SBKerman

Project Utopia: Cooperation Across the Iron Curtain (Quarter Size RSS)

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Project Utopia

In this alternate timeline, the space race has taken on a different form, as focus has shifted away from moon landings. The launch of Salyut 1 by the Soviet Union has brought forth the question of control of near space and the fear of militarization thereof. To prevent this fear from materializing, the two super powers have agreed to collaborate in the construction of an orbiting research station. Not only will it allow for the furtherment of science, but also help each side keep tabs on the other and, hopefully, secure the balance of power. Thus, Project Utopia was born.

Ok, so not much of a backstory, I know, but it does provide me with an excuse to build a space station in QSRSS, which is why I started this new game in the first place. I'm running KSP 1.2.2 in Science Mode, but with all technology researched via the cheat menu. Basically, I just want to be able to collect science while still playing sandbox style. The game itself is quite heavily modded, the main ones being QSRSS, BDB & Tantares. To make it a bit more challenging, I'm also using KCT, Dang It!, TAC-LS, MandatoryRCS and Orbital Decay. A full list is available in the spoiler below.

Note that all dates will be given in Kerbal time format since this is not played in full size real solar system.

Complete list of mods

Spoiler

B9 Part Switch 1.7.1
BetterBurnTime 1.5.3
Bluedog Design Bureau 1.1.5b
Community Category Kit 1.2.2.0
Community Resource Pack 0.6.6.0
CommNet Constellation 1.0.1
Contares 1.8.7
CxAerospace Stations Parts Pack 1.6.2
Dang It! Continued 0.7.12.1 (BETA)
Distant Object Enhancement 1.8.1
DMagic Module Science Animate 0.16
DMagic Orbital Science 1.3.8
Docking Port Alignment Indicator 6.5.2
Environmental Visual Enhancements 1.2.2.1
EVA Fuel Continued 1.4.3.2
EVA Handrails Continued 0.2.1.4
EVA Parachutes & Ejection Seats 0.1.13
Feline Utility Rovers 0.4.1
Firespitter Plugin 7.5.1
Fuel Tanks Plus 1.12.1
Human Colored Faces
Impact! 1.5.1
Kerbal Alarm Clock 3.8.4.0
Kerbal Attachment System 0.6.2
Kerbal Construction Time (dev version build 26)
Kerbal Engineer Redux 1.1.2.8
Kerbal Hacks - Droptank "Wrapper" 1.0
Kerbal Hacks - Hazard Tanks Textures for Procedural Parts 1.0
Kerbal Hacks - Ven's Style Textures for Procedural Parts 1.1
Kerbal Inventory System 1.4.4
Kerbal Joint Reinforcement 3.3.2
Kerbal Planetary Base Systems 1.4.2
Kerbal Ramification Artificial Simulation Hub (KRASH) 0.5.22.1
Kerbal Renamer 0.7
Kopernicus 1.2.2-9
Kronal Vessel Viewer 0.0.6
KSC Switcher 0.7
KW Rocketry Redux 3.1.2
MagiCore (dev version build 42)
MainSailor's Textures for Procedural Parts 2.0.0.0.1
MandatoryRCS v1.2
Modular Pod Extensions 1.0.3
Modular Rocket Systems 1.13.1
Module Manager 2.7.6
Near Future Construction 0.7.6
Near Future Electrical 0.8.7
Near Future Propulsion 0.8.7
Near Future Solar 0.7.2
Near Future Spacecraft 0.6.3
Orbital Decay 1.5.3
Poods Milky Way Skybox 1.0.0
Precise Maneuver 2.2.5.0
Procedural Fairings 3.21
Procedural Parts 1.2.11
Quarter Size Real Solar System 10
RealPlume 10.5.1
RealPlume StockConfigs 0.11.4
Real Solar System Visual Enhancements 1.2.2.1622-RC3
Reentry Particle Effect 1.2a
Retractable Lifting Surface 0.1.3
SCANsat 17.5
Scatterer 0.0300
SmokeScreen 2.7.4.0
SpaceY Expanded 1.3.1
SpaceY Heavy Lifters 1.16
Station Science Continued 2.2.1
Stockalike Station Parts Expansion 0.4.3
Surface Experiment Pack 2.1.6
Surface Mounted Stock-Alike Lights 1.3.1
SXT Continued 0.3.12.1
TAC Life Support 0.13.0
Tantares & TantaresLV (latest master from github)
Tantares Textures for Procedural Parts 0.8
TextureReplacer 2.5.4
Transfer Window Planner 1.6.1.0
TweakScale 2.3.4
Universal Storage 1.2.2.0
USI Exploration Pack 0.7.4.0
USI Konstruction! 0.1.12.0
USI Malemute Rover 0.2.8.0
USI Sounding Rockets 0.5.9.0
Waypoint Manager 2.6.2
Ven's Stock Part Revamp 1.9.6
Wild Blue Industries Buffalo 2.0.8
Wild Blue Industries Deep Space Exploration Vessels 2.0.0.9
Wild Blue Industries Mark One Laboratory Extensions (M.O.L.E.) 1.6.6
Vostok Continued 1.0a

