ALTEA goes to Columbus

18 06 2012

Four (4) hours. Do you know what does it mean to plan a four hour activity on the Space Station? The latest activity with a similar duration was in 2007 and it was the first CNSM measurement on an astronaut. At that time two astronauts were involved and the activity, planned for one hour and half, went well beyond two and a half hours. Just to try to explain what does it mean planning a four hour activity. In a space activity, unexpected issue on a 15 minute activity could cause 3 months of data loss.

Ok, let’s start from the beginning. Who is following ALTEA activities on Twitter (official ALTEA account @ISS_ALTEA) or on Facebook (ALTEA official page) already knows that after being for 6 years inside the UsLab, it was planned to move ALTEA to Columbus in a new configuration.

ALTEA has been in this position in the UsLab since the 22nd of July 2011 (link in Italian), when the Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa moved it from the previous location. At that time the activity was relatively easy, because the particle detectors were already configured on the support structure. All the astronaut had to do was simply to move the whole thing into the new location inside the American module and to start a new measurements.

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Before this activity, it was Paolo Nespoli (link in Italian) who did a great job in assembling the entire detector configuration starting from a dismounted ALTEA in a bag. You can find here the images of that activity. That activity took Paolo more than four hours to complete (can’t remember how long it was planned for), and the activity was only about assembling ALTEA.

This move to Columbus, on the contrary, implied for André to disassemble ALTEA and the support structure completely, put everything in a bag, and then reassemble everything in a new configuration inside Columbus. Let’s consider that the ALTEA Shield support structure is composed by modular plates that need to be assembled just like a jigsaw-puzzle:


This is the configuration assembled by Paolo Nespoli


André Kuipers had to build the configuration named Shield Shield. Four plates have to be assembled in a planar configuration to hold only three SDUs (the particle detectors of ALTEA). Two SDUs are shielded by shielding tiles of different thickness placed above and beyond the particle detector. The third SDU, without shielding, acts as reference. This permits to assess the effectiveness of the shielding by comparing the type and the number of revealed particles.

So it was not an easy task for André, taking into account that he had to move to a different module, on a different pc, with an updated software. The MARS center in Naples who was supporting the operations on our behalf from ground, planned an 8 hour shift to manage possible delay of the activity.

But despite our fears, André completed his activity without any hesitation, without any error, without any issue, and in less than three and a half hours, ALTEA was in Columbus in its new configuration, sending valuable science data to ground.

Here are the pictures of the new configuration:


And after the detectors were inserted in the Columbus racks


Our best congratulations to André for the really good job. And good new measurements to ALTEA.

PS: The PromISSe mission ESA blog talked about ALTEA activity by André.


Paolo Nespoli, six months out of this world, talks about ALTEA

25 01 2012

From the website I want to share a public conference during which Paolo Nespoli talks about the period of five months he spent in space onboard the International Space Station. He also describes all the scientific experiments he was involved in during his mission.

At about 12:50 Paolo talks about the ALTEA-Shield experiment he conducted (see ALTEA Shield activity with Paolo Nespoli in 3D and  Paolo Nespoli riattiva l’esperimento italiano ALTEA-Shield, Le immagini della riattivazione di ALTEA on my italian blog). He also describes in the light flash phenomenon:  “This is an experiment because we have a 3D radiation detector that identifies the heavy particles in space which are destroyed or dampened by the atmosphere on Earth, here it doesn’t exist but then here you see that suddenly you feel in space that somebody has taken a photo with a flash and you feel puff!, these are these particles, these are the flashes which take place when one of these radiations go through the eye and through the retina and trigger this reaction”

Enjoy the video!

ALTEA at YRMR 2012 (slides)

23 01 2012

On January 20th I participated to the 3rd Young Researcher Meeting in Rome (read ALTEA at YRMR 2012 (live stream)) with the talk named: "The ALTEA and ALTEA-Shield experiment onboard the International Space Station".

Abstract: Anomalous Long Term Effects in Astronaut’s Central Nervous System (ALTEA) is a helmet-shaped device holding six silicon particle detectors that has been used to measure the effect of the exposure of crewmembers to cosmic radiation on brain activity and visual perception, including astronauts’ perceptions of light flashes behind their eyelids as a result of high-energy radiation. Because of its ability to be operated without a crewmember, it is also being used as a dosimeter to provide quantitative data on high-energy radiation particles passing into the ISS. ALTEA capabilities are also used to give additional information on the exposure of crewmembers to radiation during their stays on ISS for use in health monitoring.
The ALTEA experiment was designed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in collaboration with a science team led by Professor L. Narici of Tor Vergata University, Rome. The experiment onboard the International Space Station since July 2006 and it has been used as operative instrument by the Space Radiation Analysis Group (SRAG) of NASA.
Since September 2010 ALTEA detectors are used on a different support for the ESA experiment ALTEA-Shield, which is designed to assess radiation flux in different positions inside the UsLab module. ALTEA-Shield will also provide data about radiation shielding effects by a variety of special materials.
A description of the experiment and a summary of the main results obtained by ALTEA and ALTEA-Shield investigation will be presented.

You can find the slides of the presentation at the following link: (Slides).

If you have any question please feel free to ask with a comment.

ALTEA-Shield activity with Paolo Nespoli in 3D

22 12 2011

My Christmas present for you is a 3D video by Paolo Nespoli where ALTEA-Shield is the special guest. Wear your red-cyan glasses and enjoy! I will be back with new posts after the holidays (NET January 6th 2012). Merry Christmas!

Paolo Nespoli spent 6 months on-board the International Space Station from Dec 2010 through to May 2011. Using the ESA’s Erasmus Recording Binocular (ERB-2) stereoscopic camera Paolo filmed various phases of his MagISStra mission, but the special guest is indeed ALTEA-Shield. The first picture (22 sec.) is a 3D view of the setup of ALTEA-Shield (while waiting for me to write the English version, see my description of Paolo activity in Italian here and here). Then Paolo shot various phases of his MagISStra mission, he caught some moments that depict the work astronauts carry out on the ISS: from educational activities, to scientific experiments and physical training, also demonstrating the way astronauts move in weightlessness through the various modules. From 3:52, for almost a minute, the final steps of the ALTEA-Shield setup activity are showed with this stunning 3D effects that makes you realize how big is ALTEA device.


ERB-2 is the first camera to transmit 3D images live from space. I would like to thank ESA and all the astronauts featured in the film: NASA astronauts Catherine (Cady) Coleman, Ron Garan, Scott Kelly and the united ISS Expedition 26-27 and STS-134 crew including ESA astronaut R. Vittori.