporarily moved from the Pirs Docking Compartment to Zarya on 1 March in connection with the upcoming Russian EVA on 10 March. 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

ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov carried out repair activities on the monobloc unit of the Expose-R payload on 3 and 4 March. The Expose-R facility experienced 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. On 6 March Lonchakov replaced the failed bolt between EXPOSE-R frame and the external structure that would not engage during the December EVA was, as well as the three bolts between the sample trays and Expose-R. An extra Russian EVA, which will install Expose-R on the Russian segment of the ISS is now under final preparation for 10 March. Meanwhile the Expose-R unit with the integrated experiments stays safely stored under controlled conditions inside the Russian ISS segment.

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.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have been working well. On 6 March NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke downloaded data from his Actiwatch to the laptop of US Human Research Facility 1 inside the Columbus laboratory in connection with the SLEEP experiment. Regular maintenance activities are still 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 currently scheduled for launch on 12 March 2009 from the Kennedy Space Center. Planning and preparation for the next stage of activities is currently ongoing. Some Columbus system equipment, which has undergone maintenance during the past weeks, is awaiting download on the next Shuttle flight.

ISS general system information and activities *

Russian spacewalk preparations
Throughout the week Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov and Mike Fincke have been occupied with preparations for the Russian spacewalk, which they are scheduled to undertake on 10 March and will include re-installation of the Expose-R payload. This included:

  • EVA suit preparations
    Equipment has been collected, configured and checked out for use during the upcoming spacewalk. This included replaceable components of the Orlan spacesuits used for Russian EVAs such as oxygen tanks, batteries, CO2 removal canisters, cooling garments, and communications and medical monitoring equipment. The suits were also adjusted to fit the spacewalkers and leak checks were performed on the suits.


  • Russian Airlock/Service Module preparations
    In the Docking Module and the Service Module Transfer Compartment, relevant EVA equipment was set up, the Orlan Interface Units were checked out and their cooling loops were degassed and leak checked. Pressure equalisation valves were also checked for proper functionality.


  • Fitness check
    On 5 March, Lonchakov and Fincke carried out the standard physical fitness check prior to undertaking a Russian EVA. This consisted of a cardiovascular assessment while using a cycle ergometer. The crew members assisted each other in turn with procedures.


  • Sealing off Progress M-66 spacecraft
    With the Progress M-66 spacecraft docked to the Pirs Docking Compartment, which also acts as the airlock for Russian EVAs, the Progress needed to be closed up prior to the EVA starting. To this end the Progress docking mechanism was re-installed on 3 March and the following day the quick disconnect clamps between the Progress and Pirs were removed and the hatches closed. Hereafter the usual one-hour leak was performed on the area between the hatches and the fuel/oxidizer transfer line between Progress and Pirs.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
Following a recent software update, NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus calibrated the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer from 4-6 March. This unit forms part of the Regenerative ECLSS, needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew in 2009. The calibration activities involved using high and low total organic carbon solutions. She also carried out analysis of samples from the Water Processing Assembly (also part of the Regenerative ECLSS) using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer.

Fluids and Combustion Facility
On 5 March Sandra Magnus removed alignment guides on the Fluids and Combustion Facility in the US laboratory to allow activation of the Passive Rack Isolation System before operations began on the Fluids and Combustion Facility. A successful test of the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus was performed hereafter. The alignment guides were re-installed the following day. The Fluids and Combustion Facility is located in the Combustion Integrated Rack.

Elektron O2 generator
On 5 March Lonchakov continued with extended leak checking on a spare liquid unit of the Elektron O2 generator, charging the unit with pressurised nitrogen (N2). This test is to confirm good water passage through the liquid unit’s feed line and also to confirm that the micro switches correctly signal empty and full on the buffer tank. The inert gas is used to prevent 02/H2 mixing when the Elektron generator is in operation.

Quest Airlock activities
From 4-6 March, Sandra Magnus carried out activities in the Quest Airlock including preparations for the spacewalks as part of the STS-119/15A mission due for launch from the Kennedy Space Center on 11 March. This consisted of fully discharging and recharging battery units of Extravehicular Mobility Units or EMUs (the US spacewalk suits) to prolong their useful life, carrying out yearly maintenance on one of the EMUs, and filtering particulate matter from the cooling loops of two EMUs.

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
On 4 March, Mike Fincke sanded and lubricated the racking mechanism and tightened the upper stop cables on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device and in order to reduce the scraping noise and vibration of the mechanism.

Software upgrade
Sandra Magnus carried out a software upgrade of the Space Acceleration Measurement System II hard drives from the EXPRESS Rack 4 laptop. These hard drives are only partially functional. This system has acceleration measurement sensors in several payload racks including the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training
Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus completed their fourth R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training on 5 March. 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 of STS-119 Space Shuttle Discovery. 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.

Service Module network test
Lonchakov checked out the network setup between the two modems and a laptop in the Russian Service Module on 2 March. The modems link the laptop computer to the Service Module communications system, enabling data to be uplinked/downlinked and commands to be uplinked directly.

Component repair familiarisation
Sandra Magnus continued with Component Repair Equipment assessment activities on 2 March. The objective of this is to determine the feasibility of replacing items on orbit at the smallest basic level, i.e. not having to replace a whole unit, and thus reduce the amount of volume transported on space exploration missions for purely maintenance purposes. This included removing soldered components from an integrated circuit board and resoldering new components.

(*)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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