Minimize ISS: SpaceX CRS-19

ISS Utilization: SpaceX CRS-19 Flight

Launch: NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX launched the CRS-19 (Commercial Resupply-19) Dragon mission to the ISS on Thursday, 5 December 2019 (17:29:24 UTC). SpaceX launched its CRS-19 mission from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. 1)


Figure 1: SpaceX launches its 19th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station at 12:29 p.m. EST Dec. 5, 2019, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Upgraded science hardware for the Cold Atom Lab - built and operated by JPL- is among the cargo (image credits: NASA TV)

Loaded with 2,617 kg of equipment, the Dragon spacecraft is on a 3 day trek to the station. The takeoff occurred a day behind schedule after extreme high-altitude winds prevented the Falcon 9 Block5 from launching on Wednesday. But the upper level winds subsided enough Thursday to permit the Falcon 9's fiery departure, and the commercial launcher successfully delivered its Dragon cargo payload into a preliminary orbit eight-and-a-half minutes later. 2)

- Science investigations: 977 kg

- Vehicle hardware: 306 kg

- Crew supplies: 306 kg

- Spacewalk equipment: 65 kg

- Computer resources: 15 kg

- Unpressurized payloads: 924 kg.

The figures do not include the mass of cargo packaging, which is included in NASA's overall payload mass.

The Falcon 9's first stage did the first bit of lifting before detaching two-and-a-half minutes into the flight. The first stage booster flew itself back through Earth's atmosphere and landed on SpaceX's drone ship "Of Course I Still Love" parked in the Atlantic Ocean east-northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, marking the 46th time SpaceX has recovered one of its boosters intact for reuse on a future flight.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9's second stage lit its single Merlin engine to inject the Dragon supply ship into orbit. A minute later, the cargo capsule deployed from the second stage of the Falcon 9, and a forward-mounted camera showed the Dragon flying away from the rocket against the inky blackness of space.

SpaceX confirmed the supply ship extended its power-generating solar panels to a span of 16.5 meters, and all of the ship's Draco maneuvering thrusters were primed to begin a series of maneuvers to rendezvous with the space station early Sunday.


Figure 2: A forward-facing video camera on-board the Falcon 9's second stage showed the Dragon capsule separating from the rocket nearly 10 minutes after liftoff /image credit: SpaceX, NASA, Ref. 2)

After releasing the Dragon spacecraft, the Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage was expected to continue on an extended-duration coast lasting nearly six hours. SpaceX intended to collect thermal data and other information on the performance of the stage during several orbits of the Earth, before the Merlin engine reignites for a long disposal burn to drive the rocket body back into Earth's atmosphere for a destructive re-entry over the far southern Indian Ocean.

SpaceX said the long-duration experiment is necessary to verify the upper stage's readiness to support future missions that might require the rocket to coast in the extreme environment of space for up to six hours. Missions that require that capability include high-altitude orbital injections for U.S. military and National Reconnaissance Office satellites.


Figure 3: An aft-facing camera captured this view of the Dragon spacecraft with its solar panels extended shortly after arriving in orbit (image credit: SpaceX, Ref. 2)

Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º.

Figure 4: Science Launching On SpaceX CRS 19. The 19th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) contract mission for NASA carries a variety of cutting-edge scientific experiments to the International Space Station (video credit: NASA/JSC)

The 19th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) contract mission for NASA carries a variety of cutting-edge scientific experiments to the International Space Station. 3)

The space station, entering its 20th year of continuous human presence, provides opportunities for research by government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions. Such research supports Artemis, NASA's missions to the Moon and Mars, and leads to new technologies, medical treatments and products that improve life on Earth.


Investigations riding on Dragon to the orbiting laboratory on CRS-19.

HISUI (Hyperspectral Imager Suite) of JAXA is a next-generation, hyperspectral Earth imaging system. Hyperspectral imaging has high resolution across all colors of the light spectrum, providing more information about the characteristics and physical properties of a target. Every material on the Earth's surface – soil, rocks, vegetation, snow, ice and human-made objects – reflects a unique spectrum of light, making it possible to identify specific materials in an image.

