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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

9 January 2009

This is ISS status report No. 23 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
Successful ground commanding of Biolab’s Handling Mechanism on 5 January allowed for the Biolab facility to undergo crew related troubleshooting activities. On 9 January the crew removed a blocked triple-contained fixation syringe, which had been stuck in the Handling Mechanism’s grip mechanism and also inserted an Automatic Ambient Stowage container into Biolab.

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 Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (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 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 spring 2009. The eight experiment containers are already inserted into Biolab

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
A second downlink of data for run #9 of the Geoflow experiment was carried out on 6 January and data merging of the data received was being carried out on ground. Science run #10, which was deferred until 9 January was stopped mid-run due to an unexpected temperature gradient in the Geoflow Experiment Container inside the Fluid Science Laboratory. This is currently being looked into

The exhaustive Geoflow science programme of more than 100 runs of the experiment will continue throughout Increments 18, 19 into Increment 20, up to the tentative return of the experiment unit on the Shuttle flight 17A in August 2009. The ground infrastructure at the MARS User Support and Operations Centre will also be upgraded to support future science acquisition of the Geoflow experiment.

The Geoflow experiment investigates the flow of a viscous incompressible fluid between two concentric spheres rotating around a common axis under the influence of a simulated central force field. This is of importance for astrophysical and geophysical problems, such as global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
A smoke detector test was successfully carried out in the European Drawer Rack on 7 January. This facility houses 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 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 on 12 February 2009. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 subsequent crystallisation cycles. The final set of organic protein macromolecules will be returned to Earth for detailed lab analysis.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
Final calibration of the Multi-Electrode Electroencephalogram Measurement Module (MEEMM) 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 from 3 until 6 January. This instrument alternates experiment runs with the FIPEX instrument, though a software update will soon be uploaded to allow the two experiments to carry out simultaneous experiment runs.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It continues to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle cargo bay. It is currently inactive due to completion of the first part of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. The Earth Viewing Camera had produced good images in the previous week but the temperatures are currently too cold for it to be activated.
  • EXPOSE-E: This series of exobiology experiments is continuing to acquire scientific data.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. This instrument alternates experiment runs with the DEBIE-2 instrument, though a software update will soon be uploaded to allow the two experiments to carry out simultaneous experiment runs.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire continuous scientific data. Data from this experiment will help to evaluate the effects of open space on materials being considered for future use on spacecraft in low earth orbit.
  • PLEGPAY: The PLasma Electron Gun PAYload is the study of the interactions between spacecraft and the space environment in low earth orbit, with reference to electrostatic charging and discharging. PLEGPAY was activated and Experiment 1 was deleted on 30 October in resolution of the latest ISS safety concerns. Ground teams are now analysing the outcome of the full memory dump of the PLEGPAY instrument that was performed. PLEGPAY is currently shut down.
  • TRIBOLAB: This series of experiments covers research in tribology, i.e. the research of friction in mechanisms and lubrication thereof under long-term open space conditions. The Ball Bearing experiment number 4 had been ongoing, though it is currently in thermal stabilisation mode to resolve an issue with the experiment shaft motor.

Due to a change in ISS attitude the latest Sun observation window for the SOLAR facility could be extended by 24h until 8 January. SOLAR is now in idle mode as are its SOLACES and SOLSPEC instruments, which were in Sun observation mode and acquiring data until 8 January. The SOVIM instrument is currently non-operational waiting for analysis of troubleshooting. The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range during a 2-year timeframe on-orbit.

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

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

This long-term experiment is continuing to monitor radiation measurements in different locations on the ISS, currently in Zvezda.

The Matroshka hardware is located in the Pirs Docking Compartment. In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be tentatively relocated during Increment 18 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory (pending some technical feasibility assessments conclusion and agreements with JAXA) and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters. In the long-term Matroshka may be accommodated again on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels which are of relevance for EVA activities.

