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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report
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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

3 April 2009

This is ISS status report No. 35 from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s science related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past week for different European experiments and experiment facilities, and additional information about European ISS systems and key ISS events for the time period. The report is compiled by ESA’s Human Spaceflight Coordination Office in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus and Payload Operations Management and Mission Science teams.

ISS Utilisation Programme

The principal focus of the European utilisation of the ISS is the Columbus laboratory, which was launched and permanently attached to the ISS in February 2008. In addition to the science taking place using the internal and external experiment facilities of the Columbus laboratory, ESA also has some further ongoing research taking place inside and outside the Russian Segment of the ISS and the US Destiny laboratory. The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:

European science and research facilities inside the Columbus Laboratory

Biolab and WAICO experiment
No on-orbit operations were carried out with the Biolab facility this week. The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment in Biolab, will take place during Increment 19 following the arrival of the science part of the experiment. This science part with plant seeds will be transported in conditioned state tentatively on Shuttle flight 2J/A.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
The Geoflow Experiment Container was returned to Earth on Shuttle Flight 15A on 28 March. Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of excellent scientific data, are currently on hold awaiting repair and upload of the Geoflow Experiment Container.

On 28 March, vibration measurements were taken from sensors in the Fluid Science Laboratory during the Soyuz TMA-14/18S docking, but an error occurred when downlinking the data. Additional vibration measurements from the sensors were successfully taken on 1 April in support of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility. The same day, ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata successfully performed a functionality check on a lamp in the Central Experiment Module of the Fluid Science Laboratory.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
The European Drawer Rack is continuously active and providing power, data and temperature control to the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility. The first science run was stopped after Shuttle 15A undocking due to a sudden crystallization occurrence in conjunction with mechanical disturbances. A re-run of the cycle started on 28 March. The re-run was interrupted on 1 and 2 April due to an unforeseen reboot of the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility, though science acquisition was resumed shortly afterwards. The impact on science is under assessment, though seems to be minimal.

The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 subsequent crystallisation cycles. The final set of organic protein macromolecules will be returned to Earth on the subsequent Shuttle flight 2J/A for detailed analysis in various European science labs. The European Drawer Rack is a multi-user experiment facility hosting currently the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is an advanced ISS research payload for the investigation of problems of protein crystallisation in space.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
On 3 April, Koichi Wakata successfully exchanged the Cardiolab lower and upper hard disks on the European Physiology Modules front panel. NeuroSpat will be the first experiment to make full use the European Physiology Modules facility. This will take place when the next European astronaut arrives on the Station. This will be Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne at the end of May this year. De Winne will be a subject in the NeuroSpat experiment as will Canadian Space Agency astronaut and fellow Expedition 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
Experiment samples for the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment from ISS Commander Mike Fincke are stowed in the European-developed MELFI freezer awaiting return to Earth. SOLO is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The SOLO experiment also uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility.

3D-Space experiment
On 3 April, Koichi Wakata successfully completed his second session of the 3D-Space experiment. Wakata is the second human test subject for the experiment. However, the first session of the experiment for Expedition 19 Flight Engineer Mike Barratt is to be rescheduled due to an overrun on preceding crew activities for NASA experiments during the same morning.

This human physiology study investigates the effects of weightlessness on the mental representation of visual information during and after spaceflight. Accurate perception is a prerequisite for spatial orientation and reliable performance of tasks in space. The experiment has different elements including investigations of perception of depth and distance carried out using a virtual reality headset and standard psychophysics tests.

Flywheel Exercise Device
The Flywheel Exercise Device will be removed from its on-orbit storage location in the European Transport Carrier rack of the Columbus Laboratory for deployment and first functional checkout tentatively during Increment 19 after Soyuz TMA-13 undocking. The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS with Columbus in order to become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts and serving human physiology investigations in the area of advanced crew countermeasures.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA Human Research Facility number 2, which was relocated from the US Destiny laboratory to the Columbus laboratory on 1 October 2008. The Pulmonary Function System is an ESA/NASA collaboration in the field of respiratory physiology instrumentation, which analyses exhaled gas from astronauts' lungs to provide near-instant data on the state of crew health.

