ISS Symposium: Long-term Space Monitoring & Exposure

The International Space Station (ISS) Symposium titled
“Research in Space for the Benefit of Humankind” was held in Berlin, Germany
from 2-4 May, 2012. Over 250 delegates were invited to attend, representing all
of the ISS partners and more. This session looked at past and future science
carried out on the ISS concerned with long-term space monitoring.

Waleed Abdalati, Pascale Ehrenfreund, Julie Robinson,
Masaru Matsuoka Gerhard Schmidtke, Boris Zagreev, Torsten Neubert

Waleed Abdalati, NASA’s Chief Scientist, introduced the
round table discussion by saying the international space station (ISS) is a great
platform and opportunity, which we need to take advantage of in order to
understand Earth, the universe, and our place in the universe. The science we
can do from space spans earth science, heliophysics and astrophysics.

The first speaker was Pascale Ehrenfreund, Research
Professor of Space Policy and International Affairs, Space Policy Institute,
Washington, DC, and Professor of Astrobiology, Leiden University, The
Netherlands. Astrobiological experiments have been performed successfully in
earth orbit for more than two decades, looking at:
  • environmental limits of
  • space biology
  • planetary protection
  • carbon chemistry in space
  • extra-terrestrial delivery
  • prebiotic chemistry on the
    early Earth,
These have provided interesting new insights into the
effects of the harsh space environment on biological and organic materials.

Pascale Ehrenfreund
Photo credit: Remco Timmermans

 Future astrobiology research on the ISS includes:

  • BIOMEX – BIOlogy and Mars
  • BOSS – Biofilm Organisms
    Surfing Spac
  • MILLER-UREY – Prebiotic
    chemistry in the early solar system
  • OREOCUBE – ORganics
    Exposure in Orbit – Real time space monitoring
  • PSS – Photochemistry on
    the Space Station
Julie Robinson,
ISS Programme Scientist NASA told us about MISSE, Materials ISS Experiment, a series of materials experiments consisting of
trays that are exposed to space on the exterior of the ISS. Six missions with
thousands of samples have been flown since 2001.
MISSE-X will help update operations in the post-shuttle era, by deploying the trays
robotically rather than via spacewalks, and minimising the amount of mass to
return to earth, as well as providing outreach opportunities for student

The Japanese MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image) experiment, attached to the ISS, was reviewed
by Masaru Matsuoka, Senior Advisor, RIKEN. It has:

  • produced an all-sky map
  • monitored all sky x-ray
    objects continuously since Aug 2009
  • discovered 22 new sources
  • allowed over 100 rapid
    alerts to be issued to worldwide astronomers of transient events.
Highlights include detecting jets from a giant black hole
and super bursts from a binary star.

Gerhard Schmidtke,
Senior Project Scientist, Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement
Techniques, Germany, talked about the ISS SOLAR mission, installed on an
external platform of the ISS, which contains 3 instruments for solar
observation. So far 4 years of data has been produced. Data for a full solar
cycle of 11 years would be extremely useful, as it can provide the opportunity
to calibrate all other measurements, as satellite measurements show divergence.
ISS offers a unique chance to bring up, test and retrieve components, to see
what could be causing different efficiency of different instruments. There is a
need to obtain more accurate data; ISS provides this opportunity.

Boris Zagreev
Photo credit: Remco Timmermans

Boris Zagreev,
Head of Laboratory, Central Research Institute for Machine Building, TsNIIMash,
Russia spoke about the Russian research program, and the contribution made by
the ISS to biomedicine, geophysics, astrophysics, environmental monitoring,
biotechnology and long term exposure of different materials and their
resilience to extra-terrestrial conditions.

214 experiments on the ISS have already produced over 600
scientific articles and reports. Future Russian utilization plans include
further scientific research, such as studying ultra-high energy particles and
continued Earth monitoring, together with development of new technologies for
biomedicine, and technologies for future manned orbital and interplanetary
The final speaker, Torsten
, Head of Section for Solar System Physics, National
Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark, introduced ASIM,
Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor on the ISS. It is due for launch in 2015,
and will study thunderstorms by looking at lightning above the clouds and very
high up in the upper atmosphere. It is hoped this will provide new
insights into the physics of atmospheric processes powered by thunderstorms,
looking at electrical discharge in the atmosphere, radiation, water vapour
movement through the atmosphere, and the effect on climate and climate

Questions were then taken from the audience:
Do you have
difficulty getting funds for ISS from multi fields?
Abdalati: “There is
recognition that the ISS has a lot of value and potential to offer as we extend
its life. There is healthy tension between the science drive and the technology
platform push; we have this capability, let’s make the best use of it. There
are many instances where these marry up and it’s a win-win situation.”
Waleed Abdalati
Photo credit: Remco Timmermans
What have you found
to be the biggest challenges in getting capability in space to the ISS (aside
from funding)?
Neubert: “The reaction is
often “great idea, but someone else should pay for it”. You go to the
racecourse and sometimes you win! I don’t know, I haven’t found a formula for
Abdalati: “The biggest
challenges are timelines and timescales. My student was doing a PhD, when the
experiment launched he was an assistant tenured professor. When samples came
back he was CEO of his own company. That’s a real challenge.”
Robinson: “ISS was
designed a long time ago so one challenge is things being upgradable. Because
it is a human platform we can upgrade it for this generation of instruments today,
and again in the future. Great flexibility is an extra asset.”
Abdalati ended
the session by saying:
“It starts with
believing in what you do and then convincing others to believe in what you do.
Shared belief can help it grow from there, and makes the potential much
greater. The great thing about this ISS symposium is being surrounded by people
who believe in it.”
Further reading: “ISS: Benefits for Humanity”