Category Archive: News

What's going on at the Kerbal Space Agency

Mar 25 2020

Ascension and Progenitor Programs Suspending Operations

Today I made the decision to suspend our rocketry programs for a full review and reassessment on all levels (design, administration, operations, vehicle integration, etc) over the next two months, at least. This move is especially difficult because we started this year out so strong, putting a probe into orbit and once again sending a kerbal up into space after a 5 month hiatus of crewed flight. This month we were also due to launch the first Progeny Mk7-B rocket and begin testing booster recovery and re-use. However despite the increasing momentum we seem to be surpassing our capacity to manage the increasing complexity of our missions and run the risk of compromising safety.

Initial review of the recent kerbed mission has found out why the rocket did not travel as high as planned – it was 53kg heavier than expected. We don’t have a scale that can measure a rocket after it’s been fully assembled. We know the mass of a rocket because we know the mass of all the individual parts plus the mass of the fuels and the mass of the crew. At some point in this mission improper mass figures were given to the mission design team, or proper ones were given but then failed to be updated when changes were made to the rocket’s assembly. We’re still working down the fault chain to identify all the reasons why this mass discrepancy occurred.

Although this was a relatively minor mistake that did not lead to any actual issues with the mission itself, ignoring it could lead to larger mistakes that in turn lead to disastrous consequences. I don’t feel that it is enough to recognize the issue and say “we’ll get it fixed” as we also continue to move on with operations that may already be compromised. Shutting everything down will allow us to go back to missions and vessels already in progress of being deployed to ensure that they are properly put together.

This decision is also influenced by the recent shut down of the Genesis program, which allowed us to identify and rectify numerous issues that had creeped their way into the program over the years. While we haven’t yet lost a pilot in Genesis due to maintenance or operational errors, there have been numerous close calls and the margins for crewed rocket flight are even tighter, not to mention how much more expensive it is to lose a rocket and unkerbed payload in flight.

This shut down will affect launches and construction only at this time. Engine testing on our static stands will continue and Wernher von Kerman’s team over at R&D also remain unaffected, so some things will continue to move forward. The Progeny Mk7-B that was recently assembled will receive another thorough inspection, mission plans for it and future Mk7-B flights will undergo full reviews. The recent Ascension Mk1 flight will continue to be analyzed and a report published. The upcoming Ascension Mk1 and Mk2 missions are all undergoing the same review scrutiny and we will also be taking another look at what we need to accomplish between now and the late-2021 launch of the first Extremis mission. Crew training will be suspended so our astronauts can be involved in the review aspects oriented towards their mission preparations – we expect training exercises to resume prior to the operational suspension being lifted.

Lead Engineer Simon and Flight Director Lanalye are both in agreement with me on this decision and we are confident that this will work to ensure we finish this year as strong as we started.

– Drew Kerman
Founder, Operations Director

Mar 20 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 3/16/20

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Mar 19 2020

Ascension Mk2 Flight 1 Analysis

Originally introduced as the Ascension Mk1 Block II back in March 2018, this rocket was meant to be the heavy-lift variant to the orbital Block I, using as many as 4 solid rocket motors to help it get going off the pad with larger payloads. Eventually however as the Block I showed it didn’t have the power to reach orbit the Block II was shelved and the following year brought back as the Mk2 with the addition of the Viklun upper stage. The rocket was originally set to fly in late 2019 until doubts began to creep in about the performance of the new guidance fins in being able to turn the rocket over enough for a shallow orbital ascent. A test flight with the Mk1 was set for the end of the year instead but that was forced back into early 2020 when the KSC was attacked and the launch pad damaged. All this and more details can be reviewed in the mission timeline, which includes tweets dating back to the Ascension program’s inception in 2017. Having over two years to prepare for the launch of this rocket, very little issues were had in the final lead-up to its mission. The rocket was rolled out atop the Mobile Launch Platform and all three service towers were finally used, with the lower booms providing fuel to the two stages and the crew access extension giving power to the Viklun and Kerbin I probe cores. The 1.25m core of the Viklun stage is the first of its size and would guide the rocket during ascent using its extra space to hold two discrete CPUs for cross-check and redundancy.

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Mar 13 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 3/9/20

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Mar 06 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 3/2/20

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Feb 28 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 2/24/20

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Feb 21 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 2/17/20

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Feb 14 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 2/10/20

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Feb 07 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 2/3/20

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Feb 06 2020

Ascension Mk1 Flight 11 Analysis

Ever since the attack on KSC that damaged the launch pad and destroyed our last Ascension Mk1 rocket we have been working hard towards regaining launch capability. It took 2 months to repair the ground service structures as well as the actual pad surface itself, but coming into the new year and new decade we are once again able to send up rockets from the launch pad. This mission will renew the bid for orbit that began back in 2018, and was then suspended at the start of last year when the rocket proved incapable of flying a trajectory that would allow it to enter a decaying orbit without running out of fuel. After testing new guidance fins on the Progeny Mk7-A, it is now time to scale them up to 1.25m rockets and see whether they can give the additional control authority needed to allow the rocket to pitch over faster. This mission will also see new 1.25m payload fairings based on the 0.625m ones that flew on the Progeny Mk7-A, which will be tested to see how they perform under the heat and pressure of ascent. The payload itself contains another RTG test article so it can be slammed into the ground after the flight and analyzed afterwards to determine whether it successfully remained intact and would have not spilled radioactive material.

The Flight

Due to tightening operational budget constraints, we can no longer afford to fail fast for iteration – in fact we can’t really afford to fail at all. This has led to new policies and stricter launch commit criteria (weather, build process, flight quals, etc) going into effect this year. The result was some early delays for the launch due to weather being outside of acceptable constraints, but thankfully it did not remain uncooperative for long and the countdown was able to begin and run to conclusion with no further issues only a day later than planned.

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