Sep 20 2019

Operations Summary – Week of 9/16/19

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Second Kerbed Space Mission Successful

This week Commander Valentina became the second kerbal in space! While doing so she also set new records for height and duration after her rocket flew the best ascent to date when compared to planned data. There did occur a slight deviation in the end due to conservative guidance programming that ultimately brought the capsule down a bit earlier than planned but at least it was still close enough for the recovery vessel to finally get a photo of the capsule under canopy – be sure to browse the gallery above for that image and more from the mission, which were released over the remainder of the week as the Ascension team went through and reviewed the mission.

The capsule has been returned to us today and as always, expect a full report to drop sometime in the next 2-3 weeks. Commander Val also made it back to KSC and will be busy with media engagements this weekend in Umbarg and her home cavern of Kravass.

Ascension Bumps Mk2 for More Flight Testing

Even before the Ascension team completed their initial mission review however they got into a heated argument over the performance of this flight versus previous ones. The last kerbed mission saw the 5° fin angle overcome control authority due to the slow speed of the rocket, something never seen before because all previous unkerbed missions had no reason to fly so slow and keep an occupant comfortable. With this week’s mission the fin angle was reduced to only 1° and the improvements in early guidance were extremely noticeable. A quick review of all previous flights finally showed a direct correlation to the fin angle in regards to the notorious “pitch bump” that has affected the Mk1 this entire year.

Since it was determined it would be too expensive to attempt to redo the guidance system, the obvious thing to do to improve the ability for the rocket to follow the proper ascent trajectory is to reduce the fin angle as much as possible. Here’s where the problem resides. The fin angle was implemented for the 4th Ascension Mk1 flight because the third flight failed to have the authority to pitch over far enough to follow the predetermined ascent profile. However after that decision was made none of the following ascent profiles required any greater pitch over due to sub-orbital missions designed to extend the duration in space by flying more vertical to get higher. We couldn’t fly further to extend space duration because that would put the capsule down out of contact. This graph shows just how much more the Mk2 will have to pitch over compared to Mk1 sub-orbital ascents in order to pickup enough speed for an efficient orbital injection:

Ever since the mass of the payload was decreased, the margins for error in the mission became much wider however we don’t necessarily want to waste it on a more vertical and less efficient ascent like what’s been done so far and what we know works within the current steering capabilities of the rocket. Looking at the large separation in the above graph has everyone worried about the Mk2 failing to make orbit after being unable to fly the planned trajectory since there’s nothing close to it we can use for reassurance on performance.

So the decision was made today by Operations Director Drew Kerman that we will push back our orbital attempt to give more time for the Progenitor program to prove the use of its new steerable guidance fins so we can do away with set fin angle completely. The first flight with them went really well and they did not contribute to the rocket’s third stage failure however there was also not a great deal of data collected from just that single flight. We already have a second flight planned that will also test out new payload fairings. Engineers should be able to use the additional data from this flight to determine if it is feasible to scale the fins up for use on Ascension rockets. With direct control of the entire fin instead of just the control surface attached to it, the guidance computer will be better able to steer the rocket and have much greater control authority for a better chance to meet the ascent profile requirements.

If the Progeny Mk7-A flight goes well then larger fins could be produced in time for a Mk1 test flight in late November using the last of our Ascension parts available this year. If that also goes well, they will be installed on the Ascension Mk2 for a flight in December. This completely opens up the launch schedule for October and we have decided to move up Captain Jebediah’s mission to the end of the month, for which he is understandably pleased.

KerBalloon & Genesis Updates

Our high-altitude KerBalloon crew are all healing well from their ordeal last week and Specialist Bill did have a little bit of good news in that the last UTV in the column suffered less damage than the rest and could be fixed up with spare parts from the other two, which were totaled. One UTV will still be useful around KSC but for KerBalloon missions airships will need to be chartered for local contracts until CFO Mortimer signs off on the purchase of 2 new UTVs. Considering we already bought a new one only back in June, he’s not likely to allow it anytime soon despite the narrower profit margins the KerBalloon program will pull in.

Today arrived the parts for the new Dhumla, which has seen some minor redesign based on previous flight tests although mainly to internal systems and cockpit controls. It will be assembled in the HAB alongside the Mobile Launch Platform. C7’s contract for KSC runs out at the end of this year and they will be moving their operations to the Kongo River Research Base and its new accompanying airport, which has bigger facilities that can handle the Dhumla’s final assembly. There is also a new airport planned for Kravass in 2020 that will serve their operations better as it is closer to their home factories. While we’re sad to see C7 Aerospace Division leave KSC, we are still exploring ways for them and the KSA to work together in the future.

Vieras to Impact Kerbin?

The latest update to Vieras‘ orbit published this past weekend shows that after this last significant Mun encounter, where it only passed 353km from the surface, after one more encounter at the start of October the moonlet will be on a collision course with the southern hemisphere of Kerbin. Although there have been examples of error in past Vieras predictions, the majority of predictions just one encounter advanced have been accurate. Still, there are some holdouts in the astronomical community that contend the observations contained minor mistakes and the moonlet will still be around the remainder of the year. Only time will tell, and thankfully we don’t have to wait that long to find out.

50 Rocket Launches

We are very happy to have finally taken the time to put this photo collage together and it should of course be appreciated in full resolution!

