Kerbal Space Program

13) Micro Space Programme

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Sure you can build big rockets and send them to exciting places but can’t you also do the same with pocket-sized rockets? Probably not but you can do it with rockets that use only ‘tiny’ sized parts!

I’ll be doing three tiny missions, one into orbit, one to land on the Mun and one to land and return from the Mun. Stock tiny parts in KSP are pretty limited, they’re only really intended to push around little probes and such in vacuum, not for the launches themselves. There’s only one real fuel tank to use and that’s the Oscar-B. There’s a few more choices for engines but essentially my designs are limited in scope with stock parts. I’ve enjoyed used them before in my Icarus mission and have wanted to try them again ever since.

Anyway, here are my missions;

Micro-orbiter

The Micro-orbiter on the pad
The Micro-orbiter on the pad

My orbiter has three stages, all of which consist of varying sized stacks of oscar-B tanks with tiny engines. There’s a gap at the top stage because the super-lightweight LV-1 liquid fuel engine (Only 30kg!) doesn’t seem to like being attached to decouplers properly.

Any rocket can be made to look big from the right angle!
Any rocket can be made to look big from the right angle!

The rocket blasted off from the pad. The main problem with tiny parts is that the tanks themselves carry quite a chunk of weight when empty. Because you have to use so many of them it adds up once a stage nears it’s endpoint. This means that, unlike in medium or large rockets, when the stage is down to around 1/4 fuel, thrust:weight ratio isn’t massively better than it is when full, making the rockets less efficient.

Still, this rocket did it’s job and shoved the final stage into space.

So little!
So little!

The LV-1 engine puts out a pathetic 4 thrust (compare that with 3200 for the KS-25×4 Engine Cluster!) but the little probe is so light that this is more than enough to achieve a nice orbit.

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There was even enough fuel left over to de-orbit and do a powered landing on Kerbin

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Next stop, Mun.

Micro Mun lander

Since the orbiter managed it’s mission with fuel to spare, I figured the design I have already was on it’s way to be enough for a Mun landing. So instead of a redesign, I simply added fuel to each stage of the rocket. This was safe to do as each stage had plenty of thrust to keep it moving. Landing struts were added to the top stage and the lander was ready to go.

It's subtle but I swear it's a different rocket to the orbiter!
It’s subtle but I swear it’s a different rocket to the orbiter!

The rocket made it to orbit with almost all of the final stage’s fuel intact.

The little guy powers away to the Mun
The little guy powers away to the Mun

Despite the very low weight of the final stage, most of the fuel was used up by the time an orbit was established around the Mun. I feared the worst but pressed on in the hope that what little remained would be enough to slow the little probe down for a landing.

In it comes, but with most of it's sideways velocity still intact :-(
In it comes, but with most of it’s sideways velocity still intact 😦

As altitude dropped, I realised I wasn’t going to make it and sure enough the probe hit the Munar surface at around 50m/s with no fuel remaining. But it didn’t explode…

Dink!
Dink!

The probe was so light that, despite my expectations, the flimsy landing legs survived the crash. The probe bounced and travelled to the bottom of the crater before bouncing again. By the third impact it was travelling slowly enough that it could right itself and land! I guess by this point it was so light (0.18T) that the legs could take the strain.

Not even a scratch!
Not even a scratch!

So I now have a newfound respect for the LT-5 micro landing struts!

The Mun landing was an unexpected success and the Kerbals gathered their wits for the final tiny mission, to land a probe on the Mun and return it.

Micro Mun landing and return

This was going to be slightly trickier design-wise. I couldn’t simply add more fuel to the stages as the engines wouldn’t be able to handle the extra weight. So I needed an extra booster stage. Initially when I tried to attach Oscar-B’s to a radial decoupler, they refused to attach. The same thing happened when I tried to use girders attached to the decouplers, the Oscar-B’s simply wouldn’t latch on.

The only small part I found that would allow radial attachment was the M-Beam 650 I-Beam. I have no idea why this worked when nothing else did but oscar-B’s could be attached to the underside of these.

The only other conundrum I faced was whether or not to fit a parachute. The smallest parachute available would have done the job, however, at 0.1T, this would have been a very significant addition to the weight of the lander. In the end, I decided to try a powered landing instead.

The final design of the micro-mission
The final design of the micro-mission

 

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With it’s new booster stage taking it above 7000m, the rest of the rocket was able to achieve orbit around the Mun with the final stage still full of fuel.

There's the Mun!
There’s the Mun!

With plenty of fuel available to it, the lander was able to make a controlled landing without any bouncing, great success!screenshot23

Bounce-free!
Bounce-free!

There was still (hopefully) plenty of fuel left to return to Kerbin (around 3/4).

The little craft returns home
The little craft returns home

By the time Kerbin’s atmosphere was reached, only 2 units of liquid fuel remained. This proved to be just barely enough for a powered landing in Kerbin’s oceans

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Splashdown!
Splashdown!

Micro-manned!

Jeb looked at all this nonsense with ant size rockets that seem to propell ditty little probes with the power of wet farts and scoffed. “I bet it couldn’t handle a Kerbal” he said in his smuggest astro-celeb voice.

The rocket scientists of course took offence to this and decided to prove him wrong by sending one of their own to Minimus and back with a micro rocket.