Episodes

1: Testing Hardware
2: First Rendezvous
3: Adopt and Adapt
4: Frictions
5: Trying Again
6: End of the Year
7: Back in Business
8: Exchanging Crew

Edited by SBKerman
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Episode 1: Testing Hardware

Spoiler

Maintaining a joint space station presents some daunting tasks when examined beyond the project's conception phase. The first and most obvious challenge is to get men and material into space. Project Gemini had left a legacy of hardware ready for use, but that was only part of the solution. Heavy lifters were needed to bring the station modules to orbit. The US Titan III and the Soviet Proton had been selected as the primary boosters for this task, with the first module scheduled for launch within two years. To facilitate transport to and from the station, the Soviets had developed a new version of their Soyuz spacecraft, known as the Soyuz-Y. This upgrade of the existing design would work in tandem with the Gemini craft, shuttling station crew. However, before it could be brought into active service, it needed testing.

Year 1, Day 44

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Soyuz Y-0 provided step one in the testing process. This unmanned flight, lasting a single orbit, would make sure that not only the spacecraft itself worked, but also the new Soyuz-Y launch vehicle. Beginning its journey around the world at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Y-0 rose skywards with a mighty roar, sending back good telemetry all the way into space. The only significant setback came at the end of powered flight, when the second stage cut off before having achived orbit. A short burst of the spacecraft's own engine remedied this, but it was something that had to be looked at.

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Cruising in a stable 139 x 145 km orbit, Soyuz Y-0 began receiving commands from ground control. Solar panels and docking antennas were deployed, followed by thorough testing of the reaction control system. Everything checked out perfectly, which actually made some of the more seasoned flight controllers nervous, since first flights were often riddled with problems. This, however, seemed to be an exception. With no more tests to run, preparations were made for reentry.

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The engines fired, forcing the spacecraft to break orbit and return home. It screamed through the atmosphere in a hot trail of plasma from which it eventually emerged intact. The parachute deployed, lowering the descent module to a soft (well, softish) landing on the ground, where recovery teams quickly gathered. The first test had been passed with flying colours.

Year 1, Day 118

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Following a successful pad abort test on day 76, the new Soyuz was deemed ready for manned orbital flights. The first such flight was to be a day long checkout of the various onboard systems. Soyuz Y-1 took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in a textbook launch, ending with the insertion of the spacecraft into a 159 x 160 km orbit. In contrast to the previous unmanned flight, no firing of the service module engine was necessary.

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Once in orbit, Soviet cosmonaut and lone passenger Timofei Toropov began working through the checklist. Suddenly, a warning light lit up in the capsule, indicating a motor failure. After some back and forth between the spacecraft and ground personnel, it was determined that they were dealing with a false alarm and the flight continued. It wasn't long though, before another light began flashing. This time the problem was traced to a fault in the remote control unit. On its own, this was not serious enough to cancel the flight, but when the batteries in the orbital module died, the accumulation of problems led to the decision to return Soyuz Y-1 to earth. The spacecraft was oriented retrograde and its main engine fired so as to bring it into a suborbital trajectory ending inside the Soviet Union.

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As the descent module, which had now separated from the orbital and service modules, plunged into the atmosphere, memories of the ill-fated Soyuz 1 resurfaced in many people's minds. There was a brief moment of alarm when Toropov blacked out for a second due to excessive G-forces. However, he quickly regained consciousness, and the landing went without a hitch.

Although the flight of Soyuz Y-1 was declared a partial failure, it did complete many of the set goals. For his professional conduct and steady nerves, cosmonaut Toropov was commended by both Soviet and American officials, securing him a spot on future missions. The initial step of Project Utopia had now been taken. Next would come the historical first rendezvous in space between east and west.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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Episode 2: First Rendezvous

Spoiler

Despite problems with the first manned flight of the new Soyuz, project managers were convinced that the cause of these mishaps had been adressed, and the spacecraft was cleared for further missions. Rendezvousing, which is an absolute vital part of building and operating a space station, was next on the list. This would also be an historic event, as it marked the first time spacecrafts from both sides of the iron curtain met in orbit.

