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)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tumbling on the edge of failure

This game session is indeed properly themed; almost every action is very close to a failure, this time.

As a little break from my Mün patrol activity, I have to attend to some maneuver nodes. As it turns out, I misplaced two of them, behind the periapsis instead of before the periapsis, both for the Fuel Ship, as well as the Tripol on their return trip to Kerbin. Thank god I routinely check for every vessel at the start of each game session; I know that I get sloppy sometimes. If I hadn´t realized in time, both ships would have entered Kerbin´s atmosphere way too low, causing re-entry and, consequently, as both were not constructed for this, their destruction. The reason why I misplaced those two maneuver nodes is that the elliptic orbit usually lets my spacecrafts return on the retrograde side, relative to Minmus´ orbit around Kerbin. Somehow, my last two ejections from Minmus with said ships made them return on the prograde side of said elliptic orbit.

After the errors are corrected, the satelite for my mission contract "Mün polar orbit" gets inserted. Then, switch again, I plot the final rendez-vous vector for the Firebird, which still is in orbit, racing to rescue a Kerbonaut. Flipping the spaceplane over for prograde and retrograde correction burns is tedious and slow. I really have to remember to put a large reaction wheel on it!

This last maneuver slightly overlaps with the first aerobraking pass of the Fuel Ship. To my annoyance, I again have to realize that aerobraking does not take place when the game is not focused on the according vessel. So, one more long elliptic orbit has to pass with its according longer travel time. Since there is no urgent need to refuel any expedition, this mishap is no big deal. But trouble is just about to start.

After the Firebird finally reaches the Kerbonaut, another quick switch to the Mün satelite is required for its last correction burn. Bing, +80,000 credits. Due to another overlap, the re-entry of the Firebird is delayed by another orbital round. During this one, I realize that I haven´t payed attention to the periapsis during its last maneuver, which had dropped to suborbit. I need another burn so that the re-entry point gets not skewed. Awfully slow to flip, the Firebird manages just in time.

Finally at the correct point for re-entry, the Firebird adopts a +10 degree descend angle, like I have come to use also for the White Goose. This causes am increased slow down in the upper atmosphere and does not drop the point of touchdown too much from the initial plot, as it usually does when the spaceplane flies straight its way through the atmosphere and just relies on its airbrakes.

Unfortunately, at 45km, the Firebird suddenly flips over, despite its airbrakes being deployed as a counter balance. I fear the worst; normally, a plane at still 2000+ m/s should get ripped apart in no time, and it already happened to it some time ago while in the lower atmosphere. To my astonishment, though, the plane holds together here in the upper atmosphere, doing the major part of its re-entry in sommersault modus. Squad probably nerfed the game´s harsh physics model by a bit too much? But right now, I don´t look a gift horse into the mouth.

Once low enough for the jet enginges to kick in, I desperately try to re-align, unsuccessfully. Flipping, altitude dropping, dropping, ...

- mayday, mayday, mayday!
At some point, I finally manage, just to loose forward alignment again. WTF!? Then, my error dawns on me. I have forgotten to re-balance the remaining fuel to the front; the Firebird currently has a center of lift far in front of the center of mass! Desperately pumping fuel in the again violently sommersaulting plane, howver, there is not much fuel left, and only by also activating the airbrakes as surplus control surfaces, at about 3 km altidude, the Firebird finally passes over into a stabilized flight pattern.

At what cost, though. The fuel reserves are nearly used up, and the Firebird is still far away from the space center, above a wrong continent. An emergency landing is in order. I quickly raise back up to about 10km altitude and then glide the Firebird, with just some 200 units of fuel left, to the coastline.

- initiate emergency landing
Unfortunately, the coast line is littered with steep slopes. On the last kilometers before touchdown, I manage to do a counter approach, turn 180 degrees and set down undamaged on the beach, in parallel to the coast line. Whew. I sure have very sweaty hands by now!

Recovering the spaceplane that far from the Kerbal Space Center makes me loose 25% of its value. This roughly reduces the profit from the rescue mission (50k credits) to one third and thus manifests as a mere efficiency drop, but not a real economic loss.

Considering all my errors during this session, considering how little I could advance my expeditions overall, I nevertheless consider myself very lucky, and strangely, leave this game session with a feeling of tremendous success.

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