There’s only one way to keep the payload light enough for these engines and thats with a frikkin space-chair. Now even Kerbals know that it’s just not safe to go into space on a chair but they found a volunteer who was unlikely to return. Lets call him…. Ensign Startrek (the Kerbals don’t yet have red jumpsuits but just imagine one).

Here he goes…

Brave Ensign ascends the flimsy ladder to his flimsier chair
Brave Ensign ascends the flimsy ladder to his flimsier chair
It's not that tall for a rocket, but it sure as hell feels tall from here
It’s not that tall for a rocket, but it sure as hell feels tall from here

After strapping himself in that alarmingly named external chair, Ensign waves farewell to the KSC crew and gives the finger to Jeb.

The engines fire…

omgomgomgomgomg this feels so precarious!
omgomgomgomgomg this feels so precarious!

Luckily, Ensign is pretty badass and not generally afraid of heights. But this takes the biscuit. If anyone has ever been on this type of ride you’ll know sort of how he feels (it wobbled around a lot too during early flight)

Holy **** NOW IT'S TILTING AND I CAN SEE STRAIGHT DOWN OMGOMGOMGOMG!
Holy **** NOW IT’S TILTING AND I CAN SEE STRAIGHT DOWN OMGOMGOMGOMG IM SO HIGH!

Eventually however, he pulled himself together and got down to the business of spaceflight.

Somehow the height doesn't seem as bad from up here...
Somehow the height doesn’t seem as bad from up here…
And so he sits, like a serene deity. A green one, on his way to a moon made out of minty ice cream.
And so he sits, like a serene deity. A green one, on his way to a moon made out of minty ice cream.

His fears behind him for now, Ensign approaches Minimus.

"Here I come you big green thingy!"
“Here I come you big green thingy!”
Ensign descends into the minty sandstorm which for some reason exists (It's from the visual enhancement mod I'm using)
Ensign descends into the minty sandstorm which for some reason exists (It’s from the visual enhancement mod I’m using)
And touches down sucessfully with fuel to spare!
And touches down sucessfully with fuel to spare! Ensign startrek might actually finish this mission alive after all!

Thrilled with his achievement, Ensign calls Jeb back on Kerbin and says I told you so.

HA!
HA!
He even figures out some wise words for the occassion
He even figures out some wise words for the occassion

After some obligatory low gravity arsing around, Ensign re-boards his craft and returns to Kerbin.

The ladder climb wasn't quite so bad this time
The ladder climb wasn’t quite so bad this time

As he approaches Kerbin he begins to contemplate why on earth external chairs aren’t used more often in space programs, they’re so light after all!

It’s about this point that he notices Kerbin’s atmosphere.

This might be painful
This might be painful
Ensign enters the atmosphere.... doesn't seem to bad so far!
Ensign enters the atmosphere…. doesn’t seem to bad so far!

Ensign had had a blast on his mission so far. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

OWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
OWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Miraculously, Ensign survived the brutal trauma of re-entry. He was going to make it!!!!

Unfortunately, from the word go, the micro craft had an unforseen design flaw. It was designed to make a powered landing using the fuel left in the tank. Unfortunately, the tiny parts don’t hold enough fuel in them to make the craft bottom heavy. In fact the heaviest remaining part of the rocket was Ensign himself. So naturally, he ended up this this.

Crap
Crap

With no RCS or parachute, Ensign was, unfortunately, doomed.

Well, what did you expect, haven't you ever watched star trek? Ensigns always die!
Well, what did you expect, haven’t you ever watched star trek? Ensigns always die!

So was this mission a failure? As the smoke from the landing site clears the wreckage remains.

It's still ok!
It’s still ok!

Although brave Ensign gave his life for this programme, he did prove one thing. You CAN use tiny parts to get Kerbals into space.

 

Just not back down again.

RIP Ensign

 

 

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12) Blue Marble

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After the Kerbals sent a set of probes to Jool, they couldn’t wait to get a closer look at Laythe. With it’s blue oceans and abundant Kerbal-babes it seemed an ideal location to send the intrepid Jeb, greenest of all Kerbals. So it was that he was strapped to yet another tubular wad of explosives and sent back into space.

 

(For once, nothing went wrong in this mission. It’s relatively straightforward and so this entry is mainly picture based.)

 

Flight 15: Laythe landing

Laythe has it’s own atmosphere and a decent gravity well. It therefore required a reasonably large lander to get Jeb back home safely. The weight of the lander combined with the distance to the Jool system meant that a large ship was needed to get the job done. This is that ship:

screenshot0

screenshot1
Lift off!

It consists of SLS parts to reach orbit, a rockomax-sized interplanetary stage and finally the lander itself.

screenshot5
After reaching orbit, the interplanetary stage ditches what’s left of the orbital engines

A burn was set for Jool and the lander arrived without a hitch.

And this is what a Jool slingshot looks like, if you ever wanted to try for interplanetary space this would be a good way to do it! Apoapsis wouldn't have been reached for 378 years!
And this is what a Jool slingshot looks like, if you ever wanted to try for interplanetary space this would be a good way to do it! Apoapsis wouldn’t have been reached for 378 years!

Luckily, I wasn’t aiming for a slingshot from Jool, I just wanted to stop in it’s neighbourhood. So, once inside Jool’s SOI, I burned again, aiming to pass it at 110km above the ‘surface’. This is inside the atmosphere, allowing my ship to bleed off it’s huge interplanetary speeds and establish an orbit around Jool.

