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)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

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.

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