Gene was sitting at his desk, with Wernher and Bill in front of him, holding a smaller than usual engineering meeting.
“How could you make a mistake like this? The mistakes that are usually made are excusable, but this?”, Gene told them in a voice as calm as he could muster.
“Planned burn times that in total are nearly twice the time it usually takes to get a rocket into orbit – how could that even pass the initial design specs?”, Gene continued.
“If this continues we might as well close the program and leave space to the blasted Illyriens! We’re lucky that once again, our emergency procedures worked – it sometimes seems the only thing that works on a consistent basis – perhaps we should leave them out and have the engineers focus on the rockets instead?”, Gene went on, not allowing neither Bill, nor Wernher, to say anything.
“It’s almost fitting the scientist on Kerlab panicked, because he’d have had to take the emergency pod back now anyway. You are both dismissed, as I assume you have to go re-design the Proton-4 completely.”, Gene ended the conversation, making it clear that the two were to leave the office.
As they left, Gene leaned back, and began pondering the coming year. Perhaps after the station was operational and working, they should look at some more probes? There had to be some launch windows coming up soon.
Or perhaps a return to the Moon? That might lift spirits as well?
About 1000 science still left, to be spent soon – making 2.289/day – all things costing less than 160 has been researched by now, I think I’ll be taking most nodes in part because.
Two operational VABs, with 14 and 9 BP/s respectively, but only about 47k funds to spend.
StageRecovery added (DR 3000 +500 per year until 5000) and Hab multiplier set to 4.
Today’s report include two launches – the second which went flawlessly as always, and the first which went fine, until the scientist on the mission panicked and used the lifeboat.
In either case, the launch of Kerlab-1 into a 45 degree 500×500 km orbit went off without a hitch. This was of course also our second launch of the Proton-5 type rocket, so we fully expected it to work.
The launch was, as always documented by the photographer from the Ministry, although he seems to have gotten himself a new kamera that can take pictures faster than before.
After setting it into the correct orbit, and performing initial experiments for return, the scientist on the rocket panicked over the falling power levels, and decided to return home in the emergency capsule. He has since been reprimanded severely, as he was supposed to have deactivated said capsule, to save power, until the follow-up mission later this month.
As a result, the Kerlab-1 station is now floating empty in space – although we did confirm that our emergency escape system works fine.
Due to this same issue, no pictures of the station in orbit have been taken yet – we will make sure to do so, once the follow-up mission is done, and the station crewed.
The other mission launched today was another Orbiter-3, although this time up for a few days less than previous missions – we expect it to be a success as usual. After this mission, a full 18 of our current kerbonauts have been in orbit – giving us a fine foundation for future missions.
Today, our bi-monthly report have nothing but success to report – although we’ve only had two launches.
Early October we had another orbital mission to increase our sum of knowledge about living in space – another two-week long mission for an Orbiter-3 craft, although modified to try and recover more of the expensive parts.
While everything went well – we’re going back to the original design. The additional cost is compensated by less medical staff to treat the mission controllers.
While still fully stable, the gap between the main pod and the heat shield introduced oscillatory heating of the main capsule when the entire thing was moving just slightly – which is what caused so many engineers and mission controllers to nearly have a heart attack.
We didn’t tell the crew why each side of the pod kept getting hot – I believe mission control told them something about the electrical wiring or something.
Anyway, the big success today was the launch of our first ever Proton-5.
There were one issue though, the rocket seemed to be too close to the pad, so it got broken by the launch and had to be re-built – which cost us most our our remaining funds. We should still complete several contracts soon, to replenish our coffers though.
The mission? Our new Venus probe, seen below in a computerized rendition of what it should look like in orbit of the Earth, after shedding its Venus Intercept stage.
The Venus Intercept stage was a brand new, very powerful, Hydrolox engine. The engine on the main probe is also a Hydrolox engine, though less powerful it is able to re-ignite nearly a dozen times.
Due to the engines, the probe has cryogenic fuel tanks with active cooling as can be seen on the probe – which is incidentally also why it has more solar panels than usual.
