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Jan 24 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 1/20/20

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Ascension Mk1 Completes Orbital Test Mission

Although stricter launch commit criteria did cause delays we were eventually able to get off our first launch of the year, nay – decade, sending the 11th Ascension Mk1 up on a trajectory that was meant to mirror the orbital ascent path set to be flown by the Ascension Mk2. As explained by the mission overview tweets you can see in the mission timeline, the rocket was programmed to throttle back its main engine to keep speeds from exceeding those the Mk2 would achieve. This kept airflow over the control fins reduced so that they would have a similar amount of authority as in the Ascension Mk2 flight.

While mission analysis is still ongoing, initial results are promising despite the large amount of control issues that were indicated during the initial ascent while watching the live telemetry feed (replay available here). The fact that the rocket was able to recover its course and pitch after nearly being blown over by a sudden strong wind gust at launch while traveling so slow was a great sign and overall the velocity eventually ended up being lower than it should have been. The rocket was still able to steer well at a slower velocity than planned, which is why we say the flight was promising. Of course, the full report will reveal whether this actually allows us to move forward with the Mk2 launch next month and should be released in early February.

Kerbin Weather Service Expands Flight Operations

Val was dispatched to Kravass today to provide some training guidance to the new KWS flight crew that will be handling storm flights for the region. We missed two calls from the KWS so far this month and they were not pleased at us being able to send out a flight to collect them data, despite our reduced available flight crew due to the loss of Aldeny and Tedman and Jeb & Val’s duties with the Ascension program. The new flight crew at Kravass will handle storms that build up over land and we will still get infrequent assignments to investigate storms out over the Kerblantic. Although the KWS also wanted to station a flight crew here at KSC, experienced pilots are still in short supply – especially for flying in and around severe weather. They already have another crew flying out of the Sheltered Rock region.

Additionally the KWS has provided us with dropsonde probes that can be used to assist in the weather data collection by allowing for the aircraft to drop them from high altitude, which keeps them above the majority of the severe weather. Previously the aircraft itself would have to fly through the storm at various altitudes to get a good “slice” of weather data. Now the probes can fall and transmit their data back to the aircraft.

Commercial Airport Expansion Finalized

In the gallery above you can see an image of what KSC will look like with the additional facilities that are due to be constructed over the coming 7 months. The expansion will allow for increased air traffic in and out of KSC which will consist mostly of freight being shipped to/from Umbarg. The freight will travel to the cavern by way of a new rail link already under construction. With so much of the surface around Umbarg actually being doors for massive airship bays, building an airport near the cavern was never a good option. With it being the center of airship corporations, there has been opposition to the idea from the beginning. Expanding KSC was always the best option but it took over 2 years for enough financial support to be found.

KerBalloon Continues Income Support

This past week saw the low-altitude crew successfully trek via UTV (2 new ones were gifted to us over New Years!) up into the plains north of KSC for a balloon release. Despite the region being riddled with sinkholes the crews have navigated the area enough in the past to know what to look out for. The problem with the balloon inflation is still under investigation by the manufacturer. The high-altitude crew already has a contract signed for them to carry out next week.

So far the KerBalloon program has been our only source of income this month in addition to any public donations.

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 4,621 asteroids and 1 updated with new observation data. Here are the 36 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 1/20/20

Seems by the date above that I have less than a week lead time now but actually I’m writing this a bit late and have already completely outlined the following week, including photos & diagrams needed. Just have to flesh out the tweets themselves and build the schedule. So nearly up to 2 weeks lead time. Slowly getting back on track.

Star Wars revision (no spoilers)

I spent a lot of time the first half of this month working up an essay on how to change Rey’s origin in Rise of Skywalker to better tie into the whole movie saga and the previous two entries in the sequel trilogy. It was after I expressed my opinions to a friend that he was interested in seeing it all written up and presented. I got that finished and you can read it here (spoilers!) if you are so inclined. it’s only just over 5,500 words 😛

Ops Tracker v12

I had really hoped to have the new Ops Tracker ready for this launch but there are still the two largest aspects to refactor – the vessel view and surface map. It’s something that will take all my focus – I can’t do it piecemeal or I will lose the “big picture” of working with the code related to these systems. So I need to get my lead time buffered out a bit more first. One of the many things that will be addressed in the new version is that when you see the rocket icon move off the edge of the map, the map will move to follow it then zoom out as needed to keep the full track in view. This launch was the first that flew so far downrange while ascending since it didn’t go up as steeply as usual.

