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

10 April 2009

This is ISS status report No. 36 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 possibly on Shuttle flight 2J/A though with more likely on a later Shuttle flight due to mid-deck capacity constraints.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
Geoflow scientific activities, which have already produced a significant amount of excellent scientific data, are currently on hold awaiting repair and upload of the Geoflow Experiment Container. On 8 April, vibration measurements were taken from sensors in the Fluid Science Laboratory during the Soyuz TMA-13/17S undocking, but an error occurred when downlinking the data.

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 (PCDF). Following a power cycle on 4 April, the Video Management Unit of the European Drawer Rack re-established the link with the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility and image recording continued successfully during the week. Successful science runs were completed during the week using PCDF reactors which hold the protein solutions. There was a slight interruption in science acquisition due to the Soyuz TMA-13 undocking.

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

European Physiology Modules and NeuroSpat experiment
NeuroSpat will be the first experiment to make full use the European Physiology Modules facility. This will take place when the next European astronaut arrives on the Station. This will be Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne at the end of May this year. De Winne will be a subject in the NeuroSpat experiment as will Canadian Space Agency astronaut and fellow Expedition crew member Bob Thirsk. The two astronauts will assist each other with experiment procedures. NeuroSpat will investigate the ways in which crew members’ three-dimensional perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness. NeuroSpat will also serve an experiment from the European Commission within the SURE project.

SOLO experiment
Experiment samples for the Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment from ISS Commander Mike Fincke are stowed in the European-developed MELFI freezer awaiting return to Earth. SOLO is carrying out research into salt retention in space and related human physiology effects. The SOLO experiment also uses capabilities of the European Physiology Modules Facility.

3D-Space experiment
The first session of the experiment for Expedition 19 Flight Engineer Mike Barratt is currently planned for 20 April. 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. 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. 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 future ESA science 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 inactive due to completion of its science objectives (EuTEMP) and one experiment staying powered down due to flight safety constraints but also having completed the first part of its science objectives (PLEGPAY). The recurring EuTEF data error occurred on 8 April, leading to a temporary interruption of science data acquisition, though the facility and instruments were successfully reactivated after the Soyuz undocking on the same day. 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. Currently an on-orbit extension feasibility is under assessment which would allow an extension of the EuTEF mission from a download on Shuttle flight 17A (August 2009) to Shuttle flight ULF-3 (October 2009) or namely flight 19A (March 2010).

The status of each individual experiment is as follows:

  • DEBIE-2: The ‘DEBris In orbit Evaluator’ is designed to be a standard in-situ space debris and micrometeoroid monitoring instrument. It has successfully performed data acquisition during the week though the occurrence of empty science packets after a certain amount of time caused by a sensor unit error continues. However the typical duration during which it generates valid science packets had increased. The instrument is being power cycled when required in order to overcome this situation. Troubleshooting of this issue is ongoing.
  • DOSTEL: The DOSimetric radiation TELescope is a small radiation telescope. It continues to gather scientific data on the radiation environment outside the ISS.
  • EuTEMP: This multi-input thermometer measured EuTEF temperatures during transfer to the outside of Columbus from the Shuttle cargo bay. It is currently inactive due to completion of its science objectives.
  • EVC: The Earth Viewing Camera is a fixed-pointed Earth-observation camera. No image acquisition was possible during 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. Science acquisition continued following the temporary interruption on 8 April due to the EuTEF data error.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire 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 is currently shut down.
  • 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. Calibration of the facility’s SOLSPEC instrument was successfully performed on 8 April. The platform is now in survival mode until the next Sun visibility window opens again in April. 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 a significant 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

Relevant hardware of the Matroshka experiment returned to Earth in Soyuz TMA-13 on 8 April. In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be tentatively relocated during to the Japanese Kibo laboratory and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters. JAXA have already confirmed the technical accommodation feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/tri-lateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged for another experiment run until mid 2010. After that in the long-term Matroshka may be accommodated again on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit which are of relevance for EVA activities.

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

Kubik Incubator - Polca and Gravigen
The Gravigen and Polca experiments were transferred into the Kubik 3 incubator on 4 April and the centrifuge started. On conclusion of the experiment the experiment containers were transferred out of the incubator for return on the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft. On 8 April ISS Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka performed close–out activities with data being downloaded during the night. The experiment containers were retrieved at the landing site. The Gravigen experiment investigates the effect of weightlessness on gene expression in rapeseed plants (Brassica napus). The Polca experiment investigates the effect of weightlessness on the distribution of calcium in the statocytes (gravity-sensing cells in plant root tips) of rapeseed plant roots.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

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

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


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

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

Columbus systems information

In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. Regular maintenance activities are planned during the current 15A stage. Planning and preparation for activities in this and subsequent stages is currently ongoing.

