Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Friday, 29 May 2015


The questions from my last blog entry basically culminated to a wish to start a Duna mission asap. Since the travel time will at least last two Kerbin years, I can do plenty of other missions on Mun and Minmus while that expedition is going to be underway. With this goal in mind, I modified the Scientia-class once more to a version with a size in-between the two existing vessels. I also toyed with the idea to just refill the Scientia 2 at Minmus and move it onwards to Duna. 

However, one thing kept me musing: How on earth can a crew survive a 2+ years-voyage mentally sane in a tight enviroment of a Mk1-cockpit, a 2-manned Mobile Processing Lab and a 4-manned „Hitchhiker“ passenger module, or mayhap an even smaller spaceship, and no gravity? Of course, you could probably assume that Kerbals could have the ability to kind of hibernate at will. However, I find this a highly unrealistic setup, and thus, against the spirit of this game, or, at least, how I see and want to play this game. 

The construction of a real long distance spacecraft is in order. Kinetic gravity is in order. Enough living space is in order, this thing will be home for my Kerbonauts for a very long time! Enough fuel and a barge for Duna landings is in order. Even more things could be in order, if I had the tech levels to do so, but let´s see what I can come up with right now…

- lander Mk2, high deltaV

… and such I spend two entire game sessions on diverse construction attempts and different spaceship concepts, until this thing here emerges; may I proudly present the „Omniscient“-class! A central Mobile Processing Lab receives all data aquired during its long voyage and creates 100% transmittable science points from it. Altogether five Hitchhiker passenger modules constitute the living area; a central „dining hall“ and one private accomodation for each of the intended crew of four (two scientists, a pilot and an engineer). As a barge, an already pre-designed new lander vessel gets attached via a docking port (not sure if Duna-able, but hey, it´s my first try ever!).

- basic hulk of the Omniscient class

Once the new ship class is ready, though, I have to swallow hard to actually follow through. Both the VAB and the launchpad need an upgrade to the highest tier 3 in order to support the weight and part count. Scratch off 2 million credits. The ship itself, inclusive launch stage, costs a whopping 175,000 credits. Is it really worth it or just hopelessly overengineered? And I am kind of broke now. Ah, screw it, this is fun!!!

- ready to rocket...

As much fun as, say, trying to launch that baby to orbit? Even more so than with the Scientia-class, designing the proper launch stage and trying it out requires another full game session. The main problem turns out to be the „cross-piece“ consisting of eight structural fuselages, which I use for role-playing reasons as „connection tubes“ to the outside „crew appartments“; the top-weighted drag makes the rocket flip over once it gets too fast in the lower atmosphere.

- uhm... maybe like this?

- nope, neither...

 - maybe this one?

 - looks good...

In the end, I finally have the Omniscient in orbit. A mix of initial raw booster power, slightly thrust limited, and carefully throttled "Skipper" engines finally achieves the right mix between little drag, but still sufficient vertical as well as horizontal speed, so that, after staging to the final configuration, the remaining feeble "Poodle" engines finally manage to circularize the ship in time before gravity´s tentacles can strike back. I am pretty sure that the launch would have been much more routine if I already had unlocked Mainsail engines, but such is my tech limitation at this point.

 - orbit achieved!

The Omniscient in LKO. The mother of all ships so far. A mothership. I hope this investment will live long and prosper. A pity I did not have a station contract which would have financed its costs. My ideas for next session are to refill the voluminous fuel tanks via multiple spaceplane flights, bring all Kerbonauts to Minmus to land and plant flags (experience boost for everyone!), refuel as appropriate, stuff it with Minmus science data (for the crew to have something to do), and then finally send it on the required one-year trip to Duna (possibly even beyond?). If I am feeling bold I can even try to land it first on Mun and cash-in that Mun-outpost-contract on my list, to at least cover some of its costs! Wohoo!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Little Kerbal steps in between real life

A long holiday weekend has passed and real life is still dominant. Which leads to only little scraps of playtime on some evenings, and thus smallish projects and ponderings. Some ponderings can be done "offline", which often serves me as a nice mental break. Need to write them down now in no particular order, or they will be forgotten in hindsight:

- Built Fuel Jumbo for 1440 units fuel payload; should be complemented by a space tanker which will wait in orbit and take up this amount and transfer it whenever to whereever needed.

- Need more science: either more landings on Mun and Minmus or going out to Duna and other planets? Maybe both?

- Done: Retrieve 4 Kerbonauts with Munbus from their current location, the Scientia in orbit of Mun; this went wrong, I had transferred too much "spare" fuel to Scientia: ~350m/s dV needed to reduce Kerbin periapsis, had only 200m/s dV left after SOI change. Reloaded to avoid a boring and time consuming rendez-vous mission. Munbus now set for aerobraking in Kerbin at a periapsis of 58km, with the goal to establish orbit and rendez-vous with the...

