Dec 18 2020

Operations Summary – Weeks of 12/7 & 12/14/20

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Kerbin II Concludes Historic Mission

Yesterday we brought an end to the Kerbin II mission, making it the longest orbital mission to date and setting several new records that future orbital probes will aim to break. During its time up in space it collected just over 4.4GB of data that Lead Scientist Cheranne and her teams will be pouring over for months to come. Flight Director Lanalye and her orbital operations team were pleased to confirm that above 70km spacecraft appear to be stable in their orbits as no corrective maneuvers were required to keep Kerbin II from slowly decaying back towards the planet.

The probe was returned to the surface largely intact, unlike Kerbin I, so that it could be examined to determine how it fared in space and during re-entry to inform the design of future satellites. Unfortunately it was not fully intact as planned, with the RTG missing when it was found floating in the ocean nearly 300km short of its intended touchdown zone over land in the Kongo River basin. Based on the condition of the arms supporting the RTG the initial theory is that it extruded from the cavity created by the heat shield and was subject to direct re-entry heating that melted or weakened the arms enough to cause them to fail, dropping the RTG into the ocean.

We don’t know exactly when this happened because when the spacecraft decoupled its service module before re-entry something scrambled the flight computer and caused most of the telemetry data afterwards to be corrupted. However a brief window of radio connection to Arekibo occurred after it emerged from plasma blackout that was cut off before the spacecraft dropped below the horizon, so we know this is the time when the onboard battery power died. We can work back from there with an average EC usage to determine when the RTG fell off and thus have a better idea of where to search for it. We know from previous missions that the RTG casing is still intact, and detecting that it is submerged in water will activate a sonar ping device that will allow us to listen for it.

A full mission analysis will be completed by early January as it will inform final design decisions for Kerbin III that will need to be implemented post-haste for its launch in early February.

Progenitor Ends 2020 in Failure

Bringing the Progeny Mk6 back into service for the KSP missions was not seen as much of a risk considering the success the rocket has had since its inception in 2018 but it remained plagued by numerous unfortunate events that brought failure or delays to all three of the attempted missions. The initial mission at the end of November suffered the first in-flight booster ignition failure of any rocket ever, causing the ascent to be aborted and the payload to be returned intact under chute. A full investigation into the issue has come up with no conclusive results and the best guess is the solid propellant was not manufactured properly and could have contained contaminants that spoiled combustion. More stringent procedures have since been put into place.

The following mission earlier this month was delayed so the 2nd stage booster could be inspected and when it finally launched the unguided rocket was buffeted by winds more than expected which led to a sub-optimal trajectory that barely gave it enough time in space to perform its science objectives. The rocket’s orientation decayed during its coast to present it more broadside to the atmosphere as it came back down rather than pointing its engine first to take the brunt of heating. That coupled with G force stresses and a weakened structure from the rough ascent likely tore the rocket apart – which has happened before but in this case apparently it was violent enough to not allow what remained to splash down intact – nothing was found after hours of searching.

The final mission earlier this week was to be a big send off for 2020 with the Block II still being our most complex rocket, but it suffered an accident on the launch pad when a malfunctioning piece of ground service equipment during tanking caused the fuel truck to catch fire and explode. Shrapnel from the tanker caused enough damage to the lower stage boosters that concern over the integrity of the casing was raised. Thankfully there was no crew on the pad at the time as per our safety protocols and the tanker did not carry more fuel than was needed so the explosion was not large and no damage was done to the payload section high above. A full inspection of the launch pad and Mk6 launch base is already underway.

Despite the failures at least two of the mission payloads remain intact, along with the entire 3rd stage of the first Mk6-I and the 2nd/3rd stages of the Mk6-II. This means it won’t be as expensive to purchase the remaining parts to rebuild the rockets to fly again in early 2021. Whether that will happen is still up in the air as we already have a pretty busy launch schedule in the works but if the funds can be raised and time can be found, these two rockets could still fly again.

Programs Prepare for 2021

With 2020 soon behind us and operations for the year now over, everyone has sights set on planning what we hope to accomplish in 2021. Here are the highlights, in rough order of events:

  • Ascension Mk3 debuts with launch of Kerbin III into high-Kerbin orbit to study the radiation belts & test new vacuum LF/O engine
  • Progeny Mk8 debuts, first flight of rocket guided only by thrust vectoring. Payload mission TBD
  • Mk1-B capsule completes qualification trials, heads to space on sub-orbital test flight atop an Ascension Mk1
  • WildCat-V engine completes qualification trials for integration into Ascension Mk3
  • Commander Valentina or Specialist Bob become the 1st kerbal to orbit Kerbin
  • CommSat Network begins launch of 3 satellites into low-Kerbin orbit for continuous ground coverage up to 70° latitude
  • Progeny Mk8/Ascension Mk3 unkerbed short-term missions to Mun and Minmus under Extremis program. Maybe orbit?
  • Additional, longer kerbed orbital flights, possibly a space walk
  • Extremis I flagship mission attempts first interplanetary exploration of Eve, Jool and Plock over the next 3 years
  • KerBalloon continues operations in later half of year with extended expeditions supported by commsats
  • Iterative design continues to work towards an Ascension Mk4 (full TVC) and Progeny Mk8 Heavy
  • Future Extremis flagship missions for 2022 and beyond planned

