19 December 2012

Adventures in KSP - Minmus Exploration

In this series of posts I'll tell my progression (and my throwbacks) at the brilliant Kerbal Space Program. The current object of my exploration is now Minmus, the outer moon of the home planet Kerbin. Let's get into it!

Getting to Minmus is a bit harder than getting to the Mun, as it is quite a bit further away from Kerbin and its much lower mass means you have to hit it somewhat more precisely in order to get caught by its field of gravity. Landing there on the other hand is easy as pie, since it has very obvious flat areas that have a zero-elevation and the low gravity means you don't have to reverse-thrust to much in order to land softly enough. All in all a good test-run for interplanetary travel. Thus the first ship I designed was more of a test-craft than a mission-specific design. Let me explain:

The Minmus Lab is half space-ship, half ground station. Riding on the fire of three nuclear engines fueled from a central tank, the main engines would be a test-run for future interplanetary missions both manned and unmanned, whilst the crew pod itself could detach and lift off on its own. As I saw no way of landing this thing back on Kerbin in once piece, I added two escape-pods identical to those used on the KSS. The plan was to do a close fly-by of Kerbin and land with one of the two crew members, then get the ship into a crash-landing orbit and vacate it with the remaining premise before it entered the atmosphere. It was a big, heavy, glorious thing, possibly the largest thing I had ever attempted to get into orbit in a single launch.

Okay maybe using a new pattern of launch-rockets was a bit to much of the experimentation...
So I launched the Minmus Lab into space, hoping to get it into a stable orbit with the starting rocket-stages and then expand my orbit out to Minmus with the nuclear engines. It didn't work out. The whole thing turned out to be just to damn heavy to get into a stable orbit. Well, at least I did have a backup plan for my crew of two Kerbals and could in this situation also test whether the escape pods I had earlier attached to the KSS would work in an emergency. 140 km above the ground, on the apoapsis of my doomed flight, I made both Kerbals space-walk over and into the pods, allowing them to escape the ship before re-entry and eventual crash.
Well, drives, seperators and chutes did work. Not to surprising though.
Back to the drawing-board. I took off some excess-weight of the Minmus Lab design, including the escape-pods. It would be a one-way mission, return would be accomplished with some sort of crew-retrieval space-rendezvous in Kerbin orbit. Then I added a bigger rocket and the thing went up with no issues whatsoever. The flight to Minmus took six days and was uneventful. Landing on one of the lakes of ice was as easy as I remembered from an earlier version of the game. I even landed on the main drive without landing-struts, so I could save some fuel for the return flight.

Ah, the frozen wastes of Minmus. Notice the curved horizon on this little rock.
The next thing needed on Minmus would be a way to get around. I opted for my thruster rover-design, identical to the one I already had on the Mun. Launching it on its small rocket, it went to Minmus as well.

Another rover in active service. I really like driving.
A few days of flight later, I was able to set down the rover using its nuclear drive-stage on the same lake that the Lab had landed on earlier. The low gravity and slippery ground made steering difficult and somewhat dangerous, while the perfect plain of the frozen lake made high speed driving possible, as long as I didn't try to change directions. I made to drive the rover over to the landed Lab.

Racing over the ice.
A bit of fun driving later, my old friend, the Munbase-Explosion-Bug reared its ugly head. I had to re-load from a back-up file I had wisely made whilst landing the rover and then edited in said save-file to make the Minmus Lab be above ground. The result wasn't so good. It ended up putting one of the engines much higher on the vessel, which made the whole thing lose balance and tilt over. In-game I'd say that the landing melted some of the ice and the ship sank in and then froze tight. While the Kerbals could still get out and about and will be able to explore Minmus, getting back is now strictly a matter of actually sending a crew-retrieval vessel all the way out here to pick the guys up.

Getting out to check out the damage. Annoying but also interesting...
So now there are two teams of Kerbals on two different moons with no immediate way to get back home. Doesn't matter, I'm setting my sights to higher targets now. I won't find the monolith on Minmus by driving around aimlessly so unless I stumble upon a hint where it may be located, I'll leave that mission alone for now and pretend that the two Kerbals stuck there are doing science in my absence. It's time to go interplanetary now. First robotic, then manned. Up, up and away!

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