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

15 May 2009

This is ISS status report No. 41 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 in 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
On 12 May a leak-tightness test of the Rotor B Life Support System loop was successfully carried out, with the support of ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata. The Life Support System circuit is now confirmed to be leak tight on the BIOLAB facility side. However a leak has been localised, and ground teams are investigating the next troubleshooting steps. On 13 May a test of the Rotor B bellow mechanism was also successfully performed via ground commanding.

The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment in Biolab will need to be deferred to a later stage when the science part of the experiment can be launched in conditioned state on a future Shuttle flight. The YING-B/C and ArTEMISS-A experiments are also ready to fly at the earliest convenience.

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. The Fluid Science Laboratory was activated on 12 May in order to acquire vibration measurements during Soyuz 33P docking.

European Drawer Rack including the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility
Since the arrival of the PCDF Processing Unit on the last Shuttle flight 15A the European Drawer Rack is continuously active and providing power, data and cooling to the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility, and video image recording from the experiment reactors continued during the week. Up to and including this week several protein nucleation cycles have been performed on one of the reactors in the PCDF. These runs will help the science team to better understand the influence of temperature on the onset of the nucleation process at various protein solubility levels.

Plans are also being made to exchange a European Drawer Rack power electronics board in the near future, which engineering teams consider is causing some spurious power glitches that have affected the European Drawer Rack and the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility over the last couple of weeks. A spare is already available on orbit.

The Protein experiment series will last 3-4 months comprising 3 subsequent protein crystallisation cycles. The final batch 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
No on-orbit 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 tentatively Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne on 27 May if the upload of the NeuroSpat science kit is also launched on his Soyuz flight 19S. Also the second subject in the NeuroSpat experiment will be the Canadian Space Agency astronaut and fellow Expedition crew member Bob Thirsk, though this is also subject to the experiment consumables upload on Soyuz 19S. 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. The combined protocol of the NeuroSpat experiment will also comprise the PreSpat experiment, which is an experiment of 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
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 20 after the new crew with Frank De Winne arrives. The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS with Columbus in order to potentially become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts in the future and serving human physiology investigations in the area of advanced crew countermeasures.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2
The Human Research Facility 2 was activated during the weekend for Pulmonary Function System file transfer in support of the CARD experiment. It has been observed that exposure to weightlessness increases cardiac output and lowers blood pressure (caused by dilated arteries) in the face of increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system (which normally constricts arteries). The CARD experiment will examine these effects in order to provide a thorough picture of how the circulatory system changes during a prolonged stay in weightlessness.

ESA’s 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 (Oxygen Uptake Measurement).

European Modular Cultivation System
No experiment activities were carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System this week. This ESA 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 still an option is 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 series. Genara is tentatively the next ESA experiment to take place in the European Modular Cultivation System and will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth at 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 with ESA’s Gravi-2 experiment following.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
No on-orbit operations were carried out with 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. The upload of the SODI-IVIDIL experiment is still planned on the 17A Shuttle flight and the DSC experiment may follow on the subsequent Shuttle flight ULF-3.

Human Research Facility 1
At the start of the week NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt carried out procedures for the NASA SLEEP experiment. This included daily downloads of data from his Actiwatch device (to monitor light exposure levels and astronaut’s sleep/wake patterns) to the laptop of NASA’s Human Research Facility 1 in the Columbus laboratory.

European science and research facilities outside the Columbus laboratory in open space

European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF)
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 EuTEF platform has been operated continuously with one experiment powered down having completed the first part of its science objectives. The platform and its instruments were safe-configured for the ISS ammonia venting which was performed on 15 May. EuTEF will be retrieved from the external Columbus platform via an EVA of ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang and returned to Earth on Shuttle flight 17A (scheduled for August) for detailed analysis and evaluation of the space samples.

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. Though data acquisition was slightly impacted on 11 May due to current limit violations of the Data Handling Processing Unit, DEBIE-2 has successfully performed data acquisition during the week. The instrument is being power cycled when required in order to avoid the occurrence of empty science packets. The instrument acquired debris measurements during the ammonia venting event on 15 May.
  • 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 instrument is currently inactive as temperatures are currently too cold for operation.
  • EXPOSE-E: This series of exobiology experiments is continuing to acquire scientific data. On 13 May the valves and the lids of the Experimental Trays were closed in preparation for the ammonia venting on 15 May. The valves will be reopened in the next two weeks.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. A science acquisition script ended on 10 May and since then all sensors were switched off for the ammonia venting on 15 May. The next science script has been loaded on board and is planned to start on 17 May.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) remains switched off since 6 May due to low temperatures and MEDET is currently not acquiring 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. Ground teams are preparing for the restart of the Langmuir Probe measurement campaign.
  • TRIBOLAB: Tribolab is currently not acquiring scientific data due to a shaft drive motor problem. Troubleshooting of this issue is ongoing. 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 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 throughout the next years more solar data in the period of increasing higher solar activity after starting close to the minimum level. The SOLAR facility has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. The facility was put in safe mode for the Progress 33P docking on 12 May. It is currently in the so-called survival mode awaiting the start of the next Sun observation window, which is expected to begin on 23 May. Calibration of the SOLSPEC instrument was performed on 14 May.