- fetch quest

- ...White Goose, which I positioned ready in orbit to fetch Kerbonaus from Munbus and refill Munbus; its ascend profile is difficult, almost forgotten in between game sessions: 30 degree until 10km to still get acceleration. A bit <10 degree to get speed, let ascend profile climb by itself. Like this, max speed ~950 m/s @20km. When firing Skipper, DON´T go >20 degree ascend or plane will flip up! After second try, it is in orbit with not only 720, but ~1100 units of fuel left for transfer; fantastic!

- staying in orbit!

- Idea after reading in the forums; fill up Scientia 2 with all available scientists and do Minmus landing and let them all plant a flag: Should greatly advance their experience level and thus accelerate science point creation in labs.

- Did a construction of a spaceship with plane parts plus mobile lab ~4500m/s dV, but what use? Smaller would be more efficient, so back to the trusted old Scienta-class ship line? Seems that ship class, with its four terrier engines, already and by chance did hit the sweet spot between payload and fuel efficiency.

- Tried a reconstruction of "Swan"-ship class from my beta 0.9 career, but design idea as a modular transfer stage does not make sense without nuclear engines: even the efficient Terrier engines do not have enough dV and TWR left in order to dock big payloads. Single specialized crafts seem to still work better at this tech stage. Need moar science!

- Idea: Have a third mobile lab stationary on Kerbin, recollect science data from all Biomes via a plane and put it in there for fast (i.e. in terms of in-game time), cheap additional science points? Need moar scientists!

- Still an open mission to land outpost on Mun. Should probably be done by another Scientia-class vessel; makes not much sense to make mobile lab more bare-bone than with that ship class (don´t want scientist having to sleep in their lab seats, either!). And again: Need more Scientists to actually make use of that lab. Plus-efficiency idea: Refuel before landing for later take-off and interplanetary mission, while its labthen  munches on its acquired Mun-data packs?

- Interplanetary navigation test: No idea how to set course for Duna. Repurposed "used-up" satelite which has still enough dV left and burned to get into solar SOI. Then set up and played around with a maneuver node. Found a  navigation node @128days to get into Duna SOI: reached in 312 days!!!! Duna will be basically opposite sun from current Kerbin position when the satelite will arrive. A way too long travel time? Need to find optimal transfer distance/timing. Consequence: Interplanetary missions should not be done "when ready", but when planetary constellations are appropriate. [After check in forum: 260 days seems to be absolute minimum travel time, so actually right now is a still good launch constellation. Should therefore prioritise Duna mission now!? Nice picture guide here.]

- Probably a good idea for a science boost to do a planetary roundtrip for high- and low orbit experimental data? If I just had already the nuke or ion engines for that!

Do I just love this game? It is totally sandbox, but opposed to my experience with other sandbox game, this one is filled to the brim with easy-to-access ideas and incentives to what and how to do stuff (Yeah, looking at you, EVE-Online...!)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Planes engineering

A report about another two or three game sessions.

Switch back to Kerbin. I want to do something else instead of just fast forwarding and going along with the return of the Mun Mission Ship. Since I now have spent a lot of time in space, I somehow yearn to do some atmospheric flying again. True, the plane flight controls are a pain in the ass, especially SAS´s weird way of balancing out a course which often causes a near endless pendulum movement of the craft, but there is something especially exciting  about flying and landing a plane, too. A mission contract which asks me to collect barometer data around the same continent comes in handily. And instead of using one my old trusted plain from the "Fleabite" product line, I build a new model, which has two jet engines and thus should achieve a continuous near-Mach speed even when ascending. On top, a Reliant engine is ready to propel it to supersonic or to altitudes >14km if needed. I call it "Starflighter".

 - now... how to land there?

Unfortunately, once I arrive at the scenery, all three nav points are on the surface of a mountain area. While I do have a parachute on my plane, this would be only good for one landing. Hmmm... circling around the area, I think I see a upward slope which could be enough for a controlled normal landing. Careful, careful, slowing down the plane as much as possible before touchdown, aaaand touchdown! Yay! Catching the measurement, I easily again launch downhill.

Ooops. The plane wiggles a lot; I realise that one of its wings touched the ground during landing, breaking off an elevon. But it remains controllable. So I think, until in a tight curve, the plane veers off and dives uncontrollably into the ground. Damn. Reload! The next hour, for obvious reasons, I try to construct a VTOL plane (vertical take off and landing). Which is unsucessful. I get impatient and launch another Starflighter. This time I fly even more cautiously and indeed manage to land and take off from all the nav points. Because of the added difficulty of the mountain area, this again feels like a great achievement and with this I am happy to switch back to my operations in space.

