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, 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.

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