Expedition 48 Preview

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Expedition 48 is a four-month mission to the International Space Station, highlighted by a busy scientific schedule for the six crew members in orbit. Also on tap are spacewalks and a number of visiting vehicle arrivals and departures that will include the delivery of an International Docking Adapter to prepare the station for the start of commercial crew flights.

Staffed by an international crew from the United States, Russia and Japan, ISS will continue a busy scientific program with over 200 active studies in progress aboard the various laboratory modules of the orbiting complex, spanning various scientific disciplines.

Expedition 48 is looking forward to a busy visiting vehicle schedule with arrivals and departures on a regular basis involving the rotation of Russian Progress cargo ships, the next SpaceX Dragon mission and, depending on the always-fluid ISS schedule, the first launch of Orbital ATK’s re-engined Antares rocket with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft. At least one spacewalk will be on the crew’s schedule to install the International Docking Adapter delivered aboard the Dragon spacecraft and Expedition 48 will see the introduction of a new satellite deployment mechanism.

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Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

The 48th Expedition to the International Space Station picks up on June 18, 2016 with the departure of the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft, bringing veteran space flier Yuri Malenchenko back to Earth along with NASA’s Tim Kopra and ESA’s Tim Peake, concluding a mission of six months. The three-crew phase between Soyuz departure and the next crew’s arrival was extended from one to three weeks due to a delay of the next crew’s ride to space, requiring Expedition 48 commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineers Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka to work busy hours.

Soyuz MS, the first in the new line of modernized spacecraft, is set for liftoff on July 7 with Commander Anatoli Ivanishin, NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins and JAXA’s Takuya Onishi. Being the first flight of the upgraded spacecraft, Soyuz will follow a two-day rendezvous profile to provide time for testing of the newly introduced systems.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

When back at full staff, the Expedition 48 crew will be looking forward to two months of six-crew operations. Later in July, they will welcome the Dragon SpX-9 spacecraft and the Progress MS-03 cargo vehicle to keep up a steady chain of supplies. The new International Docking Adapter will be installed during a USOS EVA in the summer and Cygnus could make an arrival toward the end of the Expedition if its new Antares 230 rocket is ready in time.

The crew’s focus will be on science, continuing a busy schedule of experiments spanning across all branches from Earth and Space Science over physical science, technology demonstrations, biology, biotechnology, chemistry and human research to educational activities and student-run experiments.

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Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

One particular area of interest is human research, taking advantage of the environment aboard ISS to study changes undergone by the human body down to a cellular and biochemical level when being exposed to the space environment for an extended period of time to identify the underlying mechanisms of phenomena such as bone and muscle loss as well as immune system changes, changes to the fluid distribution within the human body and a series of other phenomena.

A major item is the collection of information needed for the development of countermeasures that will be used to limit the negative effects such as degradation of bone and muscle mass seen today so that humans can stay in space for long missions of up to several years.

To complete these studies, the crew of ISS will serve as test subjects themselves – performing regular sampling activities, tests of their cognitive abilities and a range of other tests, also looking at psychological aspects.

Expedition 48 ends on September 7, 2016 when Williams, Ovchinin and Skripochka bid farewell and return to Earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft, ringing in the start of Expedition 49.

The Expedition 48 Crew Patch depicts the iconic solar arrays of the International Space Station glowing in the sunlight with a star-filled sky, the Moon and Earth's backlit limb in the background, showing the thin atmosphere protecting planet Earth. Six stars connected to the glowing sunlight represent the six Expedition 48 crew members. -- Credit: NASA
The Expedition 48 Crew Patch depicts the iconic solar arrays of the International Space Station glowing in the sunlight with a star-filled sky, the Moon and Earth’s backlit limb in the background, showing the thin atmosphere protecting planet Earth. Six stars connected to the glowing sunlight represent the six Expedition 48 crew members. — Credit: NASA

 

Expedition 48 Crew

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

The crew of International Space Station Expedition 48 is comprised of space flight veterans as well as first-time fliers conducting their first long-duration stay in orbit.

