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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

8 May 2009

This is ISS status report No. 40 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
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 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. Optical check-out activities were performed on the Fluid Science Laboratory during the week. On 5 May the optical target was installed in the Lower Central Experiment Module and optical mode check-out was performed on 7 May. On the same day, the automatic test of the Central Experiment Module was not completed.

The rack was also activated on 6 May for taking vibration measurements for Soyuz 32P undocking.

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. On 5 May a growth cycle has been completed. In this reactor, about 10 large crystals have been observed, which will be kept to be downloaded with the Processing Unit of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility. Additionally, in this reactor the science team observed nucleation occurring at a higher temperature than in ground testing: the cause of this is being studied. On the same day a new nucleation cycle was started. On 8 May this nucleation cycle ended and a new nucleation cycle started again.

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
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 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
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
No on-orbit operations were carried out with the Pulmonary Function System this week. 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 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 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. 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
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)
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. The instrument is currently inactive.
  • 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 4 May and a new run started on 6 May.
  • MEDET: The Materials Exposure and Degradation ExperimenT (MEDET) was switched off on 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.
  • 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 activated on 6 May, and the SOLSPEC instrument was switched on to perform troubleshooting activity for a Deuterium Lamp ignition failure. The issue is still currently unresolved and still under investigation but is likely to be linked to the lamp’s power supply. The platform is currently in survival mode till the next Sun observation window opens.

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

On 4 May 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. Some regular maintenance activities have been executed by the crew and the Flight Control Team. Planning and preparation for all remaining activities in this and subsequent stages is currently ongoing and progressing well. On 28 April, the ISS Programme declared readiness for a major milestone in human spaceflight: 6-crew operations.

Progress 32P undocking preparations
On 4 May Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Commander Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut and ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt finished loading the Progress 32P spacecraft with items no longer necessary on the Station. Urine transfer also took place from the Service Module tanks to the Progress 32P tanks. The following day final undocking preparations were completed. After removal of some reusable equipment from Progress, its docking mechanism was reinstalled, and lighting fixtures and ventilation ducting was removed. The spacecraft electronics were reactivated, clamps between the Progress and the ISS were removed and the hatches were closed. This was followed by the standard on-hour leak check.

Progress 32P undocking
On 6 May following hook opening, the Progress M-01M/32P spacecraft successfully undocked from the ISS at 17:17 CEST. The first separation burn occurred some 4 minutes later with the second separation burn happening at 20:24 CEST. Deorbit of Progress 32P and the planned destructive reentry over an uninhabited area of the Pacific is due to take place on 18 May.

Progress 33P launch (and docking preparations)
The Progress M-02M spacecraft was launched on logistics flight 33P to the ISS on 7 May at 20:37 CEST (8 May 00:37 local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft was put into its initial orbit by a Soyuz-U launcher. Docking is scheduled to take place on 12 May at 21:23 CEST. In preparation for the docking, Padalka and Barratt had a three-hour training session on 6 May with the TORU manual docking system, which acts as a backup to the automatic Kurs docking system.

Space Station Remote Manipulator System
On 5 May after reviewing and setting up the graphics software for the Space Station Remote Manipulator System, the Station’s principal robotic arm, ISS Flight Engineers Mike Barratt and Koichi Wakata (JAXA) used the two hand controllers to move the robotic arm onto the Mobile Transporter on the Station’s truss. On 7 May the Mobile Transporter was moved along the truss via ground control from Worksite 4 to Worksite 7. The following day Barratt and Wakata again used the robotic arm, moving it into position for a video survey of a Crew Equipment Translation Aid cart and the port Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (one of the principal joints for rotating ISS solar arrays). This activity is in preparation for a future Shuttle flight.

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. On 28 April the water from the Potable Water Dispenser was cleared for human consumption though is still awaiting Russian approval. On 4 May Koichi Wakata took samples from the Water Processor Assembly for in-flight and post-flight microbial analysis. On 7 an 8 May Mike Barratt and Koichi Wakata respectively 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.

Common Cabin Air Assembly
On 4 May Mike Barratt carried out maintenance on the Common Cabin Air Assembly in the US laboratory, inspecting and cleaning a Temperature Control Check Valve. The following day he transferred condensate from the assembly into a contingency water container.

Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation (CEVIS)
Koichi Wakata replaced the control panel of the CEVIS cycle ergometer exercise device with a backup controller on 5 May. On 7 and 8 May he carried out a detailed video survey of the device in order to determine relevant maintenance activities to rectify a workload discrepancy issue. This video footage will be downlinked and analysed in order to help pinpoint the cause of the problem.

Internal Thermal Control System
On 6 May Koichi Wakata demated Moderate Temperature Loop jumpers of the Internal Thermal Control System in the US laboratory and lubricated supply and return line quick disconnects. This is in order to reduce leaks during future demates relating to the Crew Health Care System.

US Airlock activities
Wakata checked and updated parameter tables on the Battery Charge Modules in the US Airlock on 6 May as well as inspecting Battery Stowage Assembly vents and fan vents. This was due to a battery over-discharge that occurred previously.

VELO Exercise Device
Padalka carried out maintenance and functionality checks on the Russian VELO cycle ergometer exercise device on 7 May. After replacing parts of the cycle’s generator and reassembling the generator unit he configured the exercise device for operation.

Service Module - Telemetry Measurement System
On 7 May Padalka took voltage measurements from the PTsB Central Processor Subsystem of the BITS2-12 telemetry measurement system, as part of troubleshooting why upgraded telemetry cannot be received from the new Orlan-MK spacesuits. This activity established that this subsystem is not the cause of the problem and so further troubleshooting is expected in the future.

Spacewalk preparation
In preparation for two Russian-based spacewalks in June Padalka and Barratt collected together Russian and US tools and supplies on 7 May.

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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