Long-term Laythe Mission - Part 12

TL;DR version: A tale of woe and jeopardy...and surprise snacks from the heavens.

After Aldner returned from his Southeast Expedition from Manley Island, it was time for Nelemy to make his Northwest Expedition from Fido Base on Dansen Island. Nelemy's general plan is shown below. Of special interest is the island on the bottom-left of the map: An equatorial island that is being considered for a second base on Laythe.

Nelemy again carefully checked out and packed the BirdDog2, then lit the fire and took off to the north. He actually ran into a spot of trouble right away while flying north at about 9,500 meters. I was off messing around in map view and when I came back I found the plane pitched straight up and zooming upward over 10,500 meters, and I couldn't get it back under control. But after trying all sorts of things ("I've tried A! I've tried B! I've tried C! I've tried D! Tell me what else I can try!"), I managed to to roll out into stable flight at 5,000 meters... and Nelemy could continue on his way. Sorry about that, Nelemy. But he got safely to the northern arc of Jenlan Island. There was no need to name this island because it was one of the three large islands named for the crew of the first kerbal expedition to Laythe.

Nelemy was able to land the BirdDog2 easily on a peninsula that jutted south from the north arm of Jenlan Island. Geologists were particularly interested in getting some samples from here to see if the large circular feature of the island was an impact feature or volcanic.

Nelemy: "BirdDoggie to Thompbles! I've landed on Jenlan, and I'm heading off to the big ridge. It looks steep!"
Thompbles: "Roger, Nelemy. You don't have to go all the way up. Just get samples from the base of the ridge."
Nelemy: "Roger wilco, Dude!"

Nelemy did some contour driving up and around the ridge (it looks like a mountain in the picture below, but that's just the end of a long, high ridge line). The slope started getting pretty steep, and looking ahead showed it would get even steeper, so Nelemy got some samples at that point. Then he took a page from Aldner's book of tricks and turned downhill and let the BirdDog2 roll faster and faster until it took off before he even started the engine.

Below, Nelemy flew across the huge Jenlan Bay, and then continued westward over the island.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles, Dude!"
Thompbles: "Yes, Nelemy. What's up?"
Nelemy: "I'm leaving Jenlan island. The areas all around the bay looked steep and no-fun-rugged, but Jenlan's backside is much nicer looking, with some wide smooth areas."
Thompbles: "I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that."
Nelemy: "Dude, I'm talking about the island!"
Thompbles: "I copy."
Nelemy: "There are some small islands off to my left. This close one looks kind of rugged, but the ridges all run the same direction...it would probably be possible to land if you were to come in parallel to them."
Thompbles: "Are you going to land there?"
Nelemy: "No, Dude! I'm just scouting out big islands. Just making a report, Dude."

Below: Jenlan's backside, and a couple small islands Nelemy passed on his way to the next island.

Nelemy was originally aiming for the peninsula shown below, but it looked too rough, so he flew on further and brought the BirdDog2 in for a landing on the beach of the bay south of the peninsula.

Thompbles: "Thompbles calling BirdDog2. Come in."
Nelemy: "Yo, Dude... This is BirdDoggie. What can I do for you?"
Thompbles: "Telemetry showed that you came to a stop, but you didn't report in. How's it going?"
Nelemy: "No problems, Dude. I just decided to have lunch. Oh! I want to name this place Adly Island, after our good friend, Adly Kerman, the first kerbal to return from Eve, AND the only kerbal to have visited Magic Boulder. The guy is awesome."
Thompbles: "Roger, Nelemy. I'll send it in."

Below is an overview of the south part of Adly Island. The bulk of the island is highlands far off to the north, on the horizon in this view. The arrow shows Nelemy's landing path. Nelemy puttered around a little, bagged a few rocks, and had second lunch. After a little roving, he got bored and decided to take off to the next island.

Nelemy came in for a landing on a peninsula at the north end of the next island. The slope of the land right at the shore was a little steep, but he just had to fly over the lip of sand and land into the flat area beyond.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles...come in!"
Thompbles: "Hi, Nelemy. All is well?"
Nelemy: "Yeah, no worries. I've landed on the next island, and I'd like to name it Bobgan Island after Bobgan Kerman, the first kerbal to land on Dres, and a good buddy of mine."
Thompbles: "OK, Nelemy, I'll log that. Nelemy, I can't help but notice that you are going through these islands pretty fast and not really doing much exploration. We're using up all this jet fuel so you can do a more thorough investigation of these islands."
Nelemy: "Dude, OK. I'll do more roving around a collecting samples. Sorry."
Thompbles: "And don't forget the take pictures to document the sampling locations."
Nelemy: "Oh, yeah! The camera. I think it's in snack bag #4. I'll do that!"
Thompbles: "OK. Drive safely, and keep in touch. Laythe Base out."