HISUI provides in-flight performance verification of the system and its acquisition of data, as well as its usefulness for various tasks such as resource exploration and applications in agriculture, forestry and other environmental areas. This investigation is a follow-on to the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's TERRA satellite.

Note: The HISUI instrument is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

Malting Barley in Microgravity: Barley contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Malting converts starches from the raw grain into various sugars suitable for use in brewing, distilling and food production. Understanding how barley responds to microgravity could identify ways to adapt it for nutritional use on long-duration spaceflights. Malting ABI Voyager Barley Seeds in Microgravity tests an automated malting procedure and compares malt produced in space and on the ground for genetic and structural changes.

Communicating Satellite to Satellite: The AztechSat-1 investigation demonstrates communication between a CubeSat and the GlobalStar Constellation satellite network in low-Earth orbit. Such communication could reduce the need for ground stations, lowering the cost and increasing the number of data downloads possible for satellite applications. Inter-satellite communication is critical to future human space exploration. Its reduced cost and increased data capability also could improve many satellite-based services used by people on Earth. The CubeSat will be deployed from the International Space Station's Japanese Experiment Module airlock. This is the first CubeSat built by students in Mexico that will launch from the space station.

The Spread of Fire: Understanding how fire spreads and behaves in space is crucial for the safety of future astronauts and for understanding and controlling fire here on Earth. The Confined Combustion investigation examines the behavior of flame as it spreads in differently-shaped confined spaces in microgravity. More specifically, it will look at the interactions between spreading flames and surrounding walls. The spread of flames in confined spaces (such as buildings and vehicles) may pose a more serious fire hazard than flame spread in open spaces because of acceleration caused by heat radiating back from the surrounding walls. Studying flames in microgravity gives researchers a better look at the underlying physics and basic principles of combustion by removing gravity from the equation.

Keeping Bones and Muscles Strong: The goal of Rodent Research-19 (RR-19) is to investigate a proposed method of preventing bone and muscle loss. The human body evolved within the constant pull of Earth's gravity. Astronauts have to exercise for multiple hours every day to prevent bone and muscle atrophy during their stays in space. Bone and muscle atrophy also occurs during normal aging, due to a sedentary lifestyle and during illnesses. RR-19 investigates myostatin (MSTN) and activin, molecular signaling pathways that influence muscle degradation, as possible targets for preventing muscle and bone loss during spaceflight and enhancing recovery following return to Earth. This study also could support the development of therapies for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle and bone loss on Earth.

Checking for Leaks: Nobody wants a spacecraft to spring a leak – but if it happens, the best thing you can do is locate and fix it, fast. That is why NASA launched the Robotic External Leak Locator (RELL) in 2015, and a second RELL in April 2019. Operators can use these tools with the Dextre robot to quickly detect leaks outside of station and help engineers formulate a plan to resolve an issue. On CRS-19, NASA is now launching the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a docking station that allows the RELL units to be stored on the outside of space station, making it quicker and simpler to deploy the instruments. Outside storage eliminates the need to rely on crew member and airlock availability to move a unit to the outside. These capabilities can be applied to any place that humans live in space, including Gateway and eventually habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Measuring Gravity From Space: CRS-19 carries upgrades for the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), a multi-use facility that produces clouds of atoms chilled to temperatures much colder than deep space. Atoms have almost no motion at such low temperatures, making it possible to study fundamental behaviors and quantum characteristics that are difficult or impossible to probe at higher temperatures. Microgravity may allow for cooling to even colder temperatures than on the ground, and also allows researchers to observe atom clouds for longer periods of time. The new package launching on CRS-19 will include hardware that will allow scientists to make subtle measurements of gravity. This could enable scientists to probe fundamental theories of gravity and lead to the development of improved sensors that can be used for spacecraft navigation and to study Earth's climate. — Note: ISS-CAL is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

Radiation Rotifer

The 19th SpaceX Dragon supply mission to the International Space Station will carry cargo for astronauts to run experiments for European researchers on Earth. One curious cargo is the microscopic organism, rotifers, that researchers will study in space to hopefully reveal some secrets of their unique powers. 4)

- Rotifers, commonly called wheel animals, can be found in almost all pools of water no matter how small including moist ground, moss and even on other animals. Most species are less than a millimeter in size and are fascinating to biologists as they are masters of survival.