The Mun Mission Ship with its valuable payload of scientific data gets thrown into Kerbin SOI and I lower its periapsis to 38km for a good aerobreaking. I am glad that I estimated my fuel requirements well this time, leaving any excess back at the Scientia and its newly assigned Lander. 

Back at the Space Center, a new expedition needs to be launched; there are now four Kerbonauts from rescue missions stuck in the Scientia, and they sure want to go home! (and I want to finish off the according contracts!). For this transport, I re-design once more the Munbus Reloaded. Docking port, check. Moar parachutes, check. RCS for docking maneuvers (plus additional monopropellant to do so!), check. An additional sliver of a fuel tank for those expensive polar orbit maneuvers, check. And, what can I say, I finally have a Munbus-class ship which is perfect and fulfils all mission specifications without trouble.

- pinnacle of the "Munbus"-class ship line


After I launch and send the Munbus to Mun, I let the Mun Mission Ship land. It turns out the the aerobrake is too much and causes an immediate atmospheric re-entry. Drag has definitely increased since I last did an aerobrake in beta 0.9! Thankfully, the Mun Mission Ship swallows the additional thermal assault from the increased re-entry speed without complaints, by staying retrograde and the Terrier engine absorbing most heat. With an astounding 538 science points, I recover this not too-well designed but nevertheless tremendously successful vessel. Time for another bottle of champaign!

There is now enough science to open two 160-point tech nodes and one 300 point node. This means, all plane parts are available for an attempt at reconstruction of the White-Goose class space plane. This baby should be able to carry 6 crew members, thereby being able to exchange a full Munbus-crew, and bring at the same time enough fuel to refill the Munbus. This is going to allow to specialize my one existing Munbus ship as a crew transfer stage between Kerbin and my Scienta-class ships around Mun and Minmus, maybe later even beyond.

- a White-Goose prototype with six turbojets already gets into Mach 1 on an early 40-degree ascend angle; talk about over-engineered!

Two game sessions later, at least 10 different attempted plane configurations and a lot of moaning in the forums later, I have to realize that the new atmiospheric physics model severely cut down the efficiency of my space plane. Not a surprise, I almost had expected this. However, I finally manage to adapt the construction and the ascend profile such, that I can bring half of the originally intended amount of fuel as payload. 720 units of fuel are enough to almost fill up the Munbus.

- this iteration gets up, but has no fuel left for transfer; I also discover that hiding solar panels in the docking bay does not really protect them from heat, but only from sunlight...

The key issue is that a sufficiently fast flight with the turbojet gets only as high as 21km (opposed to being able to get all up into orbit with turbojets still in the in beta 0.9 game). Thus, you need to activate rocket engines earlier, you thus need stronger ones because you are still to much down in the planet´s gravity well, and much more fuel of course. The latter again gimps your thrust-to-weight ratio (TWR) up to that magical barrier where adding more fuel won´t increase the vessels deltaV potential anymore.

Key to solving the problem was to not only add more fuel and more jet engines; indeed it prooved that four turbojets are still enough even for a space plane of 70 tons mass! The key was rather to get rid of the Mk2-plane parts and the two "Reliant" engines in the aft and completely replace that part with Mk2-rocket fuel tanks and a powerful big Skipper engine. Like this, the TWR was sufficiently high to also do a sufficient push on all that required additional fuel (about 20 tons more than the orignial plane in the beta 0.9 client needed!).

- this one is very close to my design goal; unfortunately, it breaks apart during re-entry...

With my about dozenth flight, I finally have a White Goose Mk4 in orbit. Unfortunately, it explodes on re-entry. It probably did not cool down properly after ascend, doint re-entry almost immediately. Anyways, this is close to viable result and I am very happy with this success agains all odds!

The problem of re-entry is fixed with just one more iteration and the next test flight yields 100% success.

- design goal achieved! This view of the "White Goose Mk4" has the heat-overlay activated (F11). Four airbrakes slow it sufficiently down during re-entry and also serve as heat radiators while in orbit

With the "groundworks" now properly covered with the White-Goose, I can focus on the next ambitious goals in my game. As an afterthought, I accept a contract to deploy a station on Mun and two Duna centered exploration and survey missions. Not sure if I did the right thing, but with me maxed mission control building at the Space Center, I can accept as many contracts as I want; they are going to expire only years later. For example, as a first step, I might want to also put a space station in Kerbin orbit; just still a fitting contract is missing.

