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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

13 February 2009

This is ISS status report No. 28 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 10 February, the bellow test of Biolab’s centrifuge A was successfully performed. The bellow test for centrifuge B was interrupted, however, as one of the experiment containers for the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment could not be properly engaged on the centrifuge, making alignment impossible. The activity will be rescheduled in the future with crew assistance. A microscope optical target test for Biolab was also successfully completed, which concludes another commissioning step.

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 May 2009.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Geoflow scientific activities are currently on hold due to unexpected temperatures in the Geoflow Experiment Container during science run#10 on 9 January. 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. On 13 February, the internal accelerometers of the Fluid Science Laboratory were used for taking vibrational data during docking of the Progress 32P spacecraft.

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

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
European Drawer Rack parameters were set on 9 February in preparation for the start of experimentation with the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility. The European Drawer Rack is an experiment facility housing the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility, which is an advanced ISS research payload for the investigation of problems of protein crystallisation in space. Its very sophisticated in-situ optical experiment diagnostics equipment will allow for precise in-situ monitoring of the organic protein crystals’ growth conditions.

After successful completion of the exhaustive science preparation programme on ground, the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility has been delivered for launch by the Belgian User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels after filling of the solution growth reactors with a variety of different protein solutions. This Processing Unit will be flown in active mode (for continuous thermal conditioning of samples) to the ISS in the Shuttle middeck on the upcoming flight 15A, which is due for launch no earlier than 27 February 2009. Currently a new set of crystallisation reactors is being filled in order to get eventually exchanged against the initial set due to aging risks prior to the Shuttle launch. The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 subsequent crystallisation cycles. The final set of organic protein macromolecules will be returned to Earth on the subsequent Shuttle flight 2J/A for detailed analysis in various European science labs.

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
On 9 February the Portable Clinical Blood Analyser software was successfully updated on the European Physiology Modules laptop by ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus, for use within the SOLO experiment. The following day she carried out another software upgrade on the laptop. This was completed successfully though some ground activity is still necessary to complete file transfer on the laptop.

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. 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
The current run of the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment was completed during the week. ISS Commander Mike Fincke performed his first session of the experiment, undertaking a special low-salt diet from 7 to 11 February. The SOLO experiment is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. On day 4 of the diet, the US Human Research Facility 1 was activated in Columbus and body mass measurements were taken using the SLAMM-D equipment. Results were a little higher than expected though this slight discrepancy is thought to be due to the equipment, as the situation was also seen with the previous test subject.

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. Fincke also started 24h urine collection. On 12 February body mass measurements were taken with the Russian body mass measurement device as the there was a problem with the SLAMM-D device. Samples have been stowed in MELFI for return to Earth on a future flight. Fincke will now carry out a subsequent run of the SOLO experiment using a higher salt content diet for comparative purposes. 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. It was launched to the ISS in order to become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts and serving human physiology investigations in the area of advanced crew countermeasures.

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

European Modular Cultivation System
No experiment activities were carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) this week, though on 7 February water pump servicing was carried out on EXPRESS rack 3 in which the EMCS is located. This space biology facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and has been operated for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA. The on-orbit maintenance performed during Increment 18 is in anticipation of the Genara experiment during Expedition 19/20. Genara is the next ESA experiment that will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth activity at a molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
No experiment activities were carried out using the Microgravity Science Glovebox during the 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 had been performing continuous experiment runs though is currently not acquiring scientific data, as it is experiencing sensor unit problems and science data loss. This is being looked into.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It continues to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle cargo bay. It is currently inactive due to completion of the first part of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. It carried out successful image acquisition sessions towards the end of the 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 11 February. This experiment run is due to finish on 15 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 following the experiment switching a couple of times into non-nominal mode after activation. On 11 Feb the experiment was placed temporarily in thermal stabilisation mode. Two days later the experiment was put into standby mode to support the docking of Progress 32P. Integrity checks were carried out on the motor shaft and a successful test at a low rotational speed was followed by an unsuccessful test at a higher speed. 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 on 19 February. The SOVIM instrument is now permanently non-operational after a power unit breakdown, though the instrument had already produced excellent data in combination with the other 2 spectrometers SolACES and SolSPEC. 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.

In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be tentatively relocated during Increment 18 to the Japanese Kibo laboratory and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters. JAXA reported positively about the technical feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/tri-lateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged. In the long-term Matroshka may be accommodated again on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit which are of relevance for EVA activities.

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

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

The Expose-R facility is currently stowed inside the Russian segment of the Space Station following the power interface problems that deferred its installation/activation outside the Russian segment of the ISS during the 23 December EVA. This failure was due to previously disconnected power cables inside the Zvezda Service Module. Recovery options and consultation with the science team about science impacts due to the external installation deferral are in progress and a decision is expected soon of how to proceed. In connection with this the next Russian EVA, which will install Expose-R on the Russian segment of the ISS will not be carried out before mid March 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.

