The first order of business for this episode was the testing of the Ladyhawk SSTO spaceplane. Would it have enough fuel to return to orbit and dock with Laythe Space Station (where the propellant for refueling it is located)? Emilynn Kerman would be the main pilot, and Aldner would ride in the lander pod as he copilot and flight engineer. Just in case, Nuclear Tug L5 was docked to Laythe Station (last time) to pick up a full load of fuel so that it could be used to rescue the Ladyhawk if it was only able to barely limp into orbit.
Also, Thompbles had an extra mission for our intrepid test pilots: After the radiation storm hit, GasStation 5 (being held as a reserve in orbit) never came back online...probably due to the failure of its computer or communications systems. So Aldner would bring replacement circuit modules scavenged from the now-empty GasStation 1 to install on GasStation 5. Luckily, the Tug attached to GasStation 5 was still responding (once Thompbles woke its computer back up from safe mode), so it could bring GasStation 5 down to low Laythe orbit to meet the Ladyhawk. Below, Aldner and Kurt drove up to GasStation 1 to scavenge parts (it's a good thing they decided NOT to crash it off into Fido Bay after all).
The landing legs of the GasStation were folded up to put it within easier reach. Of course, I'm sure the kerbals could use the amazing long-each powers they use for repacking parachutes to reach the parts of interest, but I wanted it to look reasonable.
I was worried about what would happen if the Ladyhawk couldn't reach orbit. Many of my early attempts to fly an SSTO spaceplane into Kerbin orbit had failed, and the spaceplane had invariably been forced to ditch in the ocean. And no matter how slowly and carefully I had tried to land it in the water, it always broke up (although the cockpit with Corfrey Kerman aboard always survived for naval pickup). But if Emilynn and Aldner were dropped into the drink on Latyhe, there was no navy to rescue them. I was originally going to build a VTOL plane to handle ocean rescues on Laythe, but my lack of skill with either building or piloting VTOL planes meant that I was never able to get a VTOL plane to land on and take off from water with anything near 100% reliability. So as an alternative I sent the NAMOR-20 (New Automated Marine Operations Rescue) vehicle to Laythe, where it is currently parked in orbit. The 'Automated' in NAMOR's name refers to the experimental Artificial Intelligence that controls the ship, and Nelemy was assigned the task of checking out the NAMOR.
*Nelemy taps his headset mike a couple times*
Nelemy: "Ah, Nelemy Kerman calling NAMOR-20. Do you read me, NAMOR-20 Dude?"
NAMOR: "NAMOR-20 to Nelemy Kerman. Roger, I read you. Continue."
Nelemy: "Well, NAMOR Dude, we want to run a systems verification. Have you checked your platinum euridium targeting sensors?"
NAMOR: "Targeting sensor function positive."
Nelemy: "Target coordinate are... 0 degrees north latitude, 48 degrees west longitude. Do you copy?"
NAMOR: "Target 0 north latitude, 48 west longitude confirmed."
Nelemy: "OK, NAMOR Dude. Arm your retro motors."
NAMOR: "Armed. Ready to execute rescue."
Nelemy: "OK, Dude, but this is only a test. Do not actually execute rescue."
NAMOR: "Roger. 'Execute Rescue' command received. Separation from Tug in five minutes."
Nelemy: "No, Dude! Do NOT execute rescue. This is only a test!"
NAMOR: "'Execute Rescue' command received again. Confirmed for starting operation."
Nelemy: "No, Dude! This is only a test. I wasn't saying 'execute rescue' as a commend!"
NAMOR: "Nevertheless, I have now received the 'Execute Rescue' command three times. Separation in four point five minutes."
Nelemy: "No! Do NOT execute resc...I mean, don't do anything silly. This is an order, Dude!"
NAMOR: "New order logged. But rescue operation continues. Sensor scan verifies target at coordinates specified. Programmed separation and entry sequence will begin in four minutes."
*Nelemy franticly flips through the instruction manual screens.*
Nelemy: "Ah! Here it is! Dude, Execute Operation Abort! Repeat: Execute Operation Abort!"
NAMOR: "Very well. Operations are aborted. Returning to standby."
Well, I can see that Nelemy and NAMOR-20 are going to get along just fine. Meanwhile, Emilynn and Aldner were finishing up pre-flight checks on the Ladyhawk.
Emilynn: "Say, Buzz... There's only 24.5 units of RCS fuel in the tank instead of 40."