European Modular Cultivation System
No experiment activities were carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) this week. This space biology facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and has been operated for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA which is expected to be continued. Currently an option to perform a 2nd run of JAXA’s combined Cell Wall / Resist Wall experiment is being explored. This experiment is also of high interest for the European scientists involved in ESA’s Multigen plant physiology experiment. Genara is the next ESA experiment to take place in the European Modular Cultivation System and will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth activity at a molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space. This experiment will take place at the end of Increment 20. After Genara, the execution of the next NASA experiment TROPI-2 is planned.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
No experiment activities were carried out in the Microgravity Science Glovebox this week. The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment. The Microgravity Science Glovebox has been continuously used for NASA experiments and will again play an important role for ESA science during 2009 for the execution of the triple SODI (IVIDIL, DSC, Colloid) experiment series for advanced research in vibration effects on diffusion in liquids, diffusion measurements in petroleum reservoirs and the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions, respectively.

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

European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF)
The EuTEF platform has been operated continuously with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives. EuTEF is a fully automated, multi-user payload facility mounted on the outside of the Columbus laboratory carrying a suite of experiments that require exposure to the open space environment. The experiments cover a variety of disciplines including material science, physics, astrobiology, astronomy, and space technology.

The status of each individual experiment is as follows:

  • DEBIE-2: The ‘DEBris In orbit Evaluator’ is designed to be a standard in-situ space debris and micrometeoroid monitoring instrument. It has successfully performed data acquisition during the week though the occurrence of empty science packets after a certain amount of time caused by a sensor unit error continues. However the typical duration during which it generates valid science packets had increased. The instrument is being power cycled when required in order to overcome this situation. Troubleshooting of this issue is ongoing.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It continues to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle cargo bay. It is currently inactive due to completion of the first part of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. There is currently no image acquisition taking place.
  • EXPOSE-E: This series of exobiology experiments is continuing to acquire scientific data.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. A period of science acquisition, which started on 25 March, finished on 29 March. A new period of science acquisition was started on 1 April.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire scientific data. On 31 March the acquisition parameters of the instrument were modified. Data from this experiment will help to evaluate the effects of open space on materials being considered for future use on spacecraft in low Earth orbit.
  • PLEGPAY: The PLasma Electron Gun PAYload is the study of the interactions between spacecraft and the space environment in low earth orbit, with reference to electrostatic charging and discharging. PLEGPAY is currently shut down and ground teams are still analysing the outcome of the full memory dump in connection with deletion of Experiment 1.
  • TRIBOLAB: Tribolab is currently not acquiring scientific data. Troubleshooting activities continue on the experiment’s shaft driver motor. This series of experiments covers research in tribology, i.e. the research of friction in mechanisms and lubrication thereof under long-term open space conditions.

The SOLAR facility has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. On 28 March the platform was put in safing and recovery mode due to Soyuz TMA-14 docking, and it was put back in Sun Pointing Mode afterwards. The Sun observation window, which opened on 23 March, ended on 2 April. The platform is now in survival mode until the next Sun visibility window opens again in April. Both SOLACES and SOLSPEC instruments were acquiring science until the end of the Sun Visibility Window.

The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range during a 2-year timeframe on-orbit. A study for on-orbit lifetime extension is being initiated on request of the science team to gather more data in a period of higher solar activity.

MISSE-6A and -6B
The US materials exposure experiment is receiving power from Columbus and the experiments are continuing as planned. The Materials on the ISS Experiment (MISSE) is a US multi-investigator experiment provided by NASA but located on the outside of the Columbus laboratory. The two large MISSE-6 trays will be returned to Earth in the frame of the 17A Shuttle flight in August 2009. The experiment will evaluate the effect of the space environment on a large variety of exposed materials.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

During the week, ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov packed relevant hardware of the Matroshka experiment for return to earth in Soyuz TMA-14 on 8 April. 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 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters. JAXA have already confirmed the technical accommodation feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/tri-lateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged for another experiment run until mid 2010. After that in the long-term Matroshka may be accommodated again on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit which are of relevance for EVA activities.

