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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

16 January 2009

This is ISS status report No. 24 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. A problem with the Columbus Data Management System did occur on 10 January, whereby the commanding capability was temporarily unavailable. These capabilities were re-established on 13 January. 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 14 January, ISS Commander Mike Fincke exchanged the isolation filters on the Biolab centrifuges. Hereafter he removed the Experiment Containers of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment from centrifuge B and installed Reference Containers in their place. This now allows for further testing of Biolab’s two centrifuges, the automatic chemical fixation system and the atmosphere control system. This will occur in the next few weeks before the actual execution of the second run of the 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 May 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
The telemetry and video data records for Geoflow run #10 were downlinked to ground on 14 January and the data is now being analysed to help determine what caused an unexpected temperature gradient in the Geoflow Experiment Container during the science run. The difficulties transferring data for Geoflow is also still being looked into.

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
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, 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 for filling of the solution growth reactors with a variety of different protein solutions. The Processing Unit 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 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 for detailed lab analysis.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
Final calibration of the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM), which was scheduled to be carried out on 12 January has been temporarily postponed. 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
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 planned during the ongoing Increment 18 to proceed with biomedical statistics.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run is planned during the ongoing Increment 18. 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
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 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. Sessions of the US SHERE and LOCAD experiments were deferred on 10 January due to temporary power issues with the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

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. During the temporary command problems with the Columbus Data Management System, which started on 10 January, EuTEF could not be commanded and data downlink was extremely slow but it did remain in nominal mode. Full functionality returned on 13 January. A data handling software update was uplinked and installed on 16 January. Hereafter all instruments were rebooted. The software update allows the DEBIE-2 and FIPEX instruments to carry out scientific data acquisition simultaneously. 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 performed a 24-hour experiment run starting on 13 January and will continue with 24-hour experiment runs next week. This instrument currently alternates experiment runs with the FIPEX instrument, though following the software update on 16 January, the two instruments will be able to carry out simultaneous experiment runs.
  • 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 temperatures are currently too cold for it to be activated.
  • 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 currently alternates experiment runs with the DEBIE-2 instrument, though following the software update on 16 January, the two instruments will be able to carry out simultaneous experiment runs. FIPEX started an experiment run on 14 January.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. Data from this experiment will help to evaluate the effects of open space on materials being considered for future use on spacecraft in low earth orbit.
  • PLEGPAY: The PLasma Electron Gun PAYload is the study of the interactions between spacecraft and the space environment in low earth orbit, with reference to electrostatic charging and discharging. PLEGPAY 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 waiting for analysis of troubleshooting. 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.

The Matroshka hardware is 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 is currently on hold 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 unconnected 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 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 science that is performed on 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.

  • Columbus command capabilities
    Columbus command capabilities were temporarily lost at the beginning of the week, the first time that such a problem has occurred with Columbus since its installation almost a year ago, though these capabilities were recovered by 13 January. Columbus was in stable and safe mode in this period and automated vital responses and smoke detection capabilities were working. Furthermore, the external payloads were working ok, though with a reduced telemetry capacity. No operations with the internal payloads could be supported however, during this period.


  • Human Research Facility
    Human Research Facility 2 in Columbus was used on 10 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.


  • Air sampling
    NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke took air samples in the centre of the Columbus as well as other ISS modules on 13 January along with Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov. These were stowed for return to Earth.


  • Light fittings
    Sandra Magnus replaced failed light fittings in the Columbus laboratory on 13 January.

ISS general system information and activities *

ISS reboost
A 2 min 22 s reboost of the ISS was carried out on 14 January using Zvezda’s main thrusters. The reboost is the first of two used to bring the ISS into the correct orbital profile for the launches of Progress 32P and Space Shuttle STS-119/15A on 10 and 12 February respectively.

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, which forms 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. After downlinking data from the equipment to the ground on 13 January, the following day she removed the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer from the Water Recovery System 2 rack and installed four handrail extenders before reinstalling the equipment.


  • Water Recovery System sampling
    Potable water samples were taken on 12 and 14 January including samples for post-flight analysis. The samples were drawn from the Water Recovery System’s Potable Water Dispenser and additional warm taps. Microbiology analysis was carried out 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 on 6 December were found to have bacteria growing. This is thought to be due to the water being stagnant and not used.

Kibo inter-hatch depressurisation and leak check
On 14 January, after shutting of intramodular valves and removal of necessary cables and equipment, Fincke closed the hatches between the Japanese laboratory’s main Pressurised Module and its Logistics Pressurised Module in order to carry out an inter-hatch depressurisation and leak check. This overnight activity, which proved successful, was terminated the next day by Mike Fincke.

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
On 15 January Mike Fincke configured and tested hardware in connection with the installation, activation and checkout of the new Advanced Resistive Exercise Device. The following day he moved vibration sensor equipment to Node 1 in preparation for evaluating the performance of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device and its Vibration Isolation System while in use.

Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
Yuri Lonchakov had his first training session with the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit on 16 January, assisted by Mike Fincke and supported by ground specialists during his one-hour session. The suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Russian crewmember would cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth at the beginning of April.

Internal Wireless Instrumentation System test
Russian thrusters were fired on 12 January to test structural dynamics data coming from the Internal Wireless Instrumentation System.

STS-119 Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre preparations
Sandy Magnus carried out her first R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training on 15 January. 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.

Emergency training
The crew performed a mandatory two-hour ISS emergency exit drill on 16 January, which covers the location of hardware, the positions of valves used in emergency situations, hardware deactivation procedures, crew emergency joint activities, and working through the Russian Segment where the Soyuz 17S spacecraft is docked. Soyuz 17S would act as the crew’s escape vehicle in the event of such an emergency.

Microgravity Measurement Apparatus
In the Japanese Kibo laboratory Sandra Magnus performed troubleshooting on the Microgravity Measurement Apparatus on 14 January. She disconnected and reconnected cables and used the associated laptop for checking operations.

Japanese laboratory robotic arm
In connection with checkout 2 of the Japanese laboratory’s robotic arm, Sandra Magnus activated the robotic arm’s backup controller on 15 January and conducted a review of the upcoming activities using special graphics software. The following day Fincke and Magnus performed a reconfiguration of the robotic arm’s backup drive system for the checkout.

New Wireless Access Point
Yuri Lonchakov installed and tested a new internal communications Wireless Access Point in Zvezda on 14 January.

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.

(*)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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