Year 1, Day 157

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Soyuz Y-2 was first to go up. It blasted off from Baikonur with pilot Yegor Volodin and flight engineer Mikhail Nesterov aboard. The launch was conducted at night to allow for the upcoming rendezvous to take place during daylight. After an uneventful ascent, the same problem from two flights ago happened again. The second stage shut down prematurely, having run out of fuel earlier than expected. Going by advice from the ground, Volodin fired the engine on the Soyuz and got it into a 146 x 164 km orbit. The two intrepid cosmonauts would continue to circle the earth until their path took them over Cape Canaveral.

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The following night at the Cape, astronauts Gregory Carr and Jeffrey Wheeler sat ready in their Gemini Utopia 1 spacecraft. When the countdown reached zero, the engines of the Titan II booster ignited and lifted the American crew towards their destination. It was a good launch, placing them in an orbit below that of their Soviet counterparts.

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The idea was that GU-1 would be the one doing the rendezvous maneuvers, but trouble soon arose that threatened to terminate the mission before it even began. First, there was an indication that the docking adapter was coming loose which could potentially cause damage to the parachute. This was solved by simply jettisoning the adapter since it wasn't needed for this mission. A more serious matter was the malfunctioning of some of the reaction control thrusters. This meant that pilot Carr would not be able to perform all course corrections needed to get the craft close to the Soyuz.

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A brief but intense discussion between American and Soviet ground controls followed. The solution agreed upon was to switch roles and have the Soyuz be the active ship; a contingency plan for which the astronauts and cosmonauts had trained extensively. GU-1 thus raised its orbit to a near circular 284 x 285 km. A few hours of coasting followed before Yegor Volodin lit the engine to bring Soyuz Y-2 up for the intercept. The burn was good and all they had to do now was wait. For each passing minute, the distance between them shrunk, until the Gemini appeared as a dot near the horizon.

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Once within communication range, the slow process of closing in began. After some initial difficulties matching speeds, Volodin managed to get within a few meters of the target. As the world below listened in, the two crews exhanged greetings over radio. Next followed a period of station keeping, during which the Soyuz even came into visible view of the astronauts through their front windows.

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The two spacecrafts parted ways on the night side of the earth. Carr and Wheeler were to return home, while Volodin and Nesterov remained in orbit to carry out some of the tests remaining from the Soyuz Y-1 mission. Gemini Utopia 1 reentered the atmosphere on day 159 and splashed down in the pacific ocean. The crew was picked up by a navy recovery team and brought back for debriefing.

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Over the course of two days, the Soviet cosmonauts still in space laboured through the checklist meticulously, testing each onboard system. The highlight came on the second day when Nesterov donned the new Orlan spacesuit and performed a short EVA, ensuring the suit's functionality.

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All things must come to an end and on day 161, the Soyuz engine was fired one last time, bringing the spacecraft back down. Reentry and landing went smoothly and the capsule was recovered within an hour. Volodin and Nesterov were understandably tired after four days of hard work in space, but remained healthy and in good spirits.

Post-mission evaluation showed that although problems had been encountered, most objectives were achieved. Corrections to certain hardware were still needed but that was what these early missions were meant to do; find the gremlins hiding in the machinery and drive them out. Gemini Utopia 1 had been one of two spacecrafts left in inventory from the Gemini project and the other was meant to be used in a second rendezvous mission. Plans were now changed to were it would instead fly alone, giving the engineers a chance to work on the thrusters. Weight reduction of the complete Soyuz Y system to help overcome the issue with orbital insertion was also on the table, though this would not be implemented until Soyuz Y-5, since Y-3 and Y-4 were already going through the production line.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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Impressive work. Also amazing use of Tantares, one of the more beautiful and diverse mods out there. Good idea on this alternate history, and good job writing it. 

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On 2017-06-15 at 6:32 PM, Alpha 360 said:

Impressive work. Also amazing use of Tantares, one of the more beautiful and diverse mods out there. Good idea on this alternate history, and good job writing it. 

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you like it. Also, I fully agree about Tantares. 'Tis an excellent mod.

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Episode 3: Adopt and Adapt

Spoiler

Problems with the reaction control system of the recent Gemini Utopia 1 flight had pointed to a potential flaw that could jeopardize American involvement in Project Utopia. The cause of these problems were still unknown, although some theorized that the time in storage could have had a negative effect on the thrusters. To determine if this was true, the second and last complete Gemini spacecraft available in inventory would be used as a test article.

Year 1, Day 196

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The weather at Cape Canaveral was excellent on the day of the launch. Ground teams and flight controllers had reported ready and were standing by. Everything was set for the lift off. Positioned upon the reliable Titan II was Gemini Utopia 2 or GU-2 with America's first female astronaut Sherry Porter in the pilot's seat. Next to her sat flight engineer Andrew Robertson, who would monitor and make adjustments to the thrusters during this all-important mission. Both of them were going to space for the first time.