So Nelemy spent some time roving along, occasionally stopping to collect samples and leave candy wrappers on the landscape. Below, we see the BirdDog2 coming to a lake on the western shore that misses being a bay because of a rather narrow strip of land dividing it from the ocean. Nelemy gets out to check the water, but finds that it has the usual "bottom of the helmet" density. (I should write a paper on using floating kerbals as hydrometers.)

Below, an overview of Bobgan Island seen from the south. Nelemy landed on the peninsula at the north end, rovered along in the rougher terrain over to the little lake on the far left, then to the lake in the middle.

After spending some time by the central lakes of Bobgan Island, Nelemy took of for the next island.

At the next island, Nelemy came in to the low area surrounding a round lake that was separated from the ocean by a ridge. The ridge made the ocean shoreline steep, so Nelemy banked around to land by the left lake shore parallel to the ridge...but was going to overshoot, so he kept going across the lake and landed on the opposite shore.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles, Dude...Answer the phone."
Thompbles: "Hi, Nelemy. What's up?"
Nelemy: "I've safely landed on the next island. I'd like to name it Milski Island after Milski Kerman, the first kerbal to land on Gilly, and a good friend of mine."
Thompbles: "OK, Nelemy, I've got it. Be sure to drive safely. Base out."

Below is an overview of Milski Island, henceforward also known as The Island Of Doom (cue ominous music). #1 marks where Nelemy landed. #2 marks the spot where the ominous music is emanating from. There...how's that for subtle foreshadowing?

Below, Nelemy takes BirdDog2 up the slope of a ridge with an unusual saw-tooth top...like the teeth of a skull. The sky is a dark and ominous clear sunny blue, and a flock of vultures is strangely not seen circling overhead.

OK... this was actually my second time driving the rover up this ridge. The first time, I was zipping along a 3X phys warp, and I flew over the top and smashed down into a sharp valley on the other side, ripping off a wheel. OK...I'm not going to hold that against Nelemy (see my note about my rules for driving rovers on Laythe in Part 11)... so this was the re-do, with me driving safely along at 1X speed, following the contour up the slope and around the end of the ridge. But what I thought was the last peak on the ridge was not. And I was coming along a bit too high. So when I turned the corner expecting some more slope, I found myself with the BirdDog2 straddling along the sharp top of a ridge. Arrgh! Nooooo! Turn!

Too late. The rear end of the rover/plane bottomed out on the ridge and ripped off the jet engine. It's the small black thing rolling slowly and mockingly down the far side of the ridge. So much for my safe-driving re-do. I was screwed.

Nelemy: "Thompbles! Dude! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" *master alarm sounding in the background*
Thompbles: "Nelemy? What's wrong?"
Nelemy: "I'm sorry, man! I was trying to be careful! I was!"
Thompbles: "Calm down, Nelemy. What happened."
Nelemy: "Dude...I was driving over a ridge and bottomed out! There was a ripping noise. My engine indicators are all red."
Thompbles: "OK, just take it easy."
Nelemy: "I'm stranded without that engine. I can't get back home!"
Thompbles: "I know. Look, don't worry. We have rescue options. Don't worry. First, get out and check the damage. Maybe only the sensors are damaged."

Alas, no. Nelemy carefully rolled back, then got out to get a look at the damage. Engine off. That BirdDog is never flying anywhere again.

Nelemy: "Nelemy to base."
Thompbles: "I'm here, Nelemy. What did you find?"
Nelemy: "Yeah, Dude, I screwed the pooch. The engine is ripped right off the back of the plane."
Thompbles: "OK. Get back on board and see if you can carefully drive the rover off of that ridge. Go slow."
Nelemy: "OK, Dude."
Thompbles: "I'm going to need you to scout around with the rover and find the best landing location on the island. We'll need to send you a rescue ship. Could be the SSTUBBY, or maybe Aldner's BirdDog piloted remotely. We have multiple options. Don't worry. I'm working on the problem."
Nelemy: "OK, Dude. Thanks, man."


