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Nov 20 2020

Operations Summary – Weeks of 11/9 & 11/16/20

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Ascension Mk3 Design Finalized, Probe Technology Announced

The Ascension Mk3 blueprint has been released, revealing all the details of the rocket that will be the first to send kerbals into orbit (Block II details to be finalized after Mk1-B capsule finishes qualification trials) and probes to other celestial bodies under the Extremis program in 2021. We will get a tab added to the Ascension program page later this year or at the start of next year when the rocket officially comes into service. The parts for the first launch are already being built and the final purchase agreement signed this month with the various agencies responsible for the parts that will assemble the rocket. We are targeting late January/Early February for the first launch. If successful, the rocket will undergo a series of tightly-space launches throughout the year to prepare for orbital kerbed space flight and launch of Extremis I, set to travel past Eve, Jool and Plock.

Our confidence in a strong showing from the Mk3 throughout 2021 is based on the rocket’s design consisting almost entirely of flight-proven hardware. The only part that has not yet flown is the new WildCat-V lifter engine, which is still undergoing final manufacturing ahead of qualification trials to begin next year. In the meantime however we can still use the K2-X engine proven from the Mk1, of which two are currently in our inventory with three more ordered to arrive over the first half of 2021. These will sustain us until the WC-V is ready for flight and can also carry out the majority of planned missions if the WC-V fails to enter service for some reason – this could put Extremis I at risk though.

The other factor for Extremis I is that the Mk3 alone will not be able to get the interplanetary probe through its mission – it will need its own vacuum engine to complete the burns out of Kerbin orbit and past Eve and Jool. Heavier payloads bound for Mun and Minmus and even satellites in orbit around Kerbin that require flexible trajectories and plane changes will also need a more powerful engine than the 1kN cold gas motor currently in use for orbital stability. We’ve contracted with Rockomax to produce a 1m vacuum engine to meet these requirements, with a minimum of 6 restarts. It will be tested on the first flight of the Ascension Mk3 while attached to Kerbin III, which will be a long-term orbital mission primarily to study the radiation belts. More info on the probe will come next month.

Another development related to future probes is that the Monolith crystal has finally been worked into a viable product: new capacitors with high-density energy storage. Although they can store more energy that batteries in the same footprint, they cannot release the energy as needed without becoming violently unstable in the process. If they are to be used, they must dump out all their energy in one shot. This means we still need to use batteries, but those batteries can be recharged by the capacitors. So a single capacitor with 400EC can recharge a bank of four 100EC batteries. Instead of having to place 40 batteries on a probe, we can get the same energy capacity with 4 batteries and 10 capacitors. The use-case for this would be early short-term missions to Mun and Minmus, where it doesn’t make sense to send an RTG that will last longer than the mission but unable to be recovered without adding to mass and propellant constraints.

Kerbin II Mission Updates

Kerbin II remains in a stable orbit and continues to perform science observations and conduct telecom tests. The spacecraft has now traveled over 10,000,000km and orbited Kerbin over 2,000 times. Last week our founder and Operations Director Drew Kerman placed a call from a handheld satellite phone to the Presider, who came to the surface above Sheltered Rock in order to receive the signal bounced directly from Kerbin II. Until this point all communication to and from Kerbin II had been though dishes or towers and then routed by cables to a communications device. This direct “satcom” link will be a vital service carried out by the first communications satellite fleet to launch next year.

Surface expeditions have already taken advantage of Kerbin II and two more are currently underway that will rely on the satellite for keeping in touch with command & logistics centers back in the home caverns. The KerBalloon program has dispatched both its high and low altitude crews along with a scientific expedition deep into the Badlands to investigate a (hopefully dormant or extinct) suspected super-volcano caldera. The large expedition will be split into separate teams who will be able to stay in direct contact while Kerbin II is overhead. The second major expedition is a privately-organized one heading out to the Great Desert in search of a group of kerbals that may have been separated from society since the asteroid impact. They have also seem to become enthralled by a bunch of religious extremists that were exiled out to the region in 2018.

