Care was taken to design each node of Copper such that it could be launched using the currently available technology. This was not possible in a few cases, such as the large rotating habitation sections. Those would have to wait until larger launch vehicles were ready and tested, and thus were launched later in the schedule. Regardless, most of the planned modules were small enough to be handled by the LV-30 Overture.
The original launch order for Project Copper was amended several times as it developed. Pieces were designed, built, and fully integrated onto their rockets, only to be held back until other modules had launched. The prime example of this was the first solar array assembly, which was held until radiators were installed and working. There was some concern the solar arrays would heat the station to dangerous levels if the radiator assembly was not already functional. Other launches were delayed for various structural or safety reasons, which will be discussed in detail later.
What follows is the originally intended launch manifest after completion of the station's initial design.
Cu 1 - Command Bridge, Docking, and Fore Airlocks (Complete)
Cu 2 - Construction Tug and Aft Airlocks
Cu 3 - Trusswork Section, Lighted, Stability-Assist
Cu 4 - Trusswork Section, Lighted, Stability-Assist
Cu 5 - Power Node, Batteries, Anchors for Solar Arrays
Cu 7 - Radiator Assembly A
Cu 8 - The Node (for station modules) and Extended Docking Adapters
Cu 6 - Solar Array Assemblies 1, 2, and 3
Cu 9 - Trusswork Section, Lighted
Cu 10 - Trusswork Section, Lighted
Cu 11 - Habitation Assembly A
Cu 12 - Habitation Assembly B
Cu 13 - Experimental Cryogenic Module (attached to Node)
Cu 14 - Trusswork Section
Cu 15 - Radiator Assembly B
Cu 16 - Radiator Assembly C
Cu 17 - Experimental Nuclear Reactors (attached to aft, ahead of airlocks)
The stretch goals for the project included the launch of an experimental drive system. This system would be mounted aft of the nuclear reactors with the airlock and reactors directly ahead of the main engines. Two long assemblies for fuel would sit between the reactors and the rest of the ship. These assemblies would allow fuel "pods" to be radially attached to them.
Cu 18 - Fuel Skeleton Assembly A
Cu 19 - Fuel Skeleton Assembly B
Cu 20 - Trusswork Section, Lighted
Cu 21 - Main Drive Assembly
Cu 22-? - Fuel Pod Modules
Once complete, the Copper DSEV-3 would be arranged as such (where <> indicates a docked node):
Fore Docking Node
The Node and Attached Modules
Trusswork, Lighted, Stability
Power Base and Solar Arrays
Trusswork, Lighted, Stability
Fuel Skeleton A and Fuel Pods
Fuel Skeleton B and Fuel Pods
Main Drive Assembly
Culpa de Cuprum
There was one small rocket to clear out of the VAB before everyone got back to Copper. Zinc 2, which contained yet more science supplies for Manganese Station, was shot off into orbit atop an LV-13 Scherzo. Its flight was completely routine and without incident or further comment.
With the Zinc out of the way, the Vertical Assembly Building was cleared to start work on the many Copper launches in its queue. The space program's principal factories and infrastructure all had to be standardized and streamlined to increase the rate of production of the LV-30 Overture. They retained one of the VAB's four high bays for emergency integration of other craft, but even that area was ultimately used to store LV-30s and various other kit for Copper. Any alternate non-Copper launches would need to be integrated in the Horizontal Assembly Building, aka the Spaceplane Hanger.
Soon the factories were rolling, all the kinks were worked out, and several Coppers were ready to go in quick succession. First up was the Copper 2, perhaps the most important launch aside from the bridge as it contained the construction tug. This large craft would be needed to wrangle all of the parts of Copper Station as they approached the construction site. The launch also included the Aft airlock node, which would move backwards as new modules were installed between it and the existing forward modules. Finally, the tug was launched with a set of docking port size adapters, needed to handle all the odd-sized trusswork, such as the solar arrays.
The majority of these launches were between 230 and 270 tonnes at liftoff. Copper 2 rated at 247, somewhat average.
The plan was for the tug to retain the orbital stage which placed it in orbit during the initial parts of the construction. This would give it a bit more "oomph" should it need to track down and recover some wayward heavy module. This meant the "Docking Port to Hex-Size-1" (DP-H1) and "Hex-Size-1 to Rounded-Hex-Size-2" (H1-RH2) docking adapters presently at the front of the craft would need to be stowed somewhere first. That somewhere turned out to be the rear docking port of the Iron Shuttle, recently returned from the Mün.
With those adapters out of the way, the tug was ready to move on to other things. Namely docking up with the bridge and waiting around for the next piece of the puzzle to arrive.
