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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

5 December 2008

This is ISS status report No. 18 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
The Experiment Containers for the next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment, which will take place in the Biolab Facility, arrived at the ISS on Progress flight 31P on 30 November 2008. The science part with plant seeds will follow in conditioned state tentatively on Shuttle flight 2J/A in spring 2009. The four remaining Experiment Containers for the first run of WAICO were returned on Shuttle STS-126/ULF-2, which landed on 1 December. An activity to remove a stuck triple-contained fixation syringe on 2 December was stopped as it is thought to be only released by the outer but still held by the inner gripper mechanism, despite indications from telemetry information. Technical resolution of this issue is ongoing.

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 still empty 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
The Fluid Science Laboratory’s internal accelerometers took measurements of the microgravity levels in the facility during the Progress 31P docking on 30 November. This will assist in optimizing the future operational scenario for the Fluid Science Laboratory with integrated Experiment Container in the optical module. Following the docking, the Fluid Science Laboratory is now ready to resume the series of Geoflow science runs.

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
On 3 December the European Drawer Rack laptop had upgraded software installed with the support of ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus. This upgrade is necessary in preparation for the first set of experiments in the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility (housed in the European Drawer Rack) commencing early next year. Subsequently the check-out of the Electronic Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility was completed and images were received on the ground.

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
The Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment was successfully completed for NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff as the first test subject for this experiment with two scientific parts. All blood and urine samples for the experiment were just returned with Shuttle Endeavour (on which Chamitoff was also a returning crewmember), which landed on 1 December. On 2 December ISS Commander Mike Fincke unloaded new Portable Clinical Blood Analyzer kits from the Progress 31P spacecraft, which docked on 30 November and inserted them into the European-developed MELFI freezer for subsequent runs of the experiment.

The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The experiment also used capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility. The next experiment run is planned during the ongoing Increment 18 to proceed with biomedical statistics.

3D-Space experiment
The memory card containing the data from the 3D-Space experiment, which had NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff as the first human test subject, was returned on Shuttle flight STS-126 (ULF-2). This human physiology study investigates the effects of weightlessness on the mental representation of visual information during and after spaceflight. Accurate perception is a prerequisite for spatial orientation and reliable performance of tasks in space. The experiment has different elements including investigations of perception of depth and distance carried out using a virtual reality headset and standard psychophysics tests. The next experiment run is planned during the ongoing Increment 18.

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. 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. The facility 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. The facility has been permanently activated since 5 November and resumed full science operations following the safety-imposed disabling of PLEGPAY experiment 1 on 30 October.

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 24-hour experiment runs during the week. A software update is being prepared to increase the duration of the experiments.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. After reactivation on 5 November it 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. It had been switched off as no High Resolution Data could be received on ground from the instrument, However following a test session on 4 December it did acquire images the following day.
  • EXPOSE: This series of exobiology experiments is again continuing without interruption to acquire scientific data following reactivation on 5 November.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. Science acquisition is ongoing, alternating with DEBIE-2.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data following reactivation on 5 November. Data from this experiment will help to evaluate the effects of open space on materials being considered for future use on spacecraft in low earth orbit.
  • PLEGPAY: The PLasma Electron Gun PAYload is the study of the interactions between spacecraft and the space environment in low earth orbit, with reference to electrostatic charging and discharging. PLEGPAY was activated and Experiment 1 was deleted on 30 October in resolution of the latest ISS safety concerns. Ground teams are now analysing the outcome of the full memory dump of the PLEGPAY instrument that was performed. PLEGPAY is currently shut down.
  • TRIBOLAB: This series of experiments covers research in tribology, i.e. the research of friction in mechanisms and lubrication thereof under long-term open space conditions. The Ball Bearing experiment number 4 had been ongoing following reactivation on 6 November, though it is currently in standby mode to resolve an issue with the experiment shaft motor.

SOLAR was configured to idle mode on 1-2 December due to the end of the Sun visibility window. A software enhancement which was successfully uploaded to the RAM memory was transferred to the SOLAR Flash Disk on 5 December. This will allow for the acquisition of science data during shorter sun visibility cycles. 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 US Destiny Laboratory

The Analyzing Interferometer for Ambient Air (ANITA) was returned to Earth on Shuttle flight ULF-2, which landed on 1 December. Back on Earth ANITA will undergo a thorough inspection and post-flight calibration. This instrument has monitored low levels of potential contaminants in the ISS cabin atmosphere with a capability of simultaneously monitoring 32 different trace gases. The experiment tests the accuracy and reliability of this technology as a trace-gas monitoring system for the ISS and future spacecraft. ANITA has been a cooperative investigation with NASA and has continuously served as an ISS operational device after its initial science commissioning/test phase in autumn 2007.

