Long-term Laythe - Part 30.5

I was asked a question on the Kerbal Space Program forums: "Sorry if this has already been asked (it's a long, bandwidth-sucking thread), but how does 23.5 affect this mission?"

Like any update, it affects this mission firstly because I have to make sure my old save file will open and everything in it will update properly. My ongoing universe has been in effect since its original save game in version 0.18. Sometimes this transition involves a lot of tweaking, as with the landing leg changes a couple versions back, but I expect the update to 0.23.5 to be relatively painless.

Because asteroids do not spawn in an old save file that gets updated to 0.23.5, there will be no asteroids involved...at least until we determine what needs to be tweaked in the save game file code to get around this limitation. Then maybe there will be fun with asteroids in the future.

And, as always after an update, there is a delay until all my favorite mods are tested and updated and either reinstalled or (if there are changes to the game that make them no longer needed) removed. I haven't fully checked yet to see what all works and what doesn't. The clouds and city lights seem to work fine. Kerbal Flight Engineer is displaying, but I haven't checked to see if it working correctly. MechJeb is broken. I see just now that Kerbal Alarm Clock is blinking at me to indicate that there is an update available for it. It appears that the hot key in Precise Node for opening collapsed maneuver nodes isn't working. Docking Camera seems to be operating, but it doesn't work for the Claw yet. Etc, etc. And, even when mods APPEAR to be working correctly after an update, there is still the possibility that they could be doing some game-corrupting activity behind the scenes…so it's best to wait a while for the mod authors to get stuff sorted out (a week or two usually) before proceeding with the mission.

In the meantime, there is the traditional post-update playing around mod-less with all the new features of the new update, which is fun! Like most people, I've been chasing around asteroids. I'm quite pleased with the new joint strength in 0.23.5… my standard Reusable Rocket holds together just fine with 50 or 60 previously-used struts removed. That's a wonderful savings in lag. Unfortunately, of course, old ships will still continue to have more struts than needed on them. I love the fact that when you focus on a target planet, your ship's trajectory is shown relative to that planet…essentially it automatically switches over to conic draw mode zero in that case (and shows trajectories in conic draw mode 3 otherwise). It's also great that maneuver nodes are persistent now, and that you can right-click on them to get the controls to move forward/backward by one orbit. There are a lot of very useful, if not readily apparent, improvements in version 0.23.5. Good job, Squad!

One of the things I've been using MechJeb for for a long time now has been keeping the ship pointed at the maneuver node indicator on the navball during those annoying 20-minute-long burns to head off to the Jool system. But while pushing around an asteroid MechJeb-less, I learned that the stock SAS system now keeps the ship accurately pointed during long burns. Nice to know.

I've been having fun dropping an asteroid at various places on Kerbin, seeing if they float (they don't…they sink) or if they look great as decorations around the KSC (they look marvelous, darling!):

But the real effect that 0.23.5 will have on the Laythe mission will be the use of the Claw for surface docking/refueling. The method I came up with for refueling my BirdDogs from the GasStations allowed me to explore all over Laythe, but the docking procedure does get rather tedious after a while, and it is limited to specially prepared craft…so I had no way to refuel my ShoreLab or NAMOR rescue ships or whatever. It always seemed silly that my kerbals were incapable of doing what the lowliest attendant at a small airport can do (simply run a hose over to a plane and refuel it). The Claw from the ARM update now gives me a workaround for that limitation because it can dock to any ship and allow fuel transfer between the vehicles.

Now I know that some people object to this ability of the Claw as being unrealistic. "How does that even work?", they ask. But I'm not bothered by this. Our ships obviously already have lots of pipes and wires running from all the docking ports to all the various fuel tanks, oxidizer tanks, monopropellant tanks, Xenon tanks, batteries, etc., that are not shown. So I visualize that the Claw has an assortment of built-in hoses that an EVAing kerbal can run between ships docked with the Claw…so I will happily use the Claw for surface refueling.

(What I'd like, of course, is for Squad to allow EVAing kerbals to connect any two ships within a certain maximum distance for refueling. A cool animation of this would be nice, but I assume very difficult…so it would be fine if this was just a right-click option that a Kerbal had while on EVA, like fixing parts, and then the ships could transfer fuel as long as they remained within the limit of the refueling distance.)

So, in addition to playing with asteroids, I have been experimenting with surface docking using the Claw. Just as JPL has their "Mars yard" setup to test Mars rovers, I have set up a "Laythe Land" to test Claw docking (below).

Every sort of ship or vehicle that I have on Laythe that might benefit from refueling, I have set up in an area north of the launch pad. I've been testing a few things, such as a new refueling station that uses Claw ports that a BirdDog or Ladyhawk or Raptor could nuzzle up to for refueling. And also I'm testing a refueling rover that can carry fuel from a refueling station off to other stationary ships that need refueling, such as the ShoreLab or NAMOR.

What I have found is that surface docking with the Claw is pickier than I had hoped for. I was hoping that getting any part of a vehicle within the confines of the Claw's grabbers would result in a docking. It does not. The rather small center region of the Claw has to make contact with the surface of a part in order to dock with it. Trying to dock the Claw to the leading edge of a wing on a plane can be problematic because the wing may not be close enough to the right height to make the connection. What you need is a surface on the plane that has enough vertical extent that the center of the Claw can easily make contact. If you were purpose-building ships for this, it would be easy to include such pieces in handy-to-reach locations (such as vertical rudders out on the wingtips), but I'm working with pre-existing ships here. So it takes some careful tweaking to make sure the center of the Claw is at the right height for a wing docking. It turns out that by far the easiest place to dock to a BirdDog, Ladyhawk, or similar plane is the rear of the jet engine (since the rear of the engine part has a vertical face there, even if it doesn't look like it) . But it does look somewhat rude to have the the refueling station clawing the rear end of the plane. It works, however.

Oh…and it doesn't matter which ship is the active ship in the docking… the Claw will grab even if it is on the passive ship (I was worried about that).

So I have made a refueling station that can supply mobile craft. I can send it with mostly liquid fuel in its tanks for refueling jet planes, or I can send it with oxidizer as well so that my SSTO planes could be refueled (but in most cases the oxidizer will be tweaked out of the tanks to save mass because most of the ships I refuel on Laythe use jet engines). I have also made a rover that can be used to refuel stationary ships, and for which I have another fun mission in mind. I just need to stack these toys onto rockets and send them off to the Jool system in the next transfer window… once I get done playing with asteroids and SLS parts :)