Gravity is a Jerk

It's been a while since my last blog post. And unfortunately, this one's going to be pretty short, too, as I haven't been able to sink as much time into Kerbal Space Program as I've wanted to. I got distracted by other things. Namely, the Summer Steam Sale, the Shogun 2 expansion, and trying to conquer Japan with line infantry and artillery. Also, I lost all my vehicle designs for Kerbal Space Program. The game had a patch. A pretty sizable patch, which rendered designs for previous versions unusable. But a lot of new parts were added, I imagine the physics were tweaked, and most importantly, you can now get your brave Kerbals to leave their vehicles.

This isn't fear. This is anger. Or maybe it's both. I'd be angry, too, going up in that.

That's right. You can totally expose them to the elements. Or space. Or both.

But back to my goal of reaching the Mun with a plane. I'm not there yet. It's going to take a lot of effort to get there. But I made the first big step. Low Earth Kerbin Orbit. To be honest, I'm not even sure where Low Orbit actually begins. But that indicator next to the...globe tells you where you are. And when it changes to "Orbit," I'm inclined to believe it.

After multiple failures with Death Sleds, plural, I went with a three-fuselage design, which I sadly don't have pictures of. The center fuselage would house three fuel cells and one larger rocket, and the outer tubes would house two fuel cells and two slightly smaller rockets. I went with a swept-wing design at the front, and simple tail fins at the rear. And I almost made it into LKO, and then the patch hit.

So for the next week or so, I spent my time in the game messing around with all the new parts.

Today, I revisited the space-plane, and made it. At some point, I started messing around with dual-wings, like the biplanes of WWI. And was pretty successful with it. They generate a lot of lift for the amount of space they take up (which makes sense). But because of their size, I had to tie them together using the space-string the game provides.

This is what happens when SAS betrays you.

I also never realized how effective turbojet engines were. The game's description makes you think that jet engines are effective in low atmosphere, and turbojets are *only* effective at higher altitudes. This is not the case. Turbojets are pretty damn effective as long as there's still air rushing through them. So out went the rockets on my space plane's outer fuselages. These were replaced with turbojets that could get the plane up to around 15,000 meters, where the Kerbin air begins to thin out. And then, the rocket would take over.

If I were going for the X Prize, I'd be a lot smarter about my angle of ascent, so that I'd actually have some sort of horizontal speed when I reentered. I'm not going for the X Prize yet. Oddly enough, I'm going for the Mun first. So after going up at a 70 degree angle, this craft pretty much went straight down after it hit its peak altitude.

But for a few moments, we were in space.


Back to the patch updates. While messing around with the new parts, I realized I could make a VTOL. While I still want to get to the Mun in a space plane, being able to build and fly a sky car is pretty fun, too. The thing is unstable as all hell, and you're pretty much screwed if the thing tilts more than 30 degrees to the side. But it's fun to float around in.

In retrospect, naming this thing the "Dodo" probably wasn't a great idea. Still better than "Icarus" for a rocket, though.

Death Sled

After my "success" with the Brick Mk. II (which you can read about here), I thought to myself, "Now it's time to get this thing into space." Or low orbit. Space was the goal, but I knew that there would be many explosions between that and now. I redesigned the Brick Mk. II. I replaced its three jet engines for one rocket engine, because jet engines are useless above a certain altitude, and are slightly more useless outside of atmosphere. I also gave it a new name.

The Space Brick Mk. I. A sexier, spacier version of the Brick.

Now it could propel itself through high- and non-atmosphere altitudes. Then I began experimenting with various methods of assisting this thing into the air. So I looked into building sleds that would propel this thing down the runway. The plan was for it to detach from the sled before there was no more runway, and then launch itself into the air with the additional speed it had gained from the sled.

Yes, I did try firing the rockets. Yes, it ended pretty poorly.

After my first attempt, it became clear that this sled would have to be a massive endeavor on its own. As the picture above clearly shows, I didn't take into account how heavy eight solid fuel rocket boosters actually were. Out of curiosity, I hit the spacebar to fire up those rockets. It went down the runway and lifted off, and then promptly lost control and found the ground again.


Success! Creating a "rail" behind the rockets to support it gave the sled the stability to go down the runway without blowing up. There was a problem, though. Despite how fast the entire thing was going, once I detached the plane from the sled, the sled would only continue to pick up speed. If the Space Brick wasn't already firing its engines, the sled would go faster then the plane. And those rocket boosters are nicely aligned with the rear of the Space Brick.

Two steps forward. Once step back.

Yeah. There were a few explosions.

So this is where things went crazy for me. It was already the early morning. I didn't have to wake up early the next day, so I went crazy with my designs. They only became more insane as I became more sleepy.

Add another fuselage, so that those rockets don't hit the plane's rocket.
Success only breeds...hubris?
The Space Brick Mk. II. Lovingly nicknamed the "Space Crab."
No, this didn't work out.