- A species of rotifers called bdelloids are exceptional as no male has ever been found, meaning they produce offspring from unfertilized eggs. Despite the genetic similarity they can survive for very long periods without water; rolling up into a pod they can survive year-long droughts in the Sahara desert as well as in the frozen plains of Antarctica. Simply add water and the bdelloids will uncurl and spring back to normal function.

- Bdelloids have another trick up their sleeve: they are extremely resistant to radiation. Understanding how they survive radiation levels that would kill many other organisms (and indeed ourselves) will gain insights into how we could improve spacecraft and protect astronauts against cosmic radiation. Earth's atmosphere protects us from cosmic radiation but at 400 km altitude on the International Space Station astronauts already receive radiation doses 250 times higher than at sea level.

- As humankind ventures farther to explore our Solar System on longer missions, finding ways to protect ourselves from radiation is key. The results from the Rotifer-B study could also lead to measures to improve protection of professionals who are exposed to radiation in their work or cancer patients during radiation therapy.

- The experiment is split into two halves: one focuses explicitly on the effects of microgravity (Part 1) and the other on DNA damage and repair (Part 2). Part 1 will see culture bags of fresh rotifers with a meal of lettuce juice and water launched to the ISS, where they will experience conditions inside the Columbus module on the ISS in a special temperature-controlled Kubik facility. Once back on ground, researchers will examine the gene expression of the rotifers that were frozen in space to get a clear snapshot of what they were experiencing at the time at the molecular level.

- In Part 2, the rotifers will be dried onto special agarose gels, where they will be strongly irradiated using an X-Ray machine. This will deliberately destroy their DNA but not kill them. Once in space, the dried rotifers will be reactivated with the lettuce juice and water mixture, exposed to space conditions and sent back to Earth in the frozen state. Eventually, researchers will examine the effects that their trip to space had on their ability to repair their own DNA, compared to ground controls.

- The experiment is being designed and run by the University of Namur and result institute SCK-KEN of Belgium with the facility hardware built by Kayser Italia.

- "Kubik (Figure 5) hosts a wide range of life science experiments in weightlessness with minimal crew involvement," explains Jutta Krause of the payload development team. "Research teams prepare their experiments and make use of existing or custom-built ‘experiment units', which are each about the size of a box of pocket tissues. 5)

- "Once slotted into Kubik by an astronaut, they are automatically activated through internal electrical connections, running autonomously on a programmed timeline until they are finally retrieved for return to Earth.

- "At the center of the temperature-controlled Kubik is a centrifuge to simulate gravity, so double experiments can be run with one unit in microgravity plus an Earth-gravity control or intermediate gravity level – giving researchers insight into whether any results they observe might be related to weightlessness or some other environmental factor, such as space radiation."

- "Why fly biological samples in weightlessness? Because we know many biological systems are partially gravity-dependent, so by ‘taking away' gravity researchers can gain broader insight into how they work.

- To give an idea, Kubik has over the years hosted samples of bacteria, fungi, human white blood cells and stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cords, plant seedlings, and swimming tadpoles. A pending payload is designed to examine how microbial biofilms interact with rock surfaces across different gravity levels, from weightlessness to Mars and Earth gravity."


Figure 5: Kubik is a miniaturized laboratory inside the orbital laboratory that is ESA's Columbus module, this 40 cm cube has been one of its quiet scientific triumphs working on the ISS since 2008 (image credit: NASA, ESA)

Human-machine interaction and artificial intelligence in space with CIMON-2.

