Sep 25 2020

Operations Summary – Weeks of 9/14 & 9/21/20

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Kerbin II Continues Orbital Mission

This week saw the first mission success for the Ascension Mk2 when it delivered the Kerbin II payload into a stable orbit and then de-orbited itself into the ocean east of Ockr. The mission went mostly as planned with only a slight problem during staging while ascending due to a mission design oversight. The guidance fins had been dampened so they could not move as fast or as far to reduce flutter past Mach 1 and keep vibrations, which could damage the payload, to a minimum. The restricted movement however made them ineffective as the rocket climbed into the thin air of the upper atmosphere and by the time staging arrived the nose had started to lift above the nominal ascent profile. Thankfully the changes made to the Viklun upper stage allowed it to recover without flipping over this time. Another improvement from the first Mk2 mission was proper throttling of the main engine to maintain acceleration while the SRBs were being used, so when they were let go early in the ascent none came close to hitting the runways.

Now that the Viklun stage has been de-orbited, focus remains on Kerbin II and its extended mission, which will last for several weeks – possibly until the end of the year. The main deciding factor will be its cold gas reserves, which if they approach half of capacity we will be forced to recover as after that not enough will remain for a targeted re-entry. The major use of the fuel will be from RCS, which really only needs to be used to position the camera viewpoint for photos. If we use as much as needed for the one taken so far, then we could take as many as 30 more before running low.

We’ll try to snap shots as much as we can, but it will be over time so that the probe can remain on orbit to perform its science experiments and continue to test its communication capabilities with all our ground stations. Once the main science phase is complete we will open up the transmission bandwidth to commercial services and our own surface expeditions so kerbs can get a taste of true global communication! Kerbin II’s extended stay in space will also allow us to check and see if any orbital decay occurs. We’re not exactly sure where the atmosphere completely ends – the easily-detectable boundary is at 70km but above that there may still be enough drag to slowly pull a spacecraft down over several weeks, months or years.

Progenitor Prepares for Next Launch Campaign

Focus at KSC has now transitioned from Ascension to Progenitor as the launch crews work to get the pad setup for the upcoming Progeny Mk7-B launch. The VAB has been busy getting the upper stages prepared for final integration with their boosters, which leads us to some exciting news – the 3rd mission will indeed fly with a refurbished booster! Fired first in March and then again in July, this will be the 3rd re-use of the same booster casing. Currently we are planning to integrate the 4th Mk7-B with a fresh booster however we are also re-firing the booster recovered from the 1st Mk7-B flight later this month. If it is good and the 3rd Mk7-B flight is good, we will delay the 4th flight to re-use the booster recovered from the 2nd flight. Yes, our heads are spinning now too. Logistics!

Monolithic Followers Block Narskeim Construction

A throng of Monolith worshipers descended upon the site of the first future surface colony on the eve of the main construction phase. The airship Barons are largely comprised of Monolithic followers and thus lent their craft to transport the pilgrims to the site, where they have setup a large camp and routinely gather in prayer circles around the area. Unless construction crews literally bulldoze over them, no work will be getting done anytime soon. These are kerbs who believe the Monolith is what was responsible for returning Kerbin’s surface to a habitable state and that the aliens who built it will one day return to carry them off into their stellar civilization. Any and all work done on the surface would sacrifice the purity of the planet and instead the Monolith builders would return to destroy everything. We had to deal with them in working to get KSC constructed and smaller demonstrations were put on for earlier airport construction but in the years since their following has grown and this demonstration is several hundred kerbs strong.

The current action by the government is to attempt to negotiate with religious leaders to see if there’s any way a compromise can be reached to allow the surface colony to be built in such a way that it would not wantonly sully the surface. This is in fact what planners have spent the last 2 years doing, but apparently the final measures are unsatisfactory to religious followers. If negotiations fail the government, backed by the majority of the kerbal populace, has made it clear the colony construction will move forward and sanctions against the airship industry will cut off supply to the pilgrims, who will be forced to either leave or starve.

Kerbal Sounding Project Returns

Submissions have been opened for senior-level students to design experiments that will be conducted aboard a sub-orbital Progeny Mk6 sounding rocket launched at the end of this year in either November or December. We expect the same level of massive participation as last year and the format has been slightly altered to feature as many as 4 launches on a Block I and 2 launches on a Block II. At the end of October we will announce the chosen experiments and how many flights will be needed to launch them all into space. Last year’s flights were a resounding success and we can’t wait to give more budding future scientists the valuable experience!

KSA Celebrates 4 Years of Operations

It’s been a wonderful journey so far and we’ve still only barely begun. Please make sure if you haven’t already to read our note from Founder and Operations Director Drew Kerman on how the KSA will be progressing in the years to come – hopefully of which there will be many!

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 5,747 asteroids and 2 updated with new observation data. Here are the 31 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 9/25/20

Although I’m writing this today I’m actually all good on KSA operations up to next Tuesday, which is nowhere near still as far ahead as I would like but it’s something. I did not go back to fill in any earlier desk notes since I spent the previous weekend camping with friends along the Delaware river so that lost me some time (and forced me to use the RTG installation to delay the launch). That and getting into the swing of conducting a long-term orbital mission has also slowed the pace of things for me a bit, but starting to ramp up again and still hope to push out to at least two weeks lead time. I only have notes for the Mk2 mission as that was not surprisingly the main focus of these past two weeks.

Orbit meant to be more inclined

I’ve made this mistake before – thinking a 60° launch azimuth would lead to close to a 60° inclined orbit but I keep forgetting that’s not the same thing! 60° inclination is off a 90° equator running east/west but 60° azimuth is off a 90° meridian running north/south. So really for a 60° inclined orbit you want to launch around a 30° azimuth. Thankfully the rocket starts at 45° so turning to either 60° or 30° would be 15° so making the change for a future mission won’t be a big deal and it’s true that going for a lower inclination is easier and thus leaves a larger margin for error on ascent – something still important in testing the new Viklun stage improvements.

