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)

Monday, 29 June 2015

Rover design

The Kerbal Space Programme is well suited to get lost in time, just tinkering around and weighting options. In my aversion to just press the "fast forward" button, for my Grand Tour de Kerbin to finish and that Duna transfer window to finally pop up, I am constantly searching and finding some small actions in between, to prepare even better for the ventures ahead.

With enough science points already to unlock nuclear engines, I decide to give it a try. How would an improved version of my Omniscient-class mothership look like? Would it be more efficient?

 - looks weird...

Tinkering around for about one game session, I am not content with what I get. My current flag ship is more than just a simple transfer stage; it also remains flexible as to the use of its vast amount of fuel, e.g. for refilling landers or other smaller vessels. I would loose this advantage, except for if every craft would use liquid fuel without oxydizer, like the nuclear engines do. Also, the individual deltaV requirements for each transfer calls very much for the philosophy of having specialized transfer stages. However, my Omniscient-class follows a different approach; it is a jack-of-all trades, capable of following shifting mission goals (I sometimes like deciding things on the fly) providing for basic all round logistics and a comfortable home for long distance travels. The difference to the same ship class propelled by nuclear engines would be having roughly some more 1000m/s of deltaV, which I would probably not even need for a simple transfer to Duna. Besides, with my current tech level I am very uncontent of the limited design options; I just don´t like the looks of what I get!

So, with a heavy heart, I unmake the tech nodes via a reload and shift my attention towards... moar science!! Frankly, I am getting a bit annoyed about having to dance around limitations of the tech tree. Let alone re-building or even just trying to re-produce how I built that connection tube between the central nascelle and the exterior crew compartments was nearly impossible; it required a lot of improvisation and tricking the VAB mechanics. Why do I waste time doing this, if the only thing missing is a multi-point-connector up there in the tech tree?

So, on my way now to conquer the tech tree! I re-use my ~800 science points as follows; rover wheels, along with a new science toy, check. Seismic scanner, check. Gravioli detetector, check. As a side-effect, the first parts for a mining equipment get unlocked and promtly, an according mission contract pops up: Collect 450 units of ore on Minmus. I have to be careful to do things in order and not let myself get deviated too much.

What I want to build now is a lander which also works as a rover and which has every science equipment aboard. My archetype idea still from my beta 0.9 career is the Swan Lander, a craft which both looked elegant and was highly useful. However, integrating the Science JR module takes all away of the former and also drops the deltaV even lower.

For a rover/lander craft to be able to land and take off again on Duna, I figure it needs 2*1300m/s as a minimum (i.e. no screwups included). And, not to forget, it needs to be able to dock to the mothership, to start with!

- uhm.... looks nice, but unfortunately I cannot dock this to the aft of the Omniscient

So, I enter another phase of tinkering around, for about two game sessions.

- hmmm... how do you say? "resourceful design"? Codename  "Totem"

The lander/rover craft should probably also not unrealistically weird... tough goal!

- another design approach, codename "Crab"
In the end, for once, it is not the good-looks issue which determines the outcome. But a bit of roleplay, concerning the "lander can" cockpit. It is by far the lightest available cockpit, and its windowscreen is also perfect for a rover. But it is only pointing in the correct direction on the "Crab". While the "Totem" looks more sleek and elegant, the cockpit is turned head-over. Of course, I could ignore this, but the role-player within me revolts; I designed the Omniscient already in a close roleplaying fashion, I will not ignore roleplaying here, neither! Also, a proper placing of the RCS engines seems to be impossible on the "Totem". So, in the end, the "Crab" gets the bid, even though some test driving showed that the "Totem", surprisingly, is a bit more stable when doing fast turns. But this is nothing a bit of carefull enough steering can´t get around.

- test driving the "Crab"

A terrier engine produces about 0.5 TWR on Kerbin, which makes for a powerful craft with plenty of reserves on lesser-g environments like Duna and Mün. Its delta-V is at ~2700m/s, and I still might check out whether I can lower the deltaV requirements for landing on Duna by adding parachutes. Airplane Mk2-landing gear has a much higher shock absorption as compared to landing struts, is even lighter and incorporates lightsources. During test drives around the Space Center, I also found that, despite their high shock absorption of 20m/s, the rover wheels can get destroyed very quickly when driving down a slope too fast and hard. So, having the indestructible landing gears rolling in the front is also an advantage in sturdyness.