After sleeping and thinking back on my one success and more than one failure, I opted for something far more sensible. Something more space planey. In my heart, I knew that the "sled" would work, so I tried it a few more times, but with wings.

This was moderately successful.
This was not successful.

I'm not quite sure how I ended up with a crossbow death sled, but I ended there. I may pick up the sled design again, but my next attempts will definitely use the plane-on-a-plane method.


Aim for the moon. If you miss, you might orbit the sun. Might.

I recently discovered Kerbal Space Program, and seeing as I've sunk a dozen or so hours into that game already, I thought I might chronicle the stories of the Kerbals who've tried to get to the Mun, but before getting there, met their demise in a fiery fireball of poorly designed aeronautical bricks.

I'm terrible at this game. It's not even a game more than it is a giant sandbox for people who like space, rockets, or rockets flying through space.

There's a free version of Kerbal Space Program. After sinking three hours into it and getting into orbit and totally overshooting the Mun, I decided to buy it. The current big difference is that the paid version allows you to take off and land at an airstrip. "Land" is a lofty goal, actually. All of my successful attempts at returning to the surface were parachute-assisted.

So, to the game. This is the screen that greets you:

The most peaceful scene in the game. Everything else is full of choices, tension, or explosions.

The hanger to the left lets you build aircraft. The one in the middle lets you build rockets. And the thing to the right lets you track all the poor souls you've sent into orbit around the sun.

I haven't hit the Mun yet. But I'm trying to get there using the most incredibly stupid contraptions ever designed, so this blog, if I decide to continue it, won't be about reaching the Mun using rockets. No. This will be about me designing a massive space plane to get there. In my head I have this glorious vision of a stupidly large, multi-stage vehicle where dozens of rockets launch each successive stage, each loaded with even more rockets, closer into orbit. And then, to the moon!

First step is getting off the ground.

Kerbal Space Program has a physics engine where every component has mass. And unless you use structural supports, components can actually disconnect from each other given enough force.

What I get for getting that degree in computer science instead of aeronautical engineering is that I have absolutely no idea how to design a plane. Wings generate lift. Components generate drag. Enough engines will get us off the ground. "More engines" is my guiding design philosophy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Brick Mk. I:

This is a sensible design.

The Brick Mk. I is a damn sexy plane. It has a cockpit! It has a fuselage! Two wings, two tail...wings? And a fin! It has four wheels touching the ground, like a car, and an engine! I even added control surfaces to the main wings and the fail fin. Better control!

This happens a lot.

Yeah, no. The Brick Mk. I didn't even get off the ground. What happened? Were my wings not generating enough lift? Was my plane too heavy to get off the ground? So, back to the drawing board I went. My approach? Add more engines.

The Brick Mk. I was equipped with one jet engine. I quickly modified it, and lengthened the fuselage to add another fuel container. Then I added two explosive pylons to the fuselage to mount two additional engines above the plane. Clearly, I should not be designing planes. If I did, there would be deformed 12-engine Boeings taking off and landing at airports all around the world.

I also added parachutes. Kerbal Space Program lets you design vehicles with stages. It lets you decide which engines get turned on during a stage, and which parts of the vehicle get disconnected. I made sure to attach the parachutes to the cockpit, and put in a decoupler right behind it so that, if things went terribly wrong, I might be able to disconnect the cockpit and parachute my Kerbals safely to the surface. I have accidentally attached parachutes to the wrong part of a rocket before. Imagine my rage as things do go terribly wrong, I launch my brave pilots away from the soon-to-be flaming wreckage, and watch the wreck safely parachute to the ground as three little green men plummet without one.

To the moon!

This is the Brick Mk. II. It's the Brick Mk. I, but with more engines! The little yellow lines let you distribute fuel to other parts of a vehicle. And, as you can see, I got off the ground this time! Unfortunately, the two additional engines actually sway up and down. They weren't very well connected to the rest of the plane, but they were connected well enough.

So, after about a minute of flight, I decided to land the thing. Problem numero uno: the new and improved Brick absolutely refuses to do a loop. It's actually too heavy in the rear. Clearly a flaw of my "more engines" design philosophy. Problem numero dos. After rolling to one side and pulling up, I went into a spin.

Spins are bad.

This was the point of no return. I mashed the spacebar. I jettisoned the two engines I hastily attached during a terrible design decision. I detached the cockpit from the Brick Mk. II. I watched the rest of the Brick Mk. II plummet toward the ocean. And I watched the cockpit fall with it.

Yes, those are two parachutes. Yes, those two parachutes are clipping through each other.

Then I hit spacebar one last time, and watched Kerbin's finest pilots splash safely into the ocean.

What's next for the Brick Mk. III? Definitely more engines. Probably more wings. Maybe a few stages. Maybe even a two-dozen-rocket-powered sled that launches these Kerbals down the runway at brain-liquefying speeds. It will also probably not look like a plane.