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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

26 December 2008

This is ISS status report No. 21 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
No operations were carried out in the Biolab facility during the week. The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment in Biolab, will take place 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 spring 2009. The eight experiment containers are already inserted into Biolab Teams on ground are working on a troubleshooting plan for a blocked triple-contained fixation syringe.

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 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
Science runs 8 and 9 of the Geoflow experiment were carried out in the Fluid Science Laboratory during the week. Downlinking of the images for these science runs is planned to be carried out on 2 January. After receiving corrupt data last week for run 7 of Geoflow, the data for run 7 was successfully resent this week.

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 23 December additional check-out tests of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility Electronic Unit were successfully performed. These tests included uplinking command scripts to the European Drawer Rack. 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
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 Microgravity Science Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment. The Microgravity Science Glovebox has been continuously used for NASA experiments and will also play again an important role for ESA science during 2009 for the execution of the triple SODI experiment series.

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

European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF)
The EuTEF platform has been operated continuously with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives.

EuTEF is a fully automated, multi-user payload facility mounted on the outside of the Columbus laboratory carrying a suite of experiments that require exposure to the open space environment. The experiments cover a variety of disciplines including material science, physics, astrobiology, astronomy and space technology.

The status of each individual experiment is as follows:

  • DEBIE-2: The ‘DEBris In orbit Evaluator’ is designed to be a standard in-situ space debris and micrometeoroid monitoring instrument. It has successfully carried out 24-hour experiment runs this week, alternating experiment runs with the FIPEX instrument. A software update is being prepared to increase the duration of the experiments.
  • 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. Good images were received on 23/24 December, though not on 26 December. The machine is currently switched off to resolve the situation.
  • 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. Science acquisition for this instrument has been alternating with DEBIE-2.
  • 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 standby mode to resolve an issue with the experiment shaft motor.

The SOLAR facility is in Sun pointing mode following the latest Sun visibility window opening on 26 December. The SOLACES and SOLSPEC instruments of SOLAR are in Sun observation mode and acquiring data. 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.

Matroshka hardware was relocated back to the Pirs Docking Compartment on 26 December following completion of EVA activities. 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 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.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

During the Russian EVA in the early hours of 23 December (CEST), The Expose-R facility could not be fully connected to the external surface of the Russian segment of the ISS and hence had to be brought back inside. Following its installation of Expose-R outside the ISS, telemetry was showing the data cable to be ok but there was no telemetry signal to suggest the power cable was mated. The spacewalking astronauts tried several attempts to disconnect and connect the power cables but without success. Mission Control Centre Moscow tried to send a signal to check if power was being supplied but there was no response from the facility. 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.

Columbus systems information

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

ISS general system information and activities *

Pre-EVA activities
Both the Pirs Docking Module and the Russian Zvezda Service Module were configured for the 23 December EVA. Pirs was configured as it was the primary airlock and Zvezda as it was acting as the backup airlock. As such Zvezda would also be sealed off while the EVA was taking place. The primary and backup oxygen tanks of the Orlan-M spacesuits and Pirs were checked and the crew conducted final inspections of the Orlan spacesuits and systems, interface units and biomedical parameter telemetry. NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus (ISS Flight Engineer) supported the spacewalkers, NASA astronaut Mike Fincke (ISS Commander) and Roscosmos Cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov (ISS Flight Engineer), in their preparations. About 3h prior to the start of the EVA, Lonchakov and Fincke donned their spacesuits and ancillary equipment. Then with Sandy in Zvezda’s Transfer Compartment she closed the hatchway into Zvezda’s Working Compartment, and the hatches into Pirs at ~23:35 (CEST). About an hour later she moved into Zarya, closing the hatchway into Zvezda’s Transfer Compartment.

Russian EVA
After the spacewalkers sealed themselves into their Orlan spacesuits, final checks were carried out including checking for leaks during successive stages of depressurisation. This complete, the Orlans were switched to autonomous battery power and the EVA hatch was opened. The spacewalk started on 23 December, 36 minutes later than planned, at 01:51 (CEST). This was due to a pressure equalisation valve in one of the hatches from Zvezda to Pirs, which had to be opened manually. During the 5 hrs 38 min EVA Lonchakov and Fincke installed a probe on the Pirs Docking Compartment, which will measure electrical/plasma fields close to the docked Soyuz TMA-13; removed and returned a biological exposure payload (BIORISK-MSN container 2) from the outside of Pirs; installed and connected a unit of the Russian IMPULSE space experiment on the external surface of the Service Module, and carried out a photographic survey of the ISS Russian segment. Unfortunately not all planned tasks were carried out. The European Expose-R facility could not be activated after installation (see above) and had to be brought back inside. The remaining planned tasks were deferred until a later date. Once the EVA spacewalkers had finished their tasks they headed back into the airlock and closed the EVA hatch.

Once back in the airlock, repressurisation of Pirs from the Service Module Transfer Compartment failed due to a pressure valve remaining closed. This in turn would not open manually by Sandra Magnus outside of Pirs. The spacewalkers therefore had to repressurise the compartment using a backup air tank. The hatch could then be opened. The second hatch from Zvezda into Pirs could be opened without any problems.

Activities were carried out after the EVA was complete to return the ISS to its pre-EVA configuration.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
Samples from the Water Recovery System’s were collected on 24 December and analysed using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. Microbiology analysis was undertaken for these samples two days later. Samples taken on 19 December also underwent microbiology analysis on 21 December. All samples were ok. The new Water Recovery System forms part of the Regenerative ECLSS, needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew in 2009.

On 22 December Magnus reconfigured a connection on the Water Recovery System so that waste/condensate water went into the Destiny Laboratory’s condensate tank and not the Water Recovery System tank. This had hit an upper limit of 91% full due to faster than normal filling in connection with the deactivation of a Russian air conditioner system for the spacewalk.

Crew Health Care System
A troubleshooting plan is being put together for the Volatile Organics Analyzer, which underwent major in-flight maintenance last week. Ground specialists are investigating why they cannot get it back up and running, though a hard disk drive is suspected. The Volatile Organics Analyzer looks for volatile organic compounds in the station's atmosphere.

Elektron O2 generator
On 20 December Lonchakov continued with leak checking on a spare liquid unit of the Elektron O2 generator, charging the unit with pressurised nitrogen (N2). This test is to confirm good water passage through the liquid unit’s feed line and also to confirm that the micro switches correctly signal empty and full on the buffer tank. The inert gas is used to prevent 02/H2 mixing when the Elektron generator is in operation.

Japanese Kibo laboratory activities
Mike Fincke carried out work in Kibo on 26 December in order to trace a suspected line blockage in the Common Gas Support Equipment. He reconnected Gas Bottle Units and checked line pressures after flushing the lines with CO2 from the lower Gas Bottle Unit. Magnus also replace failed light fittings in Kibo during the week.

Node 1 activities - Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
During this week’s EVA Sandra Magnus worked in Node 1, transferring stowed equipment, relocating a Station laptop and reconfiguring a Utility Outlet Panel in preparation for next week’s planned installation of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device. At the end of the week Mike Fincke transferred components of the exercise device from the Japanese Laboratory to Node 1 for temporary stowage. This will make room for the Interim Resistive Exercise Device) in the Japanese Laboratory.

Crew Quarter deployment
Following deployment and checkout of one of the new Crew Quarters in Node-2 by Fincke and Magnus, the Crew Quarter has been determined to be habitable, though a few remaining tasks need to be completed in the first week of January. Outfitting of the second Crew Quarter in Node 2 will be undertaken on completion of these tasks.

(*)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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