Thompbles: "Laythe Base calling Fido. Kurt, are you there?"
Kurt: "Yeah, Thombles. What's up?"
Thompbles: "Nelemy had a roving accident. I need you to come back and help me plan the rescue."
Kurt: "Is he OK?"
Thompbles: "Yes, he's fine. Lost the jet engine while roving. Roving still works. But we need to arrange to get him back here. We'll use the SSTUBBY to retrieve him. but I could use your help with the maneuvers. And he'll need to be coached in flying the ship."
Kurt: "Roger. I'm on my way back now."

Below, Kurt in the Fido, exploring the plateau area east of Joysina Lake. The area is not perfectly flat, but has large flat sections separated by low ridges. A good place for a base or mining operations, especially because it's near the equator and high up where tsunamis couldn't touch it. But that report is forgotten for now as Kurt drives back to base quickly, but carefully.


Thompbles: "Laythe Base calling Aldner. Laythe Base calling Aldner."
Aldner: "Thompbles? It's the middle of the night. What's up?"
Thompbles: "Sorry to wake you. Nelemy knocked the engine off of his BirdDog on top of a ridge. We are going to try to use the SSTUBBY to retrieve him, but if that fails I'll need you to fly back here in your BirdDog, and then pilot it remotely to pick him up. Hopefully that won't be necessary. But exploration flights are on hold for now, and please monitor the radio in case you have any suggestions."
Aldner: "OK, understood. Nelemy's OK, I take it?"
Thhompbles: "Yes, he's fine. I'll be in touch. Base out."


OK. Rescue plan step 1: The SSTUBBY is a small SSTO rocket that is parked at Laythe Space Station. It can land via parachute, then boost back into orbit. BUT, in order for it to have maximum fuel to make orbit, it can't use too much for reentry and landing. So in order to get it into a orbit where it can reach Nelemy at 23 degrees north latitude, one of the nuclear Tugs was needed to move SSTUBBY into position. Below, Laythe Tug 9, which has been parked in a 90 km orbit since it delivered its payload (the BirdDog2 and GasStation3) to Laythe. It has over 1500 units of fuel onboard, which should be plenty for the operation. Thombles started by adjusting Tug 9's orbit to rendezvous with Laythe Station.

Once Tug 9 got to the station, Thompbles remotely docked it to the rear end of the SSTUBBY (the SSTUBBY still had an adapter and docking port covering its rocket engine, so there was no need to undock the SSTUBBY first).

Next, the Tug needed to take SSTUBBY and change its orbital plane to pass over Milski Island. BUT, plane change maneuvers are very expensive in the low orbit where Laythe Space Station lives, so first the Tug boosted SSTUBBY out to an 800 km orbit, then did the plan change maneuver there (see below). Possibly some other altitude would have been more optimal, but I guessed that 800 km would work. Still...plane change maneuvers take a lot of propellant, especially when the SSTUBBY is fully fueled and heavy.

After scouting around in the rover, Nelemy determined that the best landing area would be the wide shallow bowl area south of the ridge where he lost his engine.

Below, the SSTUBBY separated from the Tug. Then it separated the separator and docking port that was covering its rocket engine.....which popped across and re-docked itself to the Tug. Tricksy little separator. OK...I'll separate that from the Tug later.

Then it was a matter of waiting for Laythe to rotate Milski Island under the SSTUBBY's orbit...and with Kurt remotely controlling the ship, the rocket engine was fired to drop it from orbit.

The SSTUBBY descended at a steep angle toward Milski Island (at the top of the image). The landing trajectory is shown below.

The steep entry angle from the 800 km orbit caused a great entry flame show, followed by Mach effects. I'm glad I don't yet live in a universe with deadly reentry heat damage effects.

The parachutes were deployed in reefed condition...then the landing legs were extended.

Below, the parachutes are fully deployed, and the SSTUBBY lands at 8.3 m/s...which is a bit bouncy, but the gear can handle it. The SSTUBBY landed 3.5 km from Nelemy's rover (and 7.5 km from the jet engine on the ridge top).

Nelemy drove over to the SSTUBBY and climbed on board to start doing system checks with Kurt over the radio. They started what would be a couple days of checkouts and simulations to get Nelemy familiar with the ship and the maneuvers planned.

