Long-term Laythe - Part 24

Part 21.5 Flashback

As I mentioned before, after launching some ships to Jool in Part 21 (back in KSP version 0.22) I said that the next batch of ships to be sent out in the next Kerbin-to-Jool transfer window would be ones built in version 0.23 (so that I could use the soon-to-be-released R.A.P.I.E.R. engine). But I went on to play Parts 22 and 23 in the meantime, still in version 0.22. Well, now I have version 0.23 up and running, and I'm jumping back in time here to do that transfer of ships. Since I'm doing the transfers in a separate save file, this was easy. It just took me a little while to get around to it because handling yet another armada of ships to Jool is not nearly as exciting for me as it once was.

On Laythe at this time, Hellou and Emilynn were on Fredoly Island doing a lot of exploring via rover, so let's look in on our boys on Dansen Island:

Thompbles: "The boys at KSC are getting ready to send the next batch of ships to us."
Kurt: "Great. Are we finally getting the resources processing modules?"
Thompbles: "No. And we aren't likely to get any before we return to Kerbin."
Kurt: "What have the guys in Division 19 been doing all this while?"
Thompbles: "Apparently they haven't been able to get any of the equipment to work out the way they wanted. So that project has been terminated for the foreseeable future."
Nelemy: "Dude! I so wasted all my time taking that resources processing training. What ARE we getting?"
Thompbles: "Three ships will be sent, all double Tug trains with extra fuel, since we aren't going to be refining any fuel here. One is another SSTO spaceplane..."
Aldner: "Another one? Same as the one already on the way here?"
Thompbles: "No, this one has the new R.A.P.I.E.R. engine. When the first spaceplane arrives I'll want you and Emilynn to test it. When the R.A.P.I.E.R. one arrives later, I'll want you and Nelemy to test it. The boys at KSC are very interested in how they will compare. It will also arrive with a second NAMOR vehicle."
Kurt: "Any toys for me?"
Thompbles: "Yes. The second ship will have a R.A.P.I.E.R. version of the SSTO rocket crew carrier. I'll want you and Nelemy to test that. It's supposed to be more fuel efficient than our original one."
Nelemy: "Cool, Dude!"
Thompbles: "The third ship will be a 3-kerbal version of the BirdDog. You know that our replacement crews are going to be half scientist-astronauts, so they wanted that ship here so a pilot-astronaut can ferry the eggheads around to different sites."
Aldner: "Who gets to test that one?"
Thompbles: "Me."

Below, the four Reusable Rocket launches of the payloads for constructing Train #1: A nuclear Tug; a fuel tank payload (with Refueler Topper to refuel the Tug, which uses fuel to pull the sustainer into orbit, as you may recall); another nuclear Tug; and the R.A.P.I.E.R. spaceplane/NAMOR payload.

A closer view of the R.A.P.I.E.R. spaceplane. It has the same basic structure as the Ladyhawk spaceplane, but with the newer engine on the back instead of a turbojet. Also, the docking port has been relocated to the center of mass to make it easier for a Tug to push the plane around in orbit, if needed (the Ladyhawk's docking port is located ahead of its center of mass), and there are two vertical stabilizers instead of one to make docking easier.

The odd structure attached to the plane's docking port is a "Saddlebag Deorbiter" that was designed after the Ladyhawk was already on its way to Laythe, just in case the Ladyhawk proved to be too marginal as an SSTO spaceplane. The Deorbiter would be used to deorbit the spaceplane, and then it would detach and accelerate back up to orbital speed (later returning to Laythe Station for refueling). This would allow the Ladyhawk to land will completely full tanks (instead of using any of its fuel for deorbiting). The Saddlebag Deorbiter could also be used for by the new R.A.P.I.E.R. spaceplane (the arrangement of Rockomax 24-77 engines is such that one pair can be turn off to allow thrusting through the CoM of the Ladyhawk, while all four would be used on the R.A.P.I.E.R. spaceplane). As it turned out (we now know because of the Ladyhawk's success in Part 23), the Saddlebag Deorbiter will not be necessary...but the boys at KSC don't know that as of the time of this flashback). Also, the NAMOR 21 marine rescue vehicle is behind the spaceplane (since this rocket re-uses the same payload configuration as used for the Ladyhawk launch). And it will be nice to have an extra NAMOR, just in case. This one has had its tanks properly tweaked.

