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Science & Exploration

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

17 April 2009

This is ISS status report No. 37 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 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.

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. Following trouble shooting activities, the Video Management Unit recording test was performed successfully on 15 April and between 15 and 17 April vibration measurements were taken in support of an additional science run in the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility of the European Drawer Rack. The command to close the measurement records did not execute properly though this had no impact on the data saved. Indication of ‘lifetime elapsed’ on the Central Experiment Module lamp on 16 April also had no impact on the measurements, but might impact the ‘Automatic Test’ which will be done during the configuration for the next vibration measurements. These problems are currently under investigation.

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 Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility and image recording continued during the week. There was a slight interruption in science acquisition on 12 April as two outlets went off in the European Drawer Rack, and as a consequence the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility was disconnected. This issue reoccurred during the recovery actions though the European Drawer Rack was successfully recovered. During the loss of power, which lasted 7 h 30 min, no images were taken and the temperature of the Processing Unit was not controlled, causing a data gap. Following recovery the Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility could run science again. A science acquisition run in the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility was started on 15 April, and it is running normally.

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 tentatively be Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne at the end of May this year if the upload of the NeuroSpat science kit can still also be launched on his Soyuz flight. Also the second subject in the NeuroSpat experiment will Canadian Space Agency astronaut and fellow Expedition crew member Bob Thirsk also with the upload ambiguity. 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 Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata has already started the experiment as the second human subject. In addition 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 only during Increment 20 after the new crew arrival. 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 tentatively 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. The upload of two SODI experiments has been planned on the 17A Shuttle flight but is meanwhile quite uncertain due to significant cargo transportation capacity constraints.

Human Research Facility 1
During the week JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata 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.

On 13 April, NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt set up and used the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) in Human Research Facility 1 to measure his body mass. On 15 and 16 April, Barratt also undertook the NASA Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Control on Return from ISS experiment. This included activation of Human Research Facility 1 and downlinking data from blood pressure and Actiwatch devices.

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. The instrument is being power cycled when required in order to avoid the occurrence of empty science packets after a certain amount of time.
  • 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. 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 which started on 8 April finished as planned on 12 April. A new science run started on 15 April.
  • 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 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 more data in a period of higher solar activity. 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 15 April. The platform is again in idle mode until the next Sun visibility window opens again on 18 April.

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 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.

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 *

Space Station Remote Manipulator system test
After configuring cables to allow video coverage from the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (the Station’s principal robotic arm), Wakata and Barratt reviewed material for the subsequent robotic activities then carried out the Force Moment Accommodation test using the robotic arm on 17 April. This was to test that the robotic arm systems could deal with a specific kind of misalignment with a grapple fixture, located on the Mobile Base System.

Service Module - computer upgrade/replacement
ISS Commander and Roscosmos cosmonaut Gennady Padalka worked on the Russian Service Module central and terminal computers over several days during the week. This started with upgrading and testing central computers 1 and 3. The central computer 2, which had been acting as a replacement for the failed terminal computer 1, was removed and a new terminal computer 1 was installed in its place. Central computer 2 was then reinstalled in its usual location in the Service Module. A terminal computer configuration problem, which occurred after restart is currently under investigation.

Service Module - Telemetry Measurement System
Following installation of a new read-only memory unit of the BITS2-12 telemetry measurement system in the Russian Service Module on 13 April and unsuccessful testing thereafter, Padalka carried out initial troubleshooting steps on 17 April, which included replacement of a read-only memory unit halfset.

Russian EVA preparations for new Orlan spacesuit
On 14 and 16 April, Gennady Padalka worked in the Pirs Docking Compartment and Service Module Transfer Compartment, replacing electrical umbilicals and connectors for the new Orlan-MK spacesuit, which will be used for the first time during a Russian-based EVA on 5 June.

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 at the end of May 2009. The Potable Water Dispenser/Water Processing Assembly was flushed during the week and the water produced is currently only cleared for hygienic use, whilst waiting on ground analysis of on-orbit samples. Flushing is being used to control microbial growth. Samples were also taken during the week 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.

US Laboratory - Fluids and Combustion Facility
Following a ground-commanded test session on the Fluids and Combustion Facility in the US Destiny laboratory, Barratt re-installed the alignment guides to lock the Passive Rack Isolation System on 11 April. The Fluids and Combustion Facility is located in the Combustion Integrated Rack.

US Laboratory - temporary sleep station
On 13 April, Wakata installed a hygiene liner in the temporary sleep station in the US Destiny laboratory after removing all equipment and cleaning the sleep station.

US Laboratory - Avionics Rack 3
On 14 April Wakata replaced a Remote Power Controller Module in Avionics Rack 3 in the US laboratory. To do this Wakata had to temporarily remove the enclosure on a Waste and Hygiene Compartment.

Japanese Kibo Laboratory - Cell Biology Experiment Facility
On 15 April, Wakata took photos of the door of the Cell Biology Experiment Facility 1g Incubator Unit in the Kibo laboratory. This can not currently be completely closed. The images will be analysed at the Tsukuba Space Center in Japan in order to rectify the problem.

ISS familiarisation
As is standard for newly arrived crew members, Padalka and Barratt carried out ISS familiarisation activities during the week.

Gagarin/Vostok 1 anniversary
12 April, marked the 48th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s 1 hour 48-minute flight in Vostok 1 as the first human in space, (as well as the 28th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle flight, STS-1).

(*)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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