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 4,091 asteroids and 4 updated with new observation data. Here are the 34 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 9/8/19

Four days from the last desk notes and like that one I already have the entire week and weekend outlined and just have to fill in the content. That will involve a rocket launch tho as well as one other thing that will hopefully turn out to be a nice surprise but will take up a decent chunk of time. Overall though I’m still liking the new way I’m working – game progression is now into early November.

Mk1 launch

Two tries! Getting better. The first attempt the LES fired after the capsule decoupled, likely due to a physics tick happening at just the wrong time and even though the code that detects if the fuel tank is detached should have been disabled before it ran again, that didn’t happen and the LES was activated. I maybe would have considered keeping that to spice things up a bit more but for one thing, it already happened on a previous mission and as I went on to complete the flight and see if any additional problems existed I realized Val couldn’t do anything but Level 0 SAS because she had no experience stars as a pilot. I could have just used Jeb but male & female kerbals actually have different eye heights for internal views and I was planning on capturing shots from behind the control panel.

So after editing in some experience for Val and fixing the LES problem I flew the mission again without any problems. Well, I did totally forget to run some crew observation science experiments while Val was up there but I had already done that with Bill and removed half since he had less time than planned so I just added the other half back and made sure those science entries in the save file were maxed out in value. The first attempt had an apokee of 300km so at first I was a bit disappointed to only reach 250km before I realized the extra height was from the LES push motors. I also honestly didn’t think about the 10-second release timer on the capsule, which was just a holdover from previous missions but it ended up working out okay that the rocket reached space by the time it was released.

Coming back to the game afterwards for photos, the boot script worked perfectly in that when the save file for the rocket entering space was loaded, the probe core was ready to receive instructions and I could immediately send the command at the same altitude of 75km to detach the capsule just like in the actual flight, which let me spin around for the lift stage photo – although I screwed that up and had to reload the damn game twice. Once because I left the stupid heat shield shroud visible, and again because I forgot to remove Raster Prop Monitor to remove MFDs and get the default control panel layout, which I had already previously shown.

During the actual mission I moved the capsule around to frame the photos I wanted to come back and take later so thruster fuel usage was accurate and I did all the movement from inside the capsule through the window so any disorientation was also real. I had an image of the screen automatically captured every second which was then compiled into a video for my later reference as to when I was pointing where so I could recreate the photos with all the graphics mods active.

Had to tweak the finances when I realized I had somehow grossly under calculated the cost of fuel for the MSV Aldeny during the Ascension #8 mission when this mission’s cost exceeded it with less distance traveled. I upped the mission science profit to keep August slightly in the green since that was boasted via tweet and I didn’t want that contradicted if anyone looks back.

The recovery photo used Physics Range Extender to allow me to place a vessel 23km away – approximately where MSV Aldeny would have been by the time of full chute deployment, and then I moved the camera there, locked on and zoomed in on the capsule using Camera Tools. Scatterer added some atmospheric blueing to the whole scene and in Paint.NET I also added some frosted glass effect for atmospheric turbulence and a vignette for making it look like it was seen through a scope lens.

Mk2 delay

The change-up in the launch lineup is due to a real concern of mine that the rocket will not be able to properly perform. I never really took a good look at how much difference the ascent profiles had between them and now that I know reducing fin angle will help kOS steer properly I want to do that as much as possible, but already from past experience going back to 0° isn’t an option and I don’t know whether 5° is more than is needed. So the best solution as stated is to use the steerable fins but I wasn’t originally planning to do that until next year so to make it happen sooner, this whole launch schedule reshuffle has to happen so adequate time is still taken to ensure the steerable fins work well.

Secondary reasons for the delay is it gives me longer to work on the Ops Tracker v11 orbital features as well as more time for the Orbital Decay mod to maybe be picked up by someone, even though it won’t be a big deal in the beginning since craft won’t be up there long but by mid-2020 I’d like to have long-term orbital missions and would also like to have decay in the game and not just simulated by KSPTOT for which I’ll have to do the extra work of updating the game orbits myself.

Twitter archive updates paused

Looks like twitter has completely done away with the formatted archive download that I was using to make this twitter archive, so it won’t be updated for the foreseeable future. I’ve been afraid for a while this was going to go away – ever since the new twitter came around I kept having to revert to the old site to download the archive. I was hoping it would just get brought to the new interface at some point but now it’s gone from old twitter and not available on the new twitter, so I guess that’s that.

I’ve been meaning to roll my own archive at some point anyways to offer a bit better layout with dated tweets and ability to view them by day instead of a huge monthly list. That’s real low on my ToDo list though and probably won’t be a thing until near the end of this year or sometime next year.

Initially my main gripe in the loss of the archive was that’s where I searched for my old tweets. I have every tweet ever written all in a single text file that I use as my “lore bible” so I can search through that for past things easy enough but that doesn’t give me the link to the actual tweet. I tried pasting whole tweet text into twitter’s site search for several tweets from 2016 and they came up instantly though, so at least I still have that.

Past flight ascent data

I’ve been giving myself a nice pat on the back lately for being able to so easily go back and add ascent telemetry to old rocket flights. I seriously did not intend for this to be doable when I went to implement the streaming telemetry but it turned out that I was able to keep the original static update system completely separate so the streaming telemetry could just be added atop what was already there for older missions. The only painstaking process is calculating the stage and total fuel manually for every second using the ascent video I took of the mission. Everything else is already logged.