Caution! This post contains many images, some of which are clickable for bigger versions. Those with image allergies should avoid.
Since being made Director of the Kerbal Space Project, I have been carefully assessing our available resources. We have several hundred personnel, most of whom wander around the place doing whatever they feel like. I’m not even sure if all the people here are on the payroll or if some of them just strolled in off the street, put on a labcoat and started knocking parts together! I’ve ordered evaluation of all personnel for suitability as kerbonauts based on flight experience, mathematical aptitude, kinesthetic awareness, resistance to fear, dread and terror and lack of survival instinct.
We have a significant supply of high-grade spaceship components thanks to Jebediah Kerman’s recently established Junkyard and Spaceship Parts Co. and our engineers’ outstanding work with so called ‘parts found lying about’. Admittedly, the fact that no-one really knows quite what a spaceship part looks like is a bit of a problem, but several companies have sprung up, determined to solve that problem and get a slice of the President’s space budget in the process. Ol’ Jeb Kerman has been in the junkyard business for as long as I can remember and his sudden jump into the aerospace industry seems like a bit of a stretch for him. Still, his parts do seem less likely to explode without reason than anything we’ve managed to come up with internally.
I decided that we needed to try something small scale to get an idea about how these components worked in practice. I went to the vehicle assembly building and ordered a test vehicle based on the Probodobodyne Inc. Stayputnik II satellite core. The very next day I found this waiting out on the launch pad:
When I asked my chief engineer what the pointy bits were he showed me the blueprint given to him by the chief rocket scientist:
After making a note to order a correctly spelled “blueprint” stencil, I cleared the test vehicle for launch. Lift off went quite well…
But it wasn’t long before it started tumbling end over end.
And then ran out of fuel.
I congratulated the engineers for the lovely, stable way it fell after the engine stopped working and also its ability to completely dispose of itself after use. I think there’s still work to be done on the ‘going upwards’ phase though.
We learned three things from this test:
- Small scale tests aren’t really any use,
- Fins are rubbish for making your rocket not tumble out of control and crash.
- We need to recruit a chief rocket scientist and make it clear that the facilities maintenance staff are no longer to produce spacecraft blueprints and especially not during their lunch breaks.
We decided to skip the rest of the tests and experiments, go full scale immediately and see if we could put a satellite into orbit. This decision wasn’t at all related to my discussion with the President about why we hadn’t yet put a Kerbal on the Mun (I haven’t told him that we haven’t actually got any kerbonauts). It’s not my fault he promised that we’d do it this afternoon.
We began work on a satellite chassis right away. The Stayputnik II is a little limited in terms of power storage, and so we augmented it with two rechargeable AAAA batteries.
Sensors! For sensing things. There’s an accelerometer (warranty void if shaken), a negative gravioli particle detector AKA magic gravity sensing box (warranty void if used to sense positive gravioli particles) and a thermometer (warranty void if an engineer admits that it’s a store bought chemical thermometer with some wires stuck to it). We can get some numbers from these instruments which someone somewhere might possibly be able to use for science. There’s also a light which is important because space is dark.
Solar panels for recharging the batteries. My engineers said we could lose some weight by getting rid of the protective casing – it’s not as if this thing will need to survive re-entry after all. Also pictured: An antenna for communications! With whom is a bit of a mystery, but maybe it’ll be useful.
We stuck an Advanced SAS Module on (which should automatically stabilise the rocket and keep it pointing in one place), a small fuel tank and a compact engine. The Adv. SAS module means we won’t have to constantly correct the course of the rocket as it goes up which means we can continue to drink tea during launch.
Clearly this won’t get us to space, so we put lots, lots more fuel and a much bigger engine on the bottom.
The yellow and black bit is a “stack decoupler” filled with explosive bolts, and will allow us to snap the bottom part off once the fuel is depleted to make the whole spacecraft lighter. Also, it’ll allow us to use the engine at the top without setting fire to the rest of the rocket. These are the kind of high-tech innovations that will take us to the Mun. Why, whoever would’ve thought of discarding the useless empty parts of rockets to make the whole thing lighter? There’s the minor problem of the discarded parts crashing down on top of us, but I’ve overcome that by ordering the control centre moved down to the twenty-seventh sublevel and the twenty-sixth sublevel filled entirely with concrete.
Mounting points with more explosive bolts! These things are wonderful as they allow us to mount…
Two big solid fuel rockets! These provide a ton of thrust (not literally – I don’t actually know how much thrust they provide. The specifications just say “lots”) to deal with the hardest part of the ascent – getting off the ground in the first place. Of course, you can’t actually turn them off once ignited so if something goes wrong it tends to go very wrong indeed. Once empty, they are separated and then rain down upon the expensive space centre like… uh, very large raindrops. That explode. Also, we added the gantry that holds the rocket up on the launchpad. Quite how this thing was standing up before I do not know, particularly since it was off the ground the whole time. I expect it’s something to do with science. Construction is complete, and I’ve ordered Orbital Probe of Science I to be fueled and moved out to the launch pad by the time I get back from lunch.
Orbital Probe of Science I is on the pad! This is exciting. We’re going to put something into space! Start the countdown!
