I love what SpaceX is trying to do, Elon Musk seems like the best chance humans have of expanding horizons into space. Currently, he is moving towards taking low earth orbit tasks from NASA so that they can concentrate on more ambitious missions such as the Orion Programme. To that end, he has developed Falcon launch vehicles that can take payloads into orbit and has already resupplied the ISS using SpaceX craft (the first commercial entity to do so). Future plans involve a manned space presence in the Dragon space capsules. SpaceX also aims to reduce the cost of space flight by making their craft as re-useable as possible and landing their ‘used’ craft and rockets back at their space centre, rather than landing/splashing them in faraway locations which requires expensive and time consuming recovery and retrofitting. Rather than use parachutes, SpaceX uses a rocket’s own power to bring it down to a precise location, with parachutes only being used as an emergency failsafe.
Anyway, I wanted to emulate this in KSP and thanks to the glorious modding community I can! I’m using the SpaceX launch pack by LazTek for these missions. This provides all the parts needed for a SpaceX mission and is damned impressive at copying their look and function.
Flight 12 – Re-useable rockets
SpaceX uses a rocket’s own engines to land each stage after it is used as shown in this video. So the first thing to do seemed to be to try that myself!
There was no way I was going to do this with a full tank (I did try, the landing legs couldn’t take the weight!) and thats not the way it’s designed to work, it should be coming down on fumes. So I started out with an almost-empty tank on the launch pad.
I powered the rocket up to 1000m (the same as in SpaceX’s real test) then cut the engines down to minimal thrust.
The rocket started to descend under the lower thrust. Actually the rocket was so light and had so many engines that the main problem was finding a balance between cutting the engines entirely and having them push the rocket back up!
A bit of vectoring was needed near the launch pad to guide the rocket back onto the flat centre of the pad.
But eventually (after three or four tries!) the rocket landed smack onto the launch pad. The rocket can now be quickly refueled and ready to fly again in no time!
Flight 12 – KSS resupply
SpaceX has already made a few supply runs to the ISS and plans to do more with astronaughts on board. In this mission, I want to copy this type of mission: Awesome SpaceX animation
I have a space station already in orbit around Kerbin so my mission will be to dock a dragon capsule to it and return to the KSC.
The falcon is a sleek and simple-looking beast. The payload (in this case a dragon1 capsule) is protected by the casing on top of the rocket.
Once the first stage clears the atmosphere, it detaches and begins it’s fall back to Kerbin. I couldn’t do the landing myself as this would have meant abandoning the rest of the craft and risking it disappearing as the physics machine monster ate it up. However, I imagine that some boffin back on the ground sucessfully piloted it back safely, I left him some fuel at least!
The second stage powers the capsule into a steady orbit and aims for the KSS (which orbits at 500km)
The Capsule uses rcs fuel to move itself towards the station and dock.
Imaginary crews were swapped and historic pictures were taken including this one which I must say is the most realistic screenshot I’ve ever taken.
After their docking, the 7 Kerbals waste no time in returning to the KSC.
The capsule itself contains draco engines that use monopropellant but are much more powerful than rcs thrusters. They are used to de-orbit the capsule and make it head towards the KSC.
This version of dragon capsule was designed for a soft splashdown (as opposed to the V2 capsule used in the next flight) so parachutes and draco engines are used to guide it to the water just outside the KSC.
The Kerbals then have a short swim and a quick walk down the beach to get home. Might not be that pleasant in full space-suits but still.
The re-fitted rockets are prepared for their next mission…
Flight 13 – Musk to the Mun
SpaceX eventually plans to go to Mars and may well take people to the Moon as a stepping stone towards that goal. Their Falcon Heavy rocket is able to carry the biggest loads into space since the Saturn V’s that NASA used to land on the Moon so in theory might be able to attempt such a mission. Falcon heavy’s can be made in LazTek’s mod but they are overkill for a Mun landing in KSP! Instead I’ll be using a regular falcon rocket with a V2 capsule attached. This is the newest version if the dragon capsule unveiled in may 2014 by SpaceX. It is designed to carry 7 crew and perform powered landings without the need for a parachute.
Here’s my attempt at what a SpaceX Mun landing would look like…
The draco engines are able to steer the dragon capsule to a good spot and give it a soft landing. All 7 Kerbals are able to get out (easily the most I’ve ever landed at a time!) for a big ole group selfie.
Melburry Kerman (thats the one at the back there obviously, not all Kerbals look the same you racist!) Wasn’t happy that his face wasn’t really visible in this pic so decided to be more prominent in the second picture.
All the other Kerbals of course simply stared ahead with their creepy, happy smiles.
After a blast off from the Mun, the Kerbals aimed their craft back to the KSC.
Using the draco engines to get the capsule straight to the launchpad was….fiddly. Like, unbeleivable fiddly. This was compounded by the fact that there was very little fuel left after returning from the Mun. However, many many tries later, I managed a powered landing back on the launcpad.
I can’t wait until this happens in real life. Musk already has some of the re-useable rockets, the contracts to supply the ISS and of course the cool blue lights. I hope one day he can take all that to Mars!