ISS general system information and activities *

ISS crew return preparations

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    During the week Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Expedition 18 Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov carried out medical operation procedures whilst wearing the Russian ‘Chibis’ lower body negative pressure suit in preparation for his return to gravity on 8 April, assisted by NASA astronaut and ISS Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and supported by ground specialists. The suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Russian crewmember would cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth.


  • Soyuz motion control check-out
    On 4 April, Lonchakov and Fincke again spent an hour in the Descent Module of the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft supporting ground controllers with a checkout of the Soyuz motion control system. This included a test of the pilot’s hand controller, and firing of the DPO braking thrusters.


  • Istochnik Telemetry System
    On 6 April, Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka was assisted by Yuri Lonchakov in testing the new 'Istochnik-M' system for transmitting telemetry between the Soyuz TMA-13 and the Service Module following Soyuz undocking and during Soyuz module separation.


  • Undocking preparations
    Preparations for undocking began with the traditional crew farewell between Fincke, Lonchakov and spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi who were departing and the new Expedition 19 crew of Commander Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineers Michael Barratt (NASA) and Koichi Wakata (JAXA). Following communications checks the returning crew entered the Soyuz spacecraft and Fincke and Lonchakov activated the spacecraft before the hatches were closed. This was followed by the standard one-hour leak check on the interhatch area. Shortly before the undocking Padalka powered up the new “Istochnik-M” system for receiving telemetry from onboard Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft, allowing monitoring of the Soyuz module separation from the ISS.

Soyuz TMA-13 undocking and landing
At 05:52 CEST on 8 April, Soyuz TMA-13 hooks opened and the docking system springs pushed the Soyuz spacecraft away from ISS. After three minutes the Soyuz carried out its post-separation burn followed about 2½ hours later by its de-orbit burn. During its descent the spacecraft went through module separation. Fincke, Lonchakov and Simonyi came through Earth’s atmosphere in the command module of the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft, touching down at the southern landing site on the Kazakhstan steppes at 09:15 CEST. The crew were assisted by the Russian search and rescue team at the landing site and flown to Karaganda for the landing ceremony before being flown to Moscow.

Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator check-out
Ground controllers successfully checked out of the fine-alignment manoeuvring capabilities of Arm 1 of the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator on the ISS on 9 and 10 April. The ground teams also checked out its On-orbit Replacement Unit and Tool Change-out Mechanism camera as well as the ground system. The Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator is a two-armed robot that functions as an extension to the end effector of the Station’s principal robotic arm.

Quest Airlock activities
During the week, prior to his return, Mike Fincke spent time regenerating expended Metal Oxide canisters that had been used for CO2 removal from the US Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) during the STS-119/15A spacewalks. On 10 April Mike Barratt spent time filtering particulate matter from the colling loop of one of the EMUs

Elektron O2 Generator
On 5 April Padalka 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.

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

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. Samples were taken and microbiology analysis was carried out using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, a Water Microbiology Kit, and a Coliform Detection Bag for detection of bacterial levels. The Water Processor Assembly was also flushed during the week.

Japanese Kibo Laboratory Airlock
On 5 April launch locks were removed from the Airlock Control and Display Unit, Valve Box and Slide Table of the Japanese Kibo laboratory’s airlock. The airlock’s drive shaft was also checked out.

CEVIS Cycle Ergometer
On 9 April, Wakata carried out troubleshooting activities of the CEVIS cycle ergometer, which is exhibiting problematic workload indications. The task was to determine if the source of the problem is the ergometer itself or the newly installed control panel. Wakata installed a backup controller instead of the control panel before carrying out an exercise profile on the ergometer. Results of the activity are being analysed on ground.

Service Module toilet
On 9 April Padalka carried out major periodic maintenance on the Service Module toilet facility, changing out replaceable parts with new components.

Emergency evacuation drill
On 10 April Padalka, Barratt and Wakata performed the regular 2-hr emergency evacuation drill, which is a standard training for crews to familiarise them with location of emergency equipment, with a particular focus on the evacuation route.

Orbital debris
Orbital debris from a Chinese satellite was closely monitored during the week but this posed no threat to the Station.

(*)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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