Well, it seems like I wasn’t actually paying attention, and forgot to set up the staging. When the first stage was activated, the solid fuel boosters ignited. The second stage wasn’t releasing the clamps on the launchpad – it was separating the boosters. They flew off, and immediately crashed into one another. One of them blew up while the other one somehow survived and flew around for a bit.
Fortunately, the rest of the craft was undamaged or at least no more damaged than before, so we stuck two new boosters on the side and lined up for another shot.
Lift-off! Except the whole thing this time, and in one piece.
Separation of stage 1 confirmed! 8000 meters up and travelling at nearly 300 m/s. The Adv. SAS module isn’t doing anything, so we have to control the thing manually. Our course is not exactly correct as a result of this, which is not going to do good things to the angle of our orbit.
21000m at 445 m/s. We’re starting to build velocity as well as altitude now so that we can hopefully have enough speed to get into a stable orbit.
Currently, Orbital Probe Of Science I(b) will reach apoapsis – maximum altitude – at about 57000m. This is not enough to orbit without constant corrective burns as there’s still enough atmospheric drag to de-orbit the satellite if it’s left alone.
48km up at 1.4 km/s. There’s still fuel in the tanks of the ascent stage! This is unexpected. You normally don’t want your first stage staying in orbit with you as it adds weight and makes your spacecraft sluggish to maneuver.
Apoapsis is 113km! That’s high enough for a stable orbit if we can produce enough deltaV.
Engines are shut down until we get near to apoapsis as that’s the best time to make corrective maneuvers or build velocity. It’s at this stage that I realise that we haven’t equipped this thing with any RCS fuel or indeed any actual RCS thrusters which limits my ability to aim the ship to almost nothing at all. There are gyros in the Stayputnik, but they have almost no effect with the ascent stage still attached – it’s just too heavy to turn with only the gyros. The only reason I was able to maneuver before was because the main engine can vector its thrust. I turn the engine back on at about 5% power so that I can point the ship in the correct direction for the next burn.
I remember that I have instruments on this space probe, and that I haven’t turned them on. I expect someone might’ve liked to know my acceleration during ascent but it’s a bit late now. It’s -197 degrees up here! That’s quite cold. I make a note to equip all kerbonauts with scarves.
We’re coming up on apoapsis. The flight controller says that we need to make a “prograde burn” so that our satellite doesn’t “fall out of the sky onto a school”.
Engines on! We need vertical speed now.
2.2 km/s and we’re in orbit! It’s not exactly circular, but that doesn’t matter. We have taken something from Kerbin and put it into space and assuming nothing smashes into it, it will stay up there! This is a momentous event, and we can use the mostly useless data we’re getting from the sensors to justify the expense of the mission.
The ascent stage still has a little fuel left, but it’s a pain in the backside to try and aim the probe with it still attached. I decide to cut it loose. Unfortunately it’s also in a stable orbit and so it’ll stay up here forever and probably crash into and destroy something extremely expensive later on.
My instruments and flashlight are drawing more power than expected, so I deploy my solar panels. Aaand then I realise that I’ve used the wrong ones and they are partially obscured by the fuel tanks. I decide not to rotate to a more optimal angle as I am slightly concerned that they will snap off if they come into contact with the rest of the hull.
The gravity up here is 06.93m/s^2! Those are certainly some numbers right there. Oh yes! The science guys will love that. If only we had turned the sensors on at the start they could probably have made a graph or something.
I say. Kerbin’s rather pretty from up here.
Thanks to the SAS module not working and me not noticing until the craft was off course, our orbit isn’t exactly a perfect equatorial job.
Oh well, it’s not as this mission involves mapping the surface. Just as well as it hasn’t got anything capable of mapping the surface. It’s effectively an incredibly expensive space thermometer which also outputs some other numbers which may or may not be:
- Any use to anyone.
Although it also has a light! That’s useful. Other spacecraft will be able to use it for navigation if they pass within a couple of meters.
We make a corrective burn at periapsis (the lowest point in the satellite’s orbit) to bring the apoapsis down slightly. It’s pretty well circularised now. It’s not perfect, but it’s something like 102km – 104km. That’s close enough!
The second stage’s orbit is slightly higher than the probe, but it looks like it’ll be staying there forever. Space is pretty big, so it is incredibly unlikely that it will collide with and destroy another spacecraft, satellite or station later on. Which is to say that this will almost certainly happen at some point.
MISSION: Orbital Probe of Science I(b)
OBJECTIVE: To place a satellite capable of doing some sciencey things into orbit.
RESULT: Long term orbit, science conducted, fuel remaining in final stage. We have discovered that space does, in fact, exist, that it’s very cold, that Kerbin is round as some have suspected for some time and that the great fire-vomiting hyper-serpent of the sky doesn’t exist, is invisible to our sensors or perhaps has gone on holiday. Opinion amongst our science department on this last point is still divided.
Ribbon Design by Unistrut and courtesy of the KSP Ribbon Generator by Moustachauve. This ribbon indicates a successful orbit of Kerbin by an unmanned space probe which is pretty much the lowest-ranked of all possible achievements. I wasn’t even able to
give myself award the mission team the equatorial orbit bar! This does not bode well for the program’s ability to handle more complicated tasks…