- A new CIMON for the International Space Station (ISS): CIMON-2 (Crew Interactive MObile companioN) lifted off on its journey into space on 5 December 2019. This modified version of the astronaut assistant has been equipped for new tasks and was developed and built in Germany. Like its predecessor, CIMON-2 will be deployed in the Columbus European research module. CIMON is a free-flying, spherical technology demonstrator for human-machine interaction and features artificial intelligence. 6)

- "CIMON-1 – our prototype – landed back on Earth on 27 August 2019 after spending 14 months on the ISS, and has now arrived at Airbus in Friedrichshafen," says Dr Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Space Administration in Bonn. The technology experiment was developed and built by Airbus in Friedrichshafen and Bremen on behalf of the Space Administration and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie). The demonstrator's artificial intelligence is based on IBM's Watson technology, with medical experts from the Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich (Klinikum der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, LMU) responsible for scientific issues. On 15 November 2018, CIMON-1 became the world's first AI to be deployed on the ISS, working with German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.

- "CIMON-2 is expected to remain on the ISS and support the crew for up to three years," explains Till Eisenberg, CIMON Project Manager at Airbus. "CIMON-2's microphones are more sensitive, and it has a more advanced sense of direction. Its AI capabilities and the stability of its complex software applications have also been significantly improved. "Another key point in CIMON's evolution is its extended service life: "During this mission, we are also considering further steps, such as uploading the AI to a cloud on the ISS."

- This would represent a milestone in the development of a completely autonomous assistance system. According to DLR Project Manager Christian Karrasch: "When travelling to the Moon or Mars, the crew would then be able to rely on an AI-based assistance service, even without a permanent data link to Earth. One application back on Earth could be to support people with complex tasks in areas with poor infrastructure, for example."

- IBM is responsible for the implementation of CIMON's artificial intelligence. "During its first deployment on the ISS, CIMON proved that it can not only understand content in context, but also the intention behind it," explains Matthias Biniok, IBM project lead for the Watson AI. "CIMON-2 is taking this a step further. Thanks to the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer from IBM Cloud in Frankfurt, Germany, it is now capable of assessing the astronauts' emotions and reacting in a manner that is appropriate to the situation, either at the request of the astronauts or when its emotional analysis is being tested as part of an experiment. This means CIMON-2 can, if required, switch from being a scientific assistant to an empathetic conversation partner."

The CIMON ‘family'

- The interactive astronaut assistant CIMON was developed and built by Airbus in Friedrichshafen and Bremen on behalf of the German Aerospace Center Space Administration (DLR) and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Watson AI technology from IBM Cloud provides voice-controlled artificial intelligence. Scientists from the Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich (LMU) helped develop and oversee the human aspects of the assistance system. An approximately 50-strong project team from DLR, Airbus, IBM and LMU have been working on the implementation of CIMON since August 2016. The prototype of the technology experiment was on board the ISS from 2 July 2018 to 27 August 2019, and made its 90-minute debut – a world first – on 15 November 2018 with German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst. It is no coincidence that CIMON's name is reminiscent of ‘Professor Simon Wright', the robotic assistant – or the ‘flying brain' – from the Japanese science fiction series ‘Captain Future'.


Figure 6: Astronaut assistant is on its way to the International Space Station (image credit: Airbus)


These are just a few of the many investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory.


Secondary payloads: The following ELaNa 25B and 28 technology and demonstration missions were launched on this resupply flight, plus QARMAN of ESA.

AzTechSat-1. A 1U CubeSat technology demonstration developed by UPAEP (Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla) in Puebla, Mexico, that will use the low-Earth orbit satellite constellation Globalstar for satellite phone and low-speed data communications. — Note: The AzTechSat-1 mission is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

CryoCube-1. A 3U CubeSat developed at NASA/KSC to perform cryogenic fluid management experiments. The 3U Cubesat features deployable solar arrays, which double as a solar heat shield. A second deployable heat shield will block earth's infrared radiation. Active doors will expose the cryogenic oxygen tank to space during eclipse phases.

