Mar 06 2020

Operations Summary – Week of 3/2/20

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Crew Preparations Complete for Ascension Mk1 Mission

While the rocket itself still has to undergo some final checkouts on Monday, the crew of Captain Jebediah (primary) and Specialist Bob (backup) completed their mission training this week. They spent the last three months working to get ready, first with classroom studies to review procedures and information related to the rocket and spaceflight. This followed with practical drills using both the flight capsule and a mockup to practice landings, recovery, operations, ingress/egress, emergency situations, etc. Finally time was spent in the high-G centrifuge and also the capsule simulator to work through mission-specific scenarios. The crew will now begin quarantine this weekend in the Astronaut Complex, which is a time for the medical team to take baseline measurements and ensure the astronauts are both healthy and well-rested for the upcoming flight.

This will be Captain Jeb’s second attempt at going up into space after his first was thwarted by an aircraft dive-bombing his rocket. Specialist Bob too will be making a second attempt at going to space should Jeb fall ill or become otherwise incapacitated leading up to the launch.

New Lifter Engine Revealed

We first mentioned an upcoming replacement lifter engine for the Ascension program back at the end of August 2019. We had hoped to make a final decision by the end of the year however constantly changing requirements from the Ascension team kept sending the bidders back to the drawing board to tweak their designs. We had hoped to allow some measure of thrust vector control (TVC) but were not able to fly the Progeny Mk7-A enough to collect data the teams to could use towards such a much larger design. The new engine was initially meant to replace the current NovaPunch K2-X however it was realized later that a better design would be to constrain its use as a first stage lifter only; whereas the K2-X is meant to take a rocket all the way up through the atmosphere this engine would burn hard and fast into the upper atmosphere before a second vacuum-optimized engine picked up the lift.

The resulting contract was awarded to KW Rocketry and their WildCat V engine (see gallery above), beating out submissions from Kerbodyne, AEIS, KNES, BDB and NovaPunch – the largest batch of agencies we’ve ever had sending in designs. The WildCat V will see use on Ascension Mk2/Mk3 rockets while the K2-X will continue to be used on the Mk1. The remaining designs may yet serve us still for future engines and with more money now to spend on R&D we will have the remaining agencies continue to work on their designs.

Although we hoped to begin testing the new engine in Q2 of this year, the delay in making the selection has pushed back the start of testing to the beginning of Q3. However we will receive 3 engines in the first delivery so if no problems are found in testing we could send up at least 3 rockets with the new engines before the end of the year.

First Progeny Mk7-B Launch Scheduled

We’ve had excellent results from the Boostertron II dual-segment SRB motors since test firing started last month. The third engine was tested today and while a full review still needs to be completed the fact that it didn’t blow up gave the Progenitor team reason to lock in a date and time for their first launch – 3/26 @ 21:32 UTC. There is no Ops Tracker page for the vehicle as final mission details have yet to be worked out pending the aforementioned test review but the teams know they can hit that launch date with the rocket being fully assembled. If any mission planning hiccups occur before then the date could be pushed back. More information should be available next week.

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 4,829 asteroids and 2 updated with new observation data. Here are the 37 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 3/3/20

Welp there went all my lead time. But hey – I got through the Kerbin I mission and even managed to get setup on KSP v1.8.1, so it was time well spent even if it was more time than I expected.

Ops Tracker

This came together so much better in the week I had left before the Kerbin I mission than I could have ever hoped for. I was of course forced to push off a lot of features but I fixed all the bugs and made all the necessary changes and added the most important features needed to make the Kerbin I mission run as good as possible. I know in my previous Desk Notes I said I would save the drama of the Ops Tracker update for another entry but I guess I was being a bit speculative at the time because I don’t have any notes written down to expand upon and I can’t remember any huge issues. I was anticipating a harder time of it, I guess. Once I dug in and got going though things fell into place.

Kerbin I mission

I’m still a little annoyed by the fact that I was completely ignored in my few requests for retweets from Scott Manley and the official KSP twitter account. I really wanted to get this mission out to a bigger KSP community audience. The official KSP account actually used to follow KSA_MissionCtrl but stopped sometime last year for some reason and have pretty much ignored the entire project over its 4 year lifetime. I see them promote twitch and youtube streamers all the time meanwhile I’m over here doing something completely fresh and different and they’re like, “meh”, or something. I don’t know. I’ve seen them looking for a new community manager so hopefully something changes in that regard soon. And I wouldn’t be so bitter about it if not for the fact that Tory Bruno, a class act gent (wait no, he wears cowboy hats, I mean dude) and head of ULA at least has the decency to smash that Like button on tweets I send his way via the KSA account. (Liked tweets can show up for other people when viewing the Home timeline, so that’s a bit of extra exposure).