Mun Landing&Rescue

This is a summary from I think 3 game sessions in my Kerbal Space Programme. I left off with Scienta 2 having achieved orbit around Minmus. With now two science ships slowly generating science, in theory I could just fast forward time for an easy ~1000 points of science. But the efficiency-driver within me disagrees. There are plenty of contracts to fulfill in the meanwhile, and my current still low tech level is not in the way. However, I also want to build some viable spaceplanes, especially the White-Goose class which I had so grown fond of in my beta 0.9 career. The White-Goose is only possible with turbojets and ram air intakes. Which means I still want to quickly unlock three specific tech nodes, but not via merely time-warping my lab results.

To bring both goals together, I decide to gather some science by doing my first Mun landing and maybe a few on top. For this, I re-design my rocket which was originally meant to re-fuel the Munbus ships in orbit and add a small lander vessel on top. In order to launch this through the new more realistic atmosphere, I have the first occasion to use a fairing. This makes the rocket look much more stylish and aerodynamically sound.

The Mun Mission Ship is equipped with a Poodle engine, a 1440-fuel tank, with an adaptor to a Mk1-cockpit. This time, I do not forget a docking port jr., but for a more stable launch profile, I attach the lander via a separator on top of the cockpit and put the docking port at the side of the cockpit instead. It is an "Apollo-style" expedition, you could do it more efficiently with a single smaller vessel, but I wanted it this way to bring along a lot of spare fuel for repeated landings.

 - Mun Mission Ship plus lander

The travel to Mun works out fine; as I have plenty of fuel for hopefully multiple Mun landings on board, I don´t care how efficient my launch to orbit actually was. I am not sure if I can bring science from Mun´s surface first to the mobile lab at Scientia in Mun´s orbit, but in order to have this option and to be able to do rendez-vous efficiently, I steer the Mun Mission Ship into a similar polar orbit, about 30 degrees off because of the Mun´s relative position to Kerbin.

Achieving a low Mun orbit at about 10km, I hesitate to start the landing. I am kind of scared by the prospect of failure, pretty sure it will go wrong on my first tries. Since in that particular session I was more in for something relaxing, I left that expedition in orbit and instead took some satellite contracts. One of them again had a far out high Kerbin orbit. This gave me the occasion to practice a gravity slingshot maneuver with the Mun. Worked out fine, I am just not sure how much deltaV this actually saved.

 - Mun gravity assist/slingshot; I only invest in raising apoapsis, and Mun´s angular velocity does so in kind for the periapsis after I leave its SOI

After some more satellite interludes, I get sufficiently bored and start the Mun landing maneuver. I stage the lander off and begin descent. Watching the "suicide burn" figure from my KER addon (Kerbal Engineer Redux), I somehow get confused, something is wrong no idea what aaaaand crash booom. Ok, what was this, reload. The suicide burn figure should show me when to latest stop my freefall towards the ground by a maximum burn. My next try is much more cautious, wasting a lot of fuel by stoping in "midair", checking altitude, continue descent. Even then, something goes wrong as the Lander touches down on a slope and the engine gets destroyed. I guess this is due to a clipping problem, the landing struts sometimes stick through the ground so that the engine impacts where it should not. Reload.

 - alive, but this still went wrong

My third try turns out fine. Kerbonaut Crisella (sp?) takes Kerbal first step on Mun´s lower eastern crater, plants a flag and proudly labels it "Females first!" (this was not in her mission brief!). Collecting data from thermometer, barometer, EVA- and crew report, a surface probe, and my Lander will carry a whopping 200 science points back to Kerbin. Yay! However, I become greedy. There might be just enough deltaV left to hop to a second biome, thereby collecting another 200 points...

Well, no. Touchdown some minutes later leaves my Lander with just about 500 deltaV left, and try as I might, this is not enough to achieve orbit again, even though orbit speed is around 500m/s (forgot that you have to add vertical speed during ascend, too!). Reload. A next try to touchdown the first time already very close to another biome next by, which again fails. Reload. A last try, and I have finally made a precise enough landing, hop, and launch into orbit with enough deltaV for a rendez-vous. Reloading for purposes like this for sure feels a bit like cheating, but this game already munches up so much game time and I really do not want to play without trial&error attempts, which, honestly, are a large part of the fun this game is!

From flying the Lander, I again learned a lot on how to design it differently. The RCS controls are very crappy, and all those 9 small fuel tanks do save space but are a pain to refuel one by one. Its next version will be better!