Rolling about and fine tuning the design lets me also use all that new science equipment. Every building in the Space Center counts as its own Biome and yields according science. The roleplayer in me protests; this is pure cheesiness, but hard to resist when I drive around like this, anyways. To my surprise, in the end I have about 300 science points collected!

Once I am content with the rover-lander, the hard part starts. How to get this entirely un-aerodynamic thing into space? I still remember the pain of getting the Omniscient into orbit...

 - ...well, not like this

The drag mechanic is the culprit here. After trying out a both bow and aft-mounted staging, I remember from some screenshots from other players, that the fairings can do a lot of amazing things. Indeed, they can warp around a lot of bigger stuff like a Boa Constrictor.

 - fairing, and yes, this thing goes to space today!

 - onwards to a Mün test, quite some unexplored Biomes over there

Even with a fairing, the uneven distribution of mass from having only two rover wheels at the aft disturbs my burns. Then I also realize this;

- bug! all current missions gone!

 Only reloading the game from an earlier quicksafe restores my lost mission contracs. I think this happened when I clicked away all those buggish failed tourist contracts in the UI, which I still carried around since the Omniscient landed on Minmus. In the end, this gives me the occasion to complete the design with a complete set of four rover wheels and aptly name it "Lander R Buggy". I still will use the landing gear rolling in the front, but now I have a back-up, in case the aft rover wheels will blow up.

 - some clipping of rover wheels into the landing gear wheels; I don´t like this for RP reasons, but here I imagine it would be easy to adapt the design if it was not for the limited part models

In the end I replayed the launch of the "Lander R Buggy", plus the occasional satelite contract and a rescue contract, and set it on course for Mün. Once it will have achieved Mün orbit, it needs a refuelling. The Scientia, which still does its scientific work in Mün polar orbit, needs one, too. This is the next task for my Fuel Ship, which is currently headed back home from Minmus.

Summarizing about three or four game sessions, I was mainly wrapped up in tinkering, fighting game mechanics about assembling parts and reloading due to the occasional bug. On the plus side, I have now a very advanced multi purpose lander craft, which should enable me to first bring back a lot of the remaining science from the biomes from Mün as a test run, and then is going to be sent to Duna instead of the orignal lander Mk2, which currrently still is with the Omniscient. Hey, a good preparation is one of the main aspects in this kind of game!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Patch 1.04 interlude

Yeah, the patch has hit, and it has hit a bit hard. They changed the way jet engines are working, the draft rating, the heat mechanic. Since my Kerbal Space Programme is relying on spaceplanes, this means I could need to re-design my three spaceplanes which form currently the backbone of all of my activities.

A first opportunity for a test came when the Mun Mission Lander entered Kerbin orbit.


- welcome back!

The White Goose is totally oversized for the task to fetch the science from the lander, but I wanted to test my most favourite spaceplane first. Conveniently a tourist is on board who just wants a simple kerbin orbit experience and thus pays for the whole flight.

- for starters, it now shoots laserbeams from its exhausts...

My observations:
- climb speed down from 260m/s to 160m/s, even when only at 20 degrees instead of 35-40 degrees; have to go now on a much more horizontal ascend profile, which takes much longer and thus uses much more fuel;
- top speed up from 950m/s to 1050m/s, but only initially achievable when going nearly horizontal for some time at 9km;
- no overheating (no heat gauges show up) at 1050m/s, no critical overheating during the whole ascend anymore;
- ascend angle at 17km at 1050m/s must be 15 degrees or less, or my plane will flip. Before, I was able to do 20 degrees. This is probably due to changed/lesser drag of the aft part of my plane;
- same picture on re-entry: easy to flip now, have to pump fuel first to front to remain stable at high speed without airbrakes extended, at low altidute and low speed I have to pump fuel back to the aft to be able to get back from -15 degrees to horizontal level flight;
- reentry: heat gauges show very quickly at 50km, airbrakes not as effective as before, so the plane remains very long at 2000+ m/s;
- thank god, the plane can now deal with the higher re-entry speed because it seems to heat less (i.e. heat gauges mostly stay in the green area), probably due to less drag associated to the speed;
- heat distribution works very well now, heat gauges are now showing up all over all parts and they are nivellating each other.

