Nov 06 2020

Operations Summary – Weeks of 10/26 & 11/2/20

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Progeny Mk7-B Succeeds in Final Mission

After three failures for various reasons a new mission design for the fourth and final flight of the Mk7-B finally led to success. The two main objectives were fulfilled with a good burn from the first stage booster and good deployment and testing of the Luciole smallsat probe core.

The first stage booster was the same booster that was flown on the second Mk7-B back in late August. Ever since the start of this year we have been gradually working up to this point by static-firing and refurbishing the Boostertron II then static-firing it again. Once we confirmed refurbishment from a static-fired booster was possible we refurbished a previously-flown booster, the first flight booster from early August, and successfully static-fired it. This gave us confidence to refurbish a previously-flown booster and fly it again. This twice-flown booster will be refurbished a second time and static-fired. If it survives, it will still be retired and take up a place in our Rocket Garden. Next year when the Ascension Mk3 comes into service we will begin to again refurbish and test the Boostertron II and see what limit of re-use exists.

The smallsat probe core from Luciole was the mission payload and after being deployed from the rocket it performed a series of orientation maneuvers using the reaction wheels to demonstrate its ability to point and hold position. It carried an RTG test casing and relied on battery power. During re-entry it completely burnt up as expected – except for the RTG casing, also as expected. The casing was recovered and is still undergoing analysis to ensure that had it contained radioactive material it would not have contaminated the surface with it on impact. The good performance of the probe bodes well for it being the basis of future orbital payloads for the Progeny Mk8 in 2021.

The Mk7-B was originally planned for four flights and Progenitor teams see no reason for any additional ones, so the rocket is now officially retired.

Be sure to check out this video of the rocket’s ascent up to staging at 25km!

Kerbin II Science Mission Forges Ahead, then Interrupted

Still performing well up on orbit, Kerbin II came into this week strong after a first full weekend of science data collection. The spacecraft continues to pause science observations at the end of the day, but no longer pauses for the entire weekend. This has led to an uptick in data, sending down an additional 200MB over the past weekly averages. With initial telecom testing soon to be completed and bandwidth opened,  controllers were hopeful that starting next week they could remove the end of day pauses and just let the spacecraft run science observations 24/7.

In addition to its onboard instrument observations mission operators also made plans to keep watch on the poles of the planet during the spacecraft’s orbit. They positioned it almost anti-normal (roughly perpendicular to its orbital plane) and gave it a spin rate that brought the camera around to face the planet as it passed over the terminator twice per orbit. Snapping photos of the poles will allow mission ops to keep track of aurora, which is an indirect indication of kerbolar wind activity. Right now this won’t mean much but post-mission analysis is expected to use this data to help determine if “space weather” can affect the craft’s orbit, which has so far remained stable and given the mission an easy extension due to RCS fuel savings.

The orientation and roll was outside of the craft’s normal thermal control positioning however and that could have possibly played a role in the electrical system overdraw that occurred earlier today and caused an automatic halt to science observations to reduce power consumption. This allowed the RTG to continue supplying power on its own and the emergency batteries were not activated. Remaining science data onboard was down-linked without further issue and the mission ops team is now in the process of running a full health and systems check so they can begin to determine the cause of the issue. Hopefully it can be found and resolved over the weekend so science operations can be resumed next week. The craft has also been returned, for now, to its normal orientation and roll rate for proper thermal control.

Kerbal Sounding Project Returns for Second Year

We are pleased to help bring back the Kerbal Sounding Project for another year of launching student-built experiments up into space to close out rocketry operations for 2020. This year although the number of flights has lessened we are going to be sending some experiments further than before aboard a Block II in addition to Block I launches. As you can see if you check the Progeny Mk-6 tab of our recently-released monthly financial report, the rocket is taking a bit of a loss as we have footed half the bill rather than rely fully on the KSP’s own foundation. This will allow it to spend more money on the experiments. The current launch schedule is as follows:

Block I – 11/25/2020 @ 18:20 UTC
Block I – 12/2/2020 @ 18:45 UTC
Block II – 12/15/2020 @ 17:15 UTC

More information on each mission is available on the Ops Tracker. Each rocket will have a slightly different ascent profile to allow the experiments to be placed in a range of regimes.