I then toy with the idea to upload my science data of 400 points into the Scientia´s lab and begin a rendez-vous course. Here, my not-so ingenious engineering catches up with me. The lander can only be docked to the side of the Mun Mission Ship, thereby totally screwing up its center of mass in relation to its center of thrust; I cannot keep the combined ship steady during even a minimal burn time. Sigh. Not to complain, this is another challenge hailing from emerging gameplay and, again, a large part why this game is so much fun!

- for very obvious reasons, this combined vessel cannot maneuver properly...

A short break back at the space center, and I see another Mun-related contract popping up: Rescue Kerbonaut Phil from Mun´s surface. Well, I be damned I was not in a perfect efficient situation right now to take this one along! So, I refuel my lander at the Mun Mission Ship, undock and descend from my polar orbit as soon as it brings me into range of the crashed Kerbonaut. Which is almost immediately, as the Kerbonaut chose the south pole for its accident. This mission is just awesome. The landscape and the sunset, being able to land without difficulties 400 meters close by, making Phil walk over, seeing the Scientia´s target marker appear and pass-by over the horizon, launching with the good feeling to have affected a very short term rescue (for very good profit, too).

- This moment is for me the mother of all awesomeness so far in this game!!!!

I have to reiterate: Awesome. This one moment where the Scientia appeared on the horizon and crossed the sky above "me". You, on the ground within a fully explorable planetary landscape, a launch vessel ready for you, and far above you in space, you see actually your mothership waiting for you to rendez-vous. I say, it is about freaking time that a computer game finally offers this level of immersion!!! The last game I had hoped would offer this was DUST514, where they advertised the merge of a first-person shooter, where you can be supported by EVE-Online player ships firing from orbit. Yes, it worked, in terms of network code, but you were never able to actually see those ships in orbit. The biggest possible moment of world immersion, and they just, completely, utterly missed it!

 - DUST514 should have felt something similar like in this advertisement, but it never did; the sky was not open

Well, catching my breath, back to my mission. Despite my excitedness, I still do not forget to collect another batch of 200 points of science data. Then the lander launches such that it can almost immediately rendez-vous with the Scientia. Which is achieved without problem. Phil is safe in the Scientia´s crew room. Then I switch over the the Mun Mission Ship and also achieve rendez-vous with the Scientia.

- Mun Mission Ship on approach to Scientia, where the lander is already docked on top

Then I have to do some pondering about the scientific data. Transfering science data only works as a bundle; you have to click on the module which contains the data while in EVA and bring it to the intended module, i.e. the Mun Mission Ship´s cockpit. This also means, transfer of all 15 data packs or none. The Scientia´s lab is filled up to capacity, which means I could not bring back the yet-unused data, thereby having to wait even longer for more science points for use in my Space Center. In the end, I decide to take everything back to Kerbin and leave the lander with the Scientia. Once its lab has emptied, I can always try to recollect the Mun data (first EVA, then, if enough fuel, also surface data).

After undocking and sending the Mun Mission Ship on an escape trajectory, I log off, very content about this so awesome game session.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Minmus orbit

I am terribly behind scedule with my blog. The Kerbal Space Programme offers plenty of opportunity to write about exciting stories. Also, despite its a bit aged graphics, it is a very screenshot-worthy game. There are lots of "photo-stories" in the Kerbal forums. And I am also behind of doing and posting some nice screenshots (I will do so, promise). Tribute my lateness to the still captivating initial phase in an exciting new game, plus some severe real life time constraints.

Just a short tribute to the more real-lif-ey, learning side of the Kerbal Space Programme, two links which I want to conserve for myself:
Sooo, why exactly are rockets flipping?
Complexity of real rockets

Concerning my ventures in said game, these are very telling links, aren´t they? What was a mere routine before in beta 0.9, namely to reliably achieve orbit, has become quite an art. Truly, without the "reverse flight" option, my career mode game would have already and literally crashed due to lack of funds and too many dead Kerbonauts!

On the achievement-side: I focused to unlock the mobile research lab, which kind of recycles the data of your standard science experiments which you can do and send or bring back home, and yields up to an additional quintuple the science over time. Over long time indeed, that is, but it does not matter when you have time acceleration at your disposal (in-game, although real time seems to acceleraty horribly fast while playing that game, too!).

Thus my first scientific space vessel was created: "Scientia". A Mk1-cockpit, a junior lab, adaptor to a mobile lab, hitchiker passenger module (as "living area"), a 720-unit fuel tank fueling and sided by four 90-unit fuel tanks with "Terrier" engines. All available scientific instruments are on board, antenna, batteries, solar cells, some junior docking ports (which allows only fuel- but not crew-transfer; not a problem, as I can EVA crew over anyways).