 - note the solar/Mün eclipse  
The plane´s design is no longer optimal and needs to be adapted to the new conditions. More engines, more fuel needed, and flights will take even longer now.

- the lander is sent to burn in re-entry

- oops, it survives re-entry...

- ready to land? If I had known, I could have saved up some fuel...

- .. but as such, unfortunately...

- last mission point for a temperature reading on Mün is finally under the Scientia´s polar orbit

In the meanwhile, the mission control center offers new contracs; one rescue contract, which I immedeately execute by means of the Munbus in LKO. And one satelite contract for polar orbit. There, I re-encounter the "no-fuel" bug. When undocking the satelite from the cargo bay, I first have to click something called "disconnect node" before I get the "undock" button. Now, when I switch to it, the fuel is still in the satelite, because I have locked the fuel tank before launch. I just unlock fuel and activate the engine, but do not throttle up. Instead, I switch immediately back to the cargo shuttle and throttle it up; then I switch back to the satelite, it is suddenly magically out of fuel. Even more weird, I then launched the second satelite, unlocking fuel, activate engine and throttle it up before switching to the cargo shuttle. It works out. However, after the maneuver, the satelite, which I launched first and is faulty, has vanished. This might be due to a naming collision?

- magically out of fuel, this satelite vanishes moments later from radar

- the Cargo Shuttle passses the test of the new patch mechanics

This was again some interlude which took away a whole game session; some more 7 days and the Omniscient hits solar orbit and thus has finalized my grand Tour de Kerbin.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Tour de Kerbin 2.5

Checking my mission contracts in Kerbal Space Center, I have to realize that the task to put a space station into Minmus orbit is still unfulfilled. This means that the Omniscient somehow did not get recognized as such. I was so sure I had built it after I accepted the contract, but I cannot verify this anymore, because I only keep about 10 safe files and regularily update them. So, at some point, I will need to build a new big ship which can try again to be that required space station. The question is whether it should be another Scientia-class ship or an updated Omniscient-class, maybe once I have access to nuclear engines. This should be soon, once I have received all scientific data which is still floating around in my spaceship fleet.

Anyways, now to the tasks at hand.

I was totally in doubt whether I have enough fuel left for my flagship, the Omniscient, to get out of the sphere of influence of Kerbin into solar orbit and fired that question into the game´s forum. Yep, should be doable with 700m/s deltaV, they said. But I don´t trust my piloting and will fuel up with what´s possible from the Fuel Ship.

But first, I have some science to do! Hopping around on Minmus´ surface with a four-Poodle-engine ship is a waste of fuel. But I have found a work-around: I let my Kerbonauts do the hopping! A little accidental drop while dismounting made me realize that the RCS from the Kerbonauts can make them practically fly here on Minmus.

- Superkerbo flying across a beautiful scenery

Since I know that there are two different Biomes close by, I can at least collect science from an EVA report and a surface probe from each. Indeed, my Kerbonaut does not have to fly around like Superman for long. I even find three adjacent Biomes (lowland, highland, midland) and send two Kerbonauts to each. As usual, one set of data will remain on the ship´s Mobile Lab, one set will go back to Kerbin for instant science.

- ... and back home we fly, with some science points aboard. It is handy to have engineers, which lets me see the in-flight data from my KER-mod

After those funny little excursions, it´s time to get down to some serious piloting. Launch into low Minmus orbit depletes the Omniscient´s deltaV from 719 m/s to 509 m/s.

- I probably could have launched at a flatter angle

 - at 16kmx16km orbit, the Lander comes to rendez-vous again

 - docked! uh, wait... wrong location!

 - that´s better!

 - next rendez-vous is sceduled with the Fuel Ship

- refueling 1080 units (three 360 tanks): deltaV of 1234m/s for the Omniscient, 726 m/s are left for the Fuel Ship for its return to Kerbin. PERFECT!


 - takes some time to find a both fast and efficient maneuver node out of Kerbin SOI; then, engage!