Expedition 48 is commanded by NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams who can look back at two previous long-duration missions aboard ISS as well as a flight on the Space Shuttle over a career lasting two decades. In August, Williams will surpass the record set by Scott Kelly and become the American with the longest career time spent in space.

Commander Williams is joined by spaceflight veterans Oleg Skripochka and Anatoli Ivanishin, both with one previous Expedition flight to the Space Station. Alexey Ovchinin, Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi are flying for the first time.

Jeff Williams comes from a military background and also holds degrees in Aeronautical Engineering, having worked in the Space Shuttle Program in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Over his 27-year military career as a test pilot, he flew over 50 different aircraft. Williams was selected by NASA in 1996 and flew for the first time on Space Shuttle Mission STS-101 in 2000, visiting ISS in its very early days when it only consisted of the Zarya and Node 1 modules. His second flight came in 2006 as part of Expedition 13, tasked with the continuation of ISS outfitting and utilization in a mission lasting 182 days. Williams completed his second long-duration mission to ISS in 2009/10 as part of Expedition 21/22, bringing his total time spent in space to 362 days.

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Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Oleg Skripochka is a veteran of one prior flight to the International Space Station. He started out as a mechanical engineer, working at rocket and spacecraft manufacturer Energia in support of ground systems and spacecraft development. Skripochka was selected as a Cosmonaut in 1997 and was assigned to multiple backup crews before finally receiving a flight assignment for the debut mission of the improved Soyuz TMA-M spacecraft. As part of ISS Expedition 25/26, Skripochka logged 159 days in space and completed three spacewalks for a total of 16 hours and 40 minutes.

Alexey Ovchinin is a former pilot and pilot instructor, serving in different military institutes and aviation regiments in the 1990s and 2000s, logging over 1,300 hours on the Yak-52 and L-39 aircraft. He was selected as a Cosmonaut candidate in 2006 and completed two years of basic training and evaluations before receiving his qualifications as a test Cosmonaut. He was first looking at a flight opportunity on Soyuz TMA-16M, but schedule changes due to the one-year ISS Expedition pushed his flight assignment to Soyuz TMA-20M and Expeditions 47 / 48 during which Ovchinin will serve as an ISS Flight Engineer.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Anatoli Ivanishin served as a pilot in the Russian military, flying the MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft. His first application to become a Cosmonaut was rejected in 1997 because he was too tall to fly on the Soyuz. After the introduction of the Soyuz TMA variant with modified seating arrangement, Ivanishin was accepted and entered training in 2003. He made his first space flight as part of Expedition 29/30 in 2011/12, living and working in orbit for 165 days.

Takuya Onishi started out working in the Passenger Service Department of a Japanese airline before completing flight training to become a co-pilot on the Boeing 767 on which he flew domestic and international routes beginning in 2003. JAXA selected him as an Astronaut Candidate in 2009 and he completed training operations alongside NASA’s 20th Astronaut Group at the Johnson Space Center. He was selected for Expedition 48/49 in 2014.

Kate Rubins holds a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology and pursued a career in microbiology, conducting research on different viruses including the HIV-1 strain, smallpox, Ebola and Lassa Fever. As part of her research, she and her team became the first to develop a complete map of the poxvirus transcriptome and she worked in the Congo to study diseases primarily affecting Central and West Africa. She was selected as an Astronaut Candidate in 2009 and received her flight assignment in 2014.

Visiting Vehicles

Photo: NASA/ESA
Photo: NASA/ESA

Expedition 48 starts out with a very busy visiting vehicle schedule with several departures and arrivals at the orbiting laboratory.

The formal start of Expedition 48 is marked by the departure of Soyuz TMA-19M on June 18, 2016, returning to Earth with the Expedition 46/47 crew members Yuri Malenchenko, Tim Kopra and Tim Peake, closing out a flight of six months with a parachute-assisted landing in the Kazakh steppe.