GTS-2 (Global Transmission Service)
The instrument is functioning well after its reactivation on 15 January following a short period of inactivity whilst awaiting prolongation of its operational agreement. The Global Transmission Service (GTS) had been continuously on since early 2008. This experiment is intended to test the receiving conditions of a time and data signal for dedicated receivers on the ground. The time signal distributed by the GTS has special coding to allow the receiver to determine the local time anywhere on the Earth without user intervention. The main scientific objectives of the experiment are to verify under real space operation conditions: The performance and accuracy of a time signal transmitted to the Earth’s surface from low Earth orbit; the signal quality and data rates achieved on the ground; measurement of disturbing effects such as Doppler shifts, multi-path reflections, shadowing and elevation impacts.

Kubik Incubator - Polca and Gravigen
The Kubik incubator was set up by Yuri Lonchakov on 2 April and the temperature set to 22 deg C. The Gravigen and Polca experiments will be installed in the Kubik incubator on 4 April. Samples are planned to be returned with Soyuz TMA-13 on flight 17S on 8 April. The Gravigen experiment will investigate the effect of weightlessness on gene expression in rapeseed plants (Brassica napus). The Polca experiment will investigate the effect of weightlessness on the distribution of calcium in the statocytes (gravity-sensing cells in plant root tips) of rapeseed plant roots.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

The Expose-R facility, which was installed outside the Zvezda Service Module during the Russian-based spacewalk on 10 March, is functioning well. Expose-R is a suite of nine new astrobiology experiments (eight from ESA, one from IBMP, Moscow), some of which could help understand how life originated on Earth. This suite of experiments was transported to the International Space Station on Progress flight 31P, which docked with the ISS on 30 November. The experiments are accommodated in three special sample trays, which are loaded with a variety of biological samples including plant seeds and spores of bacteria, fungi and ferns, which will be exposed to the harsh space environment (Solar UV, cosmic radiation, vacuum), during the upcoming spacewalk, for about one and a half years.

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


  • AMINO: Photochemical processing of amino acids and other organic compounds in Earth orbit
  • ENDO: Response of endolithic organisms to space conditions
  • OSMO: Exposure of osmophilic microbes to the space environment
  • SPORES: Spores in artificial meteorites
  • PHOTO: Measurements of vacuum and solar radiation-induced DNA damages within spores
  • SUBTIL: Mutational spectra of Bacillus subtilis spores and plasmid DNA exposed to high vacuum and solar UV radiation in the space environment.
  • PUR: Responses of Phage T7, Phage DNA and polycrystalline uracil to the space environment.
  • ORGANIC: Evolution of organic matter in space.
  • IMBP: Exposure of resting stages of terrestrial organisms to space conditions.

Expose-R complements the exobiology science package that is performed in Expose-E, a twin facility which has been in operation on EuTEF outside of Columbus since February 2008.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. Highlights include:

  • Columbus Data Management System
    On 1 April, JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata worked on the Columbus Data Management System, installing and activating Portable Work Station 2. Hereafter Wakata deactivated both Portable Work Stations 1 and 2 and configured the Portable Work Station software.


  • Human Research Facility 1
    During the week Wakata finished the week-long NASA Sleep experiment, which he had started on 26 March, using the laptop of the Human Research Facilty 1. Human Research Facility 1 was activated on 2 April for downlinking the data.


  • Human Research Facility 2
    Human Research Facility 2 in Columbus was also activated during the week in support of NASA’s Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Control on Return from the ISS experiment and Nutrition experiment.

Regular maintenance activities are planned during the current 15A stage. Planning and preparation for activities in this and subsequent stages is currently ongoing. Some Columbus system equipment, which has undergone maintenance during the past weeks, was downloaded on Discovery as part of the STS-119 mission.

ISS general system information and activities *

Soyuz TMA-14 docking
Soyuz TMA-14 docked successfully with the ISS at the Service Module aft port on 28 March at 14:05 (CET) bringing ISS Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos), ISS Expedition 19 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt (NASA) and spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi to the ISS. Padalka flew the Soyuz under manual control for the final approach due to an irregularity in the Kurs automatic rendezvous and docking system within the final 200m. Simonyi will return to earth on 8 April with NASA astronaut and Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Roscosmos cosmonaut and Expedition 18 Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov.