 - delta V down from 1234m/s to 1109m/s; ETA for solar SOI, 8d34h

- the Fuel Ship is sent back to Kerbin

So, for once, everything went very smoothly this session. There is just one little problem. That darn suborbital flight around the sun. Only one tourist out of the 10 which are on board requires this. My plan was to put him into the Lander and briefly adapt course for a suborbital heading and then reverse and redock. However, testing the required deltaV with a satelite, which I had sent into solar orbit some time ago and arrived there some hours ago, shows: A freaking deltaV amount of 7,596 m/s is required to just drop the solar orbit to a suborbital level! And there I thought the lander´s 3,500 m/s would be aplenty!

This means, there is no way I can fulfill this last mission requirement with my current ship configuration. I need to bring the tourist back and devise a very much specialized craft in order to pull this one off. Some questions in the game forum and research on the game´s wiki gives me two hints: A bi-eliptical transfer could get dV requirements down to ~4,000m/s. Kerbol "low orbit" starts at 1,000km, so a fly-by well below 1,000km could count as a sub-orbital flight. Not sure though. I will have to try it out with a seperate mission once I have brought the Omniscient back to Kerbin. The only annoying thing about this is that this single tourist is part of a mission contract with five tourists; so I cannot cash in that substantial contract until this last tourist has had its due.

Things remain challenging, it seems.

Tour de Kerbin 2

If I wouldn´t do regular screenshots, I would quickly forget about all those little achievements which make the fun of playing Kerbal Space Programme, especially when I don´t have enough time to promty write my blog entry.

The condensed experience sounds boring: Assembled and plotted course for, and landed a bunch of spaceships! Some more details, and the emerging game experience shines again through. So, here some more screenshots than usual.

- Refilled the Scientia 2 and set it from Minmus on course towards Kerbin, bringing along some scientific stuff. 

- travel will take some days... did not opt for this "Mun-breaker" course, preferred a direct, faster return, as I had enough spare deltaV

I also refilled the Mission Lander and set it from Mun on course towards Kerbin, bringing along some scientific stuff. The travel will take some days, too.

- my Munbus finally reached that faulty satelite in Kerbin orbit and refueled it

In the meanwhile, the mission control center threw some contracts at me, which were easy to do, but took some game time anyways. Satelite contracts, rescue contracts, mainly. Like this, I was able to get two more scientists for my crew roster. This will enable me to install a rotation of scientists between my various active Mobile Labs floating around in my Scientia-class space crafts. I swear, if I continue this completionist-approach and take and fulfil every close-ranged contract, I might only arrive at Duna by end of the year, real life, if I am lucky!

- White Goose launching for an emergency rescue contract (yeah, could have picked a smaller and more cost efficient spaceplane!)

- here a nice impression from my newly installed "engine-lightning" mod

- drifting-by the shipwrecked at 2km

- one more Kerbonaut saved!

- what a smooth landing approach, for once

One satelite contract got quite adventurious, though. The task required a polar orbit, so I launched my Cargo Shuttle accordingly. Mid-flight, I suddenly realised that it was a clock-wise polar orbit and I was headed counter-clockwise. The course correction sucked so much fuel that I was almost out of fuel once orbit was achieved.

 - up? no, down!

Thus, re-entry had to be very efficiently induced from the other side of Kerbin. This again made me misjudge the final re-entry point and have quite some atmospheric flight time. And, of course, fuel ran out. To make it worse, fuel ran out while flying over sea. But the coast line was visible, so I made an attempt to glide at least to the coast, from about 8km altitude. It was close; my Cargo Shuttle set down basically on the beach, and very roughly at that. But the plane as a whole did survive. Whew. I guess I have to be glad that my planes have plenty of wing lift rating, which allows also for some extented gliding once out of fuel! It is just a pity that I forgot to do a screenshot, as usual when I am tensely focused on gameplay.

The recovery value of the Cargo Shuttle was around 80%, which roughly is the price-turning point where a simple staged rocket might have been equally cost efficient. However, by means of the Cargo Shuttle, I had also a manned flight over Kerbin´s arctic region, and brought home virgin 8 science points from an EVA. So, it is overall still a positive outcome to have launched the Cargo Shuttle!

- EVA over Kerbin´s arctic region: + 8 science

My flag ship, the Omniscient, finally entered a low Minmus orbit and landed. This was kind of funny, because the biomes shift quite quickly under you if you completely kill orbital horizontal velocity. As such, I first had highlands, then lowlands, and finally set down on slopes. On slopes, again! Thanks to the Omniscient´s quadruple pillar structure, it remained standing upright, thank god.