Below, after three dockings (with some rearrangement of parts), Train #1 is complete and fully fueled for Jool, and the four radial refueler pods are jettisoned. The pods are deorbited using RCS and crashed on Kerbin.

Next, the four launches needed to assemble Train #2: Nuclear Tug, Fuel, Nuclear Tug, and the R.A.P.I.E.R. SSTO rocket (with Refueler Topper).

Below, another view of the SSTO payload as it rides into orbit on the Reusable Rocket's sustainer. This was designed to be as small as possible. It has a four-kerbal Hitchhiker Can for the crew, four R.A.P.I.E.R. engines, and eight parachutes for landing. Its center tank is a Rockomax X200-16, and there are four FL-T200 tanks around that (which have their oxidizer levels tweaked down a couple notches so that excess oxidizer doesn't need to be carried aloft). Corfrey Kerman was able to barely get a prototype into a 75 km orbit around Kerbin, and (using the rest of its fuel and almost all of its RCS monopropellant) brought it back for a parachute landing at KSC. So it should work better at Laythe...and a small FL-T100 fuel tank was added to the nose to give it an extra margin of fuel.

The final docking in the assembly of Train #2 is seen below. After the Tugs were topped off from the Refueler Topper, it was separated and returned to KSC for re-use.

Four more Reusable Rocket launches were needed to assemble Train #3: Nuclear Tug, Fuel, Nuclear Tug, and the 3-kerbal variation of the BirdDog...which Thompbles is going to name the Airedale, but he doesn't know that yet.

Below, a closer view of the Airedale passenger plane/rover. This plane uses exactly the same basic structure as the BirdDog (so that it can use the same GasStations for refueling). It has two single-kerbal lander cans added on either side at the center of mass behind the ram intakes to keep the aerodynamics as close as possible to that of the BirdDog. Some parts (batteries, solar panels) have been relocated to the underside or sides of the plane because it is suspected that the original BirdDog's tendency to pitch up at high angles of attack is probably due to the parasite drag of all the parts that were on top of the plane. The Airedale weighs more than the BirdDog (by about 1.3 tons), but testing at KSC indicates that it lands just fine, even with a full load of fuel. In addition to their use in carrying one extra kerbal each, one of the single-kerbal cans is fitted out internally with lab equipment, and the other one is fitted out as a habitat module, to give crews more comfort (one at a time) on exploration trips. As with previous BirdDog payload configurations, the Airedale is riding on top of a GasStation.

Below, Train #3 is complete and ready for sending to Jool (the three refueler pods that were mounted on the GasStation's booms are seen drifting away after being jettisoned.

So...that took twelve more launches of the Reusable Rocket. I also checked to be sure the upgraded landing legs work on the Reusable Rocket. I always have MechJeb bring the sustainers back to KSC, and all twelve landed safely (but a couple came close to landing on something that would have toppled them). The landing legs of the sustainers were set to have locked suspensions, which worked fine.

I also followed down a set of the side boosters to be sure that they survived landing on the upgraded legs, but in this case I left the leg suspensions unlocked. Below, one of the side boosters touches down safely under its parachutes with no damage (you can see another of the four boosters landing off in the distance).

With my version 0.23 install, I have switched from using my favorite Maneuver Node Improvement mod (which has had its development discontinued) to the Precise Node mod that provides the same functionality. Precise Node seems to work great. It has the all-important feature that collapsed maneuver nodes can be opened using the O key, and its user interface seems somewhat better than that of the Maneuver Node Improvement mod, except that Precise Node uses red color to highlight buttons...and red does not show up well at all against black for colorblind ol' me. But I found tweaking the node values to be easier in this mod, and it lets you easily change the number of conic samples as well as the conics mode. It has a "Focus on Vessel" button that is not particularly useful to me because I use the keyboard shortcut (the Backspace key) to do that same thing. What I would REALLY like is if that button was replaced by a pop-up menu that let you pick which planet/moon to focus on (in addition to your vessel), since that still gives me difficulty sometimes in the Map interface (trying to focus on a planet may instead result in you focusing on a ship that is orbiting or landed on that planet...I guess the guys at Squad did not test the behavior of focusing on planets when they had lots of ships around them). Below is the standard targeting of Train #1 to the Jool system so you can see Precise Node in action. The ellipse oriented at 90 degrees on the screen are the paths of the three Tugs returning from Jool (and the outgoing orbits for the previous batch of ships, which would be here at this time, are not there because I've already jumped ahead and delivered them at Jool previously).