Following the departure of the Soyuz, ISS is staffed by a crew of three for the next two weeks, waiting for the arrival of the second half of the Expedition 48 crew. The launch of Soyuz MS had to be pushed back two weeks due to outstanding verifications of the rendezvous software. Lifting off on July 7 atop a Soyuz FG rocket, Anatoli Ivanishin embarks on his second long-duration flight to ISS accompanied by first-time fliers Takuya Onishi and Kate Rubins.

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Photo: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center
Photo: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center

Soyuz MS-01 is set for a two-day rendezvous to test out the new systems in the actual flight environment. Docking to the Rassvet Module, the three Soyuz crew members will restore the ISS crew at six for a busy two month increment.

Before the Soyuz arrives at ISS, the Russian crew members oversee a Progress undocking – re-docking exercise to test out a new signal converter within the Telerobotically Operated Rendezvous System which was installed after a component failure in December 2015. During the half-hour flight, Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin is in manual control of the Progress MS-01 spacecraft, flying the straight-out, straight in approach from the Zvezda module of ISS by using a pair of hand controllers to fly the Progress. Progress MS then undocks for good on July 3.

Progress MS-3, the third in the line of improved MS spacecraft, is set for liftoff on July 16 atop a Soyuz 2-1A rocket boosting the 7,200-Kilogram spacecraft to orbit in just under nine minutes. Progress MS-03 will also stick to the conventional 34-orbit rendezvous for arrival at ISS two days after launch, automatically docking to the Pirs module to mark the delivery of 2,500 Kilograms of cargo, propellant, water and pressurized gas.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

On July 18, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will lift into orbit the Dragon SpX-9 mission for the company’s next Commercial Resupply Services Mission. Dragon will enjoy a ten-minute ascent, being released into a Low Earth Orbit from where it can begin its link-up with the Space Station through a series of orbit-raising maneuvers. The flight will include an attempt to return the first stage booster of the Falcon 9 rocket to Cape Canaveral for a landing on a concrete pad close to the launch site.

Arriving in orbit, Dragon will breathe fire, priming its propulsion system, unfolding its solar arrays and opening the GNC Bay door ahead of the first in a set of orbit adjustments that will take Dragon into a higher orbit, approaching the Space Station from below and behind. Dragon will make a methodical rendezvous including several hold points as it climbs up to ISS from a point straight below the orbiting complex. Once arriving at the Capture Point, the ISS crew controls the Station’s Robotic Arm, Canadarm2, to capture the vehicle and berth it to the Harmony Node of the Space Station.

When hatches to the Dragon are open, the crew can begin to unload the spacecraft that will be delivering a variety of equipment to ISS including science experiment hardware, crew supplies and maintenance equipment. Making its way to ISS in Dragon’s Trunk Section will be International Docking Adapter 2, the first IDA to arrive at ISS. (More about IDA in the EVA Section below).

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Dragon is set for a stay of around one month and will be filled with valuable return cargo including science samples before departing ISS and heading towards a parachute-assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean where it will be recovered by SpaceX.

Depending on scheduling, Expedition 48 may see the return to flight of Orbital ATK”s Antares rocket, lifting the Cygnus OA-5 mission into orbit.

In its original 100 series, Antares was outfitted with a pair of AJ-26 engines which are NK-33 engines developed and built in the 1970s and imported to the U.S. to undergo modifications. In the October 2014 launch of Cygnus Orb-3, Antares suffered a catastrophic engine failure just seconds after leaving the ground, resulting in the 41-meter tall rocket falling to the ground close to its launch pad and exploding in a ball of fire.

An inquiry in the exact circumstances of the failure revealed the most probable cause of the failure to be related to the one of the engines, most likely arising from a manufacturing defect introduced when the NK-33 engine was built over 40 years ago. Because of the limited supply of existing NK-33 engines, Orbital ATK (formerly Orbital Sciences) had already been looking into options of re-fitting Antares with newer engines and decided to accelerate this process after the failure to abandon the AJ-26 engines altogether and only fly Antares with newly produced engines.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Orbital ATK chose the RD-181 engines manufactured by Russian engine builder NPO Energomash. The RD-181 is a one-chamber version of the RD-180 two-chamber engine used by the Atlas V rocket which itself is a smaller version of the RD-170/171 four-chamber engine originally flown by the Energia booster and now flying on the Zenit rocket.

