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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

23 January 2009

This is ISS status report No. 25 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
On 21 January a maintenance file upload to the Biolab Rack Interface Controller was carried out. The Handling Mechanism positioning and functional test was also successfully executed. Further testing of Biolab’s two centrifuges, the automatic chemical fixation system and the atmosphere control system will be carried out in the next few weeks before the actual execution of the second run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment.

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

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Geoflow scientific activities are currently on hold in order to investigate unexpected temperatures in the Geoflow Experiment Container (EC) during science run#10 on 9 January, and also for difficulties transferring data for the Geoflow experiment. Initial analysis suggests that some SF6 gas within the EC has entered in the liquid thermalisation loop around the experiment cell which could be responsible for the breakdown of the temperature gradients experienced. This failure implies the need to download the Experiment Container to ground for detailed failure analysis and repair. Planning of future runs of the exhaustive Geoflow science programme will continue on resolution of this issue.

ISS Commander Mike Fincke also carried out on-orbit troubleshooting activities on the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Video Tape Recorder on 20 January. Three days later the facility was activated, and it was concluded from telemetry data that the video recorder is correctly installed and functional.

The Geoflow experiment investigates the flow of a viscous incompressible fluid between two concentric spheres rotating around a common axis under the influence of a simulated central force field. This is of importance for astrophysical and geophysical problems, such as global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
There were no operations involving the European Drawer Rack this week. The European Drawer Rack is an experiment facility housing the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility (PCDF), which is an advanced ISS research payload for the investigation of problems of protein crystallisation in space. Its very sophisticated in-situ optical experiment diagnostics equipment will allow for precise in-situ monitoring of the organic protein crystals’ growth conditions.

After successful completion of the exhaustive science preparation programme on ground, the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility was delivered to the Belgian User Support and Operation Centre (B-USOC/Brussels) for filling of the solution growth reactors with a variety of different protein solutions. The PCDF Processing Unit will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck on the upcoming flight 15A, which is due for launch on 12 February 2009. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 subsequent crystallisation cycles. The final set of organic protein macromolecules will be returned to Earth on the subsequent Shuttle flight 2J/A for detailed analysis in various European science labs.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
Final calibration of the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM) was successfully carried out by NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus on 21 January. It was deactivated afterwards as no command capability was present from CADMOS/Toulouse, ESA’s Facility Responsible Centre for the European Physiology Modules. The MEEMM 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. NeuroSpat will also serve an experiment from the European Commission within the SURE project.

SOLO experiment
Portable Clinical Blood Analyzer kits are currently inside the European-developed MELFI freezer for subsequent runs of the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment. The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The experiment uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility. The next experiment run is still planned during the ongoing Increment 18 after the Shuttle flight 15A.(if available crew time allows) to proceed with biomedical statistics.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run is still planned during the ongoing Increment 18 after the Shuttle flight 15A. This human physiology study investigates the effects of weightlessness on the mental representation of visual information during and after spaceflight. Accurate perception is a prerequisite for spatial orientation and reliable performance of tasks in space. The experiment has different elements including investigations of perception of depth and distance carried out using a virtual reality headset and standard psychophysics tests.

Flywheel Exercise Device
The Flywheel Exercise Device will be removed from its on-orbit storage location in the European Transport Carrier of the Columbus Laboratory for deployment and first functional checkout during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight 15A in February 2009. It was launched to the ISS in order to become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts and serving human physiology investigations in the area of advanced crew countermeasures.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA Human Research Facility number 2, which was relocated from the US Destiny laboratory to the Columbus laboratory on 1 October 2008. The Pulmonary Function System is an ESA/NASA collaboration in the field of respiratory physiology instrumentation, which analyses exhaled gas from astronauts' lungs to provide near-instant data on the state of crew health.

European Modular Cultivation System
On-orbit maintenance was carried out on the European Modular Cultivation System on 23 January. The facility’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Module was de-installed by Sandra Magnus and quick disconnects on the Life Support System of centrifuge A were exchanged in order to restore water distribution to the experiment containers. This space biology facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and has been operated for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA. The on-orbit maintenance performed during Increment 18 is in anticipation of the Genara experiment during Expedition 19/20. Genara is the next ESA experiment that will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth activity at a molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was activated three times during the week in support of the US Shear History Extensional Rheology Experiment (SHERE). The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment. The Microgravity Science Glovebox has been continuously used for NASA experiments and will also play again an important role for ESA science during 2009 for the execution of the triple SODI experiment series.

European science and research facilities outside the Columbus laboratory in open space

European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF)
The EuTEF platform has been operated continuously with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives. EuTEF is a fully automated, multi-user payload facility mounted on the outside of the Columbus laboratory carrying a suite of experiments that require exposure to the open space environment. The experiments cover a variety of disciplines including material science, physics, astrobiology, astronomy and space technology.

