ESA title
Science & Exploration

ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report
Increment 18

236 views 0 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

13 March 2009

This is ISS status report No. 32 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. 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 in May 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
No operations were carried out with the Fluid Science Laboratory this week. Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of excellent scientific data, are currently on hold awaiting download (on the STS-119/15A Shuttle flight), repair and upload of the Geoflow Experiment Container.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
On 11 March, the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility had parameters updated due to the necessary changeout of the protein growth reactors in the Processing Unit awaiting the imminent launch to the ISS. The Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility is currently scheduled to be launched on ISS flight 15A on STS-119 Shuttle Discovery on 15 March where 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 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 crewmember Bob Thirsk. The two astronauts will assist each other with experiment procedures. NeuroSpat will investigate the ways in which crewmembers’ 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 15 March from 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 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 EMCS 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. 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 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. 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. A period of science acquisition finished on 8 March. A new period of science acquisition started on 11 March.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. On 10 March ground commanding changed the detection rate of the spectrometer for a one-week measurement campaign. 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 was commanded into Thermal Stabilization Mode on 12 March to prepare for further attempts to resume the Ball Bearing Experiment. The Ball Bearing Experiment was activated on 13 March but went into non-nominal mode 2½ hours later. 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. It 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 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 was reinstalled in the Pirs Docking Compartment during the week following the 10 March EVA. 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.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. During the week, NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke carried out daily downloads of data from his Actiwatch to the laptop of US Human Research Facility 1 inside the Columbus laboratory in connection with the SLEEP experiment. The Human Research Facility was also activated on 9/10 March in support of the Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Control on Return from the ISS experiment. Human Research Facility 2 was also activated on 7 March in support of NASA’s NUTRITION 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 15 March 2009 from 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
At the start of the week, Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov and Mike Fincke were occupied with preparations for the Russian spacewalk, which took place on 10 March. This included:

  • Russian Airlock/Service Module preparations
    On 7 March, Mike Fincke and Yuri Lonchakov continued with preparations for the 10 March spacewalk in the Pirs Docking Compartment, configuring the emergency medical kits and readying Crew Contamination Protection Kits, which can be used during and after the EVA in case the Orlans are inadvertently contaminated i.e. from incompletely-burnt fuel residue on the Service Module hull. They also installed portable air canisters as a backup for supporting repressurisation.


  • EVA dry run
    On 8 March, the crew carried out a spacewalk dry run. After removing the air ducting into the Pirs Docking Compartment, which acts as the Russian EVA airlock, communications systems were configured and leak checks were carried out on the Orlan EVA suits and relevant equipment. Fincke and Lonchakov then donned their suits and carried out additional functionality checks including checks on their mobility in the Orlan suits inside the airlock. At the end of the activity the airlock was returned to its pre-dry run configuration.

    ISS robotic arm
    On 9 March, Mike Fincke configured the Space Station Remote Manipulator System for external coverage of the spacewalk

Russian spacewalk
On 10 March, following check out and testing of the EVA suits, systems and equipment, Fincke and Lonchakov donned the Orlan-M spacesuits and the hatchways into Pirs were closed with NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus supporting activities from inside the Service Module Transfer Compartment. Following leak checks on the suits, the pressure was dropped and the spacewalkers breathed pure oxygen to help remove nitrogen from their blood streams. Magnus then moved into the Zarya module and closed the hatch into the Zvezda Service Module, which served as a backup airlock to Pirs during the spacewalk.

After final leak checks, the Orlan spacesuits were switched to autonomous battery power and the hatch to outside was opened at 17:22 CET. The principle task was the installation of the European Expose-R payload on the Service Module Portable Multipurpose Workstation. After installation, relevant photography was taken. Other EVA tasks included: the removal of fastening straps in the installation areas of the docking target and antennas on the Pirs Docking Compartment; closing a multi-layer insulation flap on the Service Module; re-installing the removable cassette container of the SKK #9 materials exposure experiment in the standard position on the Service Module; and inspecting and photographing an antenna on the Progress spacecraft and other areas of the external Russian segment of the ISS. The 4 hr 49 min spacewalk ended at 22:11 CET well ahead of time and achieved all objectives. Following ingress into Pirs and external hatch closure, the airlock was repressurised. Russian thrusters were disabled for the duration of the EVA.

Post-spacewalk activities
After conclusion of the spacewalk, Fincke and Lonchakov underwent the standard post-EVA health status exams. Fincke downlinked photos from the spacewalk and Lonchakov collected the standard post-EVA radiation readings from the radiation sensors worn. Mike Fincke also reworked the US EVA tools used during the EVA to their correct configuration for the upcoming spacewalks as part of the STS-119/15A Shuttle mission. The two spacewalkers, as well as clearing and stowing equipment used for the EVA, discharged batteries, set the EVA suits to dry, performed repressurisation of the atmosphere in the Service Module from Progress air supply tanks and re-installed the Matroshka hardware back into the Pirs docking Compartment.

Re-opening Progress M-66 spacecraft
With the EVA complete the Progress M-66 spacecraft docked to the Pirs Docking Compartment, was again re-opened. The usual one-hour leak check was performed on the area between the hatches and the fuel/oxidizer transfer line between the Progress spacecraft and Pirs. The hatches were then opened and quick disconnect clamps to stabilise the connection between the Progress and Pirs were re-installed.

STS-119/15A spacewalk preparations in the Quest Airlock
Sandra Magnus continued with preparations for the spacewalks in the US Airlock as part of the STS-119/15A Space Shuttle mission during the week. This included charging of the EVA batteries, EMU helmet lights and Pistol Grip Tool, as well as degassing Payload Water Reservoirs. Mike Fincke also checked out three tethers for use during the 15A spacewalks.

Japanese Laboratory Cell Biology Experiment Facility
On 8 March, in the Japanese Kibo laboratory, Sandra Magnus supported the Tsukuba Space Center by removing three Measurement Experiment Units from the Cell Biology Experiment Facility incubator. She also assisted in troubleshooting the failed Cell Biology Experiment Facility temperature controller fan.

Orbital debris
On 12 March, a small piece of orbital debris passed close enough to the ISS to elicit the crew retreating to the Soyuz 17S spacecraft as a precaution. They left the spacecraft’s hatch open during this time in case the Soyuz itself was struck. Due to late notification of the debris, a Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre could not be performed.

STS-119/15A Shuttle Discovery launch delay
The launch of STS-119 Space Shuttle Discovery on ISS flight 15A has been rescheduled to 15 March. The principal objective of the mission is the installation of the S6 truss section.

(*)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.

Fill in your name and email address below to receive a notification when the latest status report is made available online.

Related Links