On the scientific side of things, the data sent down has reduced to a trickle of just several hundred kB per day as the instruments have become calibrated to their environment. They are now recording only minor changes and the current data rate will no longer outpace the transmission rate or fill up the hard disk drive bit by bit while the satellite remains out of contact with ground stations for short periods between DSN Central and Arekibo. This means the probe can now run observations 24/7 and we no longer have to worry about power overdraw issues unless there is a data spike. The power management software has been updated accordingly to handle this event should it transpire. We expect the spacecraft to maintain continuous science observations until it is recovered during the final week of operations starting 12/14.

Progenitor Program Mk6/7-B/8 Updates

Progress towards the launch of the Mk8 in early 2021 continues. The major fabrication facilities are in place to begin producing the flight hardware and the rocket engines are currently undergoing testing. Three of the seven Skeeter engines that will power the first stage have arrived at KSC so they can be tested on our vertical stand in a cluster under simultaneous firing using the engine plate that will eventually hold all seven. They are placed as far apart as possible so as not to impinge upon each other and make it so all we need to worry about is feeding them propellants, which has been a bit troublesome. While they all ignite properly, numerous cutoffs or thrust drops have been occurring as fuel flow becomes retarded to one or another. Engineers are working on the feed issues and once all three can run reliably they will start to be moved closer to their actual configuration. Then we will add two more, and the final two after that. While this is going on over the next month (hopefully not longer), Luciole will be using their internal testing facilities to work on the 0.625m vacuum engine. Expected to put out 12kN of thrust, it will match the performance of the 0.35m USI aerospike engine, which goes to show how promising the technology is. Luciole continues to integrate the research purchased from USI to work on their own 0.625m aerospike engine.

The Mk7-B completed its final launches last month and the analysis reports have been released for flight 3 and flight 4. Although the rocket has been officially retired we’ve come to realize it still has its use in being a relatively cheap way to continue to test the flight worthiness of refurbished Boostertron II SRBs. With a dummy second stage on top to keep TWR down and flight loads reasonable, it can be launched and discarded with the first stage continuing to be recovered until it reaches a point of failure. We’ll be slotting in these missions between Ascension Mk3 and Progeny Mk8 launches as time is available.

Preparations are well underway for the upcoming Progeny Mk6 launches. The launch stand completed checkouts today and will be moved to the pad on Monday. The Block I for next week passed vertical load checks and its payloads will finish being installed on Monday before load up and roll out on Tuesday for wet dress rehearsal. The following two rockets are proceeding well towards their final integration and all launches remain on schedule.

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 6,004 asteroids and 2 updated with new observation data. Here are the 53 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 11/19/20

I haven’t really commented on anything too personal in recent entries – but mainly just cause there’s no point. All is good, and time better spend doing other things than more typing here.

Finance rejiggery

Had to massage some numbers in the finance sheets, but not because I wanted to work out a certain outcome but because of mistakes and oversights:

  • The costs of the Etoh-1400 fuel tanks for the parts purchased for all Ascension Mk1 and Mk2 rockets were including fuel, which was also being listed as a separate cost prior to launch. The part costs were reduced to just the dry mass cost
  • I forgot that the second Mk2 required the purchase of a new kOS control unit as the second stage from the first rocket was not recovered
  • I forgot to include the cost of payload fairings for both Mk2 missions
  • I was able to reduce the cost of the Mk2 missions to balance out the addition of the PLF costs because I realized there were enough 100EC batteries in the inventory (purchased by Genesis for aircraft power) to cover the missions
  • Forgot the entire cost of the Bot probe assembled for the final Mk7-B mission
  • Forgot to purchase more parts that are used between both KB and Progenitor programs as well as some parts lost during previous missions that would be needed for the upcoming Mk6 flights

I don’t audit myself much, so not surprising that when I took a close look at things all these issues popped up. Thankfully I know enough of Excel that all the sheets and workbooks and fields are linked so if I change/add/remove something from the 2019 finances workbook it will affect the 2020 finances automatically. While this does invalidate the current finance records on Google Sheets and the numbers reported on the website program pages the changes were not significant enough that anyone would notice. I will update the Google Sheets next month with the regular update and the program pages as needed for future updates.