The status of each individual experiment is as follows:

  • DEBIE-2: The ‘DEBris In orbit Evaluator’ is designed to be a standard in-situ space debris and micrometeoroid monitoring instrument. It has been performing continuous 24-hour experiment runs since 16 January following the software update on the same day. The software update allows the DEBIE-2 and FIPEX instruments to carry out scientific data acquisition simultaneously.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It continues to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle cargo bay. It is currently inactive due to completion of the first part of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. It carried out successful image acquisition sessions on 22 and 23 January.
  • EXPOSE-E: This series of exobiology experiments is continuing to acquire scientific data.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. The instrument started another period of science acquisition on 21 January. Following the software update on 16 January, this was the first time that FIPEX and DEBIE-2 have been able to carry out simultaneous experiment runs since the installation of Columbus on the Space Station.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. On 19 January it was commanded to have an increased acquisition frequency. 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 thermal stabilisation mode to resolve an issue with the experiment shaft motor.

The latest Sun observation window for the SOLAR facility started on 15 January and is expected to extend until 31 January. SOLAR is now in Pointing mode and its SOLACES and SOLSPEC instruments are in Sun observation mode and acquiring data. This is currently the 11th Sun observation window since the activation of SOLAR. The SOVIM instrument is currently non-operational. The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range during a 2-year timeframe on-orbit.

MISSE-6A and -6B
The US materials exposure experiment is receiving power from Columbus and the experiments are continuing as planned. The Materials on the ISS Experiment (MISSE) is a US multi-investigator experiment provided by NASA but located on the outside of the Columbus laboratory. The two large MISSE-6 trays will be returned to Earth in the frame of the 17A Shuttle flight in August 2009. The experiment will evaluate the effect of the space environment on a large variety of exposed materials.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

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

During the week Russian cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov replaced a memory card in the Matroshka hardware’s AST spectrometer located in the Pirs Docking Compartment. 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 (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 instrument was reactivated on 15 January following a short period of inactivity whilst awaiting prolongation of its operational agreement. The Global Transmission Service (GTS) had been continuously on since early 2008. This experiment is intended to test the receiving conditions of a time and data signal for dedicated receivers on the ground. The time signal distributed by the GTS has special coding to allow the receiver to determine the local time anywhere on the Earth without user intervention. The main scientific objectives of the experiment are to verify under real space operation conditions: The performance and accuracy of a time signal transmitted to the Earth’s surface from low Earth orbit; the signal quality and data rates achieved on the ground; measurement of disturbing effects such as Doppler shifts, multi-path reflections, shadowing and elevation impacts.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

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

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

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


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

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

European education activities on the ISS

Video Lesson ESA-1 filming
The third and final session of the Video Lesson ESA-1 activity is scheduled to take place on 31 January/1 February, again presenting a number of scripted scenes for the ESA educational programme 'An ordinary meal'. The theme of the various scenes is 'A Celebration Meal' undertaken in the Service Module, Node 1 and the European-built Node-2. The scenes highlight the importance of communal and celebratory eating, particularly in space where it provides a key opportunity for communication between crew members. It also describes ISS food and the differences between American and Russian food. The clips are intended to provide 16-18 years old European students with selected aspects of life on board the ISS, focusing on the social and cultural value of food and the research on plant growing in a weightless environment.

Columbus systems information

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

Human Research Facility
Human Research Facility 2 in Columbus was used on 17 January for centrifuging blood samples taken from NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus as part of NASA’s ‘Nutrition’ experiment. The samples were hereafter placed in the European-built Minus-Eighty degrees Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) located in the US Destiny laboratory. Nutrition is a comprehensive in-flight study of human physiologic changes during long-duration space flight.

ISS general system information and activities *

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week NASA astronauts Mike Fincke (ISS Commander) and Sandra Magnus carried out activities with the new Water Recovery System and the Oxygen Generation System, which form part of the Regenerative ECLSS, needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew in 2009.

  • Total Organic Carbon Analyzer
    Sandra Magnus has again been supporting activities to bring the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer back into service. On 23 January she updated the equipment’s software to reduce the oxidation reaction time from 10 min to 2 min and thus allow for operation of the analyser without exceeding the sensor pressure limit. She then carried out a sample analysis from the Water Processor Assembly using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer


  • Water Recovery System sampling
    Potable water samples were taken on during the week. Microbiology analysis was carried out on the samples using a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. Two days after the samples were taken similar analysis was undertaken on the same samples. The crew also performed daily flushes of the Potable Water Dispenser during the week with 100 ml of deionized water. This was because samples taken from the Potable Water Dispenser were found to have bacteria growing. This is thought to be due to the water being stagnant and not used.


