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

27 March 2009

This is ISS status report No. 34 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 transferred to Shuttle 15A for return to Earth. On 25 March vibration measurements were taken from sensors in the Fluid Science Laboratory during the STS-119 Shuttle undocking. Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of excellent scientific data, are currently on hold awaiting download, repair and upload of the Geoflow Experiment Container.

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. Minor glitches were encountered during the check-out though they were resolved. The low signals received from the Dynamic Light Scattering diagnostic were resolved by re-installing an optical fibre cable between the Electronics Unit and the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility. Science commissioning has been completed and the first science run started on 24 March. This run will last just over a week.

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 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 were 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 23 March ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata set up and successfully performed his first session of the 3D-Space experiment. Wakata is the second human test subject for the experiment. The experiment was interrupted about 2 hours after set-up as Wakata had to support the robotic arm activities during the third spacewalk of the STS-119 mission, though this interruption had no impact on the science objectives of the experiment.

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 Shuttle flight 15A and Soyuz 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 has 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. On 21 March lids were successfully re-opened via ground commanding.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. A new period of science acquisition started on 25 March.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire scientific data. On 24 March commanding was performed to modify the acquisition parameters of the instrument. 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. A new Sun observation window opened on 23 March and it is expected to end on 2 April. Calibration was performed on the SOLACES instrument during the week. On 25 March the platform was put in safing and recovery mode due to Shuttle 15A undocking, and it was put back in Sun Pointing Mode afterwards. Both SOLACES and SOLSPEC instruments are now acquiring 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. 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

This long-term experiment is continuing to monitor radiation measurements in the Russian Zarya module. The instrument is inactive for the time being.

The memory card and the 298 thermo-luminescent detectors removed from the Matroshka Phantom on 18 March were awaiting return to Earth. 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 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
On 26 March two plant biology experiments (Polca and Gravigen) were launched with Soyuz TMA-14 on flight 18S to the ISS. The ground reference experiment containers were installed on 27 March. 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. These experiments will be processed on the ISS in the Kubik incubator between 3 - 6 April with samples being returned with Soyuz TMA-13 (17S) on 7 April.

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.

Additional European science

Daily MOP questionnaires have been filled in by four of the STS-119 crew during the week until the experiment was completed on 22 March. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. After the flight on ground a reference test in a centrifuge will also be performed. The objective of this experiment is to obtain an insight into this process and could help in developing countermeasures to space motion sickness.

Daily Muscle questionnaires have been filled in by two of the STS-119 crew during the week until the experiment was completed on 26 March. The execution of this experiment by different human test subjects enhances the statistics of the ongoing series. The objective of this experiment is to assess the occurrence and characteristics of back pain in weightlessness. The results will be correlated to data related to back pain and atrophy obtained in ground-based studies. It is thought that the deep muscle corset atrophies during spaceflight leading to strain and hence pain in certain ligaments, in particular in the iliolumbar region in the back. The deep muscle corset plays an important role in posture when in the upright position.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. On 26 March, JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata started the week-long NASA SLEEP experiment, using the laptop of the Human Research Facilty 1 in Columbus. He also used a digital still camera to take documentary photos of the Gas Delivery System of the Human Research Facility 2 in Columbus. 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, is being downloaded on Discovery as part of the STS-119 mission.

ISS general system information and activities *

STS-119 spacewalk 2
On 21 March, after Steven Swanson and Joseph Acaba donned their Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs), standard EVA procedures were followed including full depressurisation of the Crewlock section of the Quest Airlock and standard leak checks. The spacewalkers started the second spacewalk of the 15A mission at 17:51 (CET). This 6h 30 min EVA partially completed its objectives. The first task was to prepare the batteries on the P6 truss segment installed during the first mission spacewalk, loosening two bolts on each battery and installing a gap spanner. The next task to deploy a cargo carrier attachment system on the bottom of the P3 segment was deferred until the following spacewalk due to mechanical interference. The delay in this task also caused the deferral of a deployment of a payload attachment system for use on the top of the S3 truss segment towards the end of the EVA. Other tasks carried out during the spacewalk included installing a GPS antenna on the outside of the Pressurised Logistics Segment of the Japanese Kibo Laboratory, and taking infrared photography/video images of the thermal radiators on the S1 and P1 truss segments. Another task, to swap connectors on the Z1 truss was also deferred as a bail on one of the connectors could not be disengaged. This activity is relates to the ISS attitude control system using Control Moment Gyroscope 2. Following the spacewalkers re-entering the Station, hatch closure and repressurisation, Swanson and Acaba were assisted by Antonelli, Fincke and Wakata in carrying out standard post-EVA activities in the Airlock.

