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About Torquemadus

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    Sr. Spacecraft Engineer
  1. I have previously experimented with building winged fly-back stages with solid rocket strap-on boosters. The solids (which have little recovery value) are lost, but the rest of the plane is recovered. I haven't revisited the idea since re-entry heating was added to KSP. Maybe I'll give it another go and see what I can come up with.
  2. Zubrin's thinking is that NASA went from Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight to Apollo 11 in less than a decade. It has often been argued that the reason for this is that NASA had much more money then than it does now. While NASA's share of the federal budget is lower, the federal budget is now much larger. Adjusted for inflation, the present day NASA budget is quite similar to the average budget that was available during Apollo. Zubrin has often quoted comments from NASA engineers, who asked: "If we could put a man on the Moon, why can't we put a man on the Moon?" and "It wasn't this hard to get to the Moon last time." Much of the perceived difficulty of sending humans to Mars is the fact that no astronauts have flown beyond LEO since 1972. The extremely drawn out and expensive development of SLS is a good example of this. The Mars Direct plan is usually presented without mention of testing and precursor flights. This gives the impression that the hardware is flown to Mars without prior test flights. This would never be done in practice. With the exception of STS1, human rated flight hardware has always been test flown first before being flown with a crew. Un-crewed precursor flights would be flown to demonstrate that safe return of the crew is possible. Zubrin's opening address to the 2015 Mars Society Annual Convention sets out his current thinking on the subject:-
  3. A key part of the gameplay of Career Mode is deciding which contracts to accept and which ones to reject. On higher (custom) difficulties, many contracts are downright impractical or uneconomical. In many circumstances, contracts need to be chosen together in order to share launch costs. A good example is the part test contracts. These often require construction of an extremely impractical craft to test a part, in a situation it would never be used for, for far less money than it costs to get it there. At other times, a part test contract fits with my plans by calling for a test of a useful part at a place I intended to go to anyway. I will often plan a mission as a "campaign", which accomplishes multiple contracts from one launch. I will then visit the Mission Control building periodically to see if there are any new contracts that my existing spacecraft could fulfil. I cannot make money by simply "grinding" contracts. The real problem of decline spamming is that it can be exploited to allow players to endlessly repeat certain contracts, such as science transmissions and the planting of "flag gardens". The main argument made in favour of decline spamming is that some players view contracts as "broken" and don't want to play by the rules. There is a reason why this feature can be turned off! I play on custom difficulty settings because I find the game far too easy otherwise. Even if decline penalties were turned off by default, I would still use them in my Career Mode saves. If other players are finding the game too hard on default settings, I would suggest playing on easier settings or playing a different game mode.
  4. I always disliked the way that contracts could be spammed, it was clearly an exploit. The fact that the rep penalty is small means that players are not excluded from declining contracts if they wish to do so. I play Career Mode on custom difficulty to make it more challenging. Choosing contracts can add interesting dilemmas to the game, as there is always a risk that I might not be able to pull them off and could therefore loose money.
  5. I'm hyped for the improved contracts system. I will definitely be starting a new career save! I'm also hyped about the new ISRU reactor. It's small and light enough to actually use!
  6. I play Career Mode. I don't build really huge lag inducing megastations because I've never had an operational need to do so. I used to tolerate being "in the yellow" on my old laptop. However, my old laptop was "in the yellow" pretty much all the time regardless of part count!
  7. I use custom difficulty settings to improve the challenge of career mode. Even on so called "hard" difficulty, the restrictions of the early game are all too easily overcome. Harder settings are needed. By greatly decreasing the rewards of contracts, I force myself to get by with less money, less tech, and less building upgrades. Careful planning is required to allow multiple contracts to share the same launch to offset costs. This approach is fun if you have the inventiveness to overcome the restrictions. If not, it will turn into a grind as you struggle to make money.
  8. The Hermes as depicted in The Martian seems to have been conceived entirely as a plot device. It takes six months to send crewed spacecraft to Mars using existing chemical propulsion. Cargo can be sent on lower energy trajectories such as an eight-and-a-half month Hohmann transfer. Using VASIMR thrusters and huge nuclear reactors drastically increases the mass, development time, flight time, and cost of the mission, while minimising the time spent actually exploring Mars. Current long duration mission plans call for a six month type one fast ballistic transfer to Mars, with a year and a half spent exploring the surface, and a six month transfer back to Earth. Martian resources are leveraged to provide propellants for the return flight, fuels for surface vehicles, and life support consumables. Assets are concentrated on the Martian surface to establish a permanent base. By contrast, the mission depicted in The Martian spends a few weeks (at best) on Mars and provides the astronauts with negligible mobility and power, reducing their mission to an effectively worthless "flags and footprints" exercise. The base they establish during their short stay is soon abandoned, never to be used again. By employing "MacGyver" techniques, Mark Watney is able to use the technology and resources available to him to survive for a year and a half. In other words, he is able to survive a standard length Mars mission by adapting inadequate hardware and supplies to perform a predictably more capable long-duration mission that should have been designed that way all along...! In the book, NASA admit that Mark Watney has provided a far better mission and far better science return than could possibly have been provided with their existing programs.