I used my standard two-pass escape burns to send the three trains off to Jool. Below we see Train #1 doing the first half of its burn (which is burned until it had 10 minutes left to go); and then Train #2 far out from Kerbin after the first half of its burn, dropping its empty rear tank; and then Train #3 during the second half of its burn when it dropped its rear tank. Doing the burns in two parts gives better fuel efficiency because the burns take place closer to Kerbin with enhanced Oberth effect.

The plot below shows the orbits after the first parts of the burns (just after the burn for Train #3... you can see that I stopped when it had 10 minutes left of the burn). Note that Train #2 (the SSTO rocket) required a longer burn, so it is going out further. Happily, the Mün did not interfere with any of the burns. BUT, the long trains were very wobbly under physical time warp, so I could not use it (so that was about one hour of total burn time, and that doesn't include the setup time).

For the second parts of the burns, I targeted then as close to Jool as possible using Conics Mode 0. This involves changing the focus to Jool, then orienting the view close in at Jool but with the node visible off in the distance so it can be tweaked (and, as I said, the interface in Precise Node for tweaking the node values with the buttons works very well). The ascending nodes of the transfer orbits were all close to Jool (for Train #1 it was even inside Jool's sphere of influence), so they will not take a lot of fuel when the time comes to do them).

Below, the result of my efforts: three nice outgoing transfer orbits to Jool (and the very close together orbits of the returning Tugs).

Kerbal Alarm Clock, of course, is also my friend. Below you can see the alarms I set up for when the returning Tugs would reach Kerbin's SOI, and when the outgoing Trains would reach their ascending nodes (or when Train #1 will reach Jool's SOI). With all that set up, I was ready to fast-forward out of this flashback.

Part 24 Proper

Back to the future! Here we are back to the 'present' time. Emilynn has just completed here first test flight of the Ladyhawk, and we are ready for more fun on Laythe... but the first alarms that come up are for the Tugs returning to Kerbin:

Below, Tug 7 falls into the Kerbin system toward its aerocapture target altitude (set up when I targeted the encounter after leaving Jool). No tweaking was needed, but (as always) I made sure to sneak the ship across the Sphere of Influence boundary at 1x speed to preserve the fine targeting. Tug 7 was targeted for aerocapture at 28.6 km (it reached a maximum speed of 4,990 m/s at the start of aerocapture), and ended up in an elliptical orbit with approximately 1000 km apoapsis. While far out, I did a plane correction to get its orbit to 0 degrees inclination, then made an aerobraking pass to drop its apoapsis. Finally, at apoapsis, a burn was made to get the Tug into a stable low orbit, ready for refueling and re-use (except that this older Tug has only standard docking ports, and I tend to prefer the Senior ports for interplanetary transfers now). If only my kerbals could add struts during EVA, I could upgrade these older tugs to have Senior docking ports.

Similarly, Tug 8 returned and was captured. This one need more of an inclination fix, but it also ended up in a low circular orbit for re-use.

And finally, the Laythe BD2 two-Tug combo arrived. This one is more valuable because it has Senior docking ports, so it will be easy to re-use the next time I want to send a train out to Laythe. In the first image below you see the Tugs falling in toward Kerbin with the cool clouds and city lights mod, so Kafrica is showing up well on the night side. Aerocapture target altitude was 29.7 km, giving an initial captured apoapsis of 1763 km...followed by aerobraking and raising periapsis out to a stable orbit. All of the Tugs that returned have between 95 and 150 units of fuel left, so they can maneuver to better orbits for refurbishment later.

Below, lots of nuclear Tugs are sitting in orbit around Kerbin, waiting for re-use. Unfortunately, most have the standard docking ports...but even if I don't reuse them to send big payloads out to Laythe, they could be used to send smaller payloads elsewhere. Also note that the Precise Node mod allows you to display a panel in Map view for changing the conics settings.

Go Goo!