I was also ignored completely via the tweet and the DM I sent to the Boosters & Spacetape podcast show that recently came back, although not too annoyed about that one since it turns out they haven’t even filmed a follow-up episode yet (to my knowledge) so my hopes of getting on an episode before the mission are moot.

So I did what I could to slide into replies – I appreciate everyone that took the time to like this tweet reply to the KSP account so it would show up higher when people checked the replies. One of the times I replied back to The Man(ley) was also a hit. So I’ll just keep that up for now in cases where it is appropriate. Despite my whining I don’t actually have the energy to go full PR push right now. I do realize attention doesn’t come without effort.

On that note though I had hoped regular Reddit postings of key mission events and images would help generate more upvotes but over the course of the mission and events leading up to it I never managed to break 100 upvotes on any postings, although there was above average response overall for the subreddit in general. Was also hoping that having a reddit tag to my username would help people remember its the same account but not sure how effective it was – I know though that when I scroll through reddit and see stuff posted I think is continuous with earlier postings it can be hard to remember if its the same user. Still, did get a few encouraging messages and of course had to deal with the numerous “what even is this?” questions.

KSP v1.8.1

So my last big version update was KSP v1.5.1 back in 2018. The decision to update to v1.8.1 was mainly due to the underlying change to a new Unity version rather than for a need of any new gameplay features. Although v1.8 came out last year, it took quite a while for the Kopernicus team to get an update out due to the major underlying changes. It also took me a while to build up a significant enough lead time that I felt I could make the transition before running out.

It took me 4 days just to get to the point where I could say v1.8.1 and all my mods were installed and ready to go. First I had to install all the mods that were listed as compatible with v1.8.1 and comb through the log to identify any errors and warnings that could be ignored. This took a whole day. The next three days were spent going through over 100 additional mods that were not listed by their authors as compatible with v1.8.1 and checking them one by one so I could identify any serious log issues and either correct them or decide not to use the mod.

To aid me in checking the log, I used Find and Replace, which can also be run from the command line. So I have a batch file with regular expressions that is used to find and delete all the error and warning messages that aren’t really critical so I can manually search through and check the ones that are remaining much more quickly.

I was actually surprised at the number of older DLL plugins that still worked, including KerBalloon. I recall that KerBalloon once failed to work at all when updating to v1.5.1 and was expecting the same trouble with the Unity upgrade but it seems to function just fine.

Of course after the 4 days of installation I then had to get down to fixing a whole host of issues, which I will get into with more detail when I recap the upcoming Mk1 mission, which will be the first one I fly in v1.8.1. The most generic one was a weird lack of performance during the flight scene – after launching even a simple rocket my game clock would go yellow and drop to as much as 30% normal time, so it was taking the game 3 real seconds to compute 1 in-game second. I found a bit of log spam from the Vessel Viewer mod but removing it had no effect. Trying to point the camera at the sky so no terrain was rendered didn’t help either, which led me astray thinking it wasn’t a graphics issue. It got better in space so I thought maybe FAR was a problem but removing that didn’t help either. I took out all the mods I wasn’t using in v1.5.1 and still go 30% time dilation. Finally went all the way back to stock and got 30%. Yikes so maybe it is a graphics issue? I put everything to its lowest settings and saw no performance hit, so began to crank things back up one by one until I finally got the performance hit using anything higher than “Simple” for the rendering quality option. I’m thinking this might be an AMD driver issue.

Thankfully good graphics performance on v1.8.1 isn’t really necessary since I can still go back to v1.5.1 for screenshots whenever needed. Eventually I would like to also use v1.8.1 for screenshots just for the sake of convenience but the post-processing effects I want are still not available. KS3P remains in limbo although there is recent hope that the project will be renewed soon. And even if I get performance issues in v1.8.1 who cares – I’m not actually flying missions when I take pretty photos, I’m just setting up the shots. Mission has already been flown with crappy graphics to ensure good physics computation.

Videos suck, got it

So apparently I don’t make good videos? Or not exciting videos? Haven’t really received any verbose feedback explaining why but every single video I post on both twitter and reddit gets way less Likes/Upvotes than any image content I post. Like, significantly so. This actually makes me feel good because I never have enough time to really do a lot of videos and I often feel a bit bummed about it but now I don’t have to. Less videos, more photos. I prefer that anyways.