I sent this "beauty" (looks more like a church tower than anything else, not much design choices at this stage), into a polar Mun orbit, thereby collecting EVA data for every Mun biome (i.e. landscape element, about 13 of them on Mun), and it was filled up to the maximum data of 500 points in no time, with quite some data still waiting to be stuffed into it. As usual, the (only) problem (read: several tries needed) was to how to put this 14-ton ship into orbit, as the drag and center-of-mass were not exactly well distributed.

- difficult to get the Scientia up

I also took some rescue missions, two in Mun orbit, one in high Kerbal orbit, in a hope to finance Scientia´s virgin voyage. However, it turned out that I was, as usual, over-optimistic as regards its fuel availability, and could count myself lucky that I managed to get the Scientia into a low polar Mun orbit at all... well, at least, I could pick up one shipwrecked Kerbonaut! Since then, Scientia continously, slowly, spits out and transmits science points from Mun orbit. As this also locked my only two Scientists in the Kerbonaut team, I also had to hire more of them if I wanted a second lab up and running. But I also had hopes that some of the shipwrecked Kerbals would actually be Scientists, so naturally my next goal was to safe as many of them as I could. Handily, another contract for a rescue mission around Mun popped up again.

- Scientia reached its destination (refrained from baptising this ship line "Churchy-class"...)

So, for the new and remaining rescue missions, my tourist-line space ships (I named them "Bumblebee"-class, closely aligned to their form) got re-activated and adapted to a slightly more noble purpose as a rescue craft, with a rather functional designation of "Munbus 36k" (thereby reminding me of the costs of sending one of these into space).

 - ugly and very utility; Munbus-class launch stage

And indeed, the one rescue mission in high Kerbin orbit actually is halfway out to Mun, requiring most of the Munbus´s deltaV potential and an awful lot of ingame-time to achieve orbit, align and approach the wrecked ship out there, about 9 to 11 million kilometers above Kerbin. Which also meant that I had sent a by far too big ship to just safe one Kerbonaut.
Also, in hindsight, learning more about orbital mechanics each session, I probably should have directly gone to Mun firsthand and use its angular velocity to get to that first whip wreck in high Kerbin orbit in a much less fuel consuming way.

Two more rescue missions remaining.

As I had learned from my first rescue mission that the Munbus 36k is not fuel-efficient enough and with its four-passenger cabin too big anyways. So I designed a smaller, remote-controlled two-man rocket and sent it to fetch the other two shipwrecked Kerbals. Which kind of worked out. I even produced the smoothest gravity turn ever during launch, albeit unintentional because I had forgotten to actually enable automatic flight stability. This way, I learned that a correctly designed rocket will do the gravity turn all by itself, with flight stability assist actually having the potential of being a hindrance for that phase of the flight. (Let me just add that this is still the only rocket which I was able to produce and label as remotely correctly designed...).

Once I had collected both Kerbonauts in need, I was unsure of what to do. They are both engineers, with a scientist sitting in the Scientia, at a vastly different orbit around Mun. I had the choice, and chose to not directly return them to Kerbin but to exchange one of the engineers with the scientist waiting in the Scientia. Unfortunately, this meant in the end that my rescue vessel did not have enough fuel left to return to Kerbin. Sigh. So I had to send another space ship, again a Munbus 36k. I don´t know why I did that, probably I wanted to bring back all three safed Kerbonauts at once.

However, polar orbits are tricky. Especially when Mun has revolved around Kerbin, but the polar orbit stays on its original vectors. So, I arrived with my Munbus 36k at a 90 degrees different angle. Readapting this angle cost, you guess it, a lot of fuel. And, you guess it, once it actually arrived at Scientia, it was also out of fuel. At first I thought, hey, no problem, I can refill at the station, uhm, at Scientia, with what little of fuel remained there. However, the Munbus 36k did not have any docking ports to be able to actually exchange fuel. Duh!

Yep. Third ship needs to be sent. A common occurence for aspiring players of Kerbal Space Programme, as I can see from many stories in the forums. One poster (of course a real pro by now, but everyone starts small, right?) claimed that he had about 20 Kerbals on Mun before he was able to sucessfully bring them back...

- the missions with the "Munbus"-class never went smoothly

In the meanwhile, I am in my third or fourth game session since my last blog entry. Time just violently blows past in this game!

For my "next three last halves of the rescue missions", I re-designed and re-named the Munbus to "Munbus Reloaded", give it more fuel capacity and some fueling ports, damn already!!!

