Space | 23. July 2018 | posted by Volker Schmid

Loss of power for the ISS MFX-2 experiment

Planetensimulator MFX%2d2 vom DLR auf der ISS
Image: NASA
DLR's MFX-2 experiment on the ISS

Time is a precious commodity – especially in a unique laboratory complex such as the International Space Station (ISS). When something fails to go to plan, the result is additional stress and strain for the planners, researchers and everyone downstream who is involved in experimentation – everyone is keenly waiting for his/her timeslot. Last week it was DLR's MFX-2 Planetary Simulator that was involved. This had to be rebooted following an unexpected loss of power and some data was lost. The loss of power possibly damaged the start-up file on the USB boot stick. It is possible that the USB boot drive suffered damage as a result of the additional radiation experienced at an altitude of 400 kilometres.##markend##

Troubleshooting took the entire week and was hampered by new configurations and additional test runs. The experiment was created in a strict design-to-cost climate. Consequently, it does not have much in the way of controllability from the ground. That would have meant significantly higher development and qualification costs. There simply was no funding available.

On Friday last week, we decided to use the spare boot stick, and (from approximately 09:00) MFX-2 operated for a few hours using the seventh of a total of 12 material test pieces. Provided that everything functions nominally, the dataset which is generated from a single orbit of the Earth will be adequate. However, that was something that we only came to realise last Tuesday, because last week the EML melting furnace was scheduled to operate for the first time. Since MFX-2 is accommodated in the same rack as the EML, it is not possible for the two experiments to be run in parallel. From today, however, we can analyse the remaining six test samples.

We need to have completed work on the MFX-2 measurement programmes by 10 August. Then, NASA will need those crucial vacuum and coolant connections for a different system. In other words – we are under pressure. However, we have most of the scientific data. Of course, the troubleshooting came at the expense of additional crew time. Happily, Alexander Gerst installed the new video monitoring unit for the Fluid Science Laboratory ahead of schedule in terms of the planned 5½ hours. He managed to cut half an hour off the planned time. Quite an achievement! Also, there was a great deal of commissioning work – the preparation of systems for experimental runs such as those in the BioLab, for example.

For this work, Astronaut Gerst had to have small markers on his suit. The tasks relating to DLR’s ‘Wireless Compose’ experiment – from Bremen – were to feature sensors which continuously tracked Gerst’s movements in the Columbus laboratory, culminating in the production of a movement profile. This makes it possible to determine whether the systems, tools and ancillary equipment have been correctly arranged, thus enabling the greatest possible efficiency in terms of use of time. This has nothing to do with monitoring our astronaut’s workplace. What it does mean is that this knowledge can be applied to improve procedures and – as an achievement which can already be confirmed as having value for future space laboratories – can be added to the store of knowledge when it comes to setting up the successor stations to the ISS. On the ISS, spaceflight is different each day – but always exciting.

Image: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
The MagVector / MFX-2 experiment investigates the interactions of Earth's magnetic field with a variable electrical conductor at high speed. More information can be found at

About the author

Volker Schmid heads the DLR team for Alexander Gerst's horizons mission. Schmid completed an apprenticeship as precision engineer. After working in industry for three years as a skilled metalworker in the field of injection moulding machinery manufacturing, he studied aerospace technology at the University of Applied Sciences in Aachen. For his final-year thesis and thereafter, he was involved in system studies and software development, primarily focusing on the design of future space transportation vehicles in the systems analysis department at DLR in Cologne. to authorpage