Soyuz TMA-13 post-docking activities
Video of the docking was downlinked by Mike Fincke and the 1 hour interface leak check between the Soyuz and the ISS was carried out by Roscosmos cosmonauts Yuri Lonchakov and Gennady Padalka. On completion the hatches were opened and the usual crew greeting took place. Quick disconnect clamps were installed at the interface between the Soyuz and the ISS to further stabilise the connection and intermodule air ducting was set up inside the Soyuz spacecraft. Wakata’s Soyuz seat liner (in the Soyuz TMA-13) and Simonyi’s Soyuz seat liner (in the Soyuz TMA-14) were swapped over along with their Sokol spacesuits. This is because Wakata will remain on the Station while Simonyi will return with Fincke and Lonchakov on the Soyuz TMA-13 on 8 April.

Lonchakov and Padalka installed a local temperature sensor switch of the BITS2-12 onboard telemetry system in the Soyuz TMA-14 on 29 March. Padalka also dismantled two television cameras and associated lighting units in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-14 for return on Soyuz TMA-13.

STS-119/15A Shuttle landing
Shuttle Discovery landed at Kennedy Space Center on 28 March at 20:14 (CET) bringing the STS-119/15A mission to its conclusion. This followed the first landing opportunity being postponed due to wind conditions.

ISS crew return preparations

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    During the week Lonchakov carried out medical operation procedures whilst wearing the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit in preparation for his return to gravity on 8 April, assisted by Mike Fincke and supported by ground specialists. 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.


  • Soyuz motion control check-out/descent drill
    On 3 April Lonchakov and Fincke spent an hour in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft supporting ground controllers with a checkout of the Soyuz motion control system. This included a test of the pilot’s hand controller, and firing of the DPO braking thrusters. They were also joined in the Descent Module by space flight participant Charles Simonyi to carry out a three-hour Soyuz descent drill, a standard training exercise for every crew returning on a Soyuz. The training used a Descent Simulator application on a Russian laptop.


  • Soyuz undocking/landing changes
    Soggy ground conditions at the northern landing site in Kazakhstan have caused a shift in undocking time of the Soyuz TMA-13 in line with a landing at the southern site.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week activities were carried out 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. 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. The Water Processor Assembly was also flushed during the week.

HTV GPS testing
On 30 March Fincke supported the Space Station Integration and Promotion Center in Tsukuba, Japan with successful GPS testing for the docking of the first Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle due for launch later this year. Fincke turned on two power switches in one of the racks in the Japanese Kibo laboratory, which contains the hardware necessary for proximity operations with the HTV. These were switched off the following day.

CEVIS cycle rrgometer
Fincke, Barratt and Wakata installed a new control panel on the CEVIS cycle ergometer on 29 March. The control panel, which was delivered on the STS-119/15A flight, should restore CEVIS to normal operations.

MELFI sample handling activities
Wakata carried out activities this week preparing the European-developed Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) for future samples by inserting several ICEPAC capsules into the MELFI freezer drawers. These ICEPACs allow for samples to be returned to Earth on the Space Shuttle with the samples inside still frozen.

Fluids and Combustion Facility
On 30 March, Fincke, Wakata and Barratt removed alignment guides on the Fluids and Combustion Facility to allow activation of the Passive Rack Isolation System before operations begin on the Fluids and Combustion Facility. Fincke re-installed the alignment guides the following day. The Fluids and Combustion Facility is located in the Combustion Integrated Rack.

Service Module satellite navigation
On 30 March, navigation electronics modules were removed from behind one of the Service Module panels. These modules form part of the ASN-M satellite navigation system, which is Russia’s equivalent of the U.S. GPS system.

Quest Airlock activities
During the week Mike Fincke spent time regenerating expended Metal Oxide canisters that had been used for CO2 removal from the US Extravehicular Mobility Units during the STS-119/15A spacewalks.

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
Barratt carried out installation procedures on the load adjustment unit of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) on 3 April to prevent the load from going below zero and rotating upwards.

The Microgravity Experiment Research Locker Incubator II (MERLIN) used for cold storage of crew food and drink was powered off during the week in connection with a fire warning it produced. Initial data suggests a sensor malfunction as there were no signs of smoke detected. Ground teams are working on a troubleshooting plan.

Japanese Remote Manipulator System
Wakata spent several hours in the Kibo laboratory on 31 March performing his first movements with the laboratory’s robotic arm using the robotics laptop. He was supported in this activity by Mike Fincke.

Change-of-command ceremony
The official Change-of-Command ceremony between the Expedition 18 and 19 crews took place on 2 April.

(*)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 ESA's Human Spaceflight Coordination Office.

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