SORTIE (Scintillation Observations and Response of The Ionosphere to Electrodynamics). The SORTIE 6U CubeSat mission is led by ASTRA LLC (Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates). The team is composed of ASTRA, COSMIAC, AFRL, University of Texas at Dallas and Boston College. COSMIAC will be the satellite integrator. The mission is to collect data over the course of 6 months, which will allow scientists to describe the distribution of wave-like structures in the plasma density of the ionospheric F-region and to connect these variations to wave sources in the troposphere and in the high latitude thermosphere. — Note: The SORTIE mission is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

CIRiS (Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space). A 6U CubeSat of USU (Utah State University), Logan, UT. The objective is to raise the technology readiness level of the new uncooled detector and carbon nanotube source from level 5 to 6, enabling future reduced cost missions to study the hydrologic cycle, characterization of ocean/atmosphere interactions vegetation and land use management. The IR radiometer features a spectral range from 7-13 µm. — Note: The CIRiS mission is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

EdgeCube. A 1U CubeSat of Sonoma State University. The objective is to take global measurements of the red edge that monitors a sharp change in leaf reflectance in the range 680 - 750 nm from changes in vegetation chlorophyll absorption and mesophyll scattering due to seasonal leaf phenology or stress. The payload consists of six pairs of photo-sensors and filters that are pointed normal to the spin axis to scan the Earth.

QARMAN. A 3U CubeSat of ESA, designed and built by VKI (Von Karman Institute), Brussels, Belgium. The objective of the mission is to demonstrate reentry technologies, particularly novel heatshield materials, new passive aerodynamic drag and attitude stabilization systems, and the transmission of telemetry data during reentry via data relay satellites in low-Earth orbit. — Note: The QARMAN is is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

Dragon will join three other spacecraft currently at the station. On 8 December (Sunday), ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA flight engineer Drew Morgan will man the space station's Canadian-built robot arm to capture the Dragon supply ship. The robotic arm will position the Dragon spacecraft on the station's Harmony module, where astronauts will open hatches and begin unpacking the cargo inside the supply ship's internal compartment.



Dragon Attached to Station for Month-Long Stay

December 8, 2019: Three days after its launch from Florida, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was installed on the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station's Harmony module at 7:47 a.m. EST. 7)

The 19th contracted commercial resupply mission from SpaceX delivers more than 5,700 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory. — Here's some of the science arriving at station:

Keeping Bones and Muscles Strong

Rodent Research-19 (RR-19) investigates myostatin (MSTN) and activin, molecular signaling pathways that influence muscle degradation, as possible targets for preventing muscle and bone loss during spaceflight and enhancing recovery following return to Earth. This study also could support the development of therapies for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle and bone loss on Earth.

Checking for Leaks

NASA is launching Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a docking station that allows Robotic External Leak Locator (RELL) units to be stored on the outside of space station, making it quicker and simpler to deploy the instruments. The leak locator is a robotic, remote-controlled tool that helps mission operators detect the location of an external leak and rapidly confirm a successful repair. These capabilities can be applied to any place that humans live in space, including NASA's lunar Gateway and eventually habitats on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.


Figure 7: International Space Station Configuration on 8 December 2019. Four spaceships are parked to the space station including the SpaceX Dragon space freighter, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply ship and Russia's Soyuz MS-13 and MS-15 crew ships (image credit: NASA, Mark Garcia)

After Dragon spends approximately one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.



Some status information

• December 11, 2019: From robotics and more efficient batteries to wheel animals with extraordinary survival skills, life and technology are intertwined on the International Space Station. The last deliveries of the year arrived just in time for more science and tests over the Christmas period, aboard two cargo ferries. 8)

Keep it alive

- With the spacewalk season on hold until next year, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano took his time to prepare the orbital home for new, tiny and incredibly resistant passengers. Rotifers, commonly called wheel animals, are usually less than a millimeter in size and usually found in fresh water and moist soil.


Figure 8: Rotifers, commonly called wheel animals, are usually < 1mm in size and usually found in fresh water and moist soil (image credit: UNamur)

- These microorganisms arrived on Sunday on the 19th SpaceX Dragon supply mission, and Luca is hosting them inside Europe's long running incubator in space, Kubik. The astronaut set the thermostat of their space cubicle at 15°C – the optimal temperature for growing these creatures in.

- Biologists are interested to see how these curious animals handle stress and repair damage caused by radiation in microgravity. The results from the Rotifer-B study could lead to improved protection of professionals exposed to radiation in their work or cancer patients during radiation therapy.

- Europe's space laboratory Columbus incubates more new science. Large pharmaceutical companies from Europe and Asia and small startups shipped proteins on the Dragon spacecraft to study their formation without gravity and convective forces that get in the way. Studying protein crystallization inside the ICE Cubes facility will help scientists design new drugs.