In orbit around the big blue giant
In orbit around the big green giant
Once the orange tank was used up, it was ejected to save weight
At around this point, the orange tank was used up. It was ejected to save weight

Another quick burn and another aerobrake put Jeb in orbit around Laythe.

screenshot15

So blue!
So blue!

The lander was detached and Jeb aimed for one of the small continents dotted around Laythe’s huge oceans.

screenshot19

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The clouds on Laythe look exactly like the ones on Kerbin... almost like they used the same files or something...
The clouds on Laythe look exactly like the ones on Kerbin… almost like they used the same files or something…
Landing!
Landing!

Jeb puts her down on one of the many sandy hills covering this continent.

Jeb climbs down the ladder for his historic landfall
Jeb climbs down the ladder for his historic landfall
Jeb has a jump on Laythe. Nowhere near as high as he could get on other bodies he's been to
Jeb has a jump on Laythe. Nowhere near as high as he could get on other bodies he’s been to

From his angle, Jeb reckons he’s pretty close to the water. Since the eggheads back home say there’s at least a 62% chance that Laythe’s oceans are safe. So, he decides to pop down for a paddle.

Unfortunately it was a much further walk then it looked. That's the lander way back in the distance!
Unfortunately it was a much further walk then it looked. That’s the lander way back in the distance!
Still,at least Jeb got to have his paddle. The liquid didn't seem to be corroding or dissolving him at all! Statistics be praised!
Still,at least Jeb got to have his paddle. The liquid didn’t seem to be corroding or dissolving him at all! Statistics be praised!
He was so encouraged by his continued safety he even risked a quick swim
He was so encouraged by his continued safety he even risked a quick swim
After his long trek down to the water, Jeb wanted future explorers to know that he could walk as well as fly.
After his long trek down to the water, Jeb wanted future explorers to know how far he had walked. He’s a multi-talented kerbonaught after all
After a bit of a splash around, it was time to head back to the lander
After a bit of a splash around, it was time to head back to the lander

Jeb was a bit disappointed that no green babes were spotted on this trip but to be honest he had always suspected those images were photoshopped. Probably boffin propoganda to get more Kerbals into space exploration, as it they need a reason!

And blast off away from Laythe
Blast off away from Laythe

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The final lander stage completes it's orbit around Laythe, heading for the interplanetary stage
The final lander stage completes it’s orbit around Laythe, heading for the interplanetary stage

screenshot38

The lander approaches the interplanetary stage. (sorry about the darkness, it's nightime on Laythe)
The lander approaches the interplanetary stage. (sorry about the darkness, it’s nightime on Laythe)
The re-united ships blast off to return to Kerbin.
The re-united ships blast off to return to Kerbin.
It doesn't matter how many millions of miles Jeb travels, he always likes to show off. In this case he managed to land right next to the space centre (nightime again, dammit!)
It doesn’t matter how many millions of miles Jeb travels, he always likes to show off. In this case he managed to land right next to the space centre (nightime again, dammit!)

So now Jeb has travelled to Laythe. He doesn’t know where he will go next but he’s damn sure it won’t be anywhere as blue as Jool’s marble.

 

 

 

11) Jool Probe-A-Thon

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Jool is an interesting planet in KSP. Based on Jupiter, it is a gas giant with several moons. One of them; Laythe, has oxygen, liquid water and an atmosphere similar to that of Kerbin (but thinner). The other moons I know little about at this point, I’ve tried to avoid ‘spoilers’ about what they’re like. I do know that there are 5 moons in total and that Laythe is the only one to have an atmosphere. I want to send manned missions to the area but knowing so little about Jool it seemed the right and space-programmy thing to do would be to send out some probes to study the planet and its moons first before sending hapless Kerbals.

I could have done 6 different missions but why do that when it would be more fun to try and do it all at once in one giant probe-a-thon!?

 

This will be a ‘high risk mission’. Basically that means that I have no idea what I’m doing. I haven’t tried something like this before and know very little about Jool so I expect at least some fails. But my main aim is to learn about Jool so hopefully my failures will teach me as much as the sucesses!

 

Flight 14 – Jool Probe-A-Thon

After designing a ship to carry all 6 probes (one for Jool and one for each moon), I plopped it on the launchpad for a final check-up.

And here it is!
And here it is!

The probes themselves are simple affairs, they are not meant to return to orbit so they only need enough equipment to succesfully land on the Jool bodies. They are all identical (so that the craft is balanced) with the exception of one that is destined for Laythe and so has it’s own parachutes. Other than that they consist of a small fuel tank, an engine, some scientific instruments, a solar panel and a probe body. They also had three landing legs which didn’t work out so well! But more on that later. The mid-stage that will take them to Jool is based on my standard interplanetary design, modified to be able to carry all the probes. The launcher was all SLS parts as the whole ship needs a lot of fuel and is a heavy beast!

After checking that all the stages made sense and Laythe parachutes weren’t going to deploy as I lifted off from Kerbin, the craft set off.

Blast off from Kerbin
Blast off from Kerbin
The interplanetary stage powers towards Jool
The interplanetary stage powers towards Jool
The probes have a looong flight ahead of them
The probes have a looong flight ahead of them ( I realise this isn’t the most efficient intercept but I really couldn’t be bothered waiting years for a decent window!)