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 5,925 asteroids and 2 updated with new observation data. Here are the 27 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 11/4/20

How it started/How it’s going

I do like to try and hop on to twitter memes and hashtags and whatnot whenever I find it appropriate, as was the case with this tweet. Although it was well-received as I expected it would be I was still disappointed that calling out the official KSP twitter account led to no recognition or retweet. I’m not sure why they continue to choose to completely ignore me on twitter. They actually used to follow the KSA account until the latest community manager turnover 2 years or so ago. You’d think I could get a shout out every now and then for stuff but I guess not. Then again I’m not sure why I keep seeing them tweet about these blueprints every so often. Maybe the guy just straight up made a more direct approach at them whereas I’m just sitting around hoping for some recognition. I get it rarely works that way but I find it more rewarding. So yea, I’ll just continue to wait I guess.

Almost time to find new asteroids…

Starting to lose lead time now also in regards to asteroid hunting, which is good up until mid-December at the moment. Right now my main concern isn’t really the amount of time it takes me to handle this aspect of the KSA but the fact that it’s been 2-3 months since I’ve done it and I probably forgot again how I go about doing it. The hilarious thing is I’ve been meaning to write up the process here in my Desk Notes for years and never took the time to get around to it. Very ironic but I went through the same difficulty earlier this year and was able to pick it up again after a while, at which point I was like nah I don’t need to write it up now. The vicious cycle continues…

Kerbin II

whoops I forgot to update the Ops Tracker database for the vessel with the latest orbital data for this week until today – not that anyone would have actually noticed. The only obvious thing would have been the cold gas fuel amount would not have changed as it would be expected to after maneuvering to take the weekly photo yesterday. I doubt anyone even noticed that change over the past few weeks 😝 but yes it does update! You can use this to track the mission lifetime because as has been stated earlier the vessel needs at least half its cold gas reserves to make a de-orbit burn.

Speaking of the DB file, the vessel has daily updates to its orbital data to ensure the craft is positioned exactly right on the map when its trajectory is calculated. If the vessel were in a higher orbit the updates would be less frequent. But daily updates leads to a lot of records in the dataset that have to be parsed to calculate things like the number of orbits completed so far, so on a weekly basis I also cull them and remove all entries that have similar orbital periods. This leaves less records to be tallied up and no noticeable load times at the expense of some small accuracy that really wouldn’t be noticed anyways.

I was annoyed to realize on 10/26 the KSC tracking station was still listed as a Level 1 for CommNet Constellation, because upgrading it is dependent on the state of the Tracking Station upgrade in the KSC scene, not a value in the config file like all the rest. Being so close to Umbarg its icon showing it as Level 1 was partially hidden on the Kerbin globe in the Tracking Station UI so I never noticed. Overall though I think the effect was not very impactful on data transmissions (the lesser range of a Level 1 tracking station over a Level 3 meant slightly less of a data rate calculated by Kerbalism). Either way, it’s now been rectified.

What happened to Kerbin II this week? I haven’t really looked into yet myself but it really did happen. I mentioned in a previous Desk Notes that although collecting and transmitting science data at the same time creates a small power overdraw from the RTG, time warping smooths it out and it goes away (hence my “power management software routine”). Well during time warp the game crashed back to normal speed when Kerbalism reported the probe ran out of EC. switching to it and shutting off the instruments allowed the RTG to recharge the small 10EC battery (really treated like a capacitor) in the probe core. Was pretty sure I did not time warp above 1000x, which could cause the battery to drain due to EC management by the game (among other things) going a bit wonky at high time warp. Anyways, it gave me reason to come up with some Kerbin II drama.

Mk7-B mission

Kind of took preparations for this up to the last minute again, so much so that I forgot to update the vessel DB on the Ops Tracker with rollout and tanking info. I meant to do the whole DB information the day before launch, forgetting that rollout/WDR was stuff that needed to be ready that day. This was even more frustrating given that I actually called it out on twitter that ppl should check the Ops Tracker for rollout/WDR updates and they weren’t actually available until I got around to doing the DB later in the day. The short lead time also meant I didn’t take time to really edit the mission tweets & media that well so small but still annoying mistakes slipped in like the account saying “final countdown” instead of “terminal countdown” when entering the final two minutes and I also noticed for the Ops Tracker vessel image you can’t really see the extended radio antenna on the Bot probe, hidden behind one of the legs on the RTG.

I thought the issue of vessels saving in the VAB with improper part offsets was fixed but apparently it just went away for a while, because after making some slight adjustments to the launch vehicle, saving and going out to the launch pad it looked like this again. Thankfully the fix is just to reposition the legs of the support arms, they load in the VAB slightly below the floor and so out on the pad they force the rocket up higher. Using PreciseEditor makes this easy, I pasted the Y position of the legs into the About text for the vehicle so it’s always accessible when needed.