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above the Columbus systems have been working well. Regular maintenance activities are planned and ongoing during the ULF-2 stage, which is the time period following the undocking of Shuttle flight ULF-2 until the next Shuttle flight, which is due for launch no earlier than 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 *

Progress M-01M/31P deorbit
The Progress M-01M/31P spacecraft, which undocked from the ISS on 6 February (CET), carried out a successful destructive deorbit into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific on 9 February. Following a retroburn to bring the spacecraft on the correct trajectory, the spacecraft disintegrated coming through Earth’s atmosphere with the remnants of the disintegrated vehicle falling into a completely uninhabited area of the Pacific Ocean at about 09:20 (CET).

Progress M-66/32P activities


  • Progress M-66/32P launch and docking preparations
    On 9 February NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Mike Fincke and Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov completed a 3-hour training course on the TORU system in preparation for docking of the Progress M-66/32P spacecraft. This system provides a manual backup to the automated KURS rendezvous and docking system should it fail. The training course included a review of procedures, and simulating rendezvous, a Station fly-around, final approach, docking and non-standard situations such as video or communications loss. On 11 February they configured and tested a TV downlink that will transfer video footage to ground from the Russian segment of the ISS in mpeg 2 format.


  • Progress M-66/32P launch and docking
    The Progress M-66 spacecraft was launched on flight 32P to the ISS on 10 February from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Following its orbital flight to the ISS, the Progress spacecraft docked successfully with the nadir port of the Pirs Docking Compartment on 13 February under automatic control using the KURS docking system. After hook closure, Zvezda assumed attitude control of the ISS (from its free drift status for docking) and manoeuvred the ISS to its standard orbital flight orientation. US attitude control of the ISS then took over from Zvezda at 9:30.


  • Progress post-docking activities
    Following docking on 13 February Fincke and Lonchakov shut down the TORU backup rendezvous and Docking system and reconfigured the STTS telephone/telegraph system to normal operations. They carried out the standard 1-hour leak check on the area between the Progress/Docking Compartment’s hatches and on the fuel/oxidizer transfer lines and then opened the hatches. Quick release clamps were then installed to strengthen the connection between the Progress spacecraft and the Pirs Docking Compartment. After performing air sampling inside the Progress and installing ventilation ducting, the docking mechanism from the Progress spacecraft to Pirs was dismantled and the Progress was configured to be commanded by Zvezda.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus carried out activities with the new Water Recovery System, which forms part of the Regenerative ECLSS, needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew in 2009. On 7 February Mike Fincke carried out microbiology analysis of water samples taken two days previously. On 9 February he drew additional water samples from the Water Recovery System’s Potable Water Dispenser, which had previously tested positive for bacterial growth. Microbiology analysis of the samples was carried out using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. These samples went through similar sampling two days later. On 13 February additional sample testing was carried out using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer.

Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly
On 7 February Commander Mike Fincke supported the ground in deactivating the US Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, since the Russian Vozdukh CO2 scrubber was back in service following the replacement of its vacuum pump. On 9 February monitored atmospheric levels were at their CO2 limit. On 12 February, since the limits had been exceeded, indicating degraded performance of the Vozdukh scrubber, the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly was again reactivated, and together with the Vozdukh scrubber were running two half-cycles a day. Also if necessary, Lithium Hydroxide candles are available, for CO2 removal.

Elektron O2 generator (copy previous report)
On 9 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.

Common Gas Support Equipment
On 9 February Mike Fincke stowed the Common Gas Support Equipment Valve Unit for return on Flight 15A. This had been removed on 20 January as part of Common Gas Support Equipment troubleshooting measures in the Japanese Kibo Laboratory.

STS-119/15A spacewalk preparations
Fincke and Magnus carried on with preparations for the 15A EVAs in the US Airlock on 12 February. Three Pistol Grip Tools were checked out and configured by Mike Fincke, and Magnus configured two EVA tools: an adjustable fuse tether, aka “Fish Stringer”, and a Right Angle Drive.

Service Module toilet
On 11 February Lonchakov carried out major periodic maintenance on the Service Module toilet facility, replacing parts, such as a sensor unit, two receptacles, four hoses, a T-connector, an elbow fitting, an indicator, a filter insert, and the pre-treat container with its hose

Express Rack 6
Magnus carried troubleshooting activities on the EXPRESS Rack 6 Laptop Computer in the US Destiny Laboratory on 9 February. She verified proper connections, settings and functionality of its Wake On LAN function, which had never worked before onboard.

(*)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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