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

1 May 2009

This is ISS status report No. 39 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
An Experiment Container lock test activity on Biolab’s Rotor B was successfully performed on 30 April. An Experiment Container lever, which was identified as being incorrectly locked, was re-engaged by ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt. Telemetry confirmed micro-switch engagement hereafter. 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 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. The rack was activated on 27 April and configured for taking vibration measurements in support of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility. Vibration measurements were taken over the next few days and completed on 30 April.

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. One nucleation cycle, which started on 24 April was completed on 27 April. A new growth cycle was also started on 27 April. This growth cycle was however interrupted the following day due to an electronics board overheating. Following two reboots of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility the growth cycle was resumed and has been running normally since 30 April.

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 tentatively Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne at the end of May this year if the upload of the NeuroSpat science kit is launched on his Soyuz flight. Also the second subject in the NeuroSpat experiment will be Canadian Space Agency astronaut and fellow Expedition crew member Bob Thirsk, though this is also subject to the experiment consumable 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. 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
ISS Flight Engineer 2 Koichi Wakata successfully performed the third session of the 3D Space experiment on 30 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 20 after the new crew arrive. 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
On 27 April ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt relocated the Microgravity Science Glovebox Space Acceleration Measurement System sensor enclosure to EXPRESS Rack 3 in Columbus, which holds the European Modular Cultivation System. The following day the European Modular Cultivation System was activated to perform water pump servicing. 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 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. 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
The Microgravity Science Glovebox was activated in Columbus on 29 April to support a run of NASA’s Smoke Point In Co-flow Experiment (SPICE). The objective of SPICE is to improve the durability and performance of power and propulsion systems. 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. At least the upload of the SODI-IVIDIL experiment is still planned on the 17A Shuttle flight but is still at risk due to significant utilisation cargo transportation capacity constraints.

Human Research Facility 1
During 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)
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. A science acquisition run ended as planned on 26 April and a new run started on 29 April.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) is continuing to acquire scientific data. The plan to start a spectrometer campaign by setting different parameters was postponed due to a ground issue. 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. The platform was shutdown and reset on 27 April in connection with a thruster test. Intensity calibration for the SOLSPEC instrument was carried out the same day. On 29 April the Sun visibility window ended and SOLAR is now in Survival Mode.

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

ISS Commander Gennady Padalka serviced the Lulin electronic box of the Matroshka payload on 1 May in the Pirs Docking Compartment followed by a reboot to clear data. 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

On 25 April accumulated science date from ESA’s Expose-R payload was copied onto a memory card in a Russian laptop by Gennady Padalka. 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. On 27 April JAXA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata carried out an audit and repacked Sodium Loading in Microgravity (SOLO) experiment kits and Portable Clinical Blood Analyzer kits as well as Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) equipment bags. This was undertaken in order to keep unused or reusable equipment on the ISS and to trash excess equipment in the Progress 32P spacecraft due for undocking on 6 May. Wakata also returned the Portable Computer System laptop to Columbus from the US Destiny laboratory for use as a Portable Computer System for the European-built Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI). Maintenance activities are planned to be executed during the current 18S stage. Planning and preparation for all remaining activities in this and subsequent stages is currently ongoing and progressing well.

Russian Service Module activities

  • Service Module - Telemetry Measurement System
    Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Commander Gennady Padalka continued with troubleshooting of the BITS2-12 telemetry measurement system in the Russian Service Module on 28 April. This included taking voltage readings from circuits of the Central Processor Subsystem. BITS-12 is the primary telemetry downlink system for the Russian segment of the ISS.


  • Service Module - computer upgrade/replacement
    Following previous upgrading and testing of central and terminal computers in the Russian Service Module, subset 1 of the Terminal Computer System remains failed following an additional attempt at restart on 25 April. Further attempts at restart will be planned in the future after analysis of data received from the activities on 25 April. In the meantime the other two subsets of the Terminal Computer System are functioning normally.

Russian Orlan spacesuit preparations
Between 27-29 April, ISS Commander Gennady Padalka carried out activities in the Pirs Docking Compartment to ready the new Orlan-MK EVA suit for use. This included testing ECG harnesses for acqusition of medical data and carrying out leak checks. Hereafter Padalka removed/stowed the suit and relevant equipment and discharged an Orlan battery pack, used in the suits during spacewalks.

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.

  • Potable Water Dispenser/Water Processor Assembly
    On 25 April Mike Barratt emptied the Water Processor Assembly via the Potable Water Dispenser and then flushed the system. Daily flushing of the Potable Water Dispenser with about 50ml of water to control microbial growth was also carried out by Mike Barratt and Koichi Wakata. The water produced had only been cleared for hygienic use, awaiting ground analysis of on-orbit samples. However, on 28 April the water from the Potable Water Dispenser was cleared for human consumption. On 29 April Wakata carried out the final hot water flush on the Potable Water Dispenser, prior to its use for drinking water, in order to clear its filter of any iodine remaining from its injection into the system during the STS-119 mission. Once in use the daily flushes of the Potable Water Dispenser will no longer be necessary


  • Urine Processing Assembly/Waste Hygiene compartment
    The ISS crew were directed to use the Russian Service Module toilet following a sticky valve problem in the Urine Processing Assembly on 23 April. It has been determined that the valve is not necessary and will be removed once procedures have been developed. On 28 April the US Waste and Hygiene Compartment’s urine receptacle and insert filter were changed out by Koichi Wakata and thereafter activation and a functionality test took place.

Progress undocking preparations
Padalka and Barratt tested the ‘TORU’ Teleoperator Control System on Progress 32P on 28 April in preparation of its undocking on 6 May. They carried out a Service Module to Progress checkout together with ground specialists but with Progress thrusters inhibited. The TORU system allows astronauts/cosmonauts to control the Progress in close proximity to the ISS should its automatic KURS system fail. During the week the Progress spacecraft was also loaded with excess equipment and trash no longer necessary on the Station.

Kibo laboratory laptop troubleshooting
Koichi Wakata undertook laptop troubleshooting in the Japanese Kibo laboratory on 28 and 29 April. On 28 April he successfully recovered the failed Robotic Manipulator System Laptop Terminal by physically removing and reinserting its battery. The following day he reconfigured cabling between the Microgravity Measurement Apparatus Laptop Terminal and the Experiment Laptop Terminal in order to use the Experiment Laptop Terminal for taking vibrational measurements.

US Airlock activities
On 28 April in the US Airlock, Barratt and Wakata restowed tools used during the 15A spacewalks. Wakata also carried out a voltage check on a Battery Charger Module, which had over-discharged a spacewalk suit battery previously.

CGBA laptop troubleshooting
On 27 April Mike Barratt performed troubleshooting on the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus 5 laptop, which had experienced difficulty booting its software. This involved undertaking a power down, swapping compact flash cards and rebooting the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing payload.

Power outage at Payload Operations Integration Center in Huntsville
With a power outage at the Payload Operations Integration Center in Huntsville, Alabama, ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt monitored certain critical payloads during the week, which are normally monitored from Huntsville including the European-built Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)

(*)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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