- Minmus orbit, starting landing procedure

 - touchdown... slopes, again!

 - aaand again, cheeeeeeeeezz (for the XP)!

This quick shift of biomes while on landing approach means that I could have two adjacent biomes to take science from, if it was not for the fact that my flagship sucks fuel like an thirsty camel, making it ill-suited to waste energy even with some small hops in the low-gravity of Minmus. My flagship´s lander would be much better suited, so I could bring it down from orbit as well. However, I am not at much liberty with my low fuel reserves. So far, my lander´s fuel tank is like an iron reserve.

The Omniscient has about 700m/s deltaV left; the Fuel Ship awaits in polar orbit with about 720 units of fuel to transfer, but I have no idea if this altogether will be enough for going on solar orbit and get back to Kerbin. I will have to be super-efficient and I doubt that my piloting skill allows this. The first thing I wonder is, whether I should launch the Omniscient into polar orbit to rendez-vous with the Fuel Ship, or if it would better to go again into aequatorial orbit for a more fuel efficient transfer into solar orbit, but having to use a bunch of deltaV from the Fuel Ship, which is in polar orbit, for a rendez-vous then.

I will Kerbal this out in my next game session.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

More good E3 news on Elite: Dangerous

Since I do not participate much on the ED forums these days, I got a very good summary of where it stands and some very nice news from this excellent ARS article. The title is misleading, there is a whole lot of good information for PC gamers, too.

- An arena-style gameplay is upcoming, but seperate and probably similar to the tutorial missions; I agree, it is a perfect hook for console players or those who like less complicated and more action in a shorter timeframe. Having played myself for some time the SWTOR fighter module, I am not averse to this kind of playstyle and I recon it especially cool that all this will be possible within the same game!

- Braben himself agrees with and understands players like me, who are not very hooked on the latest update "Powerplay". It is to accomodate a certain taste of certain players, and we will get more and different things. Quoth Braben: "You should do what makes you excited. I don’t want there to be a ‘right’ way, because then you’re not necessarily playing the way you want to play." Thanks, David, this restored a lot of faith for me!

- Moar ships still coming. The dearly awaited "walking in ships" and "planetary landings" features are clearly on the list and will be coming. Oculus Rift will continue to be supported. I WANT IT ALL, NOW!

Addendum: Here also an excellent ARS "hands-on" article about the Oculus "Half Moon" controller. Feel the need of a time jump into next year, anyone?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Oculus Rift news around the E3

Waiting is sometimes frustrating. When I started this blog almost a year ago, by writing about my experiences with the game Elite: Dangerous, it was always with the prospect that this game in combination with the Oculus Rift will provide for a revolutionary experience in a virtual world. My test of the DK2 during the Elite: Dangerous Premiere Event confirmed my theory. However, the development of both the Oculus Rift, as well - at least as I am concerned - of Elite: Dangerous as one of the best possible experiences with the Oculus Rift, are still going on. Also, this being the main reason why my game time with Elite: Dangerous is on hold. I can power play already in lots of games, this is not really the revolutionary gaming which I got initally hooked for with Elite: Dangerous. I want the full virtual reality experience, and a free universe where you can go everywhere, i.e. including in Elite: Dangerous the feature of being able to land on planets is a must, if you adhere to this vision.

Scanning the news about the E3, there´s of course as usual lots of mainstream crap and no-content-news, but a nice surprise is the news about an Oculus Rift controller. Oculus Rift already mentioned several times that they are working on it. It looks good, those folks have a sound idea of how virtual reality could be properly accessed, and it is well received. Here is a nice article on IGN.

So, the idea is to bring your sense of presence into a virtual environment and also bring at least your hands along. There are already ideas and prototypes about some hand-motion-capturing tools, but it seems Oculus Rift went a way which is both conservative, by make it more resemble to a classic game controller, as well as innovative, by translating and linking these controller movements as best as possible into virtual hand movements.

BTW, game controllers in general have since long been amazing me how crappy they are. I mean, an avid gamer will easily spend 10 hours on a good day working with such a device. And they are at least from an ergonomical point of view, but also in terms of control options, a plain piece of shit. The best ergonomic sollution which I had found for me when I still played on consoles was the old SEGA Mega Drive controller, by holding it between thumbs and index fingers of both hands and pushing the controls with index and middle and ring fingers from both hands. But this "thing" they have for the Sony PS, X-Box, Nintendo, etc., I do not understand how people can accept to be reduced in their game experience to using only their thumbs, 90% of the time?!?