In 2015, the Antares launch pad at the Wallops Flight Facility finished repairs and Orbital ATK completed the installation of RD-181 engines on the launcher. A Static Fire Test of the Antares 230 rocket showed some adverse modes related to the vibration environment on the vehicle with the new RD-181 engines, requiring additional analysis and corrective measures which pushed the mission from a July 6 launch target into the late summer time frame.

ISS Expedition 48 is expected to conclude on September 7, 2016 with the departure of Soyuz TMA-20M, parachuting to a landing in Kazakhstan to return Jeff Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka to Earth.

Spacewalks

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

The Spacewalk schedule for Increment 47 is relatively uncertain and will depend on the overall scheduling of visiting vehicle activities. No Russian EVAs are planned until the summer time frame and the primary driver for USOS spacewalks is the arrival of the first International Docking Adapter to be installed on Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 to establish the first docking port for upcoming commercial crew traffic.

IDA-2 is riding to ISS aboard the Dragon SpX-9 mission, currently looking at a July 18 liftoff. A pair of EVAs is needed to finish outfitting PMA-2 and integrate the docking adapter and all associated power and data connections.

The Extravehicular Mobility Units are in storage inside the Quest Airlock, are being maintained by the crew to keep them in operating condition and ready for an unplanned EVA – even on very short notice. The Russian Orlan suits are also ready for use in case they are needed.

International Docking Adapter Background:
Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

The International Docking Adapters (IDAs) will be installed on Pressurized Mating Adapters 2 and 3 to convert the APAS-95 docking interface used by the Space Shuttle to the NASA Docking System that is compatible with the International Docking System Standard.

The IDAs are compatible with the NASA Docking System which is an androgynous design supporting low-impact technology. Automated and piloted Spacecraft docking and robotic spacecraft berthing will be possible with the NDS. The docking interface includes architecture to transfer data and power between the two vehicles with future systems also capable of propellant, pressurant and water transfers. The hatch diameter available to crews is 80 centimeters.

For a docking, one interface is in active mode with its Soft Capture System extended while the other spacecraft is in a passive role with its SCS in a stowed position.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA
Image: NASA
Image: NASA

The Docking System includes a Soft Capture System that forms the initial connection between the spacecraft before pulling the two docking systems together to allow the Hard Capture System to form a rigid seal between the two spacecraft. Hooks are available on the active and passive side of the docking system, providing up to 24 attachment points. Overall, the system consists of a capture ring, guide petals, soft docking magnets, mechanical latches, magnetic striker plates, latch strikers and sensor strikers. The strikers are part of the passive system and provide contact surfaces for components of the active system. Soft capture can be achieved using magnetic or mechanical soft capture latches.

The first elements to make contact are the guide petals that then correct any lateral or angular misalignment between the docking interfaces with soft capture being achieved either through magnets making contact with the striker plates on the opposing ring or through active latches that capture passive latch strikers to from a soft-mate.

The SCS then aligns the two docking rings and through the retraction of SCS, the two Hard Capture Interfaces are positioned within their hard capture range to allow fine alignment by the HCS guide pins. Hooks are then used on either the active, passive or both sides to establish the structural connection between the spacecraft and achieving the required force to press the seals within the docking system against the other spacecraft. Each side includes 12 hooks – the passive and active hooks can both be closed if dictated by vehicle requirements.

Due to the low force required for a Soft Capture, the NDS can support robotic berthing of a spacecraft.

To prepare for commercial crew, PMA-3 will be moved from Node-3 to Node-2 Zenith in 2016/17 to be ready to welcome ISS visiting vehicles

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

 

Expedition 48 – Science Overview

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Continuing in its full utilization phase, ISS will feature a packed science schedule for the Expedition 48 crew who will be spending over 40 hours per week with the ongoing scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory. Overall, ISS Expedition 48/49 will see more than 250 studies performed aboard the Space Station including around 50 Russian experiments.