Nelemy: "Wait...what, Dude? What do you mean I'm going to have to spend two months in the Space Station?"
Thompbles: "This is all using a lot of fuel. So to minimize the fuel usage, we'll have you wait in the space station until the new large base module arrives...then you can ride down in that when we land it here."
Nelemy: "But, Dude! Two months? I don't want to spend two months alone in the space station. Why can't I just use the SSTUBBY to come back down to Fido Bay?"
Thompbles: "Because that would use up another 10 tons of fuel and oxidizer to bring the SSTUBBY down and back up again...but its free if we bring you down in the new base station when it arrives. You'll be doing useful things in the station...we need some better imaging of some areas from orbit and some other things."
Nelemy: "Man...this sucks."
Aldner: "Yo, Thompbles. There is an alternative method."
Nelemy: "Aldner? Dude! What's the alternative method?"
Aldner: "The two Lewis and Clark landers from the original Laythe expedition are still in orbit. I've been looking over the misson reports, and both landers have enough RCS fuel to deorbit and land on Laythe via parachute."
Nelemy: "Cool! Let's do that!"
Thompbles: "What? Those landers are over 14 years old. Besides, Nelemy hasn't been checked out on that hardware."
Nelemy: "Dude! I landed on Pol with a Lewis lander, if you'll remember. I could fly one of those things blindfolded."
Thompbles: "The Laythe landers had a different configuration. Besides...didn't they drop their landing gear with their side tanks?"
Aldner: "He won't need landing gear. The main bodies of those landers have four chutes. They would land softer than they originally did."
Thompbles: "And what happens when it lands and the chutes cut off...and it falls over and smashes the capsule on the ground?"
Aldner: "Not a problem. I've studied the engineering diagrams. The CoM is located ahead of the chute mounts. It will land nose first."
Nelemy: "See? No problem, man!"
Thompbles: "OK...how about landing guidance? Those landers were flown long before we had our landing guidance computers."
Aldner: "Again, not a problem. We have the aiming points used by the original crew. And we can simulate using our computers."
Thompbles: "But...14 year old hardware..."
Aldner: "Look...the landers are in a 260 km orbit. The Tug needs to bring the SSTUBBY back down to the space station's orbit anyway, so it won't cost any more delta-V to stop there along the way. Nelemy can check out the landers. And if the systems are still good, he can use this option. If there are any problems, he'll just quietly go to the space station and wait like a good little astronaut."
Nelemy: "Yeah! Deal!"

Below...Aldner at Manley Base, coming up with crazy ideas. Otherwise he wouldn't have had much of a part in this episode.

Anyway... First we have to get Nelemy back into orbit. This involved some prep work (like making sure all the parachutes on the SSTUBBY were repacked in case anything went wrong and they'd be needed). It also involved waiting for Laythe to rotate and line up Milski Island again with the orbit of the Tug. This was simple because it wasn't necessary to wait for the Tug to be in the correct position in the orbit...the Tug would drop down later to pick up the SSTUBBY, and it would match as needed then. So with the orbit passing overhead, Nelemy started up the SSTUBBY's jet engines at full throttle. Just as it started lifting off, he kicked in the rocket engine and boosted the ship up to 80 m/s, then cut off the rocket engine. Below, we see the initial boost, and the landing gear starting to fold up.

Below, the jet engine phase of the boost as the SSTUBBY is lifted up to 13 km on the fuel-sipping jets. Then the rocket engine was ignited again and the jet engines were shut down before they could flame out. The SSTUBBY continued on into orbit on rocket power.

Nelemy: "All right! I'm in spaaaaaace! 74 by 84 km orbit, within a couple degrees of the Tugs orbital plane! I have some fuel left, so I'll circularize at 84 km if I can."
Kurt: "Great job, Nelemy. You did good."
Nelemy: "Right on, Dude! Now send that Tug for me. I have a lander to go inspect!"

Time for some more orbital ballet with the Tug. Out in its big orbit, it did a small plane adjustment, then dropped in to rendezvous and dock with the SSTUBBY. It's times like this that I really appreciate the fuel-frugal nature of nuclear engines.

Next, the Tug boosted the now-much-lighter SSTUBBY (and now-lighter Tug) into an elliptical orbit with its apoapsis 800 km above the equator. This orbit was not circularized...it was just so the plane shift burn could be made far out where it's cheap to do so. Once the big elliptical orbit was back over the equator, the Tug was used to rendezvous with the old Lewis and Clark landers, which were docked together in a 260 km equatorial orbit 14 years ago when the original crew left them behind.