As full blooded PC Gamer, my right hand mouse has at least index and middle finger active, the rest guides the mouse itself, while the left hand rests fully on the middle of the keyboard, with all five fingers active. Instead of WASD, I have ZGHJ (on a German QWERTZ-layout) as the central keys, with action buttons keyed to all sourrounding keys, including down-far-off onces for my pinkie. No current mainstream console controller can get near this a strong level of control.

I am very curious if the Oculus Rift controller will be able to improve the control experience, with that neat trick of simulating your main hand movements, and having four fingers each from both left and right hand active. And the design looks very ergonomic, on top!

- ergonomically sound, reminds me of those highly professional foil-fencing handles

It looks good, both visual and in theory already. Need to test it! Preferably with the - finally getting close to release - Oculus Rift!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

My Kerbal todo-list

A game session with the Kerbal Space Programme with only little action and much contemplation. The mission building has currently no more contracts to offer, so I basically just have to follow through with all projects on my list, the most prominent of them being the Duna landing (for which the transfer window is going to be ready in about 50 days).

With some careful orbital adjustments while on rendez-vous to the Scientia, the Mission Lander can tackle the 2nd mission point, a in-flight temperature scan on Mun at below 9800m altitude. The last mission point requires an in-flight temperature scan above 9800m altitude and will pose no problem whatsoever, once it is in reach of my polar orbit.


- checkpoint

My Munbus is slowly getting closer to my "simple" satellite problem in Kerbin orbit. Time is not pressing there. Just annoying is the buggy service bay, causing lots of jittering. After having refueled the satellite, the Munbus will help to fulfil another still open contract, namely to save a Kerbonaut.

 - the Fuel Ship coming close to Minmus (the little blue marker shows where the Scientia 2 had landed)


 - the Omniscient also reaches Minmus orbit

The Omniscient has only 900m/s left after reaching low Minmus orbit; I guess that about 500m/s will be needed for the landing and takeoff. Which means I have to reroute the Fuel Ship away from the Scientia 2 so that the Omnsicient receives enough fuel reserves in order to continue into Solar orbit and back to Kerbin. However, I still want to dock the Fuel Ship to the Scientia 2 first:

Checking my currently accumulated science over all, the Scientia 2 has 770 "collectable science" on board (i.e. the data still yields science points once brought back to Kerbin), plus a double data set for the Minmus slopes. Also, the Scientia in Mun orbit has 240 collectable science on board for the Mun poles. Unfortunately, this data is mixed with that from the Mun highlands, which can still be fed to the ship´s mobile lab, but is worth nothing anymore back on Kerbin (I brought this data already back from my first Mun landing). Well, at least no surface data has been in the lab yet, so I can redo the landing exercise later for the lab and bring all current surface data back to Kerbin.

This makes for both ships a sum of ~1000 collectable science points, which I could cash in on Kerbin even before Duna transfer has to start; and still some reserve for the labs remains. Good, this opens many more options, even for the Duna expedition itself, should I still wish to change its setup. Perhaps an improved barge for the Omniscient? Or even a new Omniscient Mk2 with nuclear engines?

So, this makes for the following to do list:
- Fly the Mission Lander remotely from Mun into LKO.
- Refuel Scientia 2 from the Fuel Ship just enough to fly the former into LKO.
- Refuel Omniscient with the remaining fuel from the Fuel Ship, land, launch, get into solar orbit.
- Fly the Fuel Ship back into LKO.
- Fetch the Mission Lander collectable science with the White Goose.
- Fetch the Scientia 2 crew+data with the White Goose.
- Refuel the Scientia 2, supply a new experienced crew and send it back to Minmus.
- (Put the old Mission Lander out of service and send a new lander to Mun, possibly a dual-pod lander)
- Once the Omniscient is back, send a new experienced crew to the Scientia at Mun and relieve the current one.
- Decide what to do with ~1500 science points and possibly adapt Duna expedition plans

Quite a list. I like it! I would have been a shame to miss all of this emerging gameplay if I just had time warped forward to the Duna transfer window, some sessions ago.