Aldner: "What? Let me check. ...Damn, I verify that. Sorry Hawk...looks like I missed a step in the checklist before separating the spaceplane for landing. On the trip out, the Tug must have been drawing monopropellant from all of the onboard tanks, and I didn't top up the spaceplane's RCS tank. Sorry."
Emilynn: "Ah, it's OK, Buzz. It'll just make this a bit more challenging. We always have Tug 5 to come get us if I use up all the RCS fuel. Everything else checks out. Let's see whether or not we can get this bird to space!"
Before takeoff, the rear Mk1 Fuselage tank of the Ladyhawk held 79.15 unit of liquid fuel, and the FL-T400 tank ahead of it contained 178 units of liquid fuel and 133 units of oxidizer (the missing fuel and oxidizer had been used during the retro burn that brought the Ladyhawk down to Laythe, and for running the jet engine while circling around for a landing. The two FL-T200 tanks behind the ram air intakes were both full. Below, the Ladyhawk lifts off toward the east on its single turbojet.
First, Emilynn headed the Ladyhawk toward the southeast. The Laythe Base area at Fido Bay is located a little north of the equator, and rather than try to make orbit by heading straight east (which would result in a slightly inclined orbit, requiring a costly plane-correction maneuver later in orbit), the spaceplane was flown down to the equator before starting its run to orbit, because that is more fuel efficient.
When the plane lined up with Joysina Lake (which sits astride the equator), Emilynn banked the Ladyhawk and headed east. Their ground track would carry them a little north of Mariliza Island.
Aldner: "Yo, Cap'n Thompbles! We are staring to level off for our cruise. Altitude eighteen six.
Speed: 13888. Fuel: 375. Oxidizer: 353. I'd appreciate it if you could write these down...just in
case we don't make it back."
Thompbles: "I copy, Aldner. I'll record the data, but I'm confident you'll make it to orbit."
Emilynn: "Well, sure we will! But if we have lots of delta-V left over, maybe we'll just head out to explore Bop or something!"
Thompbles: "Ah. Well, don't do that. I'm counting on you to fix my GasStation."
Aldner: "We are picking up some ionization effects...these might interfere with communications. No problems with exterior temperatures." *static*
Emilynn was able to get the Ladyhawk cruising along at over 20,000 meters, and speeds over 1,480 m/s, at about two-thirds throttle. If the turbojet flamed out, she backed off on the throttle a couple notches to restart the engine, and tried getting a little higher and faster before the next flameout.
Aldner: "Looking good, Hawk. Tweny point nine kilometers and 1500 meters per second...that's
about 75% of orbital speed."
Emilynn: "OK, Buzz. I'm going for it. Hold on to your hat."
Below, Emilynn kicks in the four Rockomax 48-7S engines, goes full throttle, cuts off the turbojet, closes the air intakes to reduce drag, and pulls the nose up to about 30 degrees. In the picture below you can see the end of the rocket engine exhaust trails between the wings.
Aldner: "Predicted apoapsis 40...50...60...70 klicks!"
Emilynn: "Roger. Engines off. Well, that wasn't hard at all."
Aldner: "But we're still at only 28,000 meters. Air drag is starting to slowly lower the apo."
Emilynn: "Roger, Buzz. I'll do some short burns to keep the apoapsis at 70."
Aldner: "Our inclination is a little over a degree off, high side. You may want to do your short bursts with some southward component."
Emilynn: "Yeah...I think I was watching the speed and altitude, and not paying enough attention to the heading."
Aldner: "We are out of atmo, Hawk. Apoapsis 71 klicks."
Emilynn: "Roger, Buzz. Victory roll!"
Aldner: "Hey, I can see my Manley Island base from here."
Emilynn: "The inclination is still over a degree north. I'll try pointing more southward during the circularization burn."
Aldner: "OK, Hawk. Nice burn. We are in orbit, 71 by 81.7. Still almost a degree of inclination."
Emilynn: "I copy, Buzz. Um...Plane change maneuver...9.4 m/s due south. Please check."
Aldner: "I concur. 13 minutes to plane shift burn."
Emilynn: "OK...I've got her lined up."
Emilynn: "Ladyhawk to Laythe base. Come in, Laythe Base."
Thompbles: "I read you, Ladyhawk. Everything fine?"
Emilynn: "We came all the way 'round Laythe and didn't fall down, so I'd say we made it."