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As the countdown countinued inexorably, final checks were made on the spacecraft and its instrumentation. One by one, controllers gave the go for launch. At T minus zero, the engines of the rocket came to life with the characteristical "bwoop" sound and began pushing the vehicle of the pad. Lumbering at first, but moving ever faster, it travelled through the thinning atmosphere, making its way towards the stars.

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Stage separation occured on the mark and the final kick into orbit proceeded without incident. Once accustomed to their new environment, Porter and Robertson went right to work. All possible combinations of roll, pitch and yaw were tested and surprisingly, all worked. No matter what maneuvers Porter threw at them, the Gemini thrusters responded cleanly. Her partner was similarly stumped. Using all his knowledge, Robertson introduced different scenarios to try and replicate what had gone wrong in the previous flight, but nothing he did would cause a similar failure, or any failure at all.

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Two planned burns were made to raise the orbit from 125 x 145 km to 152 x 163 km. This was followed by additional tests, all of which turned out successful. Having found nothing wrong with the thrusters, the early assessment was that GU-1 had been an anomaly. With the main objectives completed, the astronauts turned to other system tests for the remainder of the two day mission. On the last revolution, the orbit was lowered back down to 134 x 145 km in preparation for the reentry burn. When in position, Porter lit the engines for the final time and GU-2 plunged into the atmosphere. The crew capsule and service module separated, with the latter burning up the some distance away.

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The flight of Gemini Utopia 2 ended with a splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the United States. The spacecraft, charred by the intense heat of reentry, was to be taken back and examined further. Hopes were high that no major design changes would be necessary, thus avoiding long delays in the project. It could still take some time though before a final verdic was reached and until then, production of all Gemini hardware was suspended.

Continuation of the project was of vital importance for the Soviet side, as their whole space program was involved in and relied on it. With Gemini grounded, they had to find another way to proceed with the upcoming missions. One solution that gained much traction was the adaption of a planned but never built rescue vehicle. It had been designed with the intent of using it to recover Soyuz spacecrafts stranded on orbit. With only a few modifications, it could be used as a target for docking practice, and possibly even as a space tug later on.

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A quick decision was made to put the vehicle, now named Tsel, into production. Launched on a Soyuz-Y rocket, it would act as a substitue for the Gemini spacecraft accompanying Soyuz Y-3. After docking with Tsel, the crew of Y-3 would use its main engines to make changes to their orbit, demonstrating part of the rescue capabilities of this system. They would then undock and return to earth.

Year 1, Day 235

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Lift off of Tsel 1 took place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the morning hours of day 235. Thick clouds filled the sky into which the launch vehicle disappeared from view of the ground crew. Visible only to the men at mission control, it rocketed (quite literally) towards its destination in space.

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After a successful insertion into orbit, Tsel 1 powered down and went into hibernation mode to preserve battery power. It would automatically wake up again once the crewed Soyuz arrived,

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Soyuz Y-3 launched the following day, carrying pilot Mikhail Limonov and flight engineer Yakov Melekhov. As had happened before, they too experienced the persistent problem with the second stage and had to fire the spacecraft's engine to complete the orbital insertion. This was becoming more of a nuisance than a mission-threatening failure, since the same solution had been used successfully each time. A much more serious issue struck thirteen minutes into the flight when the main battery short-circuited. The spacecraft continued to run on the backup in the orbital module, but a decision had to be made fast; either attempt a repair or return home. The second option was only available during the first orbit. After that, a landing within the Soviet Union would not be possible until several hours later.

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The crew chose to try and repair the damage. This required an EVA since some of the wiring could not be accessed from within the craft. Melekhov put on his spacesuit and got into the orbital module, which was then depressurized. As they entered daylight again, he stepped outside and carefully made his way down the Soyuz exterior while Limonov talked him through the procedure. After much fiddling with the crude tools at hand, Melekhov managed to get the battery operational again.

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Thanks to the dedicated work of the cosmonauts, the mission could continue, although on a much tighter schedule than originally planned. The burn to place Soyuz Y-3 close to Tsel 1 was performed shortly after Melekhov had returned to his seat. The rendezvous itself also presented a challenge to overcome. During the docking phase, pilot Limonov found it frustratingly difficult to align with and move in on the tiny probe, even with the help of the semi-automated systems. After several failed attempts, a hard dock was achieved. When the connection had been verified, the engines of Tsel 1 were used to raise the apogee of the combined spacecraft from 175 km to 271 km. It was then lowered again to 169 km.