On reaching the Jool system the first thing to do is perform an aerobrake around Jool. This is one of the main advantages of visiting Jool, establishing an orbit with other planets is often a fuel hungry business but using Jool’s atmosphere to slow down to more sane speeds saves a lot of that fuel. Looks cool too.

The probes were probably fiiiiiiine, can't be that hot right?
The probes were probably fiiiiiiine, can’t be that hot right?

Once in orbit around Jool, the craft adjusted itself to be ready to release it’s first two probes. The probes were released in pairs to keep the main ship balanced. So the first two to go were those destined for Jool and Laythe (the innermost moon). Neither of these would require much fuel (The Jool probe would simply be falling to it’s death and the Laythe probe would use it’s parachutes to land) so around 3/4 of their fuel was transferred to the main stage. Of course I could have just included less fuel from Kerbin launch but…. I didn’t think of it back then so…. shush.

Jool

Jool is a gas giant so this probe wouldn’t be landing as such. Much like my sun mission, this probe was meant to simply descend as far as it could while sending back information to the Kerbals back home.

The Jool probe approaches it's green doom
The Jool probe approaches it’s green doom

Jool looks very good (especially with the visual enchancements mod) and I managed to catch the greenest sunset I’ve ever seen whilst descending.

So..... green.... so.... pretty....
So….. green…. so…. pretty….

The atmosphere is crazy thick, at 5000m the probe was freefalling at a mere 50m/s!

After the probe was inevitably crushed in the Joolian atmosphere (At 300m on the altimeter), it was time to move on to the next probe.

Laythe

The Laythe probe probably had the easiest job of all the probes. I intended it to parachute through the atmosphere for a nice splash down in one of the oceans that dominate Laythe. All that was needed was to burn a bit of fuel to point it on a collision course…

Like Kerbin but... Blue-er
Like Kerbin but… Blue-er
Laythe is another very good-looking planet
Laythe is another very good-looking planet
The Laythe probe drifts down through the atmosphere with Jool looming huge in the background
The Laythe probe drifts down through the atmosphere with Jool looming huge in the background

From orbit, the probe spotted bits and pieces of landed dotted around that would make great landing sites for future Kerballed missions.

It also noticed that nights on Laythe looked awesome.

Aurora Laythealis?
Aurora Laythealis?
I feel like those pointless landing legs are judging me
I feel like those pointless landing legs are judging me

Back at home Jeb is very happy. His last interplanetary trip to Dres left him a bit disgruntled. He worried that all the other solar system bodies would be as gray and boring but after seeing the amazing colours of Jool and Laythe he couldn’t wait to get out here! He expected that the other moons would be equally as…colourific. He was incorrect.

The main stage left near-Jool orbit and aimed for an orbit in between it’s next two targets; Vall and Tylo.

Vall

Vall looked pretty small from orbit and sure enough only a small amount of fuel was needed to get into orbit and start a burn for the surface. The probe had almost a full tank available for a powered landing and Vall’s gravity wasn’t pulling it down too vigorously.

Even from this distance... you can almost hear Jeb crying over the lack of colour.
Even from this distance… you can almost hear Jeb crying over the lack of colour.

It was only after landing on Vall that I noticed a major flaw in my probe design. The landing legs which had looked like a good tripod formation from the Kerbin launchpad were in fact…. lopsided. They couldn’t keep the probe upright and I realised I was going to have the same problem in all my probe landings. Oops! Oh well, a bit late to send an extra leg or two from Kerbin, they would just have to rest on their sides. It didn’t look good but the legs were enough to cushion the impact so the probes could at least serve their function of giving me practise landing on and information about Jool’s moons.

Landing legs fail
Landing legs fail

The probe landed with about 1/4 of it’s fuel still left, as long as the remaining moons weren’t too much more massive there should be no problems.

Next up… Tylo.

Tylo

Hard to tell from this angle but…. Tylo does indeed look significantly more massive. Uh oh 😦

Big Momma of Jool
Big Momma of Jool

Sure enough no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t seem to get the probe to land. Establishing an orbit itself took quite  a chunk of fuel and little guy simply didn’t have enough left over to land on Tylo. The gravity was high enough that my LV-909 engine barely had enough thrust to fight it. It couldn’t operate at full blast for long and so inevitably, the probe disappeared and became part of the dust of Tylo. Weirdly, the GRAVMAX did report that Tylo had ‘lower gravity than expected’. How much frikkin gravity were they expecting!

RIP Tylo probe
RIP Tylo probe

Well, that didn’t go well but at least I learnt a thing or two about Tylo and no Kerbals had to die to do it!

 

The main stage powers to it’s next orbit, between Bop and Pol.

Pol

Pol approach
Pol approach

Pol is the outermost of Jool’s moons and turned out to be a bit weird. Landing wasn’t too difficult and turned out to be about the same as on Vall. Plenty of fuel was left over. The surface of Pol wasn’t colourful… but it was interesting.

Dafuq?
Dafuq?

The ground was covered in spiky rocks. There was no atmosphere so I have no idea how such things would have been formed. Pol might be an interesting place to explore with a rover. Unfortnately I couldn’t keep an eye on it using the probe. The probe landed without issues. I had some science equipment strapped to it but not enough solar panels to run the antenna constantly so I used time dilation to speed up the transmission of data back to Kerbin. Unfortunately, as soon as I returned to normal time the probe violently detonated!

