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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

6 February 2009

This is ISS status report No. 27 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
On 6 February, ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus removed the Reference Experiment Containers in Biolab and replace them with the actual (but still empty) Experiment Containers to be used for the second run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment. She also supported an Incubator/Handling Mechanism leak test. This test was performed manually from the ground as the Biolab laptop did not boot properly during the activity. A gas leak was discovered in the Life Support System and is currently being looked into.

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 June 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Geoflow scientific activities are currently on hold due to unexpected temperatures in the Geoflow Experiment Container during science run #10 on 9 January. On 4 February, in resolution of this issue, Sandra Magnus replaced Anti-Vibration Mounts with latches for locking the Fluid Science Laboratory’s Facility Core Element (with all optical diagnostics elements) before removing the Geoflow Experiment Container. This has now been stowed for return to ground in order to carry out detailed failure analysis and repair. Initial analysis of the problem, suggests that some SF6 gas has entered the thermal fluid loop around the Geoflow experiment cell which could cause the temperature gradient.deviations Planning on the resumption of future runs of the overall exhaustive Geoflow science programme will continue on resolution of this issue. On 6 February, the internal accelerometers of the Fluid Science Laboratory were used for taking vibrational data during undocking of the Progress 31P spacecraft.

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 has been delivered for launch by the Belgian User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels after filling of the solution growth reactors with a variety of different protein solutions. This Processing Unit will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck on the upcoming flight 15A, which is due for launch no earlier than 22 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 on the subsequent Shuttle flight 2J/A for detailed analysis in various European science labs.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
There were no operations involving the European Physiology Modules Facility this week. 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. NeuroSpat will also serve an experiment from the European Commission within the SURE project.

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 diet session is planned to start on 7 February by ISS Commander Mike Fincke in order to proceed with biomedical statistics.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run is still planned during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight STS-119/15A. 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
No experiment activities were carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System 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. The on-orbit maintenance performed during Increment 18 is 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 activated several times during the week in connection with experiment runs of the US InSPACE experiment, the yearly certification of the Microgravity Science Glovebox and in support of the US SPICE experiment. 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.

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 been performing continuous experiment runs since 16 January following the software update on the same day. The software update allows the DEBIE-2 and FIPEX instruments to carry out scientific data acquisition simultaneously. It has been experiencing some limited science loss but this is under investigation.
  • 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. It has not carried out any successful image acquisition sessions this week.
  • 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 finished a period of science acquisition on 2 February. Following the software update on 16 January, the FIPEX and DEBIE-2 instruments have been able to carry out simultaneous experiment runs since the installation of Columbus on the Space Station.
  • 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: Following successful troubleshooting measures for the Ball Bearing Experiment shaft motor, science acquisition was again restarted on 2 February. However, due to a problem restarting the experiment on 6 February, the experiment was placed temporarily in thermal stabilisation mode. 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 and its instruments are currently in idle mode waiting for the next Sun observation window to open on 19 February. The SOVIM instrument is now permanently non-operational after a power unit breakdown. 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.

On 4 February Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov deactivated the AST Spectrometer and removed a memory card to check out the data files. 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 reported positively about the technical feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/tri-lateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged. 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 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 was due to previously disconnected 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 soon 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 mid-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 exobiology science package that is performed in 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 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 no earlier than 22 February 2009. Planning and preparation for the next stage of activities is currently ongoing. During the week Human Research Facility 1, which is located in Columbus, was activated to support the Med Ops/Braselet activity.