A number of new experiments will be inaugurated as part of Expedition 48/49.

The Meteor study, going by the full name of ‘Meteor Composition Determination,’ is the first of its kind to be deployed in space, solely focused on the analysis of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere and pin-pointing their composition through their optical emissions when burning up in the atmosphere.

Photo: Southwest Research Institute
Photo: Southwest Research Institute

Meteor research from Earth is next to impossible due to the frequency of meteor events over any given location and the interference created by Earth’s atmosphere (ozone absorption). On ISS, however, crews can spot meteors every couple of days, making it a suitable platform to test out equipment for the study of meteors.

The Meteor payload consists of high-resolution imagery and video equipment that will capture images and video of Earth’s atmosphere that is processed by a software to identify bright spots. These meteor events can then be analyzed spectrographically. Created spectra can be compared to known synthetic spectra to identify element abundances and temperatures. It is hoped that Meteor can deliver valuable data on absolute meteor flux and provide information on carbon-based compounds in meteors.

Photo: Southwest Research Institute
Photo: Southwest Research Institute

Meteor is a high-resolution spectrographic imager that will operate for two years inside the Window Observation Facility to create a continuous record of meteor activity. The camera is outfitted with an infrared cut filter and only looks at visible wavelengths up to 700 nanometers which is sufficient to conduct spectral analysis and determine a meteor’s elemental composition. Major emission lines that will be looked at include iron (370nm), calcium (393nm), magnesium (518nm) and sodium (589nm).

Although the Window Observation Facility window has a limited transmittance at the 370nm wavelength (~21%), measurements of that line will still be useful for the study.

For many meteor shower events, the parent comet or asteroid is known, enabling this experiment to deliver data on cometary composition which is of great interest to scientists. Additionally, the instrument sets out to obtain measurements outside of the peak of major meteor showers to look at the frequency of meteor events in general. Secondary studies of terrestrial targets and re-entering spacecraft will also be performed.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange (ARTE) examines the performance of a passive, low-weight heat pipe to increase the heat transfer capability of materials. Thermal Control Systems such as heat pipes transporting heat from components including electronics are essential in a spacecraft’s design to efficiently transport heat to colder areas or cool down heated equipment. Axially Grooved Heat Pipes are a new technology which could reduce the weight of thermal systems while also increasing their efficiency.

Heat pipes make use of of phase change to transport heat and capillary pressure to transport mass – wherein one end of the heat pipe is the evaporator in which fluid in contact with a hot surface evaporates and then travels to the other end given its higher pressure than the vapor at the other, colder end known as the condenser. At the condenser, the vapor releases its latent heat and condenses into its fluid phase, flowing back to the evaporator due to capillary forces to repeat the process. To increase capillary action, several grooves are created within the heat pipe.

ARTE Crew Activities - Image: NASA
ARTE Crew Activities – Image: NASA

The ARTE experiment deploys 20-centimeter long Axially Grooved Heat Pipes filled with mixtures like pentane-isohexane (5%wt) and self-rewetting fluids (water-butanol) to the Space Station to undergo testing along a temperature range of 10 to 100°C. The use of low-risk fluids makes this investigation compatible with future crewed spacecraft.

The grooves are responsible for creating capillary pressure which can be considered the driving force behind the device. With grooves, the return of the liquid phase to the condenser is faster and dry out phenomena are avoided. The design of the grooves is carefully chosen based on different factors including capillary pressure, pressure losses in micro-channels and pressure losses in the vapor phase.

The ARTE experiment is run in the Microgravity Science Glovebox and uses a high-resolution infrared camera to deliver imagery of the heat flow within the heat pipes. Four heat pipes are part of the initial test run with at least two tests performed with each pipe.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

The Miniature Exercise Device, MED-2, is completing a demonstration mission to ISS to test a compact device hosting robotic actuators providing motion and resistance for crew workout sessions in the limited space available aboard spacecraft taking crews to distant targets.