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With all tests completed, Tsel 1 was left in a gradually decaying orbit which would eventually take it into the earth's atmosphere, destroying it. For Limonov and Melekhov, a rough but less catastrophical reentry awaited. Following the deorbit burn, the orbital and service modules separated from the descent module which, protected by its heatshield, rode through the scorching fireball towards a safe landing.

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The welcomed sight of a fully deployed parachute greeted the recovery team, as they arrived on the scene just before touchdown. A quick burst of the retrorockets seconds prior to impact signaled the end of the mission. A mission which was declared 110% successful. Not only had all objectives been met. It had also shown that on-orbit repairs were possible. The road now lay open for more complex tasks to be performed.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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Episode 4: Frictions

Spoiler

Examination of the GU-2 capsule had resulted in nothing but minor changes to the Gemini system. Still, it was deemed wise to put these to the test before continuing with the planned missions. Gemini Utopia 3 would therefore be an extended 10+ days flight, giving ample time for the aforementioned changes to be evaluated. To get the most out of these tests, the crew was made up of two veterans; Gregory Carr, who had been pilot on GU-1, and Andrew Robertson, the flight engineer from GU-2. Carr and Robertson were scheduled to lift off on day 275, but the launch was postponed after docking with an Agena Target Vehicle was added to the mission profile.

This change was met with criticism from both sides. The Soviets felt that their American partner was stalling, forcing all the heavy lifting onto them. At home, many voiced the concern that it was nothing but a rehash of the original Gemini project. However, management was adamant that the mission proceed as defined. Another cause of concern was the choice of Andrew Robertson for GU-3. Robertson was to have joined the upcoming Soyuz Y-4 mission as the third member of its crew. Unwilling to cede their top fligh engineer to what they considered only a token role, top brass opted instead to send Arthur Mccoy. The choice of a scientist, however qualified in his own field, for what was essentially an engineering mission, was seen by the Soviets as further evidence of lack of commitment.

Year 1, Day 297

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Regardless of feelings among the various groups, GU-3 would continue as planned. On day 297, the Atlas-Agena combination was rolled out to one of the launchpads at Cape Canaveral. As the countdown reached zero, the engines of the Atlas' peculiar stage-and-a-half design ignited, pushing the rocket and its payload off the pad. A few minutes later, the Agena Target Vehicle was in orbit.

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Next, Gemini Utopia 3 was launched atop a Titan II booster. It entered orbit slightly below the Agena where it remained until the appropriate time, when a burn of the spacecraft's engine brought the two together. Once in contact with the target, astronaut Carr assumed command and guided the Gemini towards the waiting docking port of the ATV. It was the first test of the improved thrusters and it worked flawlessly.

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Docked together in a 208 x 212 km orbit, the two machines would remain joined until the end of the mission. The crew continued their work, as they travelled around the globe time and again. One item of particular interest was the life support system, which had been given an overhaul in preparation for the longer stays at the space station. Everything went smoothly and there was even time available to make earth observations not originally scheduled.

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As the mission drew to a close, Carr and Robertson prepared for reentry. The orbit, which had decayed naturally to 204 x 208 km, was lowered further via two burns of the Agena engine. The spacecraft then undocked from the target vehicle and ignited its own engine to complete the maneuver. After more than twelve days in space, the crew of Gemini Utopia 3 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Their safe return meant that America was back in the game.

Year 1, Day 310

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For those directly involved in the project, there was no time to rest. The very same day that GU-3 returned to earth, Tsel 2 stood poised for launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Like the Agena, it would provide a target for Soyuz Y-4 to dock with. But more than that, Tsel would also be used as a platform for work during a planned EVA. Lift off occured on the mark and all seemed well until it came time for separation of the four strap-on boosters. This failed, adding a lot of dead weight to the rocket. Rapid loss of altitude, and the structural stresses it caused, led to the upper stage and payload being torn off. They entered the atmosphere and were destroyed, while the rest of the Soyuz crashed in wilderness below.

Although many suspected foul play on an international level, the official story placed blame on a disgruntled worker who, in a drunken stupor, had decided to sabotage the launch vehicle. With Project Utopia already going through a rough patch, foreign agents or even angry employees, were the last things needed right now. Much work lay ahead to restore the tarnished reputation of the endeavour.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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Episode 5: Trying Again

Spoiler

The failure to orbit Tsel 2 had been an unfortunate setback for the high profile mission it was meant to support. It was, however, a temporary one. Only thirty five days after the breakup of the launch vehicle mid-flight, the identical Tsel 3 was ready for lift off. This time, great care was taken in the prechecks to make sure nothing went wrong.