  9. We know that Dragon v2 is "designed to carry astronauts to Earth orbit and beyond". We also know that Dragon's heat shield is designed to withstand return from missions to the Moon and Mars. Just because Dragon v2 is currently part of the Commercial Crew program, there is no reason to conclude that it isn't capable missions to other destinations. By contrast, the Boeing CST-100 seems to be designed strictly for LEO destinations, such as the ISS or a proposed future Bigalow station. - - - Updated - - - Some of the Soviet era cosmonauts didn't wear pressure suits. This was changed after Soyuz 11. - - - Updated - - - This video explains how China fits into the current picture.
  10. What seriously needs to be clarified is what advantages (if any) Orion offers compared to the Crew Dragon and the CST-100 Starliner. If my understanding is correct, the Commercial Crew capsules are more advanced, considerably cheaper, and will be ready far sooner than Orion. If the Commercial Crew capsules begin flying in 2017 as currently planned, why does NASA need to wait another five or six years and spend a whole load more money to develop another capsule? As far as I'm aware, the only advantage Orion has over the Commercial Crew capsules is that it gets to launch on the SLS, which can send it to cislunar space. If this is the only distinction, then all SpaceX have to do is build their own big rocket! In addition to Falcon 9 Heavy, which begins flying next year, SpaceX are working on their next generation rocket, which is provisionally referred to as the "Big Falcon Rocket" (BFR). Needless to say, BFR is expected to be vastly cheaper than SLS and capably of flying far more frequently. SLS and Orion have drawn some heavy criticism, due to the expectation that they will be far too expensive to allow any useful exploration to occur. Meanwhile, once the ISS program ends, SpaceX and other commercial space companies are expected to sit back and do nothing while SLS and Orion paralyze NASA with crippling costs for many decades to come. Casey Dreier painted an exceptionally pessimistic picture during a debate at the Mars Society Annual Convention in August. I had a chance to speak to him after the debate. His view is that SLS and Orion have too much political support to be cancelled, and that NASA are stuck with them for decades to come. His view is that SLS and Orion should be allowed to fly make-work missions in order to defer the cost of hardware needed for real missions for as long as possible.
  11. NASA administrator Charles Bolden recorded a recent interview where he discusses Commercial Crew, the future of the ISS, Orion and SLS.
  12. I've tested my KSP install with and without the Asteroid Day mod. I can confirm that removing the mod clears the problem. My install is otherwise all stock.
  13. The Space Shuttle was designed and built without any clear idea of what it would actually be used for. After struggling to find a role for the Shuttle, the decision was made to initiate the ISS program to give the Shuttle something to do. These programs have kept the agency busy in LEO for decades at great cost. After the loss of the Columbia, the Constellation Program was established as an eventual replacement for the Space Shuttle. This called for NASA to return to the Moon by 2020, which meant that NASA would not be required to do much toward achieving that goal before the Bush administration left office. The program was never fully funded and was eventually cancelled. The Obama administration preferred a "flexible path". This consisted of giving NASA various make-work projects that are rationalised by distant pseudogoals. The idea is that NASA will develop various hardware elements in the hope that they come in handy in the future. With the advent of "New Space" companies, such as SpaceX, there have been numerous proposals for affordable programs that can return humans to the Moon and send them to Mars in the near term. The space advocacy community hopes to persuade the current presidential candidates to set worthy goals for NASA. Here are some useful videos from the recent Mars Society Convention in Washington DC:-
  14. Modern military thinking includes space alongside the traditional land, sea and air battlespace. While a modern military force can function without access to space, their capabilities would be severely reduced (there are backup options available if necessary). Besides that, modern civilisation is much more heavily dependant on access to space than is generally understood, so it pays to be prepared. While sensationalists like to stir up fears about apocalypse scenarios that play on popular fears, there is little chance that developed nations would actually be stupid enough to start a major shooting war at this point. There is simply too much to loose and too little to gain. We might get a few more Ukraine proxy conflicts, but these are nothing new. There are some extremist fascist groups that want to take over the world in the manner of kitsch (and somewhat old fashioned) James Bond villains. In practice, they have too many mutual enemies. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". The other apocalypse argument is based on completely artificial scenarios based on "resource depletion", "overpopulation", and scary anti-science thinking. These essentially recycle the old "lebensraum" argument that there are "too many foreigners around" and that humanity is doomed to fight over "dwindling" resources. These have been thoroughly debunked by Carl Sagan, Robert Zubrin and the multitude of science advocates that they have inspired over the years. A far more relevant question is concerned with how mining claims and property rights will be dealt with in a legally confused solar system. Earth nations are banned by treaty from claiming sovereignty over extra-terrestrial bodies, but private individuals and companies are not. The first human settlement on Mars will be populated by people who have far more technological and scientific understanding and far more courage than "ordinary" stay-at-homes could ever dream of. A tenacious young nation of Mark Watney thinkalikes would be formidable indeed! It has already been predicted that the rapid economic growth of the space sector in the "New Space Age" will become the next "Dot-Com Revolution". Just as in the age of sail, new worlds will be developed and invested in based on their perceived future value.
  15. I've been using target surface rendezvous. The crew are launched directly to the target in a "land yacht" mobile hab, which is capable of travelling long distances and visiting many biomes. When they're ready to go home, the crew drive to the Kerbin Return Vehicle (KRV), which flies them back to Kerbin.