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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

31 October 2008

This is ISS status report No. 13 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 remaining experiment containers from the WAICO-1 experiment run were removed from centrifuge B on 29 October. Following the successful testing of Biolab’s centrifuge B on 5 September, ground crews are still also assessing in detail the results of the rotor A on-orbit test from 22 August.

Further testing of Biolab’s two centrifuges, the automatic chemical fixation system and the atmosphere control system will be carried out in Increment 18 well before the actual execution of the second run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment. These final end-to-end performance verification tests will be carried out using the still empty WAICO-2 experiment containers, which will replace the remaining 4 WAICO-1 experiment containers removed by US astronaut Greg Chamitoff from centrifuge B on 29 October, and the Reference Containers on centrifuge A.

The second science run of the experiment WAICO is scheduled to start in Biolab during Increment 19. The Experiment Containers have already been delivered for a launch on Progress flight 31P which is scheduled for 26 November 2008 and the plant seeds will follow in conditioned state tentatively on Shuttle flight 2J/A in spring 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
The Geoflow Experiment Container was reinstalled inside the Facility Core Element of the Fluid Science Laboratory on 30 October. Based on the latest Fluid Science Laboratory engineering analysis it can now remain continuously inside the facility without need for further interventions during re-boost and vehicle docking events.

The large Geoflow science programme of more than 100 runs of the Geoflow 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 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
The European Drawer Rack houses the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, 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 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 February 2009. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 crystallisation cycles.

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
All samples for the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment, which is already complete for Greg Chamitoff as the first test subject, are in the European-developed MELFI freezer awaiting download on the ULF-2 Shuttle flight in November. 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.

3D-Space experiment
NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff has already successfully performed three experiment sessions of 3D-Space during Increment 17, the latest session being completed on 30 July. He is due to undertake a fourth session on 20 November before his return 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.

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 after Shuttle flight 15A in early 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 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 find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Microgravity Science Glovebox, which was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA, 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 will play an important role in 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)
EuTEF has been operating well on orbit with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives. The facility was put in survival heater mode on 1 September in order to resolve an issue with one of the instruments (PLEGPAY) in conjunction with environmental safety constraints for the ISS, visiting transportation vehicles and EVA activities. In resolution of this issue PLEGPAY experiment 1 was disabled on 30 October. A full memory dump of the PLEGPAY instrument was performed and ground teams are analyzing the outcome of the memory deletion. Once complete this will allow for normal operations of the temporarily inactive EuTEF experiments to resume. EuTEF is currently cleared to be reactivated for 8-hour periods every other day and science acquisition is ongoing for three of the instruments (Dostel, Expose and MEDET) during this period.

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 multiple 24 hour experiment runs, though is currently in standby mode. A software update is being prepared to increase the duration of the experiments.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope, and was continuing to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS, until 1 September. It is now part of the EuTEF intermittent activation programme.
  • 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 is currently switched off.
  • EXPOSE: This series of exobiology experiments was continuing without interruption to acquire scientific data up until 1 September when it was paused. It is now part of the EuTEF intermittent activation programme.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. Science acquisition was paused on 1 September.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) was continuing to acquire scientific data until 1 September. 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. It is now part of the EuTEF intermittent activation programme.
  • 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 was paused on 1 September.

The Solar facility and its individual instruments (SOVIM, SOLSPEC, SOLACES) were in intermediate idle mode up to 28 October until the start of the next Sun observation window. Science acquisition for SOLSPEC and SOLACES started on 29 October. The SOVIM instrument is currently still in idle mode in order to resolve a power/telemetry issue. Engineering teams are also working on a software update, which will allow for the acquisition of science data during shorter sun visibility cycles. The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun 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 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) is deactivated and already packed for return to earth on Shuttle flight ULF-2 in November 2008. This instrument monitors 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 is a cooperative investigation with NASA and has continuously served as an ISS operational device after its initial science commissioning/test phase in autumn 2007.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

This long-term experiment has been monitoring radiation measurements in different locations on the ISS. The next memory card exchange is scheduled for 3 November.

No activities for the Nitric Oxide Analyser (NOA) experiments were carried out in the past weeks..

The NOA-1 experiment tests the levels of expired nitric oxide in ISS crew members. Increased levels of expired nitric oxide are an early and accurate sign of airway inflammation especially in asthma, but also in occupational dust inhalation. This is important in weightlessness since dust does not settle.

NOA-2 is a similar experiment but the procedures are undertaken by astronauts pre- and post-EVA, where the levels of nitric oxide are used to determine the presence, or not, of symptoms of decompression sickness as seen, for example, in scuba divers, i.e. heightened nitric oxide levels.

The Matroshka facility is located in the Russian Pirs Docking Module. The Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. Matroshka-2B continues to measure the cumulative radiation dose experienced by crew members inside the ISS with a subsequent return of the passive dosimeters on Shuttle flight STS-126 (ULF-2) for detailed evaluation on Earth. The phantom will be tentatively re-located during Increment 18 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory (pending some technical feasibility assessments conclusion and agreements with JAXA).