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 6,137 asteroids and 2 updated with new observation data. Here are the 42 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 12/18/20

It’s time for Cliffs Notes Desk Notes, because I’m feeling really burnt out and just wanna play some CyberPunk 2077 (on PC it’s really not that bad. Buggy yes but game or story breaking? No). I will say though that compiling that list of 2021 goals did get me pretty hyped! Anyways, here’s what it looks like when I take notes while doing things:

- mk6-i
  - launch timing was totally by chance - 1404 was just the earliest launch by 45min post sunrise rule
  - did not think about lightning towers but thankfully not an issue
  - mass discrepancy remains
    - rocket was flown overweight on first flight
    - mass of 3rd stage proper, but overall rocket mass still wrong
      - supposed to be 1.725t but is instead 1.744t
      - took mass photos of all rocket parts in 1.5.1
      - fin mass was different. 
        - Had to go from 0.5 to 0.4 strength multiplier
        - confirmed it was 0.5 in 1.5.1
        - Prob some FAR change
  - had to revert cause noticed 1min to launch 2nd stage still had fuel edited down from last mission
  - had to revert cause forgot code was modified to simulate 2nd stage booster failure
  - part mass adjustments to hit proper weight made rocket top-heavy, hence reentry failure
  - somehow rocket ended up weighing 1.755t. 3rd stage overweight. WTF? When?? How??? Ok who cares
- mk6-ii
  - considered launching in 1.5.1 but 1.9.1 shakes things up
  - rocket mass
    - mistake earlier, 8kg nose cone was correct for part w/o chute, chute nose 40kg
    - tweaked down fin mass again to match 1st/2nd stage mass properly
      - OMG wat, after fixing nosecone chute now fins have dbl FAR properties for mass strength WTF
      - restart computer, still an issue
      - no no no no no no I CHECKED this already and it was FUCKING FINE
    - 3rd stage 2kg heavier, for some reason probe core masses more. Ok whatev - upgrades
    - nose cone sticking chute model out. 
      - WTF? Didn't change anything to it!!
      - removed model of chute from the part, or tried to
      - MM config showed changes worked, but still chute sticking out, still 16kg not 8kg
      - launched just to see if chute would stick out. Nothing
      - go back to VAB, part is proper - no chute & 8kg
      - place new part from menu - chute sticks out & 16kg
      - save and reload vessel - no chute & 8kg
      - fucking KSP sometimes man......
    - comms? what about comms? Vessel still configured for RemoteTech not CommNet
    - okay fuck all this, wanna play more CyberPunk
      - also want to upgrade KSP over the break to 1.10.1
  - retconned mission parameters to allow day launch
    - wanted delay
    - coaching during next night cycle
    - didn't have to work up a night pic
    - wait fuck did I actually do this in the vessel info text? crap
- kerbin ii
  - de-orbit all pre-planned with MA/LVD
    - dropped from 80km to get re-entry Cd from FAR
      - spun on re-entry drop due to top-heavy RTG
      - enabling SAS caused it to spin
      - putting it in orbit where it wasn't moving then enabling SAS caused spin
      - stopped kOS control script, still endless spinning
      - put into orbit, stopped kOS then tried turning on SAS, stil spin WTF
      - switch to actual Kerbin II, starts spinning at load since SAS already enabled. Aw fuck
      - restart game, load right into Kerbin II, it starts spinning. WHAT DID I DOOOOOOOOO?????
      - this was definitely *never* a problem before
      - check Kerbalism failures (part highlighting off), no failure for reaction wheel
      - tried loading earlier save. Stillll spinning
      - finally notice control input for yaw stuck allll the way to one side
      - OMG my gamepad is still plugged in (from playing CyberPunk) and sitting on a trigger? Unplug. No change
      - reload save - all better! Sonufabitch
      - even tho fixed, still considered writing in a reaction wheel failure
        - did not make story any more interesting
  - originally scripted to choose radial in/out to affect Pe after burn
    - probe shouldn't know how precise Pe was
    - switch to normal for decoupling instead to push it northwards a bit
    - code worked good tho
  - RTG burns up
    - shows skin/surface max temp as 3000/3000 in VAB but 1200/3000 in flight
    - didn't feel like hunting down issue
    - made up connector/struts burning away due to heat
    - realchutes deploy w/o connection thru spacebar staging
    - return to KSC and enable infinite EC reboots program and dumps data. sweeeeet
  - time warp logging test
    - even 5x rails timewarp a no-no for 1s continuous kOS logging
    - 4x phys warp okay
    - obv don't warp during burn/orientation/re-entry/etc
  - actual event
    - internal kOS error on staging. May be an issue with FAR
    - 2nd attempt. Again?!? FUCK!!!! (kOS error report on screen saying autopilot on wrong vessel)
    - manual'd it down to the ground. screw it
    - fucked up and forgot to d/l the log/tlm buffer before recovery
      - used video & source code to recreate log timings and output
    - MSV Aldeny deployment was premeditated not as result of outcome
    - already know why it came up short, will reveal in mission report, could have redone if had more time
    - persistent trails wigged out too for some reason during re-entry, close to chute predeploy tho
- asteroids
  - ran out of lead time, but thankfully not before this week
  - write up post coming end of month
  - ROF-184(C) did not initially note impact near DSN South
  - detection rate upped due to kongo observatory