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Rockets or Space Planes?


Andrew Ridgely
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21 minutes ago, Andrew Ridgely said:

Which do you prefer?  Rockets or Space Planes?

Yes :D

Rockets: Low development time. Easy to design. Quick flights. Handle bulky cargo.
Space planes: low, low operating costs. Improved safety/ reliability.
I use space planes for transfer of crew and fuel between KSC and LKO. For everything else, I use rockets.

As far as whether you *should* use space planes, that's a matter of personal judgment. Space planes take a lot more skill to develop and fly, and flight times to orbit and back are longer and demand more attention. Since the development of space planes is expensive in terms of play time, I never design them for missions I'm only going to fly once. Instead, I integrate them into a logistics network where they will be used routinely.

Best,
-Slashy

 

Edited by GoSlash27
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@GoSlash27 might look like a grubby-80s-comic-Brit-sci-fi-actor, but in reality he is a sage of KSP-fu, and everything he says is true. :)

I can only add that, the only reason for getting into anything in KSP is if you find it fun. I tend to take a lot longer over building a spaceplane than a rocket, mostly because they are just more complicated, but then I build the spaceplane (or planes in general) to fly it around, not just go to orbit and back - I do find them fun, almost as a game of their own, just building and flying around. So, while Slashy might say build passenger shuttles, I'd still build test aircraft, stunt-planes and replicas. (Actually, whatever he might say I bet he's done all of those things too - at least once. :wink:) He's totally right about what's efficient in game resources, but what's efficient in personal entertainment value is what counts AFAIC.

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I've used both and they each have specific uses.

Rockets are great for lifting large amounts of cargo, they're easier to build, they're generally pretty difficult to screw up, and they work.

Spaceplanes, I find them great for lifting crew into my stations, any time I need a precision de-orbit and land (glide slope/propulsion really helps with nailing that lovely landing back at KSC without feeling like I've got to get it really close), and they're excellent for light cargo loads, like that bloody satellite you suddenly find yourself needing.

However, they both have their downsides.

Spaceplanes take more effort to build.  In a rocket, the golden rule is, parachute at the top, fins near the bottom, and an engine on the bottom.  Fill the middle with lots of stuff that goes boom, and stuff to bring to space.  A spaceplane has to be built such that the CoM is ahead of the CoL at all times, but not too far forward or you don't have a glider, you have a sinker.  Spaceplanes also struggle with larger payloads, both in weight and in physical size.

Rockets, unless they're very highly engineered to where they may as well be spaceplanes, are disposable launch vehicles.  They drop parts all over the place on purpose to shed more and more of their weight until they're in space.  You'll also be doing your landing with a parachute, which means you don't get to pick your exact landing site, just 'close enough' to count.

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26 minutes ago, The_Rocketeer said:

Slashy might say build passenger shuttles, I'd still build test aircraft, stunt-planes and replicas. (Actually, whatever he might say I bet he's done all of those things too - at least once. :wink:)

The_Rocketeer,
 You'd win that bet, and you're absolutely right. Ultimately, what's worth doing is whatever the individual player enjoys doing. Space planes are a challenge on a whole 'nother level from rockets. Some people like them, while others hate them. Me personally... I've gotten crotchety in my old age. Space planes are just a means to an end for me, 'cuz I've got spacing to do. But I *do* still find them to be more fun than rockets :D

Best,
-Slashy

 

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Spaceplanes are mainly made for the challenge. They deliver far less payload for the same launch size. The craft may be fully recoverable, if you're playing career and concerned about costs, but you'll still need to use a rocket to put anything really sizeable in space. 

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Spaceplanes are challenging and fun, but not all that useful other than for getting stuff to/from LKO economically.  (Caveat: they're also good to land on Laythe)  But for most space-oriented stuff, rockets are much more practical, and certainly easier to get to work.

The other question is, are you playing career or science mode?  Unless you're a master designer/pilot, Spaceplanes are not really viable until you get some of the highest tech tree parts  Rapiers are the most important; Whiplashes are not quite as good but may be doable.  You also need air intakes that work at high speeds.  The earlier game parts can certainly get you a viable airplane, but they are not optimized to get all the way to space.  

 

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Note, that while spaceplanes have a great return on investment per contract (if you master landing), and take about as much of game time to fly as rockets, meaning more Funds per Kerbin year, they take a lot of time to fly. When you finish a gravity turn with a rocket 4 minutes after launch, getting the plane to the orbit can take up to half an hour (though usually 10-15 minutes is more frequent).

That means fewer contracts completed and flights flown per real day. A spaceplane player will earn twice as much per Kerbin year as a rocket player, but a rocket player will earn twice as much per week of playing, advancing by 4 years in the time the spaceplane guy finishes one.

...and unfortunately, for some (most?) of us real time is more precious than in-game time.

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I would say do rockets until you can get about 10-20tonnes into orbit with little effort, then you can develop spaceplanes whilst still being able to do other fun stuff in the kerbal system.

 

but don't listen to me, I'm jealous of the space plane fliers, mine always seem to reenter at about 40-60km without touching space :(

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42 minutes ago, Sharpy said:

Note, that while spaceplanes have a great return on investment per contract (if you master landing), and take about as much of game time to fly as rockets, meaning more Funds per Kerbin year, they take a lot of time to fly. When you finish a gravity turn with a rocket 4 minutes after launch, getting the plane to the orbit can take up to half an hour (though usually 10-15 minutes is more frequent).