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 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.


    Chemically fixed samples for the ROALD experiment are currently in the MELFI freezer awaiting return to earth. 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 will be returned on Shuttle flight STS-126 in November. The BIO missions on Soyuz sortie flights provide special short-duration mission opportunities in addition to the utilisation of ESA’s biology facilities Biolab and EMCS in Columbus.

Daily MOP questionnaires, which were filled in by Soyuz Space Flight Participant Richard Garriott and returned with the Expedition 17 crew on 24 October, are waiting to be delivered to the science team. 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, which were filled in by Soyuz Space Flight Participant Richard Garriott and returned with the Expedition 17 crew on 24 October, are waiting to be delivered to the science team. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. The objective of this experiment is to assess the occurrence and characteristics of back pain in weightlessness. The results will be correlated to data related to back pain and atrophy obtained in ground-based studies. It is thought that the deep muscle corset atrophies during spaceflight leading to strain and hence pain in certain ligaments, in particular in the iliolumbar region in the back. The deep muscle corset plays an important role in posture when in the upright position.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems continue to work extremely well. The only minor systems issues for Columbus include the need to upload a new part for the intermodule ventilation system, which is foreseen to be uploaded to the ISS in November on Shuttle flight ULF-2, and the exchange of a Condensate Water Separator Assembly Desiccant Module.

ISS general system information and activities

ISS reboost
Early in the morning (CEST) on 29 October the Progress 30P spacecraft carried out a reboost of the ISS to bring the ISS in the correct alignment for the launches of Shuttle flight STS-126 and the Progress 31P logistics spacecraft.

Mobile Servicing System operations
On 28 October ground controllers moved the Mobile Transporter on the Station’s truss from worksite 4 to worksite 7 as part of a pre-launch checkout for Shuttle flight ULF-2. The Mobile Transporter houses the Mobile Base System on which the Station’s Canadarm 2 robotic arm can be located as a working base for robotic operations. The following day one end of the robotic arm released Power and Data Grapple Fixture #3 and grappled Power & Data Grapple Fixture #4 in preparation for relocation of External Stowage Platform 3. On 30 October, the other end of the robotic arm released Power & Data Grapple Fixture #1 on the Mobile Base System manoeuvred the robotic arm to the park position for External Stowage Platform 3 relocation next week.

HTV arrival preparations
In preparation for the arrival of the first Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle Greg Chamitoff powered on the Proximity Communication System in the Kibo laboratory on 27 October in advance of its first checkout. Hereafter the HTV Control Center conducted a week-long series of command and telemetry tests. During ISS passes over the ground station in Tanegashima, Japan, the ground station sent simulated HTV telemetry to the ISS, and HTV commands were routed from JAXA’s Space Station Integrated Promotion Center to the ISS and back to the ground site. All the tests were successful.

Internal Thermal Control System
On 26 October Chamitoff connected the supply line of the thermal control Moderate Temperature Loop to an Internal Thermal Control System Z-panel for filling with coolant in the US Destiny laboratory. This was in preparation of the installation Water Recovery System 2 of the new Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System during the STS-126 mission in November.

US Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
Mike Fincke replaced two Selector Valves of the US Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly on 31 October. Hereafter the valves were checked out from the ground. The two replaced valves would periodically fail to reach their final position when commanded, shutting down the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly.

Node 2 Temperature and Humidity Control System
Due to a high current noise level, Chamitoff changed out a diffuser plate on the Temperature and Humidity Control system in Node 2, taking acoustic measurements before and after the activity.

US laboratory EXPRESS Rack 2
On 27 October Chamitoff replaced a gaseous nitrogen line in EXPRESS Rack 2 in the Destiny laboratory.

Japanese laboratory Light Housing Assembly
In the Logistics Pressurized Module of the Japanese Kibo laboratory, Mike Fincke removed a failed Light Housing Assembly and two failed Baseband Assemblies on 27 October.

Zvezda Service Module toilet facility
On 27 October Lonchakov undertook major periodic replacements on Zvezda’s toilet facility, replacing parts with new components, including a sensor unit two receptacles, four hoses, a T-connector, an elbow fitting, an indicator, a filter insert, and the pre-treat container with its hose.

STS-126 Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre preparations
Chamitoff and Fincke completed their Shuttle R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training on 30 October. This involved mapping of ground features and prepares crewmembers for photographing the underside of the Shuttle Orbiter on its arrival on 16 November. 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.

Periodic Fitness Evaluation setup
On 29 and 30 October Fincke and Chamitoff undertook their first sessions of the Periodic Fitness Evaluation taking blood pressure and ECG measurements whilst using the Cycle Ergometer in the Destiny laboratory. After performing the sessions the footage that was recorded on a camcorder was downlinked.

Cargo return preparations
A number of hours were spent by the ISS Crew during the week pre-packing items, which are due to be returned to earth with the STS-126 Space Shuttle, scheduled for launch on flight ULF-2 to the ISS on 14 November.

Emergency drill
On 30 October the Expedition 18 Crew performed the standard emergency drill for leaving the Station.

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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