That next piece was the Copper 3, containing the first of the Trusswork sections. These are not just long stretches of Hex-2 trusswork, but also include large inline reaction wheels, RCS thrusters, and tanks for storing ample amounts of monopropellent for feeding said RCS thrusters. This is part of the Stability Assist system the station requires to prevent certain abnormal physics movements while the Habitation rings are first set to spinning, and to otherwise provide for general attitude control.
These trusswork sections also include lots of the always important self-illumination devices. AKA: spotlights.
Copper 3 left with 239 tonnes of Kerbin at liftoff.
Unfortunately this is where things started to go wrong. An as of yet unknown issue with how the payload was secured in the fairing resulted in the craft flipping head-over-tail once hypersonic. This failure resulted in loss of the vehicle and payload.
A fault review board was assembled to determine the root cause of the failure. Their initial reviews hinted at both software issues and lax controls in VAB integration regarding how the payload was strutted and secured. They were able to address these issues in time for Copper 4, which included another piece of identical trusswork.
Copper 3 was placed back into the construction schedule, intended to launch after the already complete Copper 5. It would be rebranded as Copper 3A once ready.
Copper 4 launched at night, as is only right and proper. If this launch were to fail it would do so under the blanket of darkness. After all, half of the interesting things in the universe occur in such darkness, so it is only fair some failures do as well. Thankfully this launch was not a failure, and the issues which had plagued the Copper 3 were corrected.
Liftoff mass was once again 239 tonnes.
[Editor's note: As most of these launches look identical, many of the screenshots will not be repeated. Especially those taken at night. If you wish to know how these craft appeared at liftoff or during the ascent, please refer to the previous Copper launches. Thanks.]
The Cu4's rendezvous with the other pieces of Copper was swift. The construction tug was sent out to greet the new trusswork, minus the Aft Airlock (an error that would be corrected later with much headache). Once the tug was docked up, the Cu4's orbital stage was emptied of most of its remaining fuel, decoupled, and deorbited.
Subsequently, the Cu4 trusswork was installed into the growing pile of Copper.
The next launch, Copper 5, included the "Power Base" and batteries. This was the node to which the three Solar Array arms would be anchored, and it was also the node which included most of the station's electrical storage capabilities. Copper was to be a thirsty ship once everything was up and running. Without the planned nuclear reactors, it would need to survive the darkness during the dwell times behind Kerbin.
Batteries are rather dense, so the Cu5 came in at an above average 244 tonnes at liftoff.
Installation of the Power Base required some initial assembly. The three battery stacks had to be attached to the solar array anchors before the tug could access the base's primary RH2-sized docking port. This assembly was conducted while the entire base remained attached to its orbital stage, which provided extra stability and control. Before any of that could happen the tug first needed to grab its H1-RH2 adapter from the rear of the Iron.
These assembly maneuvers were being controlled remotely by one or more of the crews aboard the Copper, typically Rondous or Verly. Occasionally Edsel would provide assistance, but typically he was at the ready in the Iron lander should they need him to track down a wayward piece in a RealBigHurryNow.
The lighted docking rings on the larger Copper modules made the assembly easier, especially during the dark stretches. (As was most welcome and proper.) The crew wrote a thank you letter to those responsible, but it was lost somewhere in the dusty and chaotic interior of the tracking station. [Because at the end of the day I'm not entirely sure which one of you to thank. Is it part of DSEV? Is it from one of the many docking port mods I have that also add similar lighting to the stock ports? Or something else entirely? Thanks, whichever of you it is.]
Once the battery banks were installed, the decouplers which had held them to the Power Node were discarded (space debris!), and the Cu5's orbital stage was robbed of most of its fuel, and then deorbited. The assembly tug dragged the whole of the Power Node over to the Copper and installed it where it belonged. In the dark, as is only fitting and proper.
This particular assembly was long and tiring, and once complete everyone involved ran off and took a good long nap. At least now they'd have ample electrical power, which should help weather the cold and lonely 20-minute-long nights behind Kerbin.
The replacement launch for the Copper 3 came up next. This was originally to be the forward trusswork, placed between the Bridge and the Power Base. With its new place in the launch order, the Copper 3A module would be installed behind the Power Base, where the Cu4 was to originally go.
The Cu3 clocked in at 244 tonnes at liftoff, a difference primarily accountable to small nondescript changes in the launch vehicle itself.
Initial rendezvous with the Copper construction site occurred just over the terminator, meaning the installation of this module would occur in the dark. As was only right and proper and whatnot. Thankfully by this point the station had a rather healthy number of lights up and running, not to mention the lights attached to the Cu3A itself. The dark is no longer quite so dark.
And with that, the first stage of Copper construction was complete. It would be a few munths before the next craft in the schedule had completed construction and was ready. (This was due in part to the solar arrays being delayed until the radiators were ready and installed.)
Perfect time for all involved to take another long nap.