Exercise is a crucial part of daily life during a long stay in microgravity as a countermeasures to muscle and bone mass loss occurring during space missions. Devices used for exercise aboard the International Space Station are rather balky and heavy pieces of equipment, not suitable for the confined space of spacecraft of the future, capable of traveling to destinations beyond Earth Orbit.

The MED-2 device demonstrates robotic technology to provide the motion and resistance needed for crew exercise. The primary goal is to test the functionality of the actuator within the system in a microgravity environment. MED-2 is a one-degree of freedom system allowing exercise using constant load, progressive loads and non-linear load. Testing onboard ISS will use instrumentation installed on the device as well as the subjective feelings of crew members testing the system in space.

 Microchannel Diffusion device - Image: Houston Methodist Research Institute
Microchannel Diffusion device – Image: Houston Methodist Research Institute

Microchannel Diffusion is a nanoscience and nanotechnology investigation looking at fluid dynamics at the nanoscale to learn how fluids and microparticles interact with surfaces of microchannels at this small scale, going down to the atomic level. This type of technology could find application in a number of areas such as nanofluidic sensors, drug delivery to specific places in an organism and many other applications in medicine, biology and technology.

The laws that control the flow through nanoscale channels are not yet fully understood and experimental data for the generation of fluid dynamic models is needed. ISS provides a unique environment for the study of nanoscale dynamics decoupled from the influence of gravity.

LMM Facility – Photo: NASA
LMM Facility – Photo: NASA

The Microchannel Diffusion Experiment studies fluid dynamics at a larger scale, the microscopic level, possible because samples in microgravity behave identical in both scale sizes.

The primary objective of this study is to provide insight into the mechanisms of particle interactions with the surface of confining microchannels in the absence of gravity, looking at physical and electrostatic confinement. Insight into nanoscopic diffusive transport is relevant for on-Earth applications and microparticle diffusive transport may also be used in future space exploration systems.

The experiment employs the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) for microscopic analysis of the movement of fluorescent microparticles in a microfabricated microchannel chip. Four Microchannel Diffusion plates, each with 12 samples, are part of the experiment and each is to be imaged using the LMM for up to ten days.

For the experiment run, the Microchannel Plates are thawed after being retrieved from cold stowage and data loggers are installed on each plate to record the ambient environment. The Plates are then installed on a Microchannel Diffusion Plate Holder within the LMM and imaging is initiated via remote commanding. Imagery is retrieved and downlinked daily and the plates are returned to Earth via ambient stowage.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

The Microbial Observatory 1 study will acquire air and surface samples from various locations of the International Space Station to observe which bacteria are present. This collection will last for one year to allow scientists to look at the types of microbes that can survive in the space environment and study their changes over time. This data is valuable for the assessment of risks to crew health and it also allows a close look at the way microbes adept in space as compared to mechanisms known from Earth-based studies.

Experiment data from MO-1 will go down to the cellular level to identify reactions that may be occurring in space but not on Earth which can provide helpful information for the development of antibiotics and antimicrobial agents. The experiment also serves as validation for omics technology in the screening for microbes and identification of those that may be present.

Photo: CSA
Photo: CSA

MO-1 aims to better understand risks to crew health in a closed environment for infection and illness, assess risk to fouling of clean air supplies and contamination of fluids and food, compare the microbial communities on ISS and on Earth in normal and extreme environments, identifying specific microbes that flourish in the space environment and conduct a study of the adaptation of microbes to the space environment. The primary goal of the study is to complete a detailed microbial census of ISS, delivering a complete database including the genomic sequence and genetic information for all microbes (bacteria and fungi) encountered within the ISS habitat.