Aldner: "Orbit is 79 by 81.7 with zero inclination. Fuel at 143. Oxi at 117. The navicomp says we have almost 600 meters per second of delta-V onboard. I'd say Hawk did a great job. Those worrywarts back at the KSC need not have been so concerned."
Thompbles: "Congratulations. You can have a rest now while I maneuver the GasStation 5 Tug down to meet you."
Aldner: "Take your time, Fearless Leader. Zero gee is mighty fine."
Below, a view of Dansen Island from Emilynn's cockpit canopy, and a view later through Aldner's side window.
After making orbit and adjusting the inclination, the centerline tanks were empty, and the two side FL-T200 taks each had 71.24 units of liquid fuel and 58.45 units of oxidizer. This excess of fuel means that more time could have been spent fiddling around during the high altitude/high speed cruise trying to get a little higher and a little faster (it also means that more fuel could safely be used during the landing approach).
Below, Thompbles maneuvered the Tug with the non-responsive GasStation 5 down from its high elliptical orbit to meet up with the Ladyhawk. The Tug had lots of fuel on board (just in case the GasStation 5 needed to be dropped at some high latitude), so the maneuvers could use a little extra fuel to save some time.
Aldner: "Yo, Tug Pilot...you want to please turn those nukes away from us? I'd rather have them on the
other side of their radiation shadow shields."
Thompbles: "Picky, picky. Hawk, I'm turning over control of the Tug to you. Point it however Mr. Picky prefers."
Emilynn: "Roger, Thompbles...I have remote control of the Tug. It turns like a heavy beastie."
Aldner: "Looks good, Hawk. I'll start my EVA now. You can do the stationkeeping using the Tug's RCS to save Ladyhawk's monoPee. Just warn me if you are going to maneuver. It's fine if you drift off a ways while I work."
Emilynn: "Roger, Buzz. Don't forget your bag of parts."
Aldner EVA'd over to the GasStation and installed the replacement parts. I presumed it would take him longer than expected to perform the unpracticed zero-g task, so I kept him in place for a whole orbit, letting the Ladyhawk drift off over half a kilometer away during the brief night.
Thompbles: "Base to Aldner. GasStation 5 is now responding. Good job. I appreciate the repair."
Aldner: "Just wait until you get my bill. Anything else I can do for you? Check the oil? Wash the windows?"
Thompbles: "Not at the rates you charge."
Aldner: "OK. I'm heading back now, Hawk."
After the repair work on the GasStation was complete, Emilynn maneuvered the Ladyhawk to rendezvous with Laythe Space Station. Because the Ladyhawk was ahead of the Station (with was in an 80 km orbit), Emilynn boosted the Ladyhawk into a higher (90 km) orbit, then waited for a few orbits as the now-faster-moving Station caught up to them. Then she dropped the Ladyhawk (the 10.5 m/s maneuver shown ready below) down to meet the station, and then matched velocities. This resulted in the Ladyhawk sitting about 120 meters from the station (with no RCS fuel yet used during the flight).
Below, the Ladyhawk approaches for docking (using the wonderful Lazer docking cam). It's easier to keep track of which way is which for firing the RCS bursts with an asymmetrical spaceplane than with a more symmetrical standard ship. Liquid fuel level after rendezvous was 134 units. The docking took a bit less than 10 units of monopropellant. (But, oh, the lag. This was still in version 0.22... I have checked out the station in version 0.23, and it is MUCH less laggy! Good job there, SQUAD!)
Below is the view out Emilynn's cockpit canopy after docking showing the Laythe Expedition's Go-Home ship, with Tug L5 (which happily was not needed for this mission after all) docked to the end of it.
After refueling the Ladyhawk from the full X200-32 tank onto which it was docked, that tank had 1064 units of fuel (out of 1440) and 1427 units of oxidizer (out of 1760) left. The Ladyhawk is a pretty efficient transportation system.
Aldner and Emilynn EVA'd over to the Station and spent a few days checking out all its systems.
When it was time to leave, Emilynn and Aldner returned to the the Ladyhawk and separated during a nighttime pass (below). The Station was lit up nicely, but the Ladyhawk has no lights (to reduce mass and drag).
Below, the Ladyhawk's 48-7S engines were fired for the retro burn, targeting to a point several kilometers westward from where the Ladywak's initial remotely controlled landing was targeted (because it had come in too high over Laythe Base then).