Sneaky liquid fuel nose cones

Having so many mods means it’s sometimes hard to keep track of what in the game is being changed – case in point would be my discovery very late in mission planning that the nose cones on the SRBs contained liquid fuel – 362kg worth in total! I was afraid that would be substantial but plugging the new numbers into LVD only put the rocket 1-2km higher in apokee at the end of its ascent so thankfully it didn’t turn out to be a big deal. I only caught it too because I noticed in the KER readout in the VAB that the liquid fuel amount was higher than it should have been.

Launch success not guaranteed

I did not plan for this launch to be a success. I did make plans that would hopefully rectify the mistakes made in the first flight but I didn’t fly the launch to discover any new mistakes or that my changes didn’t work and then fix those. If something had gone wrong during the launch, then I would have likely let it go wrong – the only exception being if what went wrong was some massive oversight I don’t think the KSA should have missed and that could be covered without any retcon (especially since with no lead time I really had no ability to retcon!). I also wanted to code up all kinds of routines to handle any possible issues during ascent I could think of but realized this would take up too much time working on things I maybe wouldn’t even need. For example I just set up a manual abort procedure in the event of the Viklun stage flipping out again rather than attempting to program something to handle it automatically.

OMG it worked! now what?

It was of course a very satisfying feeling when all pretty much went as planned (that staging really was intense for me watching it) but afterwards I finally had to really start thinking about how best to move forward. The Kerbin I mission gave me some experience in on-orbit operations but this was also very different because it would not be as rapid-paced as that mission was. This was now definitely going to be a mission lasting several weeks and I had to really consider how much I had to slow things down and let it play out over that time span. I’m still getting used to it and look forward to this fresh challenge

Kerbin II deployment

The first thing I had to do was replace the vessel in orbit, because the one that launched had the Kerbin II probe clipped into the payload truss part and if I decoupled it from there it would be flung away ludicrously fast. This wasn’t a big deal as I’ve had to do it before – just reduce in the VAB the Mk2 vessel I launched to the upper-stage and probe, reseat the probe properly atop the truss, adjust resource amounts, launch to the pad, quicksave, then transfer the parts listing from the quicksave file to the persistence file. Thankfully when I loaded it up on orbit the Kerbin II probe was not spontaneously decoupled like the problem I’ve experienced in past missions with the LES.

Still, it took me three tries to get the deployment correct because I also had to manually edit the save files to copy over the kOS code that was supposed to be stored on the Kerbin II probe core during pre-launch initialization. Then because the probe’s root part was not the probe core, after it decoupled it refused to power on properly and I had to fix this by adding Control From Here to the action that powers on the probe after separation. Finally in making the manual changeover I forgot to properly set the naming scheme so the Viklun stage on separation was being improperly named and my kOS runtime code was treating it as a new vessel.

Orbital decay a thing?

Still not sure yet. The fact that LinuxGuruGamer has taken over the mod gives me hope, but he recently backed off to ponder the implementation so I have nothing to use to test on this mission – yet. We’ll see if/when he gets back to it. In the meantime I have several means planned to keep this issue an open question lore-wise for at least the remainder of this mission. Come next year when I begin launching Mk3 orbital missions I am going to have to make a final decision on whether or not to use orbital decay in the KSA universe. I want to, because I like the lack of extended lifetime it places on satellites and thus the extra challenge of mission planning and it’s something that affects the KSA operations in a way that’s visible to the audience (as opposed to n-body, which only makes mission planning more complicated for me and ends up with same results from the audience perspective). It also depends on how well KSPTOT will support the decay model. I will not sacrifice my ability to use KSPTOT accurately just for decay.

KSP v1.5.1 launch clamp yeet fixed

Yuuup, although there have recently been very promising advancements in the use of graphical enhancements to KSP v1.9.1 and later, I’m still not confident I can get it looking as good as 1.5.1 yet and haven’t had the time to try, so still loading up the older version for screenshots and videos in some cases (since I still can’t also load static buildings in 1.9.1). The problem I’ve had of craft getting shot off into hyperspace from the launchpad when using the engine clamps was solved by completely replacing the BDB folder and rolling it back to a version more compatible with 1.5.1 – which I thought I did the last time I tried to fix this problem so not sure what I did different this time that worked but glad it’s no longer an issue I need to deal with. Smokescreen is still acting funky and not letting me edit any of the particle effects in its GUI but thankfully because of the SRBs I did not have to switch off the main engine’s smoke trail after launch.

Viklun de-orbit failed the first time

My first attempt I switched on the automated RCS control system in kOS to hold retrograde and it quickly over-used the remaining fuel and ran dry, causing the stage to drift far enough off retrograde that by the time the burn started it did not successfully lower the perikee into the atmosphere. Problem: if it stayed up there and I decided later on that orbital decay was a thing and that it should have de-orbited by that time due to decay then how do I handle the fact that it’s still there? So I made a second attempt and did the de-orbit properly. If decay was properly handled or I had already decided not to use decay, I would have let it fail and return via decay or remain space debris to deal with later.

Ops Tracker needs some love

Slightly disappointed to have a long-term orbital mission and the Ops Tracker isn’t fully equipped to handle it but at the same time just a single probe in orbit isn’t a huge deal and next year when I hopefully have multiple probes up there doing things the need for better on-orbit display will be more important. Thankfully no one really seems interested in using the code base (no big surprise) so I’m not feeling the urge to do incremental updates for bug fixes and new features. I’ll get back to it once I have the time