Year 1, Day 345

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The Soyuz-Y rocket carrying Tsel 3 blasted off from Baikonur and rose skywards on a plume of fire and smoke. All eyes on the ground were fixed on the telemetry signaled back to launch control. To everyone's relief, the numbers continued to be good all the way to orbit.

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When the successful launch of Tsel 3 had been confirmed, Soyuz Y-4 was cleared for take off. It featured the first multinational crew, a fact which drew much attention to the mission. US astronaut Arthur Mccoy joined veterans Timofei Toropov and Yakov Melekhov. Toropov had piloted the first manned Soyuz-Y spacecraft, while Melekhov's claim to fame was for his EVA repair work during Soyuz Y-3.

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Thanks to a modified ascent profile, the problem with the second stage running out of fuel was avoided. The two cosmonauts and their American colleague thus arrived safely in orbit, where they began preparations for the rendezvous with Tsel 3. Once docked, Melekhov would do two spacewalks, and with assistans from Toropov, perform work on the target vehicle. Meanwhile, Mccoy would monitor their heart rates and take other vital readings to determine the stresses induced by such work.

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Docking went smoothly, giving Toropov a chance to show off his excellent piloting skill. The joyful mood of a mission gone well, unfortunately turned sour when time came for the first EVA. All suited up and ready to leave the Soyuz orbital module, Melekhov went to open the hatch and got nowhere. The handle was stuck and would not move. Several times he tried, eventually pulling so hard, it made the whole spacecraft rock back and forth. His valiant effort proved futile, and after an hour, it was decided to cut the mission short.

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Disappointed and angry, the crew agreed to return home. To add something useful to the otherwise fruitless undertaking, the engines of Tsel 3 were used for part of the deorbit burn, testing their abilities. Once completed, the Tsel was jettisoned together with, and still attached to, the orbital module. This provided for a visual spectacle, as the two burned up in a bright fireball during reentry.

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As one last kick in the groin, the parachute opened up violently during descent, subjecting the crew to punishing G-forces. Soyuz Y-4 landed without further incidents and was recovered later that day. The official mission report highlighted crew performance and the cooperation between nations, while describing the hatch not opening as merley a minor technical problem.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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Episode 6: End of the Year

Spoiler

As the first year rapidly drew towards a close, activity within the project increased to meet deadlines. Two missions were planned to take place, the first being an unmanned test flight of the newly developed Soyuz-YB spacecraft. This new vehicle served dual purposes, both as a test bed for systems to be used on the next generation Soyuz, and as the target for the first on-orbit docking with a Gemini craft. The second of the planned missions, and the last of the year, was another Gemini-Soyuz rendezvous, similar to the one performed some months ago.

Year 1, Day 390

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Unlike previous Soviet launches, the Soyuz-YB test fligh took off from Kapustin Yar rather than Baikonur. This was done so as to not interfere with the rendezvous mission scheduled for the very same day. It was also a way to keep the operation out of public view in case of a failure. There had been enough bad press lately. This was also reflected in the choice of mission name. Although called Soyuz Y-5, both the spacecraft and the launch vehicle were new. The Soyuz-Y2 rocket featured a slighty longer second stage fuel tank, carried over from the proposed but never built Y1 launcher, and had a new, more powerful engine.

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After a successful lift off and booster separation, the first stage continued to burn until it too separated, having consumed all its fuel. The second stage ignited and pushed the payload into orbit, thereby completing the first part of the test; proving the new launch vehicle's ability to orbit the Soyuz-YB, which was heavier than its predecessor.

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Released from the second stage, the spacecraft was activated. The solar panels unfurled, the new periscope extended, and all internal and external lights turned on. Next followed a series of tests on the main engine and the redesigned reaction control system. Checks were also made on other parts, such as the power supply. Soyuz-YB had been equipped with extra batteries for increased operating time and to add redundancy. The life support system had also seen rework done to it and could now support manned missions with a full crew for up to nine days instead of the previous three days.

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The last test performed also produced the only failure. When the docking port, which was derived from the Agena Target Vehicle, activated, the cover protecting it did not jettison as intended. Instead it remained attached, although the rest of the system functioned properly, including the extendable docking antenna. For the upcoming crewed flights, this would be fixed. With all tests completed, the spacecraft would continue to circle the globe until atmospheric drag caused its orbit to degrade enough for it to fall back to Earth. It would not be recovered, but burn up during reentry.

