Thursday, December 25, 2014

Do-it-yourself Space exploration.

So, my birthday gift this year was a copy of Kerbal Space Program, a wonderful little space simulator that has just fascinated me for the past four months now. After a lot of trial and error (and a lot of finding out how to use MechJeb, the add-on autopilot) my nine year old son and I set out to build a space station based on the Russian Mir project, and then to use that as a launch platform for a manned exploration ship. 

Here is the Russian station in some detail so you can see what we were emulating. 

I started with the core module (Green), much like the Soviet space program and built out from there. 

The primary platform I used to get the component parts into orbit was my "Echo 1" heavy lift platform. This is a scaled down version of the Delta IV Heavy Lift Vehicle used by the US today.

The Core Module was relatively simple to orbit and I set it for an altitude of 450 km.

While the solar panels un the game are more than enough to power the station with just two, I opted to go for accuracy and placed a third one, just like the real unit. 

My Kavant-1 sits atop of the core unit, while I remotely guide Kavant-2
under the station for docking. 
I built the "Kavant-1" Module a little longer than it strictly should have been, but I'm not complaining about the final outcome. I also opted for smaller solar panels, mostly because I didn't think they were necessary. The "Kvant-2" unit was more or less as true to the source material as I could make it. I launched each of these separately in a Echo-1 rocket and docked them remotely/un-crewed.

I had a little fun with the "Spektr" capsule. Of course my model doesn't "do" anything more than the real one did, but I took some ascetic/artistic liberties with the module. 

Rather than a cylinder, I build this with some "exposed" components but I made sure to include the 4 large solar panels, two on the tapered end of the pod. 

At this point I decided to send a crew up to manage the station. While not strictly necessary for game play, I thought it would be more realistic to have one pilot up there to "keep house" while we build rest of the station. I used a one man Mk.1 pod with a small RCA system and engine. Just enough to get up there and dock.

I'm not normally one to talk up gaming graphics, but I was taken by how absolutely beautiful this in-game screen shot is of the station against the sun with the next module maneuvering in for docking.

The "Priroda" unit (with the large radio array, was another one where I got creative in order to capture the shape of the until without making another bland set of cylinders. And the "Kristall" module, which in real life held furnaces for zero-gravity mineral production was re-purposed by me as additional crew space and a docking port. 

Priroda (on the left) and Kristall (On the right) docked and running in the station. 
Now, this is where I took the next step and left history entirely. My whole goal for creating the station had always been to make a staging point for exploration. Rather than build a ship in orbit, I wanted to assemble a vessel while it was docked with a larger platform so that we had room for crew and supplies to build up.

The basic goal was to build a ship capable of transporting 4 crew and two lander to either of the Kerbal moons. I specifically didn't want an "Apollo" style vessel as I felt that it was both wasteful, and inefficient. This needed to be something that could move out like a sailing ship, take up orbit, drop and retrieve lander and then return. This would be a proof of concept that I would later expand into a larger and more capable vessel true interplanetary travel.

I built two "Apollo" style pods to get crew up to the station. Between the two pods and the one crew already there, I was supporting 7 men in orbit. 4 of which would be deployed to the ship once it was assembled. 

The ship would be built in four parts and launched in 3 segments, each aboard an Echo-1 Rocket. 

  1. Command module - Cabin, crew quarters, and lateral docking couplings. 
  2. Engineering module - Fuel and power storage for the ship system and engines. This unit would also use the atomic engine (based on the NERVA research engine
  3. Lunar Exploration Landers. These are two identical units that will be docked radially on the ships. midsection during the transit to and from the target planet.

The front half of the ship was built and launched into orbit on another Echo-1 launch vehicle. Below you can see it making the final steps to docking with the station. One of my "Apollo" type crew vehicles is right next to it for scale, and you can see the similarities and differences there. 

Center (and illumination) you can see the forward half of the ship. Next to it is a crew delivery unit for size comparison, and in the background you can see the last stage of the Echo -1 rocket holding position after getting this far. I am very studious in de-orbiting all units after I am done with them. 

The latter half of the ship is just as I described above, fuel, batteries and superstructure. I launched, orbited and docked it the same way I docked the first part.

The landers were a little more of a pain to build and dock, but not impossible if I took my time. 

Once the ship was assembled, I took time making sure I had topped off all of the RCS and hypergolic fuel tanks, as well as making sure all batteries were fully charged. the last thing I did was pick a team of one pilot, one engineer and two scientists. 

I have to give it to the programmers on this, they really put enough energy into the graphics on this to make the the launch a beautiful and dramatic moment for me. All that was missing was a John Williams composition in the background. 

First steps under her own power. 

The Ship certainly isn't a sports car, in fact on the burn to move out to 500 Km orbit, it took almost five minutes at full throttle to get out there. Any future designs will need more power to them if they are to be at all timely. That being said, as a research ship, the Kerbal Space Ship - "Explorer" is still a dream to behind for me. 

Middle of my orbital burn to move out to 500 KM altitude. You can also see the solar array fully deployed here 

Next stop... Mun... and beyond!

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