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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

5 June 2009

This is ISS status report No. 43 from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s science related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past two weeks for different European experiments and experiment facilities. 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 during the last two weeks. 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. The Experiment Containers are already stowed on-orbit since November 2008.

Fluid Science Laboratory and Geoflow experiment
The Fluid Science Laboratory was activated on 29 May in order to acquire vibration measurements during the Soyuz TMA-15/19S docking. Further 24 hours measurements were taken on 3 June in support of Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility activities. 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. A detailed technical inspection and checkout of the flight unit on ground has just started.

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 last two weeks. Outside of maintenance activities during this period, science runs have been performed in the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility.

On 27 May Mike Barratt successfully performed the exchange of a power electronics board which engineering teams considered to be the cause for some spurious power glitches that have affected the European Drawer Rack and the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility.

During this activity, the facility was powered down for two hours, and the Columbus Moderate Temperature Loop set-point was increased from +17degC to +19degC in order to minimize temperature fluctuations which could have damaged the crystals during the planned power down period. Following completion of the activity, the Processing Unit started to rapidly cool down in an unexpected way after reboot. Normal temperature control was recovered via a ground commanded power cycle of the Unit, however science acquisition did not resume until the following day as the Processing Unit again needed power cycling following additional power cycling of the Electronics Unit.

The overall 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 upcoming Shuttle flight 2J/A (STS-127) 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: CARD and NeuroSpat experiments
Data from the CARD experiment such as blood pressure measurements, which were recorded on 20 May, were downlinked on 27 May and are now being analyzed by the CARD science team. The CARD experiment examines increased 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) in weightlessness. On 27 May the ground team also performed a software upgrade in order to support the upcoming NeuroSpat and NASA Integrated Cardiovascular experiment.

The European Physiology Modules facility was activated on 1 June to support the second session of the 3-D Space experiment performed by NASA astronaut Mike Barratt, and again on 3 and 4 June in support of the NeuroSpat experiment. On 3 June Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk performed his first session of the NeuroSpat experiment with ESA astronaut Frank De Winne assisting. On 4 June Frank De Winne performed his first session with Bob Thirsk assisting him. The experiment was successfully executed and data for both sessions were downlinked on 5 June. NeuroSpat is the first experiment to make full use the European Physiology Modules facility. 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. The experiment will be continued with the next subjects in Increment 20.

3D-Space experiment
On 1 June Mike Barratt successfully performed his second session of the 3-D 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. 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 activities were carried out in the Pulmonary Function System in the last two weeks. 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 in the last two weeks. 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 after.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
No on-orbit operations were carried out with the Microgravity Science Glovebox in the last two weeks. 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 secured on the 17A Shuttle flight and the DSC / Colloid experiment will follow during subsequent Shuttle flights.

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. 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. It continues to successfully perform data acquisition. 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. On 13 May the valves and the lids of the Experimental Trays were closed in preparation for the ammonia venting. The valves were subsequently reopened.
  • FIPEX: This sensor is helping to build up a picture of the atmospheric environment in low-Earth orbit by measuring atomic oxygen. Science acquisition has been ongoing during the last two weeks.
  • 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. Langmuir Probe measurements were started on 26 May and are running continuously in cooperation with NASA. The instrument was switched off between 28 and 29 May for the Soyuz TMA-15/19S docking, and on 5 June for the spacewalk conducted by Gennady Padalka and Mike Barratt.
  • TRIBOLAB: Tribolab is currently not acquiring scientific data due to a shaft drive motor problem. The instrument was commanded into thermal stabilisation mode on 4 June, in order to perform an integrity check of the motor for the Ball Bearing experiment. This was performed on 5 June and run for approximately 10 hours. 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 current Sun observation window started earlier than expected on 22 May and ended on 4 June. The platform is currently in idle mode. Safing and recovery manoeuvres in connection with the Soyuz TMA-15/19S docking were performed on 29 May. 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 detailed feasibility study for on-orbit lifetime extension is ongoing on request of the science team to gather further science 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.

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 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 until mid 2010. Roscosmos concurs to the proposed 3-lateral agreement and the final JAXA feedback is imminent. 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 Global Transmission Service was temporarily deactivated on 31 May though negotiations with Russian representatives are ongoing for reactivation of the instrument and continuation of the so-called test mode. GTS will be tentatively a cooperative European-Russian experiment on ISS. 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 valves of the Experimental Trays which were closed on 13 May for the ammonia venting were reopened on 28 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 which will be returned to Earth for detailed analysis of samples’ alterations on Shuttle flight 17A in August 2009.

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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