This one finally manages to arrive and transport my refugees back to Kerbin. Don´t ask me how, though. Even with its slightly extended fuel capacity, I was only able to do so by waiting for Mun to revolve further around until the Scientia´s polar orbit was again back aligned to the Kerbin incoming vector, thereby relieving me of having to expend fuel for another huge angular shift of the incoming polar orbit (or non-polar, does not really matter anymore when at this big orbital discrepancies!). Landing that ship back on Kerbin yielded me quite some relief. Missions finally accomplished! Jay!

In the meanwhile, a lucky combination of two contracts wanted me to put a space station into orbit of both Kerbin and Minmus. Since I accepted both contracts before building a station, I was able to use the same station for both mission goals. So, I built an even bigger version of a science vessel, aptly named "Scientia 2", about 20 tons of mass, which had even excerbarated problems to reach initial orbit. These I could only solve by putting three big "Skipper"-engines (well, biggest available to me, currently) and fins as a launch stage, thereby making it my most expensive vessel so far (75k credits). However, those two contracts rewarded me with a total of >300k credits in the end, so all is green (it probably would not be so green if I would have needed to pay for every failed launch before... not to speak of lost Kerbonauts which cost now lots of funds to employ, too).

- Scientia 2, here a launch with one of the many unsuccessful launch stages

After I have now conquered the orbits of both Mun and Minmus and propped them with science ships/stations, the next level-up mission is to actually land on these two companions of Kerbin. I am told in forums that the science from crew reports and surface probes will greatly (and instantly) aid the further unlocking of the tech tree. And I do finally want to be back where I was in beta 0.9, where I just started to churn out useable SSTO space planes and had the nuclear engine. In the 1.0 game, the required parts are now much higher in the tech tree.

- mission accomplished

With all the cash earned so far, I expand both the Kerbonaut- and the mission-facility to its highest tier. Like this, I can staple a lot of Mun-related contracts and two very lucrative new satelite-missions (150k plus 15 science each). Now it is only a matter of bringing along a lander and enough fuel for multiple landings. An attempt which I was not really successful at even in the last sessions in the beta 0.9 game. And at that time, I already had space plance SSTOs and the nuclear engine at my disposal. But it should be doable, albeit more expensively and maybe not as elegantly as with a Swan Yacht!

Anyways, the game keeps throwing its challenges of simulated real world rocketeer science at me, and I am happy to crack them, one by one!

As a little funny side note about "that other game" which made me create this blog, Elite: Dangerous; recently, my wife talked to me about some of the biggest stars out there in the galaxy, and I answered something like, yeah, I know, I have visited some of them, those size relations are really fascinating and hard to comprehend... which of course drew me some strange looks and had me some explaining to do! (altho ofc she should know in the meanwhile that she indeed did marry an alien from outer space)

Can´t wait to have the Oculus Rift consumer version to re-experience Elite: Dangerous in all that grandeur!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A short side remark

When reviews like this one start to appear, I know that we are finally going to get somewhere with the reception of so-called computer"games". Like in the vocabulary "game theory", the meaning of "game" in computer"game" has to emancipate itself from its notorious childish, mentally infant connotation.

Yeah, just a short remark, but this isat the core of what my blog here is about.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

I am a 1.0 Kerbal

It was hard to maintain my intention to play the final release of Kerbal Space Programme by restarting a new career campaign. I still feel so proud of all the ships and installations which I created in my 0.9-career. However, I have the feeling that most of them would not "fly" anymore with the latest and new aeronautic physics model. Plus, a new beginning is always also a new chance to experience new and even better things.

 - back to humble beginnings

The new career mode has become quite a tough nut to crack. I choose "moderate" difficulty, not considering myself a total newbie anymore. The first major wall I ran into was not the new aeronautic physics, but the limited availability of science points. Fullfilling contracts just don´t give a lot of points anymore, even testing contracts yield sparsely. Moreso, after the automatic initial record-breaking contracts, the mission goal were such that I just did not have the right equipment to accept and execute a lot of contracts, besides the notorious testing contracts. And the testing contracts gave just about 3 points of science each; this means I would need to do 15 contracts for one measly 45-point science node, which in turn would me give only a part of the equipment I require to get farther and higher. Soon, I discovered that the most efficient income was created by sending two tourists on a suborbital hop; I intentionally postponed the challenge to send a ship into a full orbit in order to milk this cash cow until I had a good financial cusion of about 600k credits.

- my first main money earner in early game; double tourist sub-orbital hopper

So, yeah, the first few hours felt pretty grindy and partially also absurd. One example of absurd design is my rocket with a triple stack of command cockpits, so that I was actually able to bring two tourists together with my pilot into suborbit. This rocket just looked absurd. A true 3-manned cockpit would only unlock much more later, in a 160 point tech node! Similarly, you just get a tiny fuel tank for your first liquid fuel engines, which means I had to stack about ten small fuel tanks in order to build a proper orbital rocket. A bit later down the tech tree, I could unlock the first few larger tier stuff like the "hitchhiker" passenger module, but not the proper engines and fuel tanks to lift it into orbit, which would require two more, equal expensive science levels ("tech nodes").