Meanwhile, back on Laythe, Nelemy is preparing to test BirdDog 3 with its new double Mystery Goo canisters attached. All preflight checks were satisfactory, but the other kerbals are a bit worried about how much Nelemy likes to talk to his Goo.

Thompbles: "OK, the comsats are in good positions for the data link. Hellou, you are in the loop?"
Hellou: "Roger, Thompbles. Downlink is good."
Thompbles: "You are cleared to go, Nelemy."
Nelemy: "Thanks, Dude! I'm on my way!"

Nelemy: "Hang on to you hats, little-Goo Dudes! We're heading for the stratosphere!"

Nelemy: "I'm over 15 thousand, Dudes. Leveling off and throttling back to one third."
Thompbles: "OK, Nelemy. Activate the GooCams and open the Goo canisters."
Nelemy: "Roger, Dude. Activated. Canisters open. I'm getting the images...are they coming through?"
Thompbles: "Roger. Feed is good. The Goo appears to be vibrating in rhythmic patterns. What do you make of it, Hellou?"
Hellou: "Looks like some complex spherical harmonic oscillations. Each Goo is exhibiting a different pattern."
Thompbles: "Hmm...the oscillations in some of the directions seem to be more regular, whereas they are more irregular along other axes. Maybe the boys in the KSC research center will be able to make sense of this from the recordings."
Hellou: "Assuming they ever decide to talk to us. Hmm...no...the patterns don't make any obvious sense to me."
Nelemy: "I recognize those patterns! Dudes, I think they are singing."
Thompbles: "Umm...what?"
Nelemy: "They are making music. Goo #1 is doing Space Oddity..."
Thompbles: "Nelemy, what the hell are you talking about. There is no sound pickup."
Nelemy: "No, Dude. Watch the vibrations. Horizontal is the drum beat, forward/backward is the piano, and vertical is the vocals. Watch..it's getting to the good part...'This is ground control to Major Jeb, you've really made the grade. And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear. But it's time to guide the capsule if you dare.' ...see?"
Hellou: "...it...fits. What the hell?? What is the other Goo doing?"
Nelemy: "Ummm...Rocket Jeb, I think. Yeah. 'Oh no, no, no, I am rocket Jeb. Rocket Jeb, think you're gonna need a lot more struts' ...yeah, that's it, Dudes."
Hellou: "The boys at KSC are NOT going to believe this."

Nelemy: "We can set the video recordings of the Goo to the music. They'll be able to see it, Dudes."
Thompbles: "Look...they stopped."
Hellou: "Now they're doing something else. Both the same. No, wait...similarities, but some differences, too."
Thompbles: "Nelemy...can you tell what this is?"
Nelemy: "Dudes, this one's easy. Just watch. Wait a bit...I'm getting too low...I've got to climb...hold on."
Thompbles: "Am I crazy? Or is Nelemy crazy?"
Nelemy: "OK, I'm back. Did you figure it out?"
Thompbles: "We aren't playing Guess That Tune. Just tell us."
Hellou: "Wait! I've got it. Kohemian Rhapsody by Kween! 'Bismillah! We will not let you go.'"
Nelemy: "'Let me go!'"
Hellou: "'Will not let you go.'"
Nelemy: "'Let me go!'"
Hellou: "'Never, never let you go'... If I'm right we should be getting some high amplitude l=1, m=0 spherical harmonics in a bit."
Thompbles: "You mean that bobbing up and down they are doing now?"
Nelemy: "'So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?'"
Thompbles: "But what does it mean?"
Nelemy: "Dude, it means the Goos are enjoying the ride!"
Thompbles: "No, I mean, how could Goo know music?"
Nelemy: "Oh, I was playing it for them yesterday from my kPod while doing systems checks."
Hellou: "What?"

After closing up the Goo containers, Nelemy banked around to head back to base...but his BirdDog pitched up violently several times, causing him to lose lots of altitude.

Nelemy: "Dudes! This is tricky. I'm getting hard pitch-ups."
Thompbles: "Keep your angle of attack lower. Throttle up."
Nelemy: "Falling fast...heading toward the ground...I've got to pull up, Dude."

After losing nine-tenths of his altitude, Nelemy managed to get the plane leveled off heading back toward base.