Nooooo!!!!!
Nooooo!!!!!

Only the probe body and a landing leg survived the blast but of course with no rocket they didn’t survive the fall back down to Pol’ surface. So I had lost my eyes on Pol but  no matter, at least I had landed on it!

Bop

Bop was the final destination for the probe-a-thon and represented an unusual challenge. The problem is summarised in these two pics:

The Jool system from above... All looks normal
The Jool system from above… All looks normal
A side on pic of the Jool system. Guess which one Bop is?
A side on pic of the Jool system. Guess which one Bop is?

All of Jool moons are on pretty much the same plane. Except for Bop. It’s the ‘special’ moon of the family and isn’t anywhere near being on the same plane as the others. The probe has a small supply of it’s own fuel but I was worried that the chunk of fuel needed to correct it’s inclination wasn’t going to leave enough left for a landing (especially after my experience with Tylo). Luckily, the interplanetary stage still had a little fuel left. I used this to correct the inclination while carrying the last remaining probe. Unfortunately, only having one probe made the ship horribly unbalanced and a lot of RSS fuel and gentle thrusting (eww) was needed to keep it pointed in the right direction. Eventually though, the inclination matched that of Bop and the final probe was released as the main stage gave up the last of it’s fuel.

Looks like a giant asteroid... kida lumpy
Looks like a giant asteroid… kida lumpy

Bop has to be the most lumpy thing in space. I mean just look at this:

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Despite how weird it looked from space, Bop wasn’t much to look at from the ground.

No spikes here
No spikes here

Still, perhaps one day some enterprising space-racer will set up an awesome dirtbike course and make use of dem epic rampz. Until then though…

 

So that’s it! All the bodies of Jool visited with varying degrees of success. I like that in KSP even failures make you feel like you’ve achieved something. I could have found much of this information on forums and wikis but nothing beats learning for yourself what the different moons are like and what would be involved in future missions to them.

Already Jeb is preparing for his triumphant return to a colourful destination!

 

 

10) SpaceX tribute

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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!

The grasshopper on the pad
The grasshopper on the pad

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.

The landing legs are quickly deployed after launch
The landing legs are quickly deployed after launch

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 starts to come down
The rocket starts to come down

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.

Ta-Da!
Ta-Da!

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 rocket on the pad.
The Falcon rocket on the pad.

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.

The inside of the capsule looks pretty snappy too. The 7 Kerbals inside are kept in cosy, blue comfort
The inside of the capsule looks pretty snappy too. The 7 Kerbals inside are kept in cosy, blue comfort
The falcon is launched.
The falcon is launched.

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 first stage and the protective cone detach
The first stage and the protective cone detach

The second stage powers the capsule into a steady orbit and aims for the KSS (which orbits at 500km)

MMmmmmmm Dem snappy solar panels
MMmmmmmm Dem snappy solar panels
The KSS, silhouetted against the sun
The KSS, silhouetted against the sun

The Capsule uses rcs fuel to move itself towards the station and dock.

Gotchya
Gotchya

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.

Honest

Amazing graphics in PC games these days
Amazing graphics in PC games these days

 

After their docking, the 7 Kerbals waste no time in returning to the KSC.

The solar panels detach from the capsule, they are the only part that is non-reuseable and will burn up on re-entry
The solar panels detach from the capsule, they are the only part that is non-reuseable and will burn up on re-entry

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.

The draco engines fire up
The draco engines fire up
The dragon capsule falls towards the KSC
The dragon capsule falls 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.

Getting ready for a splashdown
Getting ready for a splashdown

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 second Falcon launches from Kerbin
The second Falcon launches from Kerbin
A course is plotted for the Mun
A course is plotted for the Mun
The HD SpaceX mod looks goddamn sexy does it not?
The HD SpaceX mod looks goddamn sexy does it not?
After detaching from the second stage, the capsule drifts down to the surface of the Mun
After detaching from the second stage, the capsule drifts down to the surface of the Mun

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.

We Woz All Ere
We Woz All Ere

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.

Jump!
Jump!

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.

Usually at this point I would simply deploy chutes and be done with it but dammit this time I need accuracy!
Usually at this point I would simply deploy chutes and be done with it but dammit this time I need accuracy!

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.

Bullseye!
Bullseye!

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!

He can do it!
He can do it!

 

 

 

 

9) Spaceplane trial and error

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Building a spaceplane in KSP isn’t easy, it takes a whole different approach and skillset to building rockets. I’ve never built one before so this is my attempt. My objective is to make a SSTO spaceplane that can dock at the KSS and then return to the landing strip at KSC.

 

Rather than go straight for it, I decided to get the basics of flight ironed out with a simple little plane:

 

Flight 10: Basic Jet

This short little guy was my first attempt
This short little guy was my first attempt

The first plane was simply a couple of jet fuel tanks with a basic jet engine on the back and a couple of wings for lift.

And it actually managed to fly!
And it actually managed to fly!
Pretty stable too!
Pretty stable too!