On top can be seen our Venus lander. A passively guided probe that is simply launched from the target orbit. The solid fuel booster on it then puts it on a course through the upper atmosphere, and the self-stabilizing design of the probe should keep it with its heat-shield facing forward. Once it reaches low altitude, two sets of chutes unfold at pre-determined altitudes to ensure a safe landing.
Once landed, it will unfold its solar panels, and conduct numerous experiments.
The orbiting probe is on course for a polar orbit allowing us to completely map the surface of Venus, as well as keep regular communication with the landed probe. The number of communications antennae on the orbiting probe it also, so that it can attempt to establish contact with other probes we have previously lost communication with that may pass nearby.
Gene and Wernher were sitting in Genes office, having a glass of Vodka after the successful Polar Surveyor launch of the day – launching a polar surveying satellite into a good orbit, and using liquid Hydrogen and Oxygen in the upper stage successfully leaving a fair amount of fuel in the tanks – allowing to monitor the long-term effects of evaporation.
“I just wish our three previous launches had not been such abject failures Wernher”, Gene continued the conversation, “we really should examine things closer beforehand next time, maybe even go back to actually doing at least a single simulation for each new type of orbital or rocket?”, he asked Wernher.
“Yes, we could do so”, Wernher began, “but they were all relatively cheap and simple – simulating would actually had been a fairly significant additional cost”, he continued, “we are considering something like that, but all our more expensive payloads are launched on known types of rockets, where it shouldn’t be an issue”.
“True”, Gene agreed, “at least we now know that using even the most powerful RCS is not enough to propel the last stage of even the most minuscule probe into a final orbit in lieu of a third stage”.
“And”, Wernher continued, “we also know that the Ministry of Illyrien Technical Monitoring (MITM) designs their SigInt satellites to not be able to retract – so next time we won’t put it on the same system as a film-return kamera and expect it to land safely”, Wernher commented looking up as if praying for more intelligence from the so-called intelligence people.
“Well, at least we have some time before the next launch in October, which we know should go fine as a repeated launch”, Gene commented as Wernher replied “true, I’m personally more looking forward to the November launch”.
“Indeed”, Gene answered, “though how are the A-variants of the Proton series coming along?”.
“Very slowly”, Wernher replied, “mostly because the year is fully planned out, so we don’t expect to have any use for them until next year at the earliest”.
At that, the two looked at each other and emptied their Vodka, and Wernher left to work on some rockets, while Gene continued some of his paperwork.
Today we’ve launched our first step towards learning more about space. Our brand new 3-man pod along with an advanced habitation test module has been launched on top of a Proton-3 rocket.
The mission: To stay in orbit for a full two weeks.
They have the supplies, they have the power (and a stupendous number of solar panels) and they have the space to move around. The launch was also not only recorded by the usual man from the Ministry, but we also had a jet in the air, that caught the function of the new booster separation system, much to the delight of the man from the Ministry.
The launch went smooth, and the crew is now preparing to try a couple of different orbits during their two week mission.
2 weeks later, in the KSA control room.
“Control this is Landon Kerman, we’ve, uhm, we’ve eeeh, lost all control of the pod, over”, came the sudden and horrifying message from the Orbiter-3, just as it was about to re-enter the atmosphere.*
“Orbiter-3, this is KSA control, please repeat”, the puzzled operator replied.
“Control, this is Orbiter-3, we’ve lost all control of the pod”, came back – sounding much more calm than the operator felt.
“Orbiter-3, this is KSA control, roger that, please confirm successful separation” the operator replied, waving frantically at the engineers staring at their screens arguing all of a sudden.
“Control, this is Orbiter-3, separation confirmed successful, but we are entering the atmosphere uncontrolled, and can’t even retract the solar panels”.
“Orbiter-3 this is Flight Engineering, most of the electronics for control was in the jettisoned sections, that’s why you don’t have control”, the flight engineer interrupted over the channel.
“Uhm, control this is Orboter-3, how the heck are we supposed to land safely then”, the now nervous sounding pilot came back.