Nelemy EVA'd over to the old landers while the Tug and SSTUBBY maintained stationkeeping. Nelemy made sure all the parachutes were packed, then got onboard the Lewis lander.

Nelemy: "Nelemy to base! I'm on board the Lewis lander. Man, this brings back memories."
Thompbles: "OK. First, start checking out the systems."
Nelemy: "Dude! The snack compartment is almost full!"
Thompbles: "THAT's the first thing you checked??"
Nelemy: "Dude! There are ChocoGoober bars in there! They haven't made those in years!"
Thompbles: "Look, Nelemy, just start checking the systems. Um... are there any Cit Cat bars in there?"
Nelemy: "Let's see... Yup! You want me to bring you some?"
Thompbles: "Um...sure. But let's do the system checks now."

Well, who would have believed it? All of the systems seemed to work perfectly. The RCS tanks were 89% full...more than enough. There was even 1.2 units of fuel left in the main engine tanks. Test firings of the RCS thrusters showed they worked fine. Amazing. So Thompbles moved the Tug away, and Nelemy separated the Lewis from the Clark and oriented for the retro burn.

The old mission records from the first Laythe landings showed where the trajectory had to be aimed out beyond Dansen Island to drop the ship onto the island from the same 260 km orbit it was still in (since that was the orbit the Mark Twain was in that released the Lewis lander, and to which the Lewis lander returned). Nelemy would have to start the retro burn right above Ocean Probe 8. First he fired the main engine to use up the small amount of fuel it had (he hadn't tested this, but it wouldn't have mattered if it failed to fire, since there was enough RCS to bring the ship down). The LV-909 fired and quickly burned out. Then Nelemy used the RCS to complete the retro burn. The trajectory needed to be adjusted until it was about twice the distance from the east coast of Dansen as Mariliza Island is located. Ah, the memories.

Below, the Lewis lander is on a descent course as Jool rises above the horizon. Nelemy oriented the ship tail first...although he didn't expect to be able to hold that attitude because of the CoM location. Then, radio blackout as the ionization of reentry enveloped the ship. That's a sight I didn't see the last time the ship entered this atmosphere. And today it really is a REentry.

Nelemy: "Whoa! Eyeballs out! Just like in the centrifuge at KSC!"

Even with RCS, Nelemy couldn't hold the ship tail first and it fliped around nose first, so he went from four G's of "eyeballs in" to four G's of "eyeballs out". Below, the Lewis passes over Fido Bay. Kurt watched his friend come over like a flaming meteor.

All four chutes came out in reefed condition, and Nelemy was a happy camper. Then all four chutes fully deployed, and Nelemy floated down at 4 m/s, about 16.5 km beyond Laythe Base.

Below, Nelemy used the RCS thrusters to slow the ship a little more. The ship touched down on its nose, then fell over on its side with no damage. Fourteen years later, the Lewis Laythe lander had returned to Dansen Island on Laythe!

Of course, even the best plans can go awry. After landing, Nelemy found that he could not exit the ship because the hatch was obstructed by the ground. But some quick work with the RCS thrusters fixed that. And Nelemy was out, safe and sound on Laythe.

Kurt was already in the Fido and racing to the touchdown point.

Kurt: "Look! Is that a kerbal?"
Nelemy: "You're damn right it is! Now come pick me up!"

Below: Kurt returned Nelemy to Laythe base where Thompbles greeted them with open arms. Then they partied.

The job isn't done until the loose ends are tied up... so after the party when Nelemy was crashed out, Thompbles took care of the SSTUBBY and Tug 9, rendezvousing them with Laythe Space Station. Once there, the SSTUBBY was separated from the Tug and docked to the station. Then the Tug was docked to the station. Of its original supply of 1511 units of fuel, the Tug had used up 856 units of fuel. That left it with slightly more fuel than it would need to return to Kerbin (but instead of offloading that fuel to the station, it was used up for this rescue). The SSTUBBY was refueled from propellant in the station's tanks.

Now I wish that I had sent out another BirdDog and GasStation in that last launch window from Kerbin instead of a secondary base station and rover. Extra BirdDogs would always be useful, and GasStations positioned on various islands would make the fleet more flexible. And while the SSTUBBY was fun, it would be more fuel efficient to do a rescue with a remote-controlled BirdDog, especially if the kerbal is stranded at a high latitude. I guess I know what I'm sending out in the next launch window.