The experiment uses air and surface samples collected from the various ISS modules, stored at room temperature and returned to Earth within two weeks of acquisition. Sample methods of MO-1 include adhesive tapes, swabs, contact slides, wipes, gelatin air filters and used gloves. Eight specific locations for surface sampling and six air sampling points have been selected – the zero-G stowage rack (ZSR) surface and dining table inside Unity (Node 1); crew quarters (CQ3) interior port wall inside Harmony (Node 2); overhead hatch area of cupola, rack next to waste and hygiene compartment (WHC), and foot platform of the advance resistive exercise device (ARED) inside Tranquility (Node 3); the ZSR surface inside Leonardo PMM; and the rack front near portable water dispenser (PWD) inside Destiny (Laboratory).

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

In addition to a number of new studies, Expedition 48 will continue numerous experiments that started during previous increments. ISS Science spans across all fields of science with particular focus on Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, Technology, Biology and Biotechnology, Human Research and Educational and Cultural Activities.

The crew will be supporting hundreds of scientific studies and experiments that are in progress aboard the Station – often acting as test subjects themselves performing different experiments to study the effects long duration space flight has on humans.

A human physiology study that will keep the crew busy many days of their mission is Ocular Health. Its full name is Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews. The Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews (Ocular Health) protocol aims to systematically gather physiological data to characterize the Risk of Microgravity-Induced Visual Impairment/Intracranial Pressure on crewmembers assigned to a 6 month ISS increment,” the NASA experiment overview said.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

It is known that some (not all) astronauts in orbit experience changes in visual acuity (visual clarity) and intraocular pressure as a result of fluid shifts within the body as it is subjected to microgravity. About 20% is astronauts flying to ISS have reported these kinds of changes. Test subjects will undergo pre-flight, flight and post-flight testing of their eyes using a variety of techniques.

Near and far visual acuity will be tested for each eye independently using a Snellen chart and Amsler grid testing. Also, intraocular and blood pressure measurements are part of the study as well as ocular ultrasounds to identify changes in globe morphology, fundoscopy to detect retinal changes, threshold visual field testing to assess central and peripheral vision changes, contrast sensitivity changes as a measure of visual function, and vascular compliance calculations. In-flight measures will be taken on Flight Days 10, 30, 60, 90, and 120 as well as 30 days prior to return.

Pre- and post-flight examinations include refraction testing, pupil reflex testing, extraocular muscle balance and function checks, CT and MRI scans and split lamp biochemistry and high resolution retinal photography.

“The purpose of this study is to collect evidence to characterize the risk and define the visual changes and central nervous system (CNS) changes observed during a six month exposure to microgravity including postflight time course for recovery to baseline. This study will gather information that can be used to assess the risk of Microgravity-Induced Visual Impairment/Intracranial Pressure (VIIP) and guide future research needs,” the experiment overview notes.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

Fluid Shifts Before, During and After Prolonged Space Flight and Their Association with Intracranial Pressure and Visual Impairment. Known as the Fluids Shift study, this experiment is one of the most complex integrated experiments ever performed on ISS using pieces of US and Russian hardware to attempt to quantify the amount of fluid shifting from the lower body to the upper body when transitioning from a gravity to a microgravity environment.

This will also lead to an understanding of effects of the fluid shift on fluid pressure in the head, changes to vision and eye structure. Effects on the eye caused by elevated intracranial pressure include globe flattening, choroidal folds, and alteration of the optic nerve.

The fluid shifts study uses a number of measurements – fluid compartmentalization (determining total body water by using heavy water as tracer, determining extra and intracellular water content, plasma volume & interstitial volume), ultrasound measurements to track the thickness of tissues on the forehead, tibia, calcaneus, ultrasounds to measure vascular dimensions, MRI for the measurement of vascular dynamics, ocular measurements (optical coherence tomography, tonometry, ultrasounds for structural changes), cardiac variables using ultrasounds, and intracranial pressure measurements.