“Orbiter-3 this is Flight Engineering, did you arm the chutes prior to initiating de-orbit burn as the check-list stated?”, the engineer asked back.
“Control, this is Orbiter-3, yes, chutes are confirmed armed”.
“Orbiter-3, this is Flight Engineering, you’re all good then, the pod will right itself, just sit back and enjoy the ride. We’ll put on the check-list to retract the solar panels before separation in the future”.
“Control, this is Orbiter-3, uhm, roger that, I guess”.
*: Someone decoupled the extra habitations, and all kerbals went on strike immediately… Luckily someone had pre-armed the chutes out of habit with probes loosing signals, and had, also by luck, managed to design a rather aerodynamically stable pod righting itself – only costing the remaining solar panels.-
March 1957, Baikonur Kosmodrone, Engineering offices.
Gene, Wernher and the other engineers are all sitting in the large meeting room for another large meting to figure things out. As everyone sits down, Gene starts the meeting.
Gene: “Okay folks, this meeting is two-fold. Firstly we need to have a long hard look at basically everything since Jeb went to the moon – and secondly we need to evaluate our progress since the Illyrien television companies seem to provide us more news from over there than our Ministry of IT.”
Gene: “Wernher you’re up first, what has been going on with our orbital trainer rockets? The new guys are on the verge of not wanting to sit in a cramped capsule on top of a large, usually controlled, explosion?”
Wernher: “Well, it seems that while they’ve worked for a long time, trying to actually fly them efficiently has turned up a basic instability in the rocket after dropping the boosters. We thought the first time was a fluke, but after the second, we took a long har look at the numbers again.”
Gene: “And how are we solving this?”
Wernher: “We are not.”
Gene: “We’re not?”
Wernher: “No, we’re going to make a new Proton-2a variant instead, making a new, more efficient rocket able to take roughly the same payload to orbit. Until then we’re using our other rockets instead.”
Gene: “The Proton-3 last month didn’t fare much better Wernher.”
Wernher: “No, that was the old issue with our thrust plates coming loose, we’ve simply adopted a new philosophy of not using thrust plates to solve that problem, and the other Proton-series rockets are working perfectly now. The Mercury attempt was a long shot, and hinged on us getting to the correct orbit, which obviously didn’t happen with a loose thrust plate hampering our steering.”
Gene: “Right so all faulty things are fixed for now, how are we doing on the scientific front Bob?”
Bob: “Right, well on pure power, our F-1 engine is still ahead of the Illyriens in lift capacity, and we’re rolling out some new second stage engines, as well as starting to bite into Hydrolox. Solid ones initially, and advanced ones next year. Nuclear is a bit off as one of their politicians seems to like, but we don’t expect to need those before we go beyond Mars, possibly not even beyond Jupiter. Our Mercury attempt should be able to fly by any planet really.”
Gene: “Right, and I know we still have a lot of data to analyse, as well as planning further probe launches to obtain more as launch windows comes up, Venus and Mars at least over the next year and a bit – how about the last two candidates they had?”
Bob: “Well, mining and such is a bit off, but a habitable station able to recycle its supplies is the next step for us as well actually, we’ve been looking at it for a while now, and given our experience from getting to the Moon, and our upcoming extended stays in space to test out habitation over several weeks we’re starting to have some final plans for a first station.”
Jebediah: “Well, we can just put up something, can’t we?”
Bob: “Not entirely, as our work so far has showed, and that leads us into the last area – electronics, or rather power electronics. The fact is that we’re going to need better means of generating power – we’re having to plaster our current solar arrays all over our extended missions to keep power for the entire trip – this is probably something we need to look into sooner rather than later, although Bill says he has a few ideas.”
Gene: “Al-right meeting adjourned people – let’s get back to making functional rockets and guessing which schmuck the Illyriens elect as they next leader.”
February 4th, 1957; Moskow Polytechnic University.
As Wernher looked around the grand auditorium, thinking that it felt like only yesterday he were here, giving a lecture on the first three Proton rockets, two young female Kerbinians comes up to the podium giving him and apple, and telling him how much they enjoyed the presentation of the Bear-1 rocket – all the while looking wide-eyed as though they had just met a famous celebrity.