Speaking of inventory (which I manage myself as shown in an early desk notes) I realized I really should also be keeping better track of parts I don’t expect to re-use. Nothing should guarantee that I’ll be using all the parts I purchase for the reasons they were intended – if something gets cancelled or changed so that a part is no longer needed I would forget that I had it if it wasn’t recorded.

LV-303

The “Puhg” was actually a typo and I just went with it. It’s supposed to be “Pug” but that just seemed too normal you know? What is a Pug on Kerbin?

I don’t use science points to unlock the tech tree, science points convert to profit. The gradual progression of KSA technology is directly built into the ever-increasing complexity of missions and objectives and I use the tech tree to tell me what parts are suitable for the “next step”. So, I want a more advanced engine? I can look through the tree at a node or two ahead of the one the current engine is in to see what options I have for moving forward. The K2-X is a level-1 (of 9) lifter engine and the WC-V is a level-3 engine. The Puhg comes from Level-2, which is nice because I felt a bit bad skipping over it and does indeed fit in technology wise as it’s not a very advanced engine but does take into account experience from previous work.

Luciole engine testing

I’ve factored in costs for engine testing for the K2-X and Viklun, the USI engines were said to be developed in-house at USI so I wouldn’t have to bother with working out testing costs for them (they were simply factored into their R&D cost). I wanted to work out testing costs for the Luciole engines being fired on the KSC test stands but it gets a bit complicated when you’re firing different multiples of engines and from a larger tank than they would actually be draining. But it was easy enough to establish in the game how long it takes 3, 5 and 7 engines to drain both the 0.625m flight tank and 1.25m testing tank. Then its just a matter of deciding how many static fires is reasonable over the span of testing – recent reports I’ve heard from actual aerospace companies under development is on the order of over 100, which pales in comparison to the half dozen or so I did for the K2-X but would also be more in line with checking for re-usability. Not sure why I decided to make this more complex than it has to be but that’s just how I roll sometimes.

Capacitors

These are technology parts from the Near Future Electrical pack and even their author Nertea has expressed how OP these things can be, which is why I wanted to introduce them as being manufactured from Monolith tech. I actually cut the storage capacity in half to save some headroom for later development and I’ve made it so they can’t yet be recharged.

But they can recharge batteries? Well yes, rechargeable batteries have been available for a while now but I’ve never used them because I made them more expensive. No previous mission would have benefited from them when the only source of power to recharge them would be the engine alternator that doesn’t run for very long. I was wondering if anyone would ask about that, but no one did.

Orbital decay still not a thing

This past week prolific modder LinuxGuruGamer stated in the orbital decay thread that he was not looking to continue the mod anymore, which is disappointing but not surprising – the mod was always a bit over-complex and plagued with issues. Still, it was LGG so I was hopeful. There’s still a chance he could look into a lite version that is packaged with another mod though. As I’ve said before, I would very much welcome orbital decay to give orbital missions a bit more engagement – especially for things like comsats that are just put up there and then don’t really have much else to contribute to daily operations when they don’t need orbital adjustments.

I’m still holding out hope and will always leave things open for orbital decay to become a thing in the future. The space environment is dynamic, and changes to kerbolar wind output, for example, could excite the upper atmosphere layers and balloon them up to begin impacting LKO satellites. Earth’s exosphere, while constant, is also affected similarly to changes in the solar wind.

Of course, after re-watching the Expanse in anticipation of S5 arriving next month, I’ve also come up with another idea that isn’t based on known physics…

Kerbin II instrument calibration

The massive haul of science data that has been coming in since Kerbin II’s launch is mainly from one source – the water biome. There’s really just one instrument gathering science right now, the kerbolar wind analyzer, which is setup to gather results in low space from different biomes. The radiation sensor is only setup to gather info from space environments (low orbit, high orbit, inside/outside the belts, etc) so it’s already done all the work it will do this mission. Now that all the usable data has been collected from flying low in space over water, a lot less is coming in since the other biomes are not under the spacecraft anywhere near as much.