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

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

The Expose-R facility is currently stowed inside the Russian segment of the Space Station following the power interface problems that deferred its installation/activation outside the Russian segment of the ISS during the 23 December EVA. This failure is probably due to unconnected cables inside the Zvezda Service Module. Recovery options and consultation with the science team about science impacts due to the external installation deferral are in progress and a decision is expected within January of how to proceed. A second EVA in early February has been indicated by the Russian specialists. Expose-R is a suite of nine new astrobiology experiments (eight from ESA, one from IBMP, Moscow), some of which could help understand how life originated on Earth. This suite of experiments was transported to the International Space Station on Progress flight 31P, which docked with the ISS on 30 November. The experiments are accommodated in three special sample trays, which are loaded with a variety of biological samples including plant seeds and spores of bacteria, fungi and ferns, which will be exposed to the harsh space environment (Solar UV, cosmic radiation, vacuum), during the upcoming spacewalk, for about one and a half years.

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


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

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

European education activities on the ISS

Video Lesson ESA-1 filming
On 9 January ISS Flight Engineer Sandy Magnus again filmed ISS Commander Mike Fincke presenting a number of scripted scenes for the Video Lesson ESA-1 (VLE-1) programme 'An ordinary meal'. The theme of the various scenes was 'A Celebration Meal' undertaken in the Service Module, Node 1 and the European-built Node-2. The scenes, highlight the importance of communal and celebratory eating, particularly in space where it provides a key opportunity for communication between crew members. It also describes ISS food and the differences between American and Russian food. The clips are intended to provide 16-18 years old European students with selected aspects of life on board the ISS, focusing on the social and cultural value of food and the research on plant growing in a weightless environment.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have worked extremely well. During the week ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus replaced an inter-modular fan of the Environmental Control and Life Support System in Columbus. 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 in February 2009. Planning and preparation for the next stage of activities is currently ongoing.

The so-called Stage Operations Readiness Review for the upcoming Shuttle flight STS-119 (15A) is planned for mid-January. This review will assess the readiness of all planned activities during and after the flight STS-119.

ISS general system information and activities *

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week NASA astronauts Mike Fincke (ISS Commander) and Sandra Magnus (ISS Flight Engineer) 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.

  • Urine Processing Assembly/Total Organic Carbon Analyzer
    Sandra Magnus has been supporting ground crews this week in order to bring the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer and Urine Processor Assembly back into service. Magnus updated a configuration file of the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer so that its valves could be manually controlled to permit nitrogen flow through its gas loop in order to dry it out. Moisture in the gas loop is thought to be responsible for higher pressure in the loop leading to repeated shutdowns. Following all necessary activities Mike Fincke started troubleshooting activities on the Distillation Assembly of the Water Recovery System.


  • Water Recovery System sampling
    Microbiology analysis was carried out on 4 January of samples taken from the Water Recovery System on two days earlier using a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. The samples were drawn from the Water Recovery System’s Potable Water Dispenser and warm taps. On 6 December samples from the Potable Water Dispenser were found to have bacteria growing. This is thought to be due to the water being stagnant and not used. The crew are now performing daily flushes of the Potable Water Dispenser with 100 ml of deionized water.

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device
Procedures are still being put together to bring the new Advanced Resistive Exercise Device into service.

US laboratory Combustion Integrated Rack outfitting
Fincke and Magnus spent an extensive amount of time during the week installing and outfitting the Combustion Integrated Rack of the Fluids and Combustions Facility in the US Destiny laboratory. This included the installation of a Rack Isolation System, removal of launch bolts, mating umbilicals, removing spacer plates, installing chamber windows and optics bench components and installing input/output processor hard drives. The Combustion Integrated Rack allows different experiment packages within the combustion chamber to be removed, replaced or upgraded. On 8 January the crew supported ground teams to verify that the rack is structurally secured. In connection with the Combustion Integrated Rack outfitting the Cycle Ergometer in the US laboratory was first de-installed and removed and subsequently re-installed on 6 January.

Service Module Water Distribution and Heating Unit
ISS Flight Engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov worked on the Water Distribution and Heating Unit in the Zvezda Service Module, removing its two pumps, which were kept as spares. The control units and other parts of the Water Distribution and Heating Unit were put into disposal.

Progress 31P unloading activities
On 8 January Yuri Lonchakov completed a transfer a total of 140 litres of water from Progress 31P water tanks to the Zvezda Service Module.

(*)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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