As the students all sit down, and become quiet, Wernher begins presentation.
“Greetings young students, again for some of you I can see, and welcome to another guest lecture to update you on our continued efforts at the Kerbinian Space Agency – to explore space and learn all we can about, well, everything really”.
“Today’s lecture will be about the further development of our Proton series, namely the two newest models, and we will end with a small surprise. Here you see the new rockets, compared to the old ones”.
“As you can see, the still get progressively bigger, and indeed the Proton-4 and Proton-5 can take payloads of 30 and 50 tonnes to low Earth orbit respectively”.
“The Proton-5 was actually developed first of the two, as we have a large, and rather heavy, payload in the works. Though not nearly as heavy as the Bear-1 payload, it utilize the same configuration of four F-1 engines on its first stage producing an initial 27 MN of thrust, and indeed continues with the same single F-1 configuration of the second stage. It is consisting of smaller stages though, and no boosters”.
“At the very top, four brand new RD-0210 engines propel the payload fully into LEO. The fins are a newly added design choice, given the price of loosing such a rocket and payload, coupled with recent experiences regarding rocket stability during the early part of the first stage launch”.
As a student raises his hand and is acknowledged, he asks a question: “I’ve heard it that the Illyriens have a rocket that can lift 50 % more than the Proton-5, aren’t they ahead of us then?”.
“Of course not”, Wernher answers with a puzzled look, “that rocket is highly experimental with multiple sets of boosters – even though it has 50 % more lift capacity than our largest series-produced launcher, our experimental Bear-1 had 75 % more lifting capacity than theirs – and they use an obscene amount of main engines as well to do only a little more than half of what we can do with 8 engines and that includes the ones in our, only single set of, boosters”.
“Speaking of boosters, let’s turn to the Proton-4, a design where we consciously decided to keep it at a single F-1 engine in the first stage, necessitating a set of boosters with four E-1 engines, of the same type as used on the Proton-3. Unlike the boosters of the previous Proton-rockets, these are well designed, with rockets to ensure clean separation of the boosters after they’re expended – we’re even considering putting parachutes on them, to re-use them, or developing larger solid fuel boosters that may be cheaper in the long run”.
“The second stage of the Proton-4 obviously doesn’t need an F-1 engine, that would have been quite a waste, instead if has two LR105 engines, with the third stage putting the payload fully into orbit having a single LR105”.
As Wernher finishes the presentation of the Proton-4, another student ventures to raise his hand with a question, and after being prompted to proceed by Wernher, asks: “But why multiple stages sir? Why not just use an F-1 and all the fuel for that?”.
“Excellent question, and we could do that. It’s just not very efficient, and we would be able to launch less weight. The engine efficiency changes through the atmosphere, so we need different types of engines at launch and in space. And we could do with two stages, indeed earlier Proton-rockets still do, but once we get to the levels we are at, three is simply more efficient and flexible”.
“Remember that most of our engines can only ignite once – so it’s a matter of carefully timing the lengths of the engine burns to get into the correct orbit. Three engines like this also gives us a bit more leeway in the flight path”.
“Now, as we’re nearing the end, I believe I promised a surprise. Recent gains in technology and other developments are making us take a look at the early Proton-series rockets. Specifically we’re looking at an A-variant of Proton-1, that at least doubles the payload capacity without increasing the size – as well as an A-variant of Proton-2 and Proton-3 that replaces the boosters, while maintaining their lift capacity”.
“Your professors will all be handing you an assignment varying depending upon your classes, and will judge the technical merits on your projects along with KSA engineers. The winners will have a 3-year intern-ship at the KSA upon their graduation. And remember to look at the course-work, which includes not only our latest kerosene based rockets but also a few white papers on the initial liquid Hydrogen engines we’re currently developing. Please don’t try to use UDMH engines in the first two stages though, we prefer our employees live and healthy at the KSA”.
With that bit of news, the students completely forget about any questions they may still have had, and start talking amongst themselves eagerly about the sudden shift in their future prospects.