The first flight was a sucess so far! It got itself up into the air without a problem and was very stable in flight. There was only one real problem with it…

This problem
This problem

After a quick flight around the KSC I decided to try and land. And this I simply could not do. I could line up to the runway and with some trial and error (and many dead Kerbals, no ejector seat on this baby!) I could get it to touch down at a reasonable angle. But as soon as I applied the brakes or it slowed down to some critical speed, the nose would pitch downwards and slam itself into the ground. At the time I couldn’t figure out what was wrong but in hindsight I found that the front landing gear has to be placed on the capsule itself, not just behind it as I had done. I fiddled around with some other none-spaceworthy designs for a while to get a better feel for things….

Some were too back heavy and ended up flipping
Some were too back heavy and ended up flipping
Some had too much lift at the front and... also ended up flipping
Some had too much lift at the front and… also ended up flipping
Some were just too fat and ended up not having enough lift to get airborne....
Some were just too fat and ended up not having enough lift to get airborne….
This is what happens to planes that don't have enough lift!
This is what happens to planes that don’t have enough lift!
But some were just right!
But some were just right!

Over time I learnt what worked and what made stuff crash or fail in other unspeakable ways. I learnt that:

The centre of lift needs to be behind the centre of mass.

There needs to be enough of it to lift the weight of the craft.

You need enough control surfaces to be able to force the nose to point up when in thick atmosphere (it tends to point towards the direction of travel which is straight ahead just after takeoff).

Basic jet engines have waaaaay more thrust than turbo jets at low altitudes.

You need enough thrust to gain speed but too much will make you flip.

The plane needs to be slightly back-heavy or the nose will tend to pull downwards.

But if it is too back heavy the plane will flip.

Flipping is both hilarious and frustrating.

No matter how many Kerbals die, more will always want their chance to get into space.

 

So, after all that messing around with basic flight, it was time to get into space!

Flight 11: Spaceplanes in space!

My first spaceplane design
My first spaceplane design

My first attempt at this used rocket fuel for the central fuselage and two jet fuel fuselages on the wings, equipped with turbo jets. Two more basic jet engines and a LV-T45 rocket engine on the back provide extra thrust at low altitudes and non-atmospheric propulsion respectively.

The plane flew well and actually managed to get to space!
The plane flew well and actually managed to get to space!
But didn't stay there for long.
But didn’t stay there for long.

The plane was able to get to space but not establish orbit. One of the main problems was a lack of air from the intakes. Jet engines need atmospheric oxygen to run and all 4 of mine had their own air intakes for this purpose. However, once it got to around 17000m, the basic jet engines were almost useless (their thrust plummets at high altitudes) and the intakes weren’t pulling enough air in to run the ramjets efficiently. That meant I had to start the rocket engine earlier than I would have liked and it used up it’s fuel before it could get into orbit. So, modifications were made…

Take 2
Take 2

This time, more control surfaces were added and ram air intakes were added to the turbo jets. These are far more effective at grabbing air at high velocities and altitudes. It still retained the basic jets for thrust at low altitudes. However, the plane wasn’t able to gain any altitude.

Correct end not pointed to space
Correct end not pointed to space

No matter what I did with this plane the nose just refused to rise and I couldn’t get above 1000m. Luckily, I had by this time learnt how to land!

Not the runway but the wheels seem rugged enough to take a grassy landing!
Not the runway but the wheels seem rugged enough to take a grassy landing!

The problem this time was that the control surfaces at the front weren’t providing much lift so the centre of lift was too close to the rear of the plane.

So, more trial and error time!

Jeb was happy that an escape mechanism had been installed for this round of 'trial and error'
Jeb was happy that an escape mechanism had been installed for this round of ‘trial and error’

After an hour or so of re-jiggering spaceplanes I finally came up with a design that worked:

May I present:  A working SSTO spaceplane!
May I present: A working SSTO spaceplane!

The basic jets were scrapped, I found that the turbo jets produced enough thrust as long as there were enough lift surfaces. The turbo’s managed to stay on up to 26000m and kicked the plane up to a speed of 1100m/s. The aerospike engine then fired and carried the plane into orbit.

Jeb was so excited and confident about this one that he even did an EVA selfie once orbit was achieved.

HAI GUYZ!
HAI GUYZ!

Once orbit was achieved, another burn took the spaceplane straight to the KSS for a docking maneuver.

The spaceplane comes in to dock
The spaceplane comes in to dock
And manages to grab ahold of the KSS
And manages to grab ahold of the KSS

After swapping some science and admiring the RIS docked to the other end, Jeb undocks and begins his return journey, aiming for the KSC.

Re-entry was dramatic as always.
Re-entry was dramatic as always.

A quick burn of the jets brought the plane on a course for the KSC. A few kilometres away the engines were cut and the plane glided towards the runway for a smooth nightime landing.

Ta-da!
Ta-da!

A very proud moment for me! Not only had I created an SSTO plane, I had also learned to fly it, docked with a spacestation and returned for a textbook landing on the runway. Happy days!

 

Pfft, its easy really. Not sure what all the fuss was about.
Pfft, its easy really. Not sure what all the fuss was about.

8) Dres – Interplanetary ‘learning curve’

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The Kerbals had developed a re-useable interplanetary tug but had yet to actually erm… use it. So they decided that the mission target after Duna should be the next planet out – Dres.

Flight 10 – Dres

Jeb, of course, volunteered and his lander was prepared for him.

Using the RIS meant the lander itself could be launched on a relatively small rocket.
Using the RIS meant the lander itself could be launched on a relatively small rocket.

The lander is launched into orbit and the RIS is undocked from the KSS. The two meet above Kerbin.