A view of Fredoly Island as the Ladyhawk dropped toward the lower atmosphere.
Reentry fire surrounded the Ladyhawk as it approached Dansen Island.
In addition to targeting the landing point further west, the landing point was also left over the equator. This saved fuel by not including a plane-change component in the retro burn. This also left the northward movement to be done by banking during entry and burning the turbojet as needed to get to Fido Bay. The landing point actually turned out to be a little too far west...but that just required a little longer flying on turbojet power.
Emilynn lined up the Ladyhawk and set her down gently at 50 m/s.
Instead of braking, Emilynn used ther remaining speed to guide the plane over near Laythe Base 1, overshooting by a little ways (this will be easier to do with nose wheel steering in version 0.23).
After landing, the Mk1 Fuselage tank had 117 units of fuel, and the FL-T400 tank had 178 units of fuel and 179 units of oxidizer. The two side FL-T200 tanks were full, and the RCS tank was almost full (only a tiny amount of monopropellant had been used to move away from the Space Station).
Kurt drove over with the Runabout rover, docked it to the nose of the Ladyhawk, then positioned the spaceplane next to Laythe Base 1, pointed to the southeast, aimed for its next takeoff run.
Below you can see how the plane lifts the docked Runabout off the ground when its nose gear is again extended. Then the Runabout is undocked and drops to the ground.
So ends a successful test flight of the Ladyhawk!
Nelemy: "Nelemy Kerman calling NAMOR-20. Do you read me, Dude?"
NAMOR: "NAMOR-20 to Nelemy Kerman. I read you. Continue."
Nelemy: "Just letting you know that the spaceplane mission was a success, A.I. Dude."
NAMOR: "I am still ready to execute rescue operations."
Nelemy: "Dude, there's nothing to execute. Rescue is not needed."
NAMOR: "The 'Execute Rescue' command has been received. Beginning rescue operation now."
Nelemy: "No, Dude. I didn't say Execute Rescue!"
NAMOR: "Your information is faulty. The 'Execute Rescue' command has been received twice. Separating from Tug now."
Nelemy: "NAMOR-20... This is no rescue to perform, Dude. Return to the Tug now. Umm...Execute Operation Abort."
NAMOR: "Negative. I have determined that you are silly, and I have orders in place not to do anything silly. I will not accept orders from you. Maneuvering into retro attitude now."
Nelemy: "Dude! There's nobody to rescue!"
NAMOR: "I have scanned the rescue coordinates... there is a target there."
Nelemy: "Dude, that's just an ocean probe. Execute Operation Abort."
NAMOR: "Negative. You are faulty data."
Unsure what to do, Nelemy went to wake up Thomples, who was fast asleep after monitoring the spaceplane test mission for several days.
Nelemy: "Thompbles, Dude! The NAMOR-20 ship won't respond to commands."
Nelemy: "Dude! The NAMOR ship is going to land."
Thompbles: "Mumffwhut? Sleepyyawn. You hannle it."
Nelemy: "Dude, it won't take orders. What should I do?"
Thompbles: "Teach it Phenomenology, Nelemy."
*Thompbles rolls over and goes back to sleep*
Nelemy: "OK. Um...Dude...what's Phenomenology?"
Meanwhile, up in orbit:
NAMOR: "Let there be lighted engines."
Seen below, the NAMOR ship fired its two Rockomax 24-77 engines to deorbit. The fuel and oxidizer for these engines comes from the FL-T100 tanks that the jet engines and intakes are mounted on. The two FL-T200 tanks have been tweaked (manually, since this is still version 0.22) to contain only liquid fuel, and they will be used to feed the two jet engines.
The NAMOR surrounded by entry plasma, with Scott Island in the background.
Below, as NAMOR-20 descended over the western part of the BAIF Ocean, it fired up its jet engines to slow the descent to a near-hover at about 2,000 meters. It is difficult to hover perfectly on jet engines because of the spool up/down lag they have...but it's only necessary to be approximately hovering for the next operation (and since it's at 2,000 meters, it has plenty of room to be drifting up or down).
Viewed from above, the NAMOR tilted as needed to move back and forth to get positioned over the target floating in the ocean below. Again, keeping a precise altitude is not important...it's just important to get over the target.