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A mere hour after the launch of Soyuz Y-5, Soyuz Y-6 rose from the pad at Baikonur. It carried pilot Ivan Drotenkov and flight engineer Yegor Krasnov, who were to meet with an American crew in the second manned rendezvous of the project. There was a brief moment of caution when an auxiliary fuel tank lost pressure, but fortunately, this did not affect the ascent. After being inserted into an initial orbit of 137 x 146 km, two burns of the Soyuz main engine raised this to a 260 km circular orbit. The cosmonauts would then continue to coast at this altitude, waiting for their colleagues to launch.

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Early the next day, as the path of the Soyuz took it over Cape Canaveral, Gemini Utopia 4 blasted off with Ralph Burns and Gary Foster, the first African-American astronaut, aboard. Once in space, Burns piloted their spacecraft to intercept the Soviets after a few orbits. With the overhaul of the thrusters following the failure of GU-1, the Gemini would take the role of the active craft this time around and execute all the necessary maneuvering.

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The rendezvous proceeded exemplary, taking the two ships within a few meters of each other. They remained at station keeping, with the Gemini doing minor adjustments to match the target. As they entered the lit side of the Earth for a second time, Burns performed a simulated docking maneuver, similar to what would be required on the upcoming docking mission. Further station keeping followed, before the crews parted ways.

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After a nominal reentry, GU-4 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the first time this had occurred during Project Utopia. The capsule and crew were recovered soon after and returned home. For what had been close to a perfect mission, Burns and Foster received much praise, both from project management and from the public at large.

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A day later and on the other side of the world, a similar event unfolded. Soyuz Y-6 went through a standard reentry and landing. As Drotenkov and Krasnov came back home, they too, like their American friends, were greeted with great fanfare. It was clear that faith in the project was being restored. This boaded well for the coming year.

Year 1, Day 426

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The last day of the year saw one final launch. Propelled by an American produced Little Moe rocket, the upper part of a Soyuz-YB spacecraft was taken to an altitude of roughly 4400 meters in a test of a new parachute system. Partly developed with the help of astronaut Arthur Mccoy, this included a drogue chute to help slow down the descent module before opening the main chute. When proposing the changes which were now being applied, Mccoy had drawn both from his own experience during the Soyuz Y-4 landing, and from testimonies of cosmonauts who all complained about the sudden, painful deceleration of the current system. In addition to the parachutes, changes also included an improved separation mechanism for the orbital module. More tests would follow early next year.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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"You are not allowed to give more than 25 likes a day."

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Episode 7: Back in Business

Spoiler

The second year of Project Utopia would see the transition from relatively simple spacecraft testing to more advanced operations. A docking between a Gemini and a Soyuz was on the schedule, as was a final attempt at the Soyuz-Tsel mission that had failed two times earlier. However, before these could take place, the final tests of the Soyuz-YB had to be performed.

Year 2, Day 35

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On day 6, Soyuz Y-5 had reentered the atmosphere after a successful trial in space. It was followed by several test of the launch escape systems, the first being Soyuz YB-0/2 on day 35. Launched from Kapustin Yar on a Little Moe rocket, it demonstrated the functionality of the reworked escape tower.

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This was repeated on day 43 with Soyuz YB-0/3, also at Kapustin Yar. Once again, the LES functioned as designed. Only a pad abort test now remained before the Soyuz-YB would be considered man-rated.

Year 2, Day 53

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While the testing went on at Kapustin Yar, the next manned mission was being prepared for at Baikonur. After the failure to launch Tsel 2, and a stuck hatch preventing Soyuz Y-4 from completing its objectives, this would be the last attempt to carry out the planned on-orbit work. On day 53, Tsel 4 was successfully launched on a Soyuz-Y rocket and placed in a roughly circular orbit at 200 km.

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Soon after, Soyuz Y-7 took off. Its crew consisted of Yegor Volodin and Mikhail Nesterov, veterans of Soyuz Y-2, along with rookie Tatyana Kolosova, the Soviet Union's second female cosmonaut. Their mission was to dock with the Tsel and perform two extravehicular activities, during which work on the exterior of the two spacecrafts would be carried out.

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Rendezvous and docking went without incident. With the Soyuz firmly connected to its target, the crew started preparing for the main part of the mission. Nesterov, assisted by his crewmates, put on the Orlan spacesuit and got into the orbital module, which was then depressurized. Throughout the upcoming EVA, his life signs would be monitored by Kolosova.

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The first order of business was to mount a tether device to a connection point that had been bolted onto the hull of the service module before launch. The plan was to use this system both on upcoming Soyuz flights and on the future space station, allowing work to be done without the risk of the cosmonaut accidentally drifting away. With his suit hooked up to the tether, Nesterov then made his way towards the docked Tsel. On the way there, he did a quick repair to one of the docking antennas that had been damaged during lift off.