The lander approaches the RIS
The lander approaches the RIS
The RIS starts carrying the lander to Dres
The RIS starts carrying the lander to Dres
After a long burn, an encounter with Dres is made.
After a long burn, an encounter with Dres is made.
Sucess! An orbit is around Dres is established
Sucess! An orbit is around Dres is established

So Jeb got himself to Dres. With just one minor problem. Although the lander still had a full tank of fuel, the RIS was running very low! The orange tank was completely empty and even the four side tanks over the nukes were slightly depleted. I had to hope that the lander would have some fuel left over after the landing and that the lighter payload for the return journey wouldn’t guzzle so much fuel.

Jeb was confident enough to go ahead and land on Dres in any case, how bad could being stranded in interplanetary space be anyway? So he detached from the RIS and burned retrograde to land. Dres is a small world with a gravity similar to the Mun. In that sense, landing here was easier than landing on Duna although there was no atmosphere to slow descent.

From this angle, Dres looks kinda gray and boring...
From this angle, Dres looks kinda gray and boring…

Not at all distracted by the way the world below him was giving his skin a grayish tinge, Jeb expertly piloted the lander to the surface without incident.

The landing spot was a little slanty but from the looks of it so it most of Dres!
The landing spot was a little slanty but from the looks of it so it most of Dres!

Jeb found he could jump just as high here as he could on the Mun but without the glorious view of Kerbin to keep him company. He had a look around for the famous Dres Canyon that had been spotted by astronomers from Kerbin but it didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby.

Wheeeeee!!!!
Wheeeeee!!!!

All in all Dres seems… pretty dull. After doing some science and posing for a selfie…

Dres selfie

Jeb does some science things with Goo and samples but swiftly runs out of things to do. He blasts off from Dres, happy to have expanded the borders of Kerbally exploration but a bit jaded that the surface wasnt covered in awesome gray…somethings. What’s awesome and gray? Chicken walkers from star wars perhaps? On reflection Jeb decides that most things that are awesome aren’t gray and decides that the next place he visits should be a different colour.

Jeb re-docks with the lander and begins the return journey to Kerbin
Jeb re-docks with the lander and begins the return journey to Kerbin

The lander still had about 150 units of fuel left inside. Jeb transferred this to the RIS and ejected the empty lander cans. It’s still looking extremely tight for fuel however, getting back to Kerbin is going to take quite a lot of detla-V and at this point I wasn’t sure if the craft would make it.

And sure enough, after escaping Dres’ orbit, burning to an encounter with Kerbin and arriving in Kerbin’s sphere of influence, the RIS ran out of fuel… at this point…

Crap
Crap

No chance of even so much as an aerobrake, the craft was going to head straight back out into Kerbol orbit. I only really had a couple of options at that point, either give up and terminate the mission, starting all over again, or attempting a rescue. I really don’t like the idea of ‘terminating’ Jeb after all he’s done for the KSP so I decided to try and rescue him. All he really needed was some fuel, so I simply launched a fuel tank into orbit.

screenshot14

Not a particularly pretty ship but does the job.
Looks like a flying dumbell.

The fuel tank docked with the RIS and gave it enough delta V for a proper Kerbin encounter. I put both on a suicide burn for Kerbin, undocked the lander then used the RIS’s engines to push it’s periapsis higher, going for an aerobrake rather than a suicide burn.

screenshot27

The lander detaches from the RIS above Kerbin
The lander detaches from the RIS above Kerbin
I was lucky enough to catch an aurora as the Lander slammed it's way through Kerbin's atmosphere.
I was lucky enough to catch an aurora as the Lander slammed it’s way through Kerbin’s atmosphere.
The lander finally came down safely under an overcast sky.
The lander finally came down safely under an overcast sky.

So the rescue worked! This wasn’t a particularly smooth mission however, I have learned a few things from it.

My main change for future is realising that the current RIS does not have enough fuel for taking landers beyond Duna/Eve. Luckily, it’s design included a nice big docking port Sr. to attach extra fuel tanks in just such a situation (which is how the refueling tank was able to dock). So I sent another gray fuel tank to increase the range of the RIS.

The expanded RIS docked to the KSS
The expanded RIS docked to the KSS

At least this mission did show that the RIS concept could work, even if it didn’t go quite as planned!

 

7) Icarus

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Flight 9 – Icarus

How close can you get to the sun before you burn up?

I have absolutely no idea, but I did find out how close you can get to Kerbol.

The ship:

Icarus sets off
Icarus sets off

A small rocket was all that was needed to take the small payload into orbit. I included a second stage of small oscar B fuel tanks with a little rockomax 48-7S engine. I originally wanted to make the entire rocket out of ‘tiny’ sized parts. This proved a bit awkward, as the oscar B’s have a lot of weight in them that isn’t fuel, so they weigh the craft down even when emptied. I was however impressed with the 48-7S which put out quite a lot of power when the rocket is so little! Anyway, the tiny parts were enough to get the probe out of Kerbin’s SoI and begin the de-orbit around Kerbol (once the ‘small’ sized parts lifted the rocket into Kerbin orbit). I do want to do something more in the future with tiny parts, maybe an SSTO rocket or a Mun landing but that’s for another time.