- about the art of improvisation (soon replaced by the above tourist hopper, which as a SSTsO is more cost efficient)

On the other hand, I found it good that you actually have to employ science equipment in order to collect science points and cannot rely anymore on fulfilling contracts. It is just not very intuitive how and where you are able to collect those science points. Also, most experiments have to be brought back to the base, because just transmitting the results via an antenna would half the yield; science points are too sparse to afford such a waste. Only crew reports can be sent by radio without a reduction of science points.

- "Fleabite"; failed attempt to use a plane with a simple jet engine to get higher than 14km, but good to go for surface missions

And then, the new aeronautic physics. It´s flipping time! I was aware that you have now to be careful to not re-enter atmosphere too fast, lest your vessel would burn to cinders. However, I was surprised that many vessels already become unstable and flip during ascend. Attribute this to a new and more realistic calculation of drag. Combine this with the now very deadly re-entry conditions, and imagine a capsule which due to wrong relation between center of mass (visualised during construction) and drag (not visualized) flips during re-entry on the opposite side of where its heatshield is... Boom!

 - some sub-orbital science gathering

To not sound too negative, I love challenges, and I finally got through this difficult starting phase. Indeed, now with some more knowledge about how and where to collect science points, I would progress now much faster. Complaining a bit about the early grind in the forums, I got some tips how and where to collect more science points, and together with a "free" powerful engine from a testing contract, I was finally able to build a larger spacecraft headed for a Mun flyby and orbit exercise, bringing along three tourists and lots of science equipment, including a scientist who can now reset that equipment for re-use and thus more science points.

Navigating a this central vessel was a tense and exciting affair. My most experienced kerbonauts, three tourists and in the end a whopping worth of 320 science points were stored in one fragile vessel. Navigating to the moon was moreless a routine I already knew from my last campaign. Having learned from that, I made sure to have enough deltaV left for a proper return. However, gravity is a bitch.

- "Bumblebee"-class spacecraft which was the first to leave Kerbin orbit and do a Mun flyby

Once I had my vessel already catapulted back from Mun orbit into Kerbal SOI, the sneaky Mun, which orbited in parallel to my course vector, snuck my vessel back into its SOI, thereby throwing my vessel severely off course. I realized it too late because I had time warp activated. With what little deltaV I had left, I tried to flatten out the totally screwed up re-entry vector to Kerbal, which was way too steep. Unsucessfully so; my re-entry speed was over 3000m/s, way too much to keep aligned retrograde (engines can take a lot of heat before melting) and the ship´s parts heated up in a manner of high and fast which commoners call explosion. Boom.

Even then I was lucky and the cockpit separated and survived, and I also spotted the still intact passenger cabin tumbling down. The cockpit is the control unit, so I could activate the remaining parachute and make my pilot come down safely. Not so with the passengers and most of the stored science points. While I also had some parachutes directly installed on the passenger cabin, it does not qualify as control unit, so I could not switch control to it and thus had to watch it tumble down into its destruction. I rarely ever felt so bad at failing in a computer game. Having moreless safely carried four Kerbals through space, to loose them all so close to coming home! No, I really had to reload this! I was so grateful that I had actually remembered to do a quicksave short after leaving Mun SOI.

The second attempt at return and re-entry worked better. I was astutely watching the course vector and reacted this time to the point where Mun did its gravity sneak attack on me. I did the re-entry via aerobraking, noting this time the much higher drag from the atmosphere than it used to be before in the beta version of the game. Even though the re-entry was relatively flat, I lost control of my retrograde position, in fact, lost control entirely overe the then tumbling ship. Fortunately, this tumbling also caused the ship to bleed off speed without that one specific side of the ship would heat up too much. It thus made it through virtually undamaged; even the externally mounted scientific equipment did survive. Hooraay! As the vessel splashed down into the sea, I almost applauded together with my Kerbalnauts. Amazing how rewarding this game can feel!

I felt this was a fitting conclusion after four tough game sessions under new and much more difficult conditions in the career mode Kerbal Space Programme. My budget sits at roughly half a million credits and I have about 400 science points, which I can use to open a good combination of 90-point and 160-point tech nodes for new and better equipment which actually works together. The future looks bright and much less grindy, and I am looking very much forward to expand on all the new stuff (especially building science space stations and mining for resources/fuel on asteroids in space).