Three NASA astronauts of the STS-126 crew took part in the Motion Perception (MOP) experiment, filling out daily questionnaires that were returned to Earth on Shuttle flight ULF-2. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. After the flight, a reference test in a centrifuge will be performed at a later stage on ground. 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 were filled in by six astronauts of the STS-126 Crew for the Muscle experiment. These have been returned to Earth on Shuttle flight ULF-2. 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.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

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

Different radiation detectors removed from the Matroshka experiment last week were transported back to Earth by the STS-126/ULF-2 Shuttle Endeavour for detailed evaluation back on Earth. 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 Matroshka-2B experiment had been measuring for about one year the cumulative radiation dose experienced by crew members inside the ISS. 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.

BIO-4 Experiment Package
This was the fourth in a series of small short-duration space biology experiments that started in 2005. Four new biology experiments were launched on Soyuz 17S from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 12 October took place in three KUBIK incubators from ESA in the Russian Segment of the ISS. The experiments were processed between 3 and 8 days in space. Telemetry data from KUBIK Flight Models 1 and 3, which was received on ground on 29 October and is now under analysis from the payload development team.

The progress of each individual experiment was as follows:

  • BASE B and C
    The in-orbit activities for the Bacteria Adaptation to Space Environment (BASE) experiments are now complete. These experiments determine how several different bacterial species adapt to spaceflight conditions: weightlessness, cosmic radiation, electromagnetism etc., building on research from previous spaceflight experiments. Data from this study will be useful to determine if adaptation to spaceflight conditions may modify the ability of bacteria to deteriorate the spacecraft environment, act as pathogens or function in recycling systems.


    The chemically fixed samples for the ROALD experiment were transported back to earth on Shuttle flight STS-126/ULF-2, which landed on 1 December. ROALD stands for the ROle of Apoptosis in Lymphocyte Depression and aims to determine the roll that programmed cell death (apoptosis) plays in reduced immune response in weightlessness. Apoptosis is a normal function in human and animal cells and T-lymphocytes are a class of white blood cell important in immune response. Various aspects of the apoptotic process will be assessed using human T-lymphocytes.


    The in-orbit activities for the XENOPUS experiments are now complete. This experiment studies cellular modifications within the vestibulo-ocular system of a developing amphibian (Xenopus laevis) during adaptation to weightlessness. The vestibulo-ocular system is the system of the body responsible for maintaining balance. The main purpose of this project is to characterise the effect of weightlessness on development of this system in Xenopus laevis tadpoles at early and late development stages.

The processed samples for Xenopus and the BASE experiments were returned to Earth on flight 16S with the Expedition 17 Crew on 24 October and immediately transported back to the scientists. The ROALD samples landed with Shuttle flight STS-126 on 30 November. The BIO missions on Soyuz sortie flights provide special short-duration mission opportunities in addition to the utilisation of ESA’s large biology facilities Biolab and the European Modular Cultivation System in Columbus namely for complex long-duration biology experiments.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have worked extremely well. On 23 November NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff installed the Internal Thermal Control System Sampling Adapter in Columbus to retrieve a sample of its coolant for return to the ground in the Shuttle middeck. On 26 November he also relocated the Video Camera Assembly 1 to Columbus’ Port Endcone. This had been moved to Node 2 to monitor transfer activities in the Node 2/MPLM area. Regular maintenance activities are planned for the so called Stage ULF2, which is the time period after the undocking of ULF2 until the next Shuttle flight.

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 ISS on 30 November. The experiments, which are accommodated in special sample trays as part of the Expose-R payload will be installed on the outside of the Russian segment of International Space Station (ISS) during a spacewalk on 23 December. Expose-R is equipped with three 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 (temperature, cosmic radiation, vacuum) for about one and a half years.

ISS general system information and activities *

STS-126 Shuttle landing
STS-126 Space Shuttle Endeavour landed successfully at Edwards Air Force Base in California on 1 December completing a 16-day ISS mission. The two opportunities for landing at the Kennedy Space Center the previous day were cancelled due to unfavourable weather conditions.