Nelemy landed the BirdDog safely and taxied over to the SCIENCE base.

At the SCIENCE base, Nelemy redocked to the Goo boom. The updated legs actually make it easier to get a good docking because there are more settings for the various legs on the base (raised, lowered with suspension locked, lowered with suspension active) that result is slightly different heights for the Goo boom docking port.

Nelemy: "OK, Hellou-Dude, I'm docked. Please clean the Goo pods."
Hellou: "I need you in here to help me. For some reason they arranged the necessary control stations on opposite sides of the module."
Nelemy: "OK, Dude. I'll be right over."

Hellou: "What are you going to do with the Goo now, Nelemy."
Nelemy: "I promised the Goo I'd take it swimming."
Hellou: "Umm...OK. Observing it in the water would be good. But can you do that with the BirdDog?"
Nelemy: "Oh, sure. I found that out when the plane accidentally rolled into the ocean during one of my trips."

Nelemy drove the Goo-equipped BirdDog over to the bay near the old Fido Pup probe, then eased the plane down into the water until it was floating.

Hellou: "OK, Nelemy. I have the GooCam feed. It looks like the Goo has flattened out and its surface is rippling."
Nelemy: "Hey there, Goo-Dudes! Are you having fun?"
Hellou: "Nelemy, does your BirdDog have an accelerometer sensor? I'd like to correlate the wave frequency with the oscillations of the Goo samples."
Nelemy: "Um...only in the navi system, but I don't think I can link you that data. I can tell you what the waves are doing. Up...down...up...down...up, Ooo, that was a big one...down...up..."
Hellou: "I guess that's better than nothing."

The wheels of the plane were no longer touching bottom, but Nelemy used the capsule torque to yaw the plane around back toward shore, the pitched up to minimize the amount of the intakes that were under water, then fired up the jet engine at minimal thrust. As soon as the rover wheels touched bottom, Nelemy cut the engine and drove the BirdDog up onto the shore and back to the SCIENCE base for another Goo cleaning. So I assume he'll be taking the Goos to various places, gathering data, returning to the base, cleaning the Goos, lather, rinse, repeat. This is SCIENCE fun?

Materials Mission

After seeing the difficulty Nelemy had controlling his Goo-retrofitted BirdDog, Kurt was a bit leery of how BirdDog 4 would handle with its retrofitted materials exposure SCIENCE module on top. But he was willing to give it the ol' college try.

Kurt: "I'm ready to fly. Data links are good."
Thompbles: "Roger, Kurt. Go ahead. Watch your pitch."
Kurt: "You realize that if things get hairy, I'm just going to drop this thing, right?"
Thompbles: "You are so authorized."

Kurt: "Kurt to base. I'm over 15K, riding steady. Ready to open the materials bay."
Hellou: "Roger, Kurt. I'm monitoring."
Kurt: "OK. Open now. Strangely, it does not seemed to have affected the drag. I can already see that sample in column 1, row 1, smoking."
Hellou: "That's the oxygen indicator."
Kurt: "Well, I'm sure my jet engines are happy to know there is oxygen in the air. What is sample 5 in that same column? It's changing color."
Hellou: "Ozone. As expected...but we'll be able to get a concentration value by how fast that sample and the one below it darken. I'm seeing some sulfur compound reactions."
Kurt: "What are the samples on the far right? There are five of them getting progressively darker down the column."
Hellou: "Those are radiation dosimeters of different sensitivities. What is you VanAllen meter reading?"
Kurt: "Hmmmm...190...not bad today."

At the end of the materials exposure run, Kurt made a very gradual turn, and lost a lot less altitude than Nelemy did, although at one point he did have the BirdDog do a sudden pitch-up...but recovered quickly.

Kurt flew back to Fido Bay and landed without problem, then drove back to the SCIENCE base and re-docked the materials bay to its boom. After some cleaning and resetting of the samples, he will be ready to grind out some more SCIENCE!"

Learning Ladyhawk

The next day, Aldner and Emilynn prepared to make a second test flight with the Ladyhawk, this time with Aldner in the cockpit and Emilynn as his co-pilot/flight engineer in the lander can.

Thompbles: "The new version of the control software has been installed in the Ladyhawk's computer system, Aldner. The boys at the KSC are very interested in seeing if it improves performance of the plane. You are cleared for takeoff on runway one four."
Aldner: "Roger, Cappy. I'll see what I can convince her to do for me."

