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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

20 February 2009

This is ISS status report No. 29 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 17 February, ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus carried out verification of the alignment of the experiment containers on centrifuge B. She released all the locking levers on the centrifuge and re-engaged them, even though the containers seemed correctly engaged from a visual inspection. At least one of the six levers had been indicating ‘not closed’ on telemetry data. Testing to verify correct functionality of centrifuge B is currently planned for 25 February. A picture of the BIOS screen of the Biolab laptop was also taken so that ground teams can troubleshoot boot-up problems that the laptop is experiencing

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 in May 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
The Geoflow Experiment Container was removed from the Fluid Science Laboratory on 18 February by ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus. This was originally scheduled for 4 February. Afterwards Magnus installed locking bolts in the Facility Core Element, which houses the Geoflow container, to protect it from any vibrations from such activities as Station reboost and spacecraft docking/undocking. She also installed a video bypass connector on the Fluid Science Laboratory.

Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of data, are currently on hold due to unexpected temperatures in the Geoflow Experiment Container during science run#10 on 9 January. The Geoflow Experiment Container is currently stowed for return to ground in order to carry out detailed failure analysis and repair. Initial analysis of the problem, suggests that some SF6 isolation gas inside the Experiment Container 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.

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
Sandra Magnus changed the stowage configuration of the European Drawer Rack to enable access for installation of the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is due for launch no earlier than 27 February 2009 on the upcoming flight 15A. A new set of solution growth reactors, is being prepared by the Belgian User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels, for shipment to the Kennedy Space Center next week. These growth reactors filled with a variety of different protein solutions will replace the growth reactors currently in the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is currently awaiting launch at Kennedy. The swap is necessary due to the aging risk of the protein samples in connection with the slightly delayed Shuttle launch. The Processing Unit will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck.

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 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.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
No operations were carried out with the European Physiology Modules facility this week. NeuroSpat will be the first experiment to 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
ISS Commander Mike Fincke carried out the second diet session of the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment from 15-19 February, this time undertaking a higher salt content diet. The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. On days 4 and 6 of this experiment run, mass measurements were performed successfully using the SLAMM-D device of US Human Research Facility 1 in Columbus and also from the Russian mass measurement system.

On the final day of the diet, blood operations were performed, drawing samples and using the Portable Clinical Blood Analyzer cartridges, which were retrieved from the European-developed MELFI freezer the previous day. Blood samples were centrifuged in Human Research Facility 1 in Columbus. Fincke also started 24h urine collection. Samples have been stowed in MELFI for return to Earth on a future flight. The SOLO experiment also uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility.

3D-Space experiment
The next experiment run of 3D Space is still planned during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight STS-119/15A by the JAXA increment astronaut as the second human test subject. 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 during the ongoing Increment 18 after Shuttle flight 15A in February 2009. This activation may also be anticipated in case the Shuttle launch should be significantly delayed. The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS with Columbuis 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 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
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was activated during the week 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 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 performed some data acquisition during the week though the science team has been working on troubleshooting activities to resolve the science data loss problem caused by a sensor unit error. To this end, thresholds limits are being changed. Troubleshooting activities are 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. No pictures were acquired 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 started a period of science acquisition on 18 February.
  • 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 still analysing the outcome of the full memory dump of the PLEGPAY instrument that was performed. PLEGPAY is currently shut down.
  • TRIBOLAB: No science acquisition for the Ball Bearing Experiment was carried out this week and troubleshooting activities continue on the experiments shaft driver motor. The instrument is currently switched off. 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 next week. The SOLAR instruments have so far produced excellent scientific data. 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

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 have already 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. The next Russian EVA, which will install Expose-R on the Russian segment of the ISS will not be carried out before mid March but at the latest in June. Meanwhile the Expose-R unit with the integrated experiments stays safely stored under controlled conditions inside ISS.

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.

Video Lesson ESA 1
On 18 February, Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus carried out the fourth session of Video Lesson ESA 1, recording items concerning eating, sleeping and working areas on the ISS onto a video cassette.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have been working well. A damaged cable of the SLAMMD mass measurement device, which is currently being used in the European SOLO experiment, was replaced during the week. SLAMMD is located in the US Human Research Facility 1 in Columbus.

Regular maintenance activities are 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 27 February 2009. Planning and preparation for the next stage of activities is currently ongoing. Some Columbus system equipment, which has undergone maintenance during the past weeks, is awaiting download on the next Shuttle flight.

ISS general system information and activities *

Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) hardware check-out
On 16 February Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov unstowed ATV proximity communications and control equipment used during ATV rendezvous and docking procedures. The following day he installed the ATV control panel and hand controller and made relevant connections with the onboard telemetry system for ground control. Extensive testing of the proximity communications and control equipment was carried out on 18 February.

Russian Hatch leak check
A two-hour leak check was performed on the hatch between the Service Module Transfer Compartment and the Transfer Vestibule to the Pirs Docking Compartment on 18 February. The pressure equalisation valve was the focus of the exercise as this experienced high negative pressure during the Russian spacewalk in December. This proved to be working correctly. A similar leak check on the hatch lasting four hours was performed the following day.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
As in previous weeks, microbiology analysis was undertaken of samples taken from 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.

Volatile Organic Analyzer
On 16 February NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke carried out troubleshooting activities on the Volatile Organic Analyzer in the US Destiny laboratory. It has been unable to start this equipment since 17 December. After replacing the hard disk and checking various replaceable items, ground controllers notice a free-floating Inlet Nozzle Filter, which was subsequently replaced by Fincke. The Volatile Organic Analyzer, which is part of the Environmental Health System is now back up and running.

Elektron O2 generator
On 17 February Lonchakov continued with extended 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. Lonchakov also carried out similar activities on the currently in use liquid unit after the Elektron unit was powered down.

Fluids and Combustion Facility
On 20 February NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus carried out maintenance activities on the Fluids and Combustion Facility, which is located in the Combustion Integrated Rack of the Destiny laboratory. This included tightening nuts on the fuel reservoir of the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus and configuring valves.

Internal Thermal Control System
The crew collected samples from the Internal Thermal Control System in the European-developed Node 2 and the US Destiny laboratory on 19 February. These will be returned to ground for analysis. A test strip sample was also conducted, which indicated that coolant contamination remains within specifications.

Personal Digital Assistant-Bar Code Reader test
Yuri Lonchakov evaluated the wireless network capabilities of the Personal Digital Assistant-Bar Code Reader in the newly arrived Progress 32P on 16 February. The Bar Code Reader is used for updating the ISS Inventory Management System.

Component repair familiarisation
Sandra Magnus and Mike Fincke went through a Component Repair Equipment training video and material on 18 February for familiarisation purposes. The objective of this is to determine the feasibility of replacing items on orbit at the smallest basic level, i.e. not having to replace a whole unit, and thus reduce the amount of volume transported on space exploration missions for purely maintenance purposes. The following day Fincke carried out tests in relation to this exercise: removing, cleaning and replacing electronic test components as well as carrying out soldering activities, which included an integrated circuit chip. Fincke continued with these exercises on 20 February.

Progress M-66/32P activities
Unloading activities of Progress 32P, which docked with the ISS on 13 February, were carried out during the week.

Flight Readiness Review
A Flight Readiness Review for the launch of STS-119/Discovery took place on 20 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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