ISS general system information and activities *

Progress M-01M/31P undocking
In preparation of the Progress M-01M/31P undocking, Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov and NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke tested the main Teleoperator Control System receiver on the Progress spacecraft on 2 February. This system allows manual approach and docking of a Progress by crew if the automated KURS system fails. The crewmembers worked with ground specialists on the standard system checkout between the Service Module and the Progress spacecraft, which is docked to the Pirs Docking Compartment. Progress thrusters were inhibited during the activity. On 4 February they reinstalled the docking mechanism between the Progress spacecraft and Pirs. The following day they finished packing and securing trash and excess cargo in the Progress spacecraft; removed the ventilation duct between Pirs and the Progress; removed the quick disconnect clamps that secure the connection between Pirs and the Progress; and closed the hatches between the two. Hereafter they carried out the standard leak check. Undocking took place at 5:10 CET on 6 February. The Progress spacecraft will remain in orbit for two days before a planned destructive deorbit to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mobile Servicing System/Mobile Transporter
On 2 February the Mobile Servicing System/Mobile Transporter, which supports the Station’s robotic arm for truss-based robotic activities, was moved from Worksite 4 to Worksite 1. Following a checkout at this location the Mobile Transporter was moved to Worksite 6, the starting position for the upcoming Shuttle mission.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer 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.

  • Water Recovery System sampling and testing
    The crew performed daily flushes of the Potable Water Dispenser with 500 ml of iodinated water. The amount of flush water had been increased from 250 ml to 1l previously as results indicated that not enough iodine was getting into the system to kill off any microbes present. (Samples taken previously from the Potable Water Dispenser were found to have bacteria growing). During the week samples were taken and microbiology analysis was carried out using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. Similar analysis was carried out on samples taken previously. On 3 February it was determined that the latest flushes had not significantly reduced microbe levels and so the flushing activity had been discontinued. The sampling will however continue on a regular basis.


  • Total Organic Carbon Analyzer
    On 30 January a run of the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer was aborted during analysis of water samples from the Water Processor Assembly due to a low pressure indication. The issue is being looked into by engineering teams.

Fluids and Combustion Facility/Combustion Integrated Rack
Sandra Magnus spent time across a number of days during the week supporting commissioning activities for the Combustion Integrated Rack of the Fluids and Combustion Facility in the US Destiny Laboratory. This included supporting the ground in trip testing an oxygen valve, calibration of the motor and fuel reservoir, a leak test, and the removal of alignment guides to allow activation of the Passive Rack Isolation System before Fluids and Combustion Facility operations begin.

Multi-Purpose Converter
Sandra Magnus set up HD TV equipment on 4 February to support the ground in resolving a problem with the signal transmitted and received from the video Multi-Purpose Converter. This has exhibited problems during recent public affairs events.

Russian Onboard Telemetry Measurement System
Lonchakov replaced Central Processor Subsystem components of the Russian BITS2-12 Onboard Telemetry Measurement System in the Service Module on 3 February. This system is the primary downlink path of data from Zarya and Zvezda.

Pirs electrical measurements
On 2 and 6 February, Lonchakov configured the GFI-11/Obstanovka equipment in the Pirs Docking Compartment and carried out more measurements of the electric field on the external surface of the Service Module with the Langmuir Probe.

STS-119/15A spacewalk preparations
During the week Sandra Magnus and Mike Fincke spent time undertaking tasks in preparation for the upcoming spacewalks as part of the STS-119/15A mission. This included: preparing the Airlock’s equipment Lock and equipment for the spacewalks; recharging EVA batteries and helmet lights; checking out the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER) units, which are propulsive backpack units to aid an astronaut should he become untethered from the ISS during a spacewalk; checking out Pistol Grip Tools for use on the EVAs; and installation of batteries in one EVA suit along with a metox canister used for CO2 removal.

STS-119 Shuttle Pitch Manoeuvre preparations
Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus completed their third R-bar Pitch Manoeuvre skill training on 6 February. This involved photographing a Shuttle cutout inside the ISS with a D2X digital still camera using 400 and 800 mm lenses. This exercise is in preparation for photographing the Shuttle Orbiter during its pitch manoeuvre during rendezvous and docking 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.

Shuttle STS-119/15A launch date slip
At the Flight Readiness Review for the next Shuttle Flight (STS-119) on 4 February, it was decided to postpone the launch date from 12 February until no earlier than 22 February in connection with the control valve failure on the STS 126/ULF2 mission.

Reboost update
Reboosts of the ISS planned for 4 and 7 February have been temporarily postponed following agreement by the ISS Mission Management Team on 3 February.

(*)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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