I spoke about earlier Mk7-B flights not being able to save the booster after staging, but digging deeper into the issue for this mission I found that the quicksave generated by kOS was just happening too soon – the game had not yet given trajectory details to the booster vessel and so the game deleted it upon loading. So saving a bit later fixes the problem and is nice because I thought I would have to add a probe core and power and whatnot to the boosters to get the game to recognize it as a vessel not debris in order to save it properly (although evidence suggested this was not the case since the interstage fairing halves were being saved properly).

Speaking of quicksaves, for this mission I wanted to save in two situations that doesn’t allow for kOS to create a named save (the equivalent of pressing Alt+F5) but doing so would just overwrite the first quicksave (the equivalent of pressing just F5). To get around this I made a batch file script that keeps an eye out for a quicksave file being generated by the game and then renames it sequentially to quicksave1.sfs, quicksave2.sfs, etc. I can then know by the order of program execution what quicksave refers to what and manually rename them after the mission.

So the execution of this mission was a bit tricky because it involved two separate objects, the rocket and the probe, and I needed to collect data and telemetry from both. kOS can operate independently on separate craft within the same physics load range (2.5km) so I made sure that the probe was not pushed away too hard that it wouldn’t travel outside this range before re-entry. Still, I did not want to switch vessels during the mission so I flew the mission with the rocket as active vessel all the way to impact (the vessel surviving re-entry was never predetermined, that’s just what happened). Then I went back to the save file generated by kOS after deployment to control the probe and run it through its movements. Then I loaded the booster save file and made note of its splashdown location and proper chute deployment.

Some annoying flight issues included my re-entry procedures for some reason not generating telemetry log data and the RTG max temp not being properly set. In the case of the former I just had to re-try the re-entries 2-3 times to get it to work – no idea why it worked sometimes and didn’t other times, I’ve never before had an issue with this code not generating a telemetry log. The RTG temp was also puzzling since I set the max for both surface and internal temp in the config file but only the surface temp would be affected. The part’s internal temp would remain too low to survive re-entry so I had to just enable the cheat to ignore max temperatures so I could record the impact location.

Another mission whoopsie was that I had Kerbalism’s science data transmission disabled by default so I had to refly the entire mission one more time just to collect whatever science data would have been collected had I remembered to transmit it back the first time. Thanks to getting to know the science data in the save file better with Kerbin II I was easily able to calculate myself the amount of science points generated without the game having to tell me upon recovery.

During the pre-mission flight testing to make sure the code was sound (launching straight up) I noticed a weird aero effect I’d never seen before. After some investigation I realized it was from including the Luciole extendable antenna onto the rocket, despite it being under a fairing. For that matter I also noticed I couldn’t see in the PAW how many parts the fairings were shrouded – that made me wonder if they were actually doing their job. So I tested the rocket with the antenna and without while outputting data from FAR to look at drag values and saw no difference. Not sure where the parts shrouded section of the PAW went but at least the fairings seemed to be working and it wasn’t a problem I had to worry about.

Going back to 1.5.1 to take photos and video with the Luciole parts was thankfully not an issue, the parts loaded up fine in the older version as I had hoped but wasn’t sure.

The video comes now because the commercial airport expansion was completed and I wanted to show it off finally in a launch video. It was a bit tricky to plan how to shoot the launch because when the rocket actually launches it can’t sit as deep into the launch clamp as shown in photos due to clipping issues. So the combination of camera views was used to make it so the launch clamp wouldn’t be seen from an angle below or alongside the rocket. Other cuts during the launch to switch from onboard to ground were done to cover up some issues the game has transitioning up into higher altitudes. First cut was to hide the other vessels shown (Rocket Garden displays and static fire stands) suddenly vanishing from view as they were unloaded past 2.5km. The second cut was to hide the 3D clouds from suddenly vanishing from view as well (both these issues should be resolved when I move up to 1.9+ for videos/photos). You can still notice some minor decluttering of the KSC grounds in the second booster view if you look closely. I also painted out the tracking dish on the roof of the Tracking Station during the first booster ascent shot.

Sound-wise, I did record some launch sounds from the game but they were just so “meh” I felt it did the video worse to include them. Good news though is that the sound designer working on the sound enhancement mod has returned after a hiatus to continue work so I hope to be able to feature it in an upcoming video for the Ascension Mk3. Still, the videos really don’t get all that much reception considering the work involved so don’t expect many of them moving forward.