ISS Control Moment Gyroscope Control issue
An unexpected increase in roll rates of the ISS Control Moment Gyroscopes occurred on 22 March during the second STS-119 spacewalk, following handover from Russian thruster control of the ISS orientation to US momentum control. The resulting loss of attitude control was quickly recovered using the Shuttle Vernier thrusters.

STS-119 spacewalk 3

  • Spacewalk preparations
    On 22 March preparations were made for the third spacewalk of the STSA-119 mission including the joint crew EVA procedures review. Following it’s conclusion the spacewalking astronauts (Richard Arnold and Joseph Acaba) began their “campout” in the US Quest Airlock. After closure of the hatch into the Crewlock of Quest and depressurisation of the Crewlock from 14.7 to 10.2 psi, the astronauts carried out a masked prebreathe of pure oxygen to help remove nitrogen from their bloodstreams prior to the EVA starting. The next morning after the usual hygiene break the two astronauts were again sealed into the airlock for EVA preparations.


  • Spacewalk 3
    After Arnold and Acaba donned their Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs), standard EVA procedures were followed including full depressurisation of the Crewlock section of the airlock and standard leak checks. The spacewalkers started the third spacewalk of the 15A mission at 16:37 (CET) on 23 March. This 6h 27 min EVA partially completed its objectives. The first task was to move a Crew and Equipment Translation Aid (CETA) cart from the port-side P1 truss segment to the starboard S1 truss segment to assist with P6 battery replacement during a future STS-127 EVA . Following CETA cart activities other EVA tasks included lubrication of a Latch End Effector of the Station’s Remote Manipulator System (robotic arm), swapping Bus Bolt Controller connectors of the Segment-to-Segment Attachment System, and releasing launch restraints on the S1 truss segments flex hose rotary coupler, which is used as part of the Station’s thermal control systems. The tasks deferred from EVA 2 were again deferred for similar reasons as previously. Following the spacewalkers re-entering the Station, hatch closure and repressurisation, Arnold and Acaba were assisted by Antonelli and Fincke in carrying out standard post-EVA activities in the Airlock.

Robotic arm relocation
On 22 March, Koichi Wakata relocated the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (robotic arm) to the Mobile Transporter, which was hereafter commanded from the ground to move from Worksite 1 to Worksite 4.

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 7 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.


  • Spacesuit check-out
    On 26 March, in preparation for return to Earth, Fincke and Lonchakov unstowed their Sokol spacesuits and checked them out for leaks. They also carried out fit checks of their Kentavr anti-g suits supported by ground specialists


  • Soyuz descent training
    Fincke and Lonchakov carried out Soyuz descent training using a laptop simulator and hand controller on 27 March in preparation for their return in the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft on 7 April. The exercise was supported by ground controllers at the Mission Control Centre in Moscow

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. This included:

  • Urine Processing Assembly
    Following initial issues and replacement of the Recycle Filter Tank Assembly, the Water Processor Assembly with its newly installed Urine Processing Assembly/Distillation Assembly is processing as planned. Although the flow rate into the newer Recycle Filter Tank Assembly, was slightly lower than desired, testing was successful.


  • Sampling
    After the Urine Processor Assembly/Distillation Assembly successfully completed its second operating run the Water Processing Assembly, samples were taken during the week. This followed on from servicing of the Water Recovery System’s Potable Water Dispenser by injecting iodine solution into its microbial filter for overnight soaking. Microbiology analysis of the samples was carried out.

Soyuz/ISS telemetry system installation
On 22 March in the Zvezda Service Module, Lonchakov carried out extensive installation activities of the new Istochnik-M telemetry system, which enables Soyuz telemetry to be received by the ISS. This was checked out and tested by Lonchakov several days later.

Soyuz TMA-14 launch
ISS Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos), ISS Expedition 19 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt (NASA) and spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi were launched in the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on flight 18S to the ISS on 26 March at 12:49 (CET). Following a two-day orbital flight the Soyuz TMA-14 is scheduled to dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on 28 March. Simonyi will return to earth on 7 April with Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Expedition 18 Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov.

STS-119/15A Shuttle undocking
Following the traditional crew farewell, air ducting between the ISS and Shuttle Discovery was removed and the hatches were closed at 18:30 (CET) on 25 March. The standard one-hour leak check on the docking mechanism was then carried out. STS-119 Shuttle Discovery undocked from Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 of the ISS on 25 March at 20:53 (CET). After undocking, the Shuttle carried out a flyaround of the Station to take photo and video imagery of the ISS. NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus replaced JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata as a member of the Shuttle crew for the return leg of the flight. Landing at the Kennedy Space Center is currently scheduled to take place on 28 March.

Space debris
Due to orbital debris from a Chinese CZ-4 rocket launched in 1999, the ISS was manoeuvred into a different orientation on 23 March to create a greater degree of drag and hence maintain a safe relative distance from the orbital debris. After 3 hours the ISS was returned to its original flight orientation.

(*)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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