Progress M-01M/31P docking
Progress M-01M on ISS logistics flight 31P was successfully docked to the Russian Pirs module of the ISS at 13:28 (CET) on 30 November. This was carried out under manual control by Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov and NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke from the Russian Zvezda Service Module. After docking the ISS was returned to active attitude control from free drift. Manual docking was selected by the Russian Mission Control Centre due to a Progress computer malfunction at a distance of 20-30m from the ISS. The cause of this malfunction is under investigation. The ISS logistics spacecraft is delivering 2676 kg of cargo to the ISS including 28 kg oxygen, 21 kg air, 185 kg water, 296 kg food, 1120 kg ISS propellant, 171 kg sanitary and hygienic items, 19 kg fire-protection items, 133 kg medical items, 103 kg research payloads, and additional equipment. This is the first flight of an upgraded Progress spacecraft, equipped with a new digital computer system and more compact radio telemetry avionics. An additional two days flight time allowed the check out of the new avionics systems.

After Progress docking Lonchakov and Fincke shut off the manual docking system, and conducted the standard one-hour leak check of the interhatch area and transfer lines from Progress to Pirs. The hatches were opened at 16:20 (CET) and clamps were installed to strengthen the coupling between Progress and Pirs. Standard post-docking procedures followed including installing ventilation ducting and dismantling the docking mechanism.

Progress firing test
On 4 December Mission Control Centre in Moscow carried out thruster firing tests with the newly arrived Progress spacecraft. The thruster tests are intended to check the spacecraft’s full integration into the ISS steering logic and ensure thruster functionality in providing attitude control, reboost capability and debris avoidance manoeuvres.

Progress 31P cargo transfers
During the week Lonchakov, assisted partly by Fincke, spent several hours unloading and transferring cargo from the Progress 31P spacecraft and tracking it in the Inventory Management System.

H-II Transfer Vehicle communications testing
During the week NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus carried out the second checkout of the proximity communications system, which will be used in the future for the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle during rendezvous with the ISS. On 2 December Magnus set up the Hardware Command Panel in the US laboratory for a functional self check. The checkout was then performed again from the ground during a fly over of the Japanese ground station at Tanegashima. The following day the checkout continued with Magnus sending commands through the Hardware Command Panel to be received by the ground station.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus carried out activities with the new Water Recovery System and the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer on the front side of the Oxygen Generation System. Each system forms part of the Regenerative ECLSS, which is needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew in 2009.

Following an external visual leak check of the two Water Recovery System racks on 30 November, Magnus performed a software upgrade on the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer on 3 December. This was carried out in advance of Water Recovery System sample analysis using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer. Hereafter Fincke and Magnus collected samples from two subsystems of the Water Recovery System (the Water Processing Assembly and the Potable Water Dispenser), which were then analyzed. Afterwards, Fincke conducted extensive leak checks on the two Water Recovery System racks. On 5 December Magnus retrieved samples previously processed on 26 November and carried out tests for presence of coliform bacteria, which are a common indicator of the sanitary quality of food.

On 4 and 5 December Fincke filled the relevant storage tank with pretreated urine for processing in the Urine Processing Assembly of the Water recovery System.

External Stowage Platform 3 relocation
On 3 December the Space Station Remote Manipulator System was attached to the Mobile Base System (from Node 2) by ground commanding and the following day moved along the Station’s truss to worksite 7. This was in advance of relocation of External Stowage Platform 3. The relocation was carried out by Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus on 5 December using the Space Station Remote Manipulator System. External Stowage Platform 3 was moved from the Mobile Base System to its permanent place on the zenith side of the P3 truss.

US Airlock activities
On 3 and 4 December Fincke carried out activities in the US Airlock. This included maintenance (discharging/recharging) batteries for the Extravehicular Mobility Units i.e. the suits used for spacewalks; regeneration of used Metal Oxide CO2 absorption canisters; and filtering particulate matter from the cooling loops of two Extravehicular Mobility Units.

Waste and Hygiene Compartment Rack
Mike Fincke spent several hours installing and configuring the new Waste and Hygiene Compartment rack in the US laboratory on 2 December.

Russian Condensate Water Processor
On 5 December Lonchakov performed major in-flight maintenance on the Russian condensate water processor in the Zvezda Service Module replacing a filter reactor and condensate separation and pumping unit as well as carrying out additional cleaning activities.

Russian routing/cabling in Zvezda
On 3 and 4 December Lonchakov carried out routing and cabling of the Onboard Equipment Control System and the Onboard Data Measuring and Storage System instruments in Zvezda in advance of Russian experiment activity.

Microgravity Measurement Apparatus laptop
On 3 December Magnus spent time troubleshooting Ethernet connectivity of the Microgravity Measurement Apparatus laptop in the Japanese Kibo laboratory.

(*)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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