Aldner took off toward the southwest, gaining altitude slowly as he headed toward the equator, almost a degree to the south of Laythe Base. As he approached the equator over Lake Joysina, he banked to the east and spent some time lining up as close as possible to a heading of 90 degrees over the equator. He did this while still fairly low, because the plane responds to direction changes much quicker in the thick atmosphere than it does higher up. And the Ladyhawk had plenty of jet fuel, so he was determined to take his time getting things right (and burning more of the jet fuel means having less to carry into orbit anyway).

Emilynn: "We are within 5 arc seconds of the equator, Buzz. Looking good."
Aldner: "Roger, Hawk. I'm climbing now. Keep an eye on the latitude for me."

Emilynn: "Altitude 16, speed 640. Intake air down to point zero six. Turbojet systems are purring perfectly, Buzz."

As the Ladyhawk passed 20,000 meters, Aldner nosed her down a little...but still ended up going upward too fast vertically. The plane was slow to respond to direction changes in the thin air.

Emilynn: "Altitude 30, speed 1230. Intake air reads zero."
Aldner: "Throttle at 50%. The engine is still running despite zero air reading...but that's the new software. I've got her pointed horizontal."
Emilynn: "Flameout. Altitude 31, speed 1350."
Aldner: "Roger. Throttle one-third. I think I took that climb too aggressively...let's drop back down a bit."
Emilynn: "Engine restarted. Intake Air zero. The stars a pretty out the window. Altitude 28, speed 1400. Air point zero one."
Aldner: "Throttle at half. I'll level off at 20 and start a slower climb."

Again, the plane was not responding as fast to vertical control as he would have liked, so Aldner dropped a little below 20,000 meters before getting the Ladyhawk back into a slower climb. There were some nice entry-effect flames at around the 20K level. The flames disappeared and the speed continued to increase as the Ladyhawk again rose again toward 30,000 meters.

Emilynn: "Altitude 29, speed 1740. Air point zero one. Looking good, Buzz!"
Aldner: "Throttle one-third. I've got her pitched down and she's still rising. Pitching down even more."
Emilynn: "At this speed, the surface is curving away from us pretty fast."
Aldner: "Too true. Flameout. Throttle at two ticks."
Emilynn: "Engine restarted. Intake Air still reads zero. Altitude 33, speed 1790. You're already higher and faster than I was when I kicked in the rockets."
Aldner: "Roger. But I still have an excess of fuel. Let's nurse it along and see how fast we can get. Pitch at minus 25. Throttle at three ticks."
Emilynn: "Altitude 37, speed 1850. Air zero. Engine still running. Ooops, flameout."
Aldner: "Throttling down a couple ticks. Restart. Back up a tick...and again. We have leveled off."
Emilynn: "Dropping. Altitude 35, speed 1900. Ah, sunset. That was a short day. Whoa! The navi comp is showing a positive periapsis prediction, and the predicted apoapsis is rising rapidly."

(At this point, the program rotated the display 90 degrees. The Ladyhawk was in a new regime where I'd never been before with a spaceplane. I guess I always jumped the gun and kicked in the rockets too soon.)

As the Ladyhawk descended back toward 30,000 meters, Aldner kept easing up the throttle a little at a time until the turbojet flamed out, then dropped the throttle back two ticks to restart the engine...and started easing the throttle up again as speed increased. The intake air reading was zero this whole time, but the engine continued to run and he got the throttle up to one-third again by the time he got the plane leveled off again at 31,300 meters and began rising.

Emilynn: "Altitude 32, speed 2030. Predicted apo 180 klicks, predicted peri 31. If we really had zero air, we'd be in orbit."
Aldner: "Yeah...we'll lose some of that due to drag. Rising. I'll see how long I can baby it as we ascend. Argh, flameout. Throttle one-fourth."
Emilynn: "Altitude 34, speed 2050. Flameout."
Aldner: "Yeah. Restart at two ticks. OK, I'm going to fire the rockets. I'll pitch up to 40 degrees, then back down to 20 degrees."
Emilynn: "Fuel usage so far, 99 units. Looking great, Buzz."
Aldner: "Activating rocket engines. Shut down the jet."
Emilynn: "Rockets are on. Jet off. Closing intakes."
Aldner: "Pitch at 40, throttle at 100%. Pitching back down."
Emilynn: "Buzz! Cut engines!"
Aldner: "Cut-off. What's the matte...whoa...apoapsis 684? Already?"
Emilynn: "Yeah, sorry. We should have been paying more attention. Altitude 42, speed 2224."
Aldner: "No problem. looks like we're going a lot higher than planned. But that burn didn't even use all the fuel in the center tank, let alone the side tanks."