ESA's latest regenerative life support system received new parts and filters. This European technology capable of recycling carbon dioxide for a cleaner air is expected to be fully operational by early 2020.

Figure 9: ACLS (Advanced Closed Loop System) infographics (image credit: ESA)

- ESA's Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS) recycles carbon dioxide on the Space Station into oxygen. For years oxygen on the Space Station was extracted from water that is brought from Earth, a costly and limiting drawback. The new system recycles half of the carbon dioxide thereby saving about 400 l of water that needs to be launched to the International Space Station each year.

- The facility is a Space Station-standard 2-m tall rack. Although the system is made to demonstrate the new technology, it will be part of the Space Station's life support system and produce oxygen for three astronauts, and operated for at least 1 year over 2 years to demonstrate its performance and reliability.

The power of knowledge

- Batteries developed by this year's Nobel Prize laureates are helping to power the Space Station. During a live call with laureates in physics and chemistry, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir stated that the new lithium-ion batteries are "a significant improvement in performance and savings: they will last 10 years instead of six years for the older nickel-hydrogen type batteries."

- When Nobel Prize winning chemists invented the lithium ion batteries in the 90s that power everything from our smartphones to electric cars today, ESA was the first one to transfer them to space. Today, Nobel Prize-winning lithium-ion batteries are just as prevalent in space as on Earth, used in everything from the Space Station's solar arrays to spacesuits, and onboard gadgets.



Figure 10: Nobel Prize laureates call to Space Station on 6 December 2019. The call was made from Stockholm, Sweden, at the start of Nobel Week festivities. ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang moderated the conversation between two of the Nobel Prize laureates in physics, Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor, and the Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, Stanley Whittingham (video credit: ESA)

Monday's (9 December 2019) science delivery came on the Russian Progress cargo ship. Supplies included new parts for Plasma Kristall-4, an ESA-Roscosmos experiment that helps reveal the dynamics of liquids and solids at the atomic level. Fundamental science helps study how an object melts and how waves spread in fluids.


Figure 11: Plasma waves. Shear flow motion in a complex plasma fluid in weightlessness on the International Space Station. This image is part of the Plasma Kristall-4 experiment. Plasma Kristall-4 is an International Space Station experiment that injects microscopic dust particles into a neon or argon tube to act as atom substitutes. As they float in the charged gas, they will collect negative charges as positive ions accumulate around them. As a result, they will start to repulse each other – just like atoms do in a fluid state. This manipulation causes the proxy atoms to interact strongly, leading sometimes to melting. The particles in PK-4 are made of plastic. A plasma is an electrically charged gas, a bit like lightning, that rarely occurs on Earth. It is considered to be the fourth state of matter, distinct from gas, liquid and solid matter [image credit: DLR (CC BY 3.0)]

- Better heat transfer technology is vital to keep your computer cool, and paradoxically boiling seems to be an extremely efficient way of getting rid of excess heat. The Multiscale Boiling experiment continued to produce large bubbles in space to improve thermal management systems in space as well as in terrestrial applications.

Testing space

- The next wave of space exploration will see humans exploring ‘hand-in-hand' with robots. Luca made robotics history in late November, reaching out from the International Space Station in orbit around Earth at a speed of around 8 km/s, to control a rover in the Netherlands equipped with an advanced gripper as dexterous as a human hand. He drove the rover to three sites and used its robotic arm to collect rock samples following the advice of geologists on the ground.

- The Analog-1 test project was a success for scientists and robotics teams as Luca proved that ‘force-feedback' controls allowed high-precision robotic control in weightlessness.

Figure 12: Rock sampling from space – Analog-1. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano made robotics history, reaching out from the International Space Station in orbit around Earth at 8 km/s, to control an Earth-based rover, equipped with an advanced gripper possessing the equivalent mobility and dexterity of a human hand (video credit: ESA)

- The gripper was able to pick up and collect rock samples from the mock-lunar environment. In the future a comparable system may well be used to explore alien environments, with astronauts controlling surface rovers from the safety and comfort of a surface habitat or an orbiting spacecraft.