Eve photo

Just wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t a composite shot – as in I didn’t take a photo of a cloud-shrouded Eve then remove the clouds for another photo then layer them and erase some of the clouds to see the surface. Given how often I edit images I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that’s what I did. But actually the cloud layers in the game do sometimes line up in such a way that the surface dynamically becomes visible as shown in the image.

Also of course the planet’s phase is correct for the date of the photo by lining up the planets in the map view and then zooming in.

Finally a note that this image was taken in KSP v1.3.1 because in later versions with changes to Scatterer I can’t get the same look, and  I like this version of Eve (Jool also is a unique look in this version). This isn’t really a huge deal as any photo I take in later KSP versions I can always replicate in v1.3.1 and replace the Eve from images taken from later versions with the Eve from 1.3.1 (Jool too).

Mk1 mission

This was a poorly-planned mission from the start, and I locked in the probe design before I realized there was still more work that I had to do. By then it was a published image showing it being encapsulated in the VAB so I was kind of stuck. I also originally planned for the mission to go full throttle along the Mk2 ascent track before I realized how it should be traveling as slow as the Mk2 to properly gauge the performance of the guidance fins. Still, it was salvageable and in the end everything turned out okay – it just took extra work and time unfortunately.

Getting the lights to appear to be attached to the lightning towers on the pad was also a pain in the ass that required a lot of back and forth between the VAB and the pad to get right. They are just attached to the launch clamp then translated into position close enough to the towers to appear to be connected to them. I initially was having trouble with them clipping into the towers but was able to deactivate collision meshes on the statics. Now that I did though, I can use Precise Editor to input the exact locations for future launch vehicles.

The mission took 7 attempts. Oy. First try I was feeling good because I actually caught a problem before it became a problem – I had the fairing pieces staged with the launch clamp which means on launch the fairings would have detached. I moved them out of that stage group less than a minute before launch but then I got a launch abort message from the flight computer saying the TWR wasn’t set for takeoff and reported it was only at 1.2. That is the correct takeoff value and the code had not been touched since prior launches so I thought there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have worked.

Reset for a second attempt and this time no TWR issue arises but instead a logical error in the code kept the throttle locked to 1.2 TWR the whole ascent rather than adjusting the throttle at specific altitudes like it was supposed to.

Fixed that and ran a third attempt, which again failed to pass the TWR check during ignition but this time I had modified the code to just spit out the raw TWR calculation and found it was just slightly under 1.2 – for some reason the round() function of kOS was rounding up rather than rounding off to 5 significant digits like I thought I was telling it to. I realized then that the lights, being attached to the launch clamp, were still having their mass registered up until launch and that was lowering my TWR calculation until I accounted for them.

Okay, not sure why the TWR issue didn’t pop up on the 2nd attempt but I corrected it so the 4th attempt launched fine, but then another logic issue reared its head and caused the throttle code to keep checking for throttle changes after the last one had been made, causing an error attempting to read values that weren’t there. On top of that I forgot to switch off the VOID data logging before resetting to the VAB and doing this locks out the file so you have to restart the whole game. I was getting a bit frustrated at this point.

For 5th attempt by now I was thinking more about how the mission should be carried out after ascent and decided the payload should really detach from the lift stage for less drag on re-entry. However doing this introduced another logic error since originally I never planned to leave the fuel tank behind and thus did not include a check in the logger that was keeping tabs on the tank fuel flow for when it was not there. But I guess that was fine since FAR was acting glitchy anyways and closing its dialog windows during staging events and at random times (I know a workaround for this issue but failed to perform it correctly I guess).

6th attempt fixed the FAR issues but upon payload decouple at apokee I got a quicksave error that crashed the flight computer. I dunno why it can’t quicksave like that while in space but I guess despite putting a wait command between the decouple and save commands the game just didn’t move fast enough to reorganize the now two separate craft and allow for a save to occur.

So finally the 7th launch I added some checks to make sure the code didn’t save when it wasn’t allowed to, cleaned up some output() messages and finally flew the entire mission as planned… with one exception – for some reason the rocket was really jittery on the launch clamp. I think it may have been a clipping issue with the lights again, although for some reason it hadn’t had any affect on previous attempts. No idea, but in retrospect there was no need to have those lights attached for the actual launch of the rocket anyways –  just for photos! Whatever, at this point I wasn’t willing to go through it again and I have an excuse ready for the flight report to explain what happened (thank you Air Crash Investigation!)

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