(In fact, I'd overshot so badly because I was busy taking screen shots of the rocket burn rather than flying. The plot of the initial orbit is shown below.)

Below, the Ladyhawk poses for a picture 676 kilometers over Aldner Island. And Aldner's view from the cockpit:

Aldner: "Here comes the apo. I'm doing a 30.6 m/s burn to bring the periapsis up to 75 km. Burning now."
Emilynn: "Looks good. 75 by 680. Inclination 0.3 degrees. Let me have control so I can look around."
Aldner: "Sure, take it. We have plenty of fuel, so I'm setting up the maneuvers to rendezvous with your Vall ship."
Emilynn: "Thankie, Buzz. Ooo, the view is fantastic. Doesn't it seem like there have been a lot more clouds since the big flare?"
Aldner: "Hmm? Maybe. I always flew when it was clear if I could."

Below, we see the situation after raising the periapsis for a proper orbit. The rear jet fuel tank still had over 56 units of fuel, and the FL-T400 tank had almost 80 fuel and 105 oxidizer. The two FL-T200 tanks on the sides were still completely full. MechJeb reported that the ship had 2567 m/s of delta-V at this point (the first test flight made it into a lower orbit with 599 m/s of delta-V left -- but how much of the difference was a result of changes in the program, and how much was a result of the better flight profile, I can't say). Wow. They really could fly over to Vall and back, or even home to Kerbin, maybe -- if they didn't mind be very cramped for months on end.

After a plane-shift maneuver (not shown) of 24 m/s, and one orbit around Laythe, the Ladyhawk was in position to make the two maneuvers shown below to match orbits with the Vall ship, currently sitting in a low orbit where Emilyn and Hellou left it hastily when fleeing to Laythe's surface ahead of the radiation storm. Since it was going to take about 366 m/s of delta-V to circularize into low orbit, that's roughly the amount of delta-V that had been wasted during the overly-long rocket burn getting to orbit.

I'm confused by the lighting in the picture below. I was making the approach to the Vall ship in the daylight, and then both ships went into night...but the Vall ship was lit up as if the Ladyhawk had lights on it pointing backwards. But the Ladyhawk does not carry lights (other than the built-in landing gear lights). Weird. I waited to dock until the ships came around again into the daylight ("all the better to take pictures with, my dear").

Emilynn EVA'd over to the Vall ship to check out its systems and do a pickup. Then returned to the Ladyhawk.

Aldner: "How's it look?"
Emilynn: "Everything's great. I wonder if the KSC bigwigs will let us return to Vall once they are convinced the sun will behave itself."
Aldner: "What have you got in the sample case?"
Emilynn: "Oh, well, that's a secret."

Aldner separated the Ladyhawk from the Vall ship, then did a burn to raise its orbit to allow the Laythe Space Station to catch up with the Ladyhawk so they could then drop back down a rendezvous.

Below, the Ladyhawk matched orbits with the Laythe Station, then docked. (Is it just me, or has the image quality from Romfarer's DockingCam mod been improved with the newest update?)

After refueling from the tank on the opposite side of the station, we can see that the Ladyhawk required 342 units of fuel and 295 units of oxidizer to top off its tanks. And a little RCS monopropellant as well (and I almost forgot to top off the monopropellant tank that is now included in command pods...don't forget to do that, kiddies! Also, lag is certainly reduced for me in version 0.23...Laythe Station is no longer the pain to maneuver around that it was before...kudos, SQUAD!).

Aldner separated the Ladyhawk from the space station, then lined up for the retro burn (you can see the engine exhausts between the wings). The landing point was targeted a little west of Fido Bay to prevent the spaceplane from overflying the site.