The study will utilize the Russian Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure suit that shifts fluids back to the lower body to provide comparison measurements with those made in pure microgravity and on Earth.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

Cognition, also known as Individualized Real-Time Neurocognitive Assessment Toolkit for Space Flight Fatigue uses a battery of tests to measure how spaceflight-related physical changes (microgravity, lack of sleep quality, diet) can affect the cognitive performance of humans during long-duration space flights. The experiment consists of ten brief computer-based tests that cover a range of cognitive functions and deliver immediate feedback on current and past results. A good neurocognitive function for effective performance during space missions makes an investigation of sleep and fatigue in space an absolute necessity.

The testing operation consists of a sleep questionnaire and subjective evaluations at the beginning followed by the ten tests that focus on: sensor-motor ability, visual object learning and memory, attention and working memory, abstraction, spatial orientation, emotion recognition, abstract reasoning, complex scanning & visual tracking, risk decision making, and vigilant attention and psychomotor speed.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA
Photo: Oleg Artemyev
Photo: Oleg Artemyev

Many other long term ISS Research projects will continue on Expedition 48/49 including human research experiments focused on the effects of long duration flights on the human body. These tests include cardiovascular studies, studies of metabolism properties, etc. For that, the Astronauts will take regular tests (e.g. vision checks, electrocardiography) and give samples (Blood, Saliva, Urine) that will be returned to Earth for analysis.

On the Russian side, there are also a number of science operations that will be underway throughout Expedition 48. These experiments include material science, biology, human research, earth observation and physics&chemistry.

The new Biopolimer Experiment seeks to help in the development of new polymeric materials resistant to biocorrosion. The experiment uses a series of test specimens in sealed film packets also containing polymeric materials. After exposing the containers to microgravity for a specified amount of time, the hardware will return to Earth for analysis to determine the resistance of the different materials to biocorrosion in spaceflight conditions for future application in spacecraft construction.

Matryoshka-R consists of a number of radiation dosimeters that are set up inside the space station to assess radiation exposure of the crew relative to ISS position in its orbit and shielding provided by the modules.

Obstanovka (=Environment) features external hardware including a set of magnetometers, wave sensors, potential probes, plasma discharge stimulators, an electron spectrograph and other components to study space weather. Obstanovka will study electromagnetic fields and plasma-wave processes occurring in the ISS Near Surface Zone to examine plasma component factors in near-Earth space. “The problems concerning the interaction of such super-large body as the International Space Station (ISS) with space plasma are of the top-priority importance for both technological and scientific experiments aboard the ISS,” the RSC Energia Experiment Overview document said.

Seismoprognoz will measure the temporal and spatial scales of ionospheric disturbances caused by seismic phenomena in order to develop algorithms to detect plasma features of earthquakes and anthropogenic impacts from space-based instruments. The payload consists of an external monoblock, a Data Control and Acquisition Module, an attachment kit, flash memory and associated cables and connectors.

Photo: Oleg Artemyev
Photo: Oleg Artemyev

‘Vzaimodeistviye’ (Interactions) looks at psychological aspects of long duration space flight during which different cultures come together aboard a Spacecraft such as ISS and seeks to improve crew interactions aboard ISS and with teams on the ground.

Relaxation is an Earth Observation Experiment that uses the Photospectral Hardware to acquire spectral and photographic imagery of Earth’s surface and atmosphere under ground commanding.

The PZEh-MO-8 Body Mass Study tracks a crew member’s body mass during their stay in microgravity which allows to examine the effects of diet and exercise in space. Measuring body mass in Zero-G, where matter is weightless, but not massless, is accomplished by measuring the inertial forces that arise during the oscillatory motion of a mass driven by two helical metering springs with known spring constants.

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

By logging the period of each oscillation of the crew member and comparing it to the period of a known mass, the unknown mass can be calculated.

Zero-G deconditioning is also being tracked by the MO-7 study that measures a crew member’s Calf Volume. These measurements are done with the IZOG device which is a custom-sewn fabric cuff that fits over the calf. The knee and lower foot of the left leg are used as reference points. The measurements provide a rough index of deconditioning in Zero-G and can be used to assess countermeasures.

The Russian MedOps Suite of investigations assesses crew health and other physiological changes occurring during long duration space missions by collecting samples of blood, saliva and urine of participants.