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!

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