Jool and Vall (or maybe that's Tylo) rose above the horizon to greet Aldner and Emilynn as the Ladyhawk passed over Jebediah Island.

To get to the one-degree north latitude of Fido Bay from the equatorial orbit of the station, Aldner banked left during reentry to move cross-range, but had to continue the bank at lower altitude to get far enough north.

Emilynn: "Rocket engines are deactivated. Do you want me to heat up the turbojet?"
Aldner: "Activate it, but I'm going to try this dead-stick."
Thompbles: "Laythe Base to Ladyhawk. How's it going?"
Aldner: "Just peachy, Mr. Airport Manager. Can I have clearance to land on runway zero nine?"
Thompbles: "You are clear to land. Hurry home for lunch."

Aldner set the Ladyhawk down about 4.5 kilometers from base, then stretched the rollout enough to almost get the plane back to its starting point by Laythe Base 1.

Aldner called the Runabout rover over via remote control, then Emilynn got out to dock the rover and drag the Ladyhawk to its parking spot next to Base 1, pointing southeast ready for another flight.

When Aldner and Emilynn got all of the Ladyhawk's systems shutdown, they went over the Base 1 where they were greeted by Hellou.

Hellou: "Welcome back! How was the mission?"
Emilynn: "Everything went great! Buzz did OK...I'd even let him touch my plane again if he asks pretty please."
Aldner: "OK? I was fantastic. Maybe I'll let YOU touch MY new spaceplane when it arrives."
Emilynn: "Hey, lookie here, Chickadee. I brought you a present."
Hellou: "Oh, goodie! Souvenirs from your trip?"
*Hellou opens the sample case*
Hellou: "Shampoo! And hair conditioner! And my loofah! I love you!"
Emilynn: "There's also that little bottle of that scented bath oil you like. But you have to share."
Hellou: "OK...Shower time!"
Emilynn: "Me first!"
Hellou: "No, me first! Real shampoo!"
Emilynn: "OK, how about I wash your hair and you wash mine?"
Hellou: "OK, as you long as you promise not to get grabby. This ain't no cheesy anime."
Aldner: "If you ladies need any help..."
Emilynn: "Bye, Buzz. We'll see you guys tonight for supper."
Hellou: "And finally looking presentable! Bye, Aldner."

So Aldner drove the Fido rover over to Laythe Base 2 and had a double helping of green mush for lunch.

Below is the flight data I plotted from the Ladyhawk's ascent. I had MechJeb's surface and orbit data displays showing during the ascent, and I just plotted the data I captured in screen shots made along the way. I assume there must be a KSP Flight Data Recorder mod...maybe I'll look into that.

The ascent took 16 minutes from takeoff to rocket engine cutoff. The dark blue line shows the altitude, and we see that I could have been a lot smoother with my ascent. The red line shows the speed, and I keept that increasing almost the whole time, so that was good. The gray line is the throttle setting, scaled so that 100% is at 20,000 on the left axis (just to keep that line down out of the way). Similarly, the green line (I think it's green) shows the intake air reading (which I did not have displayed at first, so it starts when the intake air was at 0.06 and falling) -- it is scaled such that 0.05 is at 10,000 on the left axis, again to keep it out of the way.

The most interesting line is the light blue line showing the predicted apoapsis. I was surprised to see that way it starts shooting upward at around 760 seconds. That is NOT the point where I kicked in the rocket engines (that happens after 900 seconds, and the even steeper increase in the apoapsis line is not even seen here, since it is way off the top of this chart by then. I guess that point (at 760 seconds) where the apoapsis line starts going up like crazy is the magical moment for a spaceplane...and it's a place I've never reached before, even though I've gotten SSTO spaceplanes to work in the past (just never this efficiently). I'm not sure WHY the apoapsis line starts rising so quickly at that point...the speed is not increasing all that fast, and I was actually losing altitude at that time. Also, the orange line shows that the predicted periapsis became positive at that same time (and actually drops back down a little when the rockets are kicked in). I suppose that up until that point, the energy was going into raising the periapsis to a positive value, and then the energy started going into raising the apoapsis once the periapsis increase stalled out. I love graphs.

Next episode: New toys arrive at Laythe. Maybe Nelemy and Kurt continue the SCIENCE grind in the meantime.