- The Analog-1 test project, which concluded with this two-hour space-to-ground test on 25 November, had multiple technical goals. High among them was to assess the use of ‘force-feedback' controls – like a high-end gaming joystick pushing back on their user, giving them a sense of touch – in space, to evaluate if this technology would enable high-precision robotic control in weightless conditions.

- "Imagine the robot as Luca's avatar on Earth, providing him with both vision and touch," says ESA engineer Kjetil Wormnes, heading the Analog-1 test campaign. "It was equipped with two cameras – one in the palm of its hand, the other in a maneuverable arm – to let Luca and the remotely-located scientists observe the environment and get a close-up on the rocks."

- As journalists watched, the Luca-controlled rover completed its sampling campaign right on schedule, traversing between a trio of sampling sites along challengingly narrow pathways. While selecting rocks Luca received advice from a team of geological experts based at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Germany, simulating a real-life surface exploration survey.

- "We benefitted from Luca's previous training through our Pangaea program, giving astronauts practical experience in geology," adds Jessica Grenouilleau, Meteron project lead at ESA's Exploration Systems Group. "It helped tremendously in having an efficient discussion between the crew and the scientists."

- Analog-1 has been the latest in a series of progressively more challenging human-robot test campaigns involving the ISS, collectively called Meteron – Multi-purpose End-to-End Robotic Operation Network. The first 1 degree of freedom force-feedback test took place back in 2015 with ESA's Haptics-1 experiment, progressing to DLR's 2 degrees of freedom Kontur-2 the following year – advancing now to a full 6 degrees of freedom movement.

- The next step will be an outdoor test campaign in a Moon-like terrestrial location. A rover would examine and collect genuine rocks in an operational scenario resembling the complexity of a full mission on the Moon.


• December 11, 2019: The International Space Station is a hive of science activity today as the Expedition 61 crew and mission controllers initiate a variety of space research. 9)

- Inside the orbiting lab, mice are being scanned to study how their bones change in microgravity. Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch placed the rodents in a new bone densitometer and imaged their bones. The new Rodent Research-19 study is investigating two proteins that may prevent muscle and bone loss in space.


Figure 13: NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir conduct research operations inside the Japanese Kibo lab module's Life Sciences Glovebox (image credit: NASA)

- NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan and ESA Commander Luca Parmitano were in the Columbus lab module exploring how they grip and manipulate objects in space. Insights may help future astronauts adjust to long-term missions farther into space and possibly planetary exploration.

- Mission controllers on the ground today commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach into the back of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and extract the new HISUI experiment device. HISUI, or Hyperspectral Imagery Suite, is a unique Earth imaging system that can benefit agriculture, forestry and other environmental areas. HISUI will be installed on the outside of the Kibo lab module to scan the Earth's surface using high spectral resolution.

- In the Russian segment of the station, the cosmonauts focused on docking port inspections and life science. Oleg Skripochka photographed internal and external docking gear and continued unpacking cargo from the Progress 74 resupply ship. Alexander Skvortsov finalized a 24-hour monitoring of his heart activity then contributed to a study observing how space crews interact with mission controllers.


1) "SpaceX Dragon Heads to Space Station With NASA Science," NASA News, 5 December 2019, URL:

2) Stephen Clark, "Dragon soars on research and resupply flight to International Space Station," Spaceflight Now, 5 December 2019, URL:

3) "Research Launching on SpaceX Dragon to Enable Better Earth Images, Easier Leak Checks," NASA Space Station Research, 20 November 2019, URL:

4) "Radiation rotifer," ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration, 5 December 2019, URL:

5) "Kubik on Space Station," ESA, 7 February 2018, URL:

6) "Astronaut assistant CIMON-2 is on its way to the International Space Station," Airbus, 5 December 2019, URL:

7) Mark Garcia, "Dragon Attached to Station for Month-Long Stay," NASA, 8 December 2019, URL:

8) "Tech for life," ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration, 11 December 2019, URL:

9) Mark Garcia, "Wide Range of Space Research Keeping Crew Busy Today," NASA, 11 December 2019, URL:


The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (