Space Station science return and spacecraft shuffle

Space Station view

Space Station view

  • ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano had a busy two weeks on the International Space Station for his Beyond mission working on European science and activities running 400 km above our planet.

    Luca is an amateur triathlete and knows how crucial nutrition is for healthy and efficient living. Getting meals right for exploration far from Earth is an important aspect of mission design and the Nutrition Monitoring for the International Space Station (NutrISS) experiment is tracking Luca’s energy balance.

    Using the EveryWear astronaut app and a bioelectric impedance measurement device Luca has been recording his mass and fat ratio. The science teams on Earth hope that a carefully-tailored energy-neutral diet with high-protein could limit the loss of bone and muscles in weightlessness.

    Spacecraft shuffle

    The Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft had been planned to arrive on 24 August with supplies and a Russian robot "Fedor" but its docking was called off after a problem with the automated docking system. Another attempt was made a few days later at a different docking port that had been vacated by moving the Soyuz MS-13. Luca, US astronaut Andrew Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov moved their spacecraft manually in a half-hour spaceflight to make way for the new arrival.

    As the Space Station needed to conserve electrical power during this manoeuvre on 26 August, many facilities were temporarily switched off, including Europe’s commercial ICE Cubes platform that is hosting three experiments: a test of off-the-shelf computer parts, an art installation and an ESA investigation into cyber security in space.

    A fourth ICE Cubes experiment was removed earlier in the month after it completed its operations. SpectroDemo - a new type of spectrometer that could be used on an ESA exobiology experiment, was tested to see if the technology is robust and fit for space science.

    Tuesday 27 August saw the departure of Dragon and the end of the spaceflight part of many more European experiments. The samples from the Amyloid Aggregation experiment looking into how protein accumulates in brain cells were removed from the Station’s -80C freezer and packed for return to Earth.

    The proteins and exobiology instruments flying on Dragon were accompanied by microbes that had also been waiting in the freezer for their return trip to Earth. The BioRock experiment was the first investigation into using organisms to mine for resources in space. Microbes were set lose on a basalt plate in a closed container.

    More organisms, in the form of algae, were also flown home, that had been part of German Aerospace Center DLR’s PhotoBioreactor experiment that aimed to convert carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen and edible algae - five samples splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

    Lastly France’s space agency CNES finished a second investigation into materials for germ-resistant spacecraft. The Matiss-2 experiment was placed in Europe’s space laboratory Columbus for just under a year collecting dust and bacteria. Researchers will now analyse the surfaces to see which materials are least hospitable to unwanted bacteria - focussing on materials that expel water.

    Maintenance and upgrades
    A less-glamorous but important aspect of spaceflight is keeping all the hardware and software running smoothly. Luca and his crewmates prepared laptops for upgrades, installed new firmware in the Kubik centrifuge-incubator , prepared the AstroPi educational mini-computers for running more student code and removed laptop batteries as part of regular BioLab glovebox health check.

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