- ... and never forget to collect science for processing in the ship´s mobile lab!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Some small Kerbal expeditions

This and my last blog entry are mostly a recollection of several smaller ventures from game sessions from before and during my holiday. They might have happened some time in between, before or after the Minmus landing which I wrote about in my last blog entry, at points in Kerbal time when I wasn´t lazy by just time warping and waiting for my flagship, the Omniscient, to arrive at Minmus.

Concerning the earlier topic about transfer windows for interplanetary travels, I only recently realized that Kerbal Alarm Clock has them all incorporated already; so, no need to look up webpages at all. Duh.

- Installing some more mods

Sensible Screenshots - better naming of screenshots, save as jpg instead of png for my blog, very cool!
Portrait Stats - shows profession and experience in the Kerbonaut portraits, very useful!
Field Experience - no more need to bring Kerbonauts back in order to gain experience; unfortunately faulty in collaboration with Kerbal Alarm Clock and yields too much experience, so de-installed. Besides, this keeps an incentive to bring Kerbonauts back now and then!

- A little orbital rescue

Please save another poor Kerbonaut fellow from LKO. Yeah, thanks, I still have the Munbus ready and refilled in orbit, right on this task! Some careful orbital adjustments later, the Munbus floats by the shipwreck and collects another crew member for my roster.

- A "simple" satellite contract

Put a simple satellite into a simple Kerbin orbit, they said. A perfect occasion to test a new space plane, which should replace any launch stage for small payloads. Behold the "Cargo Shuttle"-class spaceplane. Yeah, I know, pretty uninspired name, maybe symptom of my lazyness which in the following leads to a lot of time consuming mistakes. I really should think about a better name. It is basically one of my many prototypes still from the time when I developed the White Goose-class, with just an added cargo bay. This cargo bay will in future serve to launch satellites into LKO.
The space plane has still enough of reserve fuel to also accomodate more heavy payloads, provided they will fit into the cargo bay. 

- one satellite shuttling up!

The simple satellite is held by a docking port inside the docking bay and, once I reach orbit without problems, I release it. It bounces out rather unceremoniously, having no RCS control. Then I realize that it got completely sucked out of fuel. How stupid is this? Trying to recapture the thing with the Cargo Shuttle is very difficult and I loose patience and reload. This time, I manually lock the fuel tank before launch. "Back" in orbit, I check and see the fuel bars are healthily green, unlock the fuel and then undock. Again the satellite bounces out (I really have to think about a more elegant solution). Checking its destination orbit, I set up a maneuver node and set the Kerbal Alarm Clock mod accordingly.

Before I send the Cargo Shuttle back down, I shift its orbit to collect the saved Kerbonaut from the Munbus. It would have been more efficient to let the latter do this maneuver, but the Cargo Shuttle had enough unnecessary spare fuel. Some more fine adjustments are then executed by the Munbus, and in the end the ships pass by each other at about 20km. In order to save fuel, I make the Kerbonaut EVA over. Which is the moment where I learn that the distance alone is not decisive for a save transfer, but also the relative speed. The cargo Shuttle whizzes by the Munbus and it takes almost all the Kerbonaut´s RCS fuel and one full revolve of orbit to catch up. Whew, what an unnecessary adventure.

Once the Kerbonaut is EVA´d over, Kerbal Alarm Clock informs me that it is time for the satellite´s maneuver node. Jumping to satellite, throttling up... aaaand, nothing happens. The satellite is again out of fuel! How could this happen?

 - Did some Kerbal sneakily drink all the fuel?

Since I spent some time and effort in taking the Kerbonaut over to the Cargo Shuttle, I do not want to reload again its whole flight from launch. Instead, I guide it back down, still wondering how and why the satellite again lost all its fuel. Maybe because during undocking, I first had to click a different option before the "undock" button appreared? It was something about "docking node"... have to check this on the next occasion.

Then I re-plot the Munbus´ orbit towards the satellite for a refuel-docking. Thank god I have this ship left on stand-by in orbit! The rendez-vous is difficult to achieve, though. And I was so proud that my Cargo Shuttle achieved a precise 71km orbit! Undercutting this orbit for a fast approach is hardly possible. Since I do not want to waste more fuel than absolutely necessary, the rendez vous will take about 5 days and is put on the list on Kerbal Alarm Clock.