8ish mins to circular orbit - while that's a good time for me that's also not that far off average. That's also close to a rocket time to that orbit. Caveat: FAR.

27627724182_21aa6bd6f7_b.jpg

The only time I won't use a spaceplane is if whatever I'm taking up won't fit. I'm not *that* attached to them that I won't build a rocket.

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Spaceplanes are fun to build (IMHO) but also harder than rocket launchers. They take longer to plan out, require a lot more testing, and what looks right to the eye doesn't always fly. If it's not going to go to orbit, you can't force it or cajole it the way you often can a rocket. More boosters never helps, and you need to learn a lot more about how things fly in KSP.

If you like to design things, spaceplanes are good. If you prefer to pilot and go places, rockets may suit you better :)

There is a higher cost to rocket based careers, because you'll discard a lot of expensive engines during ascent; but I have never found funds to be a limiting factor. With a mix of launchers, I'm currently sitting on 25 million roots, and am starving for science points (which is how I like it so that's ok!)

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38 minutes ago, Van Disaster said:

8ish mins to circular orbit - while that's a good time for me that's also not that far off average. That's also close to a rocket time to that orbit. Caveat: FAR.

And how long until landed back at KSC?

And an MK2 cargo bay sized payload... it's been years Kerbin time since I launched something like that.

 

I agree spaceplanes are fun to build. But they are more of a quirk of how you like to play for pleasure, than actual money-savers.

Quite recently, I built a launch system that could bring significant savings - launch rockets from 20km high, at 1000m/s.

Spoiler

AGvzJ4B.png

It was perfectly functional, but I found the 10+ minutes spent piloting the plane there and back are simply not worth it.

Edited by Sharpy
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48 minutes ago, Sharpy said:

...It was perfectly functional, but I found the 10+ minutes spent piloting the plane there and back are simply not worth it.

Yer, that's exactly it. There isn't a compelling reason in-game to use anything other than rockets; unless you just plain enjoy doing so.

But the nice thing about KSP is everyone plays at their own pace. It's ok to take a week to launch a single mission if you enjoy the process of doing so. Or if that winds you up because you haven't gone anywhere, just add boosters and go to space in 10 minutes. Per unit of real-time, you can probably make more profit from 'expensive' rocket launches because they are so much faster to execute both during the ascent and return :)

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7 hours ago, Vanamonde said:

Spaceplanes are mainly made for the challenge. They deliver far less payload for the same launch size. The craft may be fully recoverable, if you're playing career and concerned about costs, but you'll still need to use a rocket to put anything really sizeable in space. 

To be fair, if you look at the payload fraction challenges, SSTO spaceplanes are scoring over 50% and are just barely beat by designs which involve staging airbreathers.

However, tis easier to scale a rocket to the size of the payload than it is to scale a SSTO to the payload size. Flying a spaceplane with less than a full cargobay gets you some pretty unimpressive payload fractions.

Likewise, I managed to make semi-reusable shuttle designs (and a fully reusable one) that beat the best disposable designs - but that is only with the maximum payload (and barely making orbit)- launching it with half its total payload results in prices much higher than a disposable design.

This doesn't normally payoff except with a payload massive enough that it barely makes orbit:

Spoiler

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kyjerk2.png

 

2 hours ago, eddiew said:

There is a higher cost to rocket based careers, because you'll discard a lot of expensive engines during ascent; but I have never found funds to be a limiting factor. With a mix of launchers, I'm currently sitting on 25 million roots, and am starving for science points (which is how I like it so that's ok!)

Yea, but you play with KR&D :P so you're always starved for science because you can always upgrade a part to the next level even if its >1000 science for 5% more base Isp.

35 minutes ago, Brainlord Mesomorph said:

BTW guys: I have figured out Heavy Lifter SSTO spaceplanes  :D  details soon.

been working on this for years, finally have a solution,

People have figured out heavy lifter SSTO spaceplanes for a while now. I think I was one of the pioneers of oversized ssto spaceplanes, but I've seen other deisgns that can lift impressive payload sizes as well.

10 hours ago, GoSlash27 said:

Rockets: Low development time. Easy to design. Quick flights. Handle bulky cargo.
Space planes: low, low operating costs. Improved safety/ reliability.

Spaceplanes can handle bulky cargo too, its just that the "development time" for such a spaceplane is much much higher than spaceplanes that use the mk2 or mk3 bays... hence why we see so few "bulky lift" SSTO spaceplanes

Spoiler

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*docking the payload from the ssto 2 pics above with the one from the above pic

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In its current "refined" and post 1.1 incarnation (no payload, just a demo flight)

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eXzDhAS.png

 

That's not to say that I don't still use rockets for really really big payloads... although I may do SSTO rockets

Spoiler

sVCHOue.png

And then if a plane *is* the cargo, I have "strap on SSTOs" to help get it to orbit.

In this case its a Duna-space plane for delivering rovers to and from the surface via a mk3 bay and ramp. It can VTOL on duna, and make orbit on duna, but not kerbin... strap on some small SSTOs... and it gets to orbit - but recovery is a pain if I have to recover 4 small SSTOs just to get one plane to orbit

But this is a case where traditional rockets would struggle, because launching planes with all their wing area tends to make rockets flip. The plane also lacks obvious attachment points for the simple traditional style rocket of just sticking the payload at the top

Spoiler

PfkbQJ9.png

*yes, there were 4 of those, not 2, the other two already drifted out of the field of view

 

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