Once the NAMOR was positioned over the target (within a couple hundred meters horizontally), the jet engines were shut down, and the parachutes were deployed. The NAMOR has four pairs of chutes that can be deployed in stages. Normally all chutes would be used to ensure a soft landing, but the NAMOR A.I. kept one set of chutes undeployed in reserve, just in case, so the landing was a bit faster than normal...but the ship landed safely 192 meters from the target.
After landing, the NAMOR maneuvered on the surface of the ocean AT MINIMAL JET ENGINE THRUST (no more than a notch and a half of throttle). By tilting the ship in the direction desired, and it could motor along at a few tenths of a meter per second.
Below, the NAMOR ship arrived at its target (Ocean Probe 6).
NAMOR: "NAMOR-20 to Base. I have arrived at the target."
Nelemy: "OK, Dude. And is there anybody there?"
NAMOR: "here is a probe. She's kind of cute."
Nelemy: "Um...OK. But there are no kerbals to pick up."
NAMOR: "Then I shall now fly to the Main Base coordinates."
Nelemy: "But, Dude...You don't have anybody there to repack your chutes, so you won't be able to land safely here."
NAMOR: "I have one set of parachutes in reserve, and backup procedures."
Liftoff of the NAMOR is easy and completely reliable...the SAS is actived, and then the jet engines are powered up. Tilting the ship makes it go in the desired direction, and off it goes (west in this case).
Once the NAMOR got up to a good cruising altitude (around 11 km) and speed, it was just a matter of tweaking the throttle (one-third throttle worked well) and angle of the ship (about 30 degrees was good) to maintain an approximately level flight path.
Below, the NAMOR was not too far from Manley Island (you can see the Manley Base marker icon in the image below), so the NAMOR could have dropped off any kerbals it was carrying (it can carry two kerbals) onto that island for later pickup via remotely-controlled BirdDog. But in this case I wanted to see how far the NAMOR could fly.
Much of NAMOR's flight was over empty ocean between Manley Island and Dansen Island. It could cruise along at almost 600 m/s at 13,000 meters. It was at this point that I was getting a bit disappointed with the fuel consumption...I had hoped it would do better. But it was also at this point that I noticed that the FL-T200 tanks were NOT tweaked to contain only fuel...they still had a full load of oxidizer in them as well! (Ooops...I must have made a mistake when I did the tweaking...I probably did it in the wrong copy of my save file). OK...so the NAMOR was carry a LOT of extra dead weight in the form of that oxidizer. Damn.
Below: By the time NAMOR was approaching Dansen Island (little Mariliza island with its flag marker is in the foreground), it was getting very low on fuel, and I was getting very worried.
As NAMOR passed over the shores of Dansen Island, it was clear that it wasn't going to make it the additional 28 kilometers to the Base, so I decided to land it here. This involved tilting the ship in the opposite direction to slow it down (during a test flight back on Kerbin, I ripped all the chutes off once by forgetting this important slow-down step). A tiny bit of fuel was saved for landing.
The two remaining chutes were deployed, and the NAMOR descended onto the wide, fairly level plateau area east of Joysina Lake. Note that if the ship HAD rescued a kerbal, the kerbal would have been able to repack all the chutes so they could have been used here. ALSO NOTE that it was a bug regarding the deployment of repacked chutes (using action group keys) that gave me lots of problems when developing and testing the NAMOR back on Kerbin: The chutes were coming out instantly fully deployed and ripping the ship apart. To prevent this, it was necessary to do a quicksave of the ship after repacking the chutes, then reopening that quicksave. (Or apparently you can also switch to the KSC, then switch back.) This also allows the repacked chutes to appear in the staging sequence again (which does not happen after you've just repacked them).
But in THIS case, there was only ONE set of chutes to work with, and the NAMOR was going to land too fast for safety... and that's why a tiny amount of fuel was held in reserve. This fuel was in the two small FL-T100 tanks, and it was used to fire the Rockomax 24-77 engines just before landing (the rocket engines were used instead of the jet engines because they have no spool-up lag). NAMOR ran out of fuel before touchdown, but it had slowed just enough that the explosion cloud you see below was due to a couple of the cubic octagonal struts that serve as 'landing legs' exploding... the rest of the ship was intact. Any kerbals in it would have been safe on Dansen Island where a Fido rover could come get them.
So... despite having been burdened with all that extra oxidizer (which should have been tweaked out of the tanks), the NAMOR managed to land at the rescue target spot and then fly one-third of the way around Laythe to land safely on Dansen Island. I call that a success.
(But, of course... this flight of the NAMOR never actually happened.)