- Kearjet ("adding K to every word")

The prospect of rudimentary atmospheric plane flight always lures me back. There are still some untapped biomes on Kerbin, which now by should yield about 30 science points each, using all available science equipment and also surface probes.

So, I design a small and fast plane. The Fleabite-class still ran with a standard jet engine and had a maximum speed of 290m/s. This is way too slow for large distance flights like, say, to the polar region. So, a turbo-jet driven simple plane is in order. Which is, the "Kearjet". One of the rare cases of my designs which work first time, I nevertheless have to reload the flight to the arctic region, once the game crashes mid-flight. I was cautious to disable the heat gauges, but had to activate the overlay once in a while; the Keerjet´s turbo jet has considerable power and thus flies faster than thermic air resistance allows, i.e. the plane heats up considerably. The maximum speed I dared was about 850m/s at 16km altitude, which corresponds to a balance roughly around half-throttle.

- heat starts to build up around 780m/s

Some hour later (including the reload), I finally have reached my goal. Some more flights to various other Biomes net me also around 30 science points each. It might be little compared to the science from a Minmus landing, but it is virtually instant science points, requiring no time warp whatsoever.

 - The Kearjet´s virgin flight is complete

- One more Mun landing

Yes, Mun... I somehow neclected the wealth of still unexplored Biomes surfaces. First reason: While I had refilled my first lander with fuel, I forgot about the monopropellant. Which would make docking really an act of finesse. Second reason: Getting one example of surface probe up would only satisfy either the need of the orbiting Scientia´s lab (it is currently at ~480 units of data capacity, so the new data would need to sit there for a while), or go back to Kerbin, but not both in a timely fashion. I would need a lander with two pods, which can each store the same scientific data in parallel. This is a kind of playing the game´s game mechanics, but what can I do? I of course spend some time on designing an according lander, but am not sure whether I should go down that route.

- a still unemployed design of a "dual-pod" lander, for also keeping a  copy of the same science data


Third reason: It is kind of difficult to identify and land on the still unexplored Biomes; e.g., which of those craters is the "Far Eastside Crater"? No idea. Besides, I already have data from the polar region, the far eastside crater, the highlands. Unfortunately, the science archives back at the Space Center are not much of help. There is a mod out there called SCANsat, which would enable me to send a mapping satellite; this at least would allow me to spot all Biomes and plan proper landings.

All those reasons suddenly get overwritten the moment when a contract pops up which requires temperature readings at different altitudes plus one on Mun´s surface. And, by chance, the latter is right now right ahead under the Scientia´s orbit, where my old "Mission Lander" is docked.

- Undocking, and preparing descend in haste!

 - ... right on time!

 - touchdown, not too efficient a fuel use, but allright

After touchdown, piloted by Jebediah in person, the lander has 1100m/s deltaV left, down from 2200m/s. Is this enough to reach the second mission point, below 9600m altitude? I give it a try, but have to give up and reverse my heading mid-flight, as the deltaV marker reaches the dangerous limit of 900m/s which I still require to get back into orbit. With 211m/s deltaV left, the lander is then back in orbit. Without monopropellant, I again will have to do a very efficient rendez-vous to the Scientia, which makes for another spot far down on my Kerbal Alarm Clock list.

One little accident I realize only later when I switch to the Scientia; its main solar panel array points once more away from the sun. The problem is, this time I cannot turn the Scientia; why? Because it has no remote controls and the only pilot in the crew, Jebediah, is sitting far away in the lander. Ouch, no science, sucked out of electricity, and my lander better finds back to the Scientia or I have de facto two stranded ships in Mun orbit! Given that the lander has only so little fuel left and no monopropellant at all, a likely scenario! I will probably have to send the Fuel Ship to the lander, once it is back from Minmus.

Somehow, from all these ventures, I have now 446 science collected, a sum of crew reports, science from Biomes on Kerbin, and science from Mobile Labs. I am not sure what choices to take in the tech tree. I wanted to unlock the LV-N nuclear engine, but am not sure anymore. The advantage of a better fuel efficiency might be minimal, while its only burning of fuel without oxydizer could deprive me of flexibility in exchanging fuel e.g. between motherhips and landers. Would getting rover wheels be a better choice at this point? Or that new science toy, the Seismo-Meter? Some stuff for thought for offline, I am sure, so I go, well, offline.