ISS scientific payloads

ASI medical experiment programmes on the ISS

ASI-MED has developed a plan for using the ISS that includes the development of instruments proposed by the scientific and industrial community to carry out specific experiments on board the Station. Each of these instruments has been envisaged and is planned to be used more than once during the course of years within the framework of the MED projects.


HAND POSTURE ANALYSER (HPA) is an ASI instrument developed for evaluating the impairment in performance of the muscular system and to select and define the strategies of movement of the upper arm under prolonged microgravity conditions. Space flight influences motor control as well as the ability to maintain muscular contraction constant. One of the most interesting data of these first missions is the observation of a consistent reduction (over 30%) of Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC).


HPA has been used in five different missions for carrying out the three experiments selected that concern the area of motor control disturbances (IMAGINE experiment of the Università di Roma Tor Vergata, the MAIS experiment of the Ospedale Camaiore di Viareggio and the CHIRO experiment of the Ospedale S. Chiara di Pisa). The experiments have been carried out during increment 7 of 2003 and 8 of 2004, respectively by American astronauts Ed Lu and Mike Foale. In 2005 it was part of the experiment programme during the “taxi flight” of Soyuz 10S with Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori. In 2007 it was used again during the Esperia mission with Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli. HPA was on board the ISS in 2003.


ALTEINO is an instrument developed by INFN and ASI for studying cosmic particles and their effects on human brain physiology. It is the precursor of ALTEA and was on board the ISS in 2002. The scientific objectives are to measure radiation on board the ISS (p-Fe>50-100MeV/n), to monitor “solar particle events” as well as to study the shielding effectiveness of several materials on board. In 2006 it was activated for performing the Altcriss experiment, selected by ESA in the framework of an international tender.  Measurements in common with instruments inside and outside the ISS (Matroska, ALTEA and Pamela) are also foreseen in the framework of the project.


Anomalous Long Term Effects on Astronauts (ALTEA) is an instrument developed for studying the interaction between cosmic radiation and brain function and vision system, as well as for monitoring radiation of the environment inside the ISS. The device is made up of 6 Silicon Detector Units (SDUs), an electroencephalogram (EEG) with 32 channels and a visual stimulator. These instruments were ergonomically assembled on a helmet which is worn by the astronauts during measuring sessions. The programme also foresees the use of particle revealers and of electrophysiological systems independently. The ALTEA project foresees a series of ground scientific experiments as a support to the space experiment.

The scientific team is made up of universities and sections of the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (National Nuclear Physics Institute) (INFN) of Rome “Tor Vergata” and the Università di Genova. Other European, Russian and American partners are also involved. With this type of instrument it will be possible to gather adequate information for studying and defining the risk and effects of cosmic radiation in space. The identification of possible alterations, even transient ones, on brain functions is a priority in the management of the Space Station. The study of possible cumulative effects will be indispensable for planning long missions. The ALTEA project aims at responding to these requirements and has as its objective the study of the risks of functional damage brought about by radiation in space.

Altea was brought on board the ISS in July 2006 with the STS-121 Mission where the foreseen experiment began. During 2007 sessions in Central Nervous System Monitoring (CNSM) modalities were performed which had the astronaut as subject and operator for determining the possible correlations between cosmic radiation and human brain activity, and the acquisition in DOSI modalities as an active dosimeter for determining the radiation spectrum on board the ISS. The mission ended in August 2007 but in December 2007 an ASI-NASA agreement was signed that foresaw the use of ALTEA in DOSI modality (active dosimeter) within the framework of NASA “medical operations”. In addition, this instrument in the ALTEA-Shield version was also selected by ESA in the framework of an international tender.

Elaborator of Televised Images (ELITE-S2) is an instrument created for gathering and analysing data on man's movement in space. Its objective is to study the strategies and adaptive mechanisms that the central nervous system uses for motor control in the space environment. ELITE S2 is therefore a system centred on human neurophysiology with particular regard to the analysis of three-dimensional movement of man in space. It is based on an optoelectronic system for the quantitative analysis of human movement in three dimensions. The system can reconstruct the astronauts’ movements, illuminating with four lasers up to one hundred markers placed on the body in subject, with accuracy less than a millimetre. Located in the US Lab’s Express Rack, it consists of an ISIS Drawer module and four infrared telecameras that take 250 images a second, installed in the upper parts of the laboratory.

Astronauts will repeatedly carry out two scientific protocols of the Università di Roma Tor Vergata and Politecnico di Milano during that period. The first one, called IMAGINE, aims at studying the way in which cognitive processes are altered in the absence of gravity, while the second one, MOVE, studies the effects in the absence of gravity on posture during an exercise for reaching objects.  Both experiments are part of the ASI DCMC programme. It was brought on board the ISS in August 2007 with the STS 118 Mission. Five experimental sessions have been performed during 2008.

MOUSE DRAWER SYSTEM (MDS) foresees the development of an animal room where long-term experiments on small rodents can be performed on board the International Space Station. The idea for a MDS facility comes from a proposal by the Centro di Biotechnologie avanzate (Centre for Advanced Biotechnologies of Genoa) that aims at finding out about the genetic mechanisms that are the basis for the pathophysiology of bone mass.  During the first mission, in addition to this experiment, another six experiments are scheduled regarding the study of the muscular, cardiac and endocrine systems. During the first mission an international “tissue sharing" programme is also planned coordinated by ASI that involves the participation of selected experimenters from NASA, JAXA, ESA and DLR.
MDS has been thought up as a multifunctional and multiuser system which allows experiments in various areas of biomedicine, from research on organ function to the study of the embryonic development of small mammals under microgravity conditions.

The special feature of the facility is that it can allow experiments on rodents, known as models of human physiology, under reduced gravity conditions. The system will be located on the Mid Deck of the Space Shuttle for launch. During orbit it will be transferred onto a rack of the US Lab where it will be maintained during the entire experiment. The launch of the flight model is currently scheduled for August 2009 with the ULF2 mission.