The teeny tiny 48-7S packs quite a punch when combined with other tiny parts
The teeny tiny 48-7S packs quite a punch when combined with other tiny parts

 

 

Annnnnyway back to the Icarus mission. The idea is to see what it it’s like to get damn close to Kerbol and see how far it’s atmosphere extends and at what point a ship will blow up (I’ve read that they DO blow up, you can’t land but I don’t know at what point that happens). No Kerbals were to be risked for this mission so all I really needed was a way to get any probe body close enough. I decided to use the most efficient engine in the game – the PB-ION electric propulsion system. This engine uses xenon as fuel and can make use of tiny amounts to push along the ship. The problem is that it produces barely any thrust. Since I only need to shove a tiny probe body around, that shouldn’t be a problem. I stuck on plenty of solar panels (six of the smaller panels ended up weighing quite a bit less than the two gigantor arrays I would need for balance) and a little battery and it was good to go. The whole thing weighed 1.47 tons, 1.05 of which was solar panels!

 

* After I did this mission someone pointed out that I could have gotten with just using one gigantor array if I put it on the very top of the probe, that would way much less and would get around the need to balance it. Doh!

The ion engine ROARS into life in an orgy of fire and destruction!! Or not.
The ion engine ROARS into life in an orgy of fire and destruction!! Or not.

The little blue glow from the silent ion engine told me it was on and the orbit speed around kerbol started to slowly go down. Even with such an insanely light payload, this wasn’t going to be a fast mission. The burn for my first taget (500million metres) was going to take 17 minutes. Nothing much exciting was going to happen in that time so I got some housework done, made some tea and waited for my little burn to be done.

For reference, Kerbin has an apoapsis of 13 billion metres and an orbital speed around Kerbol of around 9200m/s.

The trajectory after the first burn, this took over 6000m/s of delta V!
The trajectory after the first and largest burn, this took over 6000m/s of delta V!

So what does the sun look like from 500 million metres away?

This.

500Mm periapsis, 3000m/s orbital speed at apoapsis, 300/700 xenon remaining
500Mm periapsis, 3000m/s orbital speed at apoapsis, 300/700 xenon remaining

Fine so far, but it still doesn’t really feel like I’m close to the sun. Time for another burn then! This time to bring me to within 100 million metres of Kerbol.

100Mn periapsis, 2100m/s orbital speed at apoapsis, 200/700 fuel remaining
100Mn periapsis, 2100m/s orbital speed at apoapsis, 200/700 xenon remaining

Getting pretty close! Certainly looks a bit more impressive than 500Mmetres. But we can do better! MOAR xenon burn!

25Mm periapsis, 1900m/s orbital speed at apoapsis, 180 xenon remaining
25Mm periapsis, 1900m/s orbital speed at apoapsis, 180 xenon remaining

Gah! Now the sun takes up nearly the entire screen! Lets get another point of view…

Starting to get a feel for the size of Kerbol now, the probe feels very small!
Starting to get a feel for the size of Kerbol now, the probe feels very small!

Still no burning up though, the paint the Kerbals put on those solar panels must be pretty epic. This close to Kerbol, the speed at periapsis was a whopping 80000m/s!

But enough of these fly-by’s. I set out to see how close I could get before blowing up and there’s only one real way to do that.

No more periapsis!
No more periapsis!

The Icarus was never meant to be recovered and it got it’s name for a reason. Down it goes!

5Mm above Kerbol
5Mm above Kerbol

Thankfully, the corona-like glare disappears around this point, otherwise I think it might burn out my computer screen! I assume the cameras on my little probe have adaptive filters or somesuch.

1Mn above Kerbol
3Mn above Kerbol

Shortly before this picture was taken I lost the ability to timewarp (except for forcing physical warp). However, I figured this wasnt a problem as I was goint the insane speed of 84000m/s! Soon my main problem was  to be missing screenshot milestones! I assumed this might mean I was inside the ‘atmosphere’ of Kerbol. However, usually that would slow the craft down, at the very least decreasing my apoapsis. However, the ship wasn’t slowing and a check of the apoapsis actually showed it to be slowly increasing which was weird…. does that happen on other orbital bodies near periapsis? If so I’ve never noticed it.

1 Million metres above the surface
1 Million metres above the surface
500000m above the surface
500000m above the surface
250000m above the surface
250000m above the surface

It’s hard to get  a sense of scale in still pictures but that’s not the only problem. Things didn’t actually look very different in the last few hundred thousand miles ingame.

100000m above the surface
100000m above the surface

Having said that…. you can now see what look like indentations in the surface. I assume these are sunspots and I didn’t really expect to find details like that on Kerbol so I’m suitably impressed!

10000m above the surface
10000m above the surface

Now remember, although this would still be quite high on a planet, I’m still going well over 85000m/s here so I was getting pretty trigger happy with the F2 key (for screenshots).

1200m above the surface
1379m above the surface

But even so I almost missed it! Poof! At exactly 1379m the probe just disintegrates without warning. Well…. unless you count the rapidly decreasing altimeter and the fact that it was pointed straight at a star as warning. Also the fact that it was called icarus which was never going to end well for the poor probe.

Note that that does NOT look like I’m actually 1300m or so from the surface. The graphic for Kerbol seems to stop quite some way below what the altimeter counts as the surface, which would explain some of the lack of perspective changes below a million metres.

 

So there you have it! How close can you get to Kerbol?

1379m

 

Somehow I doubt NASA has enough aerogel to get that close to our star.

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