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

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be tentatively relocated 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 at least until mid or even the end of 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 of the crew.

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 in a bilateral cooperation with a Russian institute. 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

Valves of the Expose-R Experimental Trays were closed on 13 May in preparation for the ammonia venting on 15 May. 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.

ISS general system information and activities *

Columbus laboratory
In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. Some regular maintenance activities have been executed by the crew and the Flight Control Team. Main points of interest are as follows:

  • Condensate Water Separator Assembly
    On 14 May, working with the ground teams at the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany, JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata performed troubleshooting on the Condensate Water Separator Assembly in Columbus to help identify a potential clogging of the condensate lines. After setting up the Portable Fan Assembly for ventilation Wakata removed a condensate filter line. Hereafter he temporarily installed a Failure Detection, Isolation, and Recovery tool and set up the Condensate Water Separator Assembly sample collection bag, checking it at intervals during the day for leak integrity. The Failure Detection, Isolation, and Recovery tool was later removed and close out procedures took place including a leak integrity test. The results of the troubleshooting are under analysis. The collected condensated water is now stowed and waiting for return to ground with Shuttle flight 2J/A.


  • Progress Proximity Operations
    On 12 May Columbus was configured to Proximity Operations in preparation for the docking of the Progress 33P spacecraft.


  • Inter-module Return Fan Assembly
    Telemetry readings in one of the two Columbus smoke detectors indicate the need for it to be cleaned soon. The Flight Control Team is preparing for this. The Engineering team also decided to deactivate the Inter-module Return Fan Assembly for two weeks to check if this influences the increase rate.


  • Hurricane season preparations
    In preparation for the Hurricane season, starting on 1 June, the ground team is preparing for an important test to enable continued Command and Control in case the Houston Flight Control Team need to relocate to the Huntsville Operations Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Progress M-02M/33P

  • Progress 33P docking preparations
    On 11 May, ISS Commander and Roscosmos cosmonaut Padalka and ISS Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Mike Barratt carried out the standard one-hour refresher training with the TORU system in preparation for docking of the Progress M-02M spacecraft on flight 33P to the ISS. The TORU system provides a manual backup to the automated KURS rendezvous and docking system. This included a simulated rendezvous, a Station fly-around, final approach, docking and non-standard situations such as video or communications loss. Together with Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata they also configured and tested the equipment to downlink video signals from the Russian segment of the ISS to ground, with the purpose of covering the Progress 33P arrival. Preparations for Progress 33P docking continued on 12 May including testing and configuring communications and video equipment.


  • Progress 33P docking
    The Progress M-02M spacecraft on flight 33P to the ISS docked successfully to the nadir port of the Pirs Docking Compartment at 21:25 (CEST) on 12 May, under control of the automatic KURS docking system. After hook closure, The Russian Zvezda Service Module assumed attitude control of the ISS (from its free drift status for docking) and manoeuvred the ISS to its standard orbital flight orientation. ISS attitude control was hereafter taken over by US systems.


  • Progress 33P post-docking activities
    On 13 May, after conducting the standard leak check of the docking vestibule and fuel/oxidizer transfer line interface between Progress and Pirs, Gennady Padalka and Mike Barratt opened the Pirs/Progress hatches and installed clamps to further stabilise the connection between the Progress and the ISS. Air sampling inside Progress was then performed, the spacecraft was deactivated, and ventilation air ducting was installed. The docking mechanism between Progress and Pirs was then dismantled, and the video equipment for the TV downlink of the docking was removed. The crew had then several hours set aside for unloading the resupply ship on 13 and 14 May.

Space Station Remote Manipulator System
On 13 May the Mobile Transporter was moved from Worksite 7 to Worksite 4. On 14 May Barratt and Wakata manoeuvred the Space Station Remote Manipulator System into position for video observation of the S1 Thermal Radiator ammonia (NH3) venting on 15 May.

S1 Radiator ammonia venting
Ammonia venting connected with S1 external radiators took place as planned on 15 May. The purpose of the venting was to protect against complete loss of Loop A of the External Thermal Control System in the event of flow tube failure due to possible impact from orbital debris or structural integrity failure due to the fatigue of the flow tube. The ammonia dump from one radiator path leaves three other paths active, with one path in reserve, filled with gaseous nitrogen. The three-path configuration is expected to provide sufficient cooling for External Thermal Control System Loop A.

Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
During the week activities were carried out in connection with the Regenerative ECLSS, needed in advance of an increase to a six-person ISS Crew at the end of May 2009. This included:

  • Urine Processor Assembly
    Tools were collected together and prepared for removal of a check valve of the Urine Processor Assembly. Removal of the valve is scheduled to occur on 18 May.


  • Water Processor Assembly flushing
    During the week Mike Barratt and Koichi Wakata also emptied the Water Processor Assembly via the Potable Water Dispenser and then flushed the system. Flushing of the Potable Water Dispenser with about 50ml of water to control microbial growth was also carried out during the week. Once in use the daily flushes of the Potable Water Dispenser will no longer be necessary.


  • Sample analysis
    On 11 May, Mike Barratt updated software of the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer. The day after he took samples from the Water Processor Assembly and carried out in-flight analysis of the samples using the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer.

US Laboratory - Internal Thermal Control System
Koichi Wakata worked on the Internal Thermal Control System in the US Destiny Laboratory on 10 May, connecting two Moderate Temperature Loop umbilicals to the Crew Health Care System rack to provide cooling. Three days later Mike Barratt demated the umbilicals to increase coolant for payload use.

Japanese Kibo laboratory software update
On 11 May, JAXA’s Space Station Integration and Promotion Center in Tsukuba, Japan updated Japanese Kibo Laboratory Control Processor flight software in preparation for Flight 2J/A in June, which will bring the last major elements of the Kibo laboratory to the ISS.

Local Area Network (LAN) activities
On 11 May, in the US Laboratory Wakata replaced a hard disk drive relating to the Operations Local Area Network with a new 60 Gb hard disk drive. On 12 May in the Russian Service Module, Gennady Padalka upgraded software to change Russian computers to the new version of the US/Russian common onboard Local Area Network.

Elektron O2 generator
On 12 May, Padalka continued with the 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 of the Electronics Unit 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.

Combustion Integrated Rack
On 12 May, Koichi Wakata replaced a fuel reservoir of the Multi-user Drop Combustion Apparatus, which is located in the Combustion Integrated Rack in the US Destiny Laboratory. This included isolating a suspected leaky Quick Disconnect on the supply hose of the Multi-user Drop Combustion Apparatus.

Fluids and Combustion Facility
The Fluids and Combustion Facility rack in the US Destiny Laboratory was reconfigured for remote control on 12 May.

Expedition 19/20 teleconference
On 13 May, the Expedition 19 crew on the ISS conducted a teleconference with Expedition 20 crewmembers Frank De Winne representing ESA and Bob Thirsk representing the Canadian Space Agency who will arrive on Soyuz flight 19S on 29 May, and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy who will be a crewmember on Shuttle flight 2J/A in June. The following day the Station residents had another teleconference to discuss handover issues with future Expedition 20 crew members Timothy Kopra who will also arrive on flight 2J/A and Nicole Scott who will arrive at the ISS on flight STS-128 in August, both representing NASA.

Air Quality Monitor
On 13 May, Mike Barratt started a sampling session with the Air Quality Monitor in the US Laboratory controlled from the SSC-4 laptop. This followed an unsuccessful attempt the previous day after new drivers had been loaded on the laptop by Koichi Wakata.

Mini Research Module 2 hardware installation
On 15 May Gennady Padalka installed and connected new control and navigation hardware for the Russian Mini Research Module 2 in the Russian Service Module and Service Module Transfer Compartment. The Russian Mini Research Module 2, which is scheduled for launched on a Proton in November, is principally a docking compartment similar to Pirs. The installed hardware included Command and Data Handling System and KURS instruments for Mini Research Module 2 onboard systems control.

Actiwatch preparation for ESA astronaut and other crewmembers
On 15 May, Mike Barratt prepared for another session of the NASA Sleep-Wake Actigraphy and Light Exposure during Spaceflight (SLEEP) experiment by downloading data from his and Koichi Wakata’s Actiwatches, which monitor the crewmember’s sleep/wake patterns and light exposure, and readying the Actiwatches of ESA astronaut Frank DeWinne and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk before initializing all four devices. Mike and Koichi then put on their devices and stowed Frank’s and Bob’s Actiwatches prior to their arrival at the end of May.

Ham Radio Session/Flemish Space Days
On 10 May, Mike Barratt used the amateur radio equipment in the Russian Service Module to conduct a ham radio session with students at the Flemish Space Days in Leuven, Belgium. The mission of Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne is a major focus of this year’s event as is the International Year of Astronomy.

Orbital debris
Space debris from an old Chinese weather satellite was being tracked during the week but passed by the Station with a wide margin on 15 May and is no longer of concern.

(*)These activities are only the highlights of the past week and do not include minor activities or 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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