  • Water Processing Assembly
    Successful troubleshooting steps were carried out by ground controllers to recover the Water Processing Assembly. Following its return to a processing state, it produced 20 litres of water.


  • Additional tasks
    On 20 January Sandra Magnus replaced a filter cartridge in the Oxygen Generator System. The following day she replaced the Recycle Filter Tank Assembly of the Water Recovery System.

Waste and Hygiene Compartment
Sandra Magnus installed the new Waste and Hygiene Compartment toilet on 23 January

Fluids and Combustion Facility/Combustion Integrated Rack test activation
Mike Fincke supported the first test activation of the new Fluids and Combustion Facility/Combustion Integrated Rack) in the US Destiny Laboratory on 22 January. As part of the activities he started a laptop application, which captured data for 3 hrs before the Payload Operations and Integration Center in Huntsville, Alabama powered down the Combustion Integrated Rack and downlinked the data for analysis.

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
Magnus and Fincke successfully performed the activation and checkout of the new Advanced Resistive Exercise Device in Node 1 on 20 January. This had been temporarily delayed due to installation problems. Following some cable retensioning two days later the crew were given the Ok to use the device. Some sensor calibration is still necessary but will not affect the crew’s use of the device.

New AV Monitoring System, Zvezda
Russian cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov replaced the old AGAT-2M audio-video monitor system in Zvezda with a new AGAT-DVD system delivered on Progress 31P.

STS-119 Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre preparations
Sandy Magnus and Mike Fincke carried out additional R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training sessions during the week. This involved photographing from windows in the Russian Service Module with a D2X digital still camera using 400 and 800 mm lenses. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the STS-119 Shuttle Orbiter performing a pitch manoeuvre during rendezvous and docking on 14 February. While the manoeuvre is taking place 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.

US Airlock activities
All through the week Sandra Magnus spent time regenerating expended Metal Oxide canisters used for CO2 removal from the US Extravehicular Mobility Units during spacewalks. These will be used during the upcoming STS-119/15A spacewalks in February. On 19 January Magnus also had time set aside for configuring tools for the spacewalks.

Soyuz descent training
The ISS crew carried out Soyuz descent training using laptop computer simulation and a descent hand controller on 22 January. The exercise was supported by Mission Control Centre – Moscow.

Docking and Internal Transfer Mechanism deinstallation
In preparation for undocking of Progress 31P, Lonchakov deinstalled Docking and Internal Transfer Mechanism from Pirs to Progress 31P.

Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator checkout
Ground controllers performed checkout operations on the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator “Dextre”’during the week. The Space Station Remote Manipulator System grappled and moved Dextre from a grapple fixture on the Destiny laboratory to an overnight park position on 20 January. The following day ground controllers performed the first checkout of Dextres operating modes.

Japanese laboratory robotic arm
On 19 January Sandra Magnus activated the Backup Controller of the Japanese laboratory’s robotic arm Backup Drive System, in support of a system checkout by the Japanese Control Centrol Centre. She then followed the functional tests via a monitor.

Elektron O2 generator
On 20 January Lonchakov continued with 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.

Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
Sandra Magnus carried out troubleshooting activities on the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly on 17 and 23 January to help ground teams verify that it was capable of supporting the ISS and Shuttle crews in the unlikely event of a problem delaying the Shuttle crew’s departure from the Station on completion of their mission. There is a possible blockage in the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, which needs isolating.

Russian GPS Computer Modules
A failure occurred in three of four GPS Navigation Computer Modules in the Service Module on 17 January. These are used during docking of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle and thus have no impact during Expedition 18 activities.

Japanese Kibo laboratory - Common Gas Supply Equipment
Commander Mike Fincke replaced a CO2 valve with a helium valve unit in the Japanese laboratory’s Common Gas Supply Equipment. This is in resolution of a blockage problem. The defective CO2 valve unit will be returned on the next Shuttle flight. The following day Fincke supported ground teams in the checkout of the equipment

PK-3 + Plasma Crystal Payload activities
ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov set up and started experiment sessions using the Russian/German PK-3 + experiment hardware during the week. This hardware was also used by ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter during the Astrolab mission in 2006. After unstowing the hardware, checking the electronics box and evacuating the vacuum work chamber, he conducted more hardware testing and calibration, and uploaded new software. He then carried out activities during the week in support of the plasma crystal experiment sessions.

Stage Operations Readiness Review – STS-119/15A
The so-called Stage Operations Readiness Review for the upcoming shuttle flight STS-119 (15A) is planned for mid January. This review will assess the readiness of all planned activities during and after the flight STS-119.

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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