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Using a set of handrails, added to the Tsel after suggestions from American engineers, Nesterov moved into position and began attaching two small solar panels to the craft. The rails proved indispensable in keeping his body steady without him having to exert a great deal of energy. Once the work was complete, Nesterov returned to the Soyuz for a rest period. The second EVA saw him return to the Tsel to mount two additional solar panels. He also tested a series of tools to be used on the space station.

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Before closing out EVA 2, one last test was done on the new safety system, as Nesterov let go of his grip and allowed himself to move some distance away from the combined spacecrafts. Secured only by the tether, he gained an unprecedented view of Earth below. Mesmerized by the grand sight, the stunned cosmonaut had to be told twice to return back. Before reentering the orbital module, he disconnected the tether device from its mounting point and let it drift off into space, as it would not be needed any more.

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With Nesterov back in his seat, the Soyuz undocked and fired its thrusters to move away. Once at a safe distance, it turned retrograde and ignited the main engine for the deorbit burn. Tsel 4 would remain in space, powered by the recently attached solar panels.

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After a safe landing back in the Soviet Union, the crew received a lavish welcome. Their completion of this high profile mission showed that the project was back on track.

Year 2, Day 70

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While Volodin, Nesterov and Kolosova were sent on a promotional tour of both the Union and the United States, testing of the new Soyuz continued. On day 70, the launch escape tower successfully pulled the capsule away to safety in a simulated pad abort. This was the last piece needed for the new system to become man-rated. Work started immediately on plans for a rendezvous and docking of two manned spacecrafts.

 

Edited by SBKerman
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Episode 8: Exchanging Crew

With the Soyuz-YB cleared for manned operations, two missions were planned. The first would be a single day flight to make sure everything was indeed ready. The second was to be paired with a Gemini launch, and the two would dock together in space. To hammer home the importance of this cooperation, one crew member from each side would transfer over and land in the opposite spacecraft. A few years ago, something like this would have been unthinkable. Now, it was about to become reality.

Year 2, Day 97

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The roar of the engines echoed across the cosmodrome, as Soyuz YB-1 took off from Baikonur. It formed the prelude to the upcoming docking event, as it would determine the readiness of the new YB craft. Pilot Konstantin Boyarov and flight engineer Iosif Kruchinkin had been chosen for this important task. Riding the controlled explosion that is rocket flight, they were determined to see their mission to a successful end.

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Fairing separation and escape tower jettison occurred within seconds of the predicted time. Once the first stage had burned out, the second stage took over and completed the orbital insertion. So far, everything was going according to plan.

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Coasting at 126 x 143 km, the two cosmonauts encountered the first and only problem. Despite assurance from the manufacturer that this would not happen, the cover protecting the docking port failed to jettison, just as it had on Soyuz Y-5. Available options were discussed, ending with the decision to have Kruchinkin do an EVA and attempt to remove the cover manually.

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After having secured the tether device to the now integrated mounting point, Kruchinkin moved out to the tip of the spacecraft and began losening the bolts holding the cover in place. It was a dangerous job, seeing as these were explosive bolts which could go off if handled incorrectly. Luckily, this did not happen. With the cover gone, Kruchinkin rejoined Boyarov, and the flight continued.

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Once the full one day duration had been completed, Soyuz YB-1 reentered Earth's atmosphere. Licked by flames, the descent module fell back towards the ground. Inside, the crew prepared for the last part of the mission; testing of the new parachute system.

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The added drogue chute opened and began slowing down the capsule. When the ideal speed and altitude was reached, the drogue was cut and the main parachute deployed. Boyarov reported a smooth ride all the way to touchdown.

Year 2, Day 141

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The go-ahead had been given to continue with the docking mission. On day 141, Soyuz YB-2 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying a veteran crew. Timofei Toropov of Soyuz Y-1 and Y-4 made his third trip to space. He was joined by Yakov Melekhov, who had flown on Soyuz Y-2 and with Toropov on Y-4.

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Once in orbit, the crew received word that the Gemini launch had been postponed due to bad weather. This was actually a welcomed delay, as it gave them time to work on a familiar problem; the docking port cover had once again failed to jettison. A state funded "vacation" to Siberia surely awaited certain select managers at the manufacturer. Melekhov donned his spacesuit, and like Iosif Kruchinkin before him, went outside to remove the cover manually. There were some concerns from the American side that the free-floating cover could pose a threat to the spacecrafts during docking, but they were assured by their Soviet counterparts that this would not be the case.

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A day later, weather at the Cape had cleared and the launch was go. This flight also presented a familiar face in Arthur Mccoy, who had been the third member of Soyuz Y-4 together with Toropov and Melekhov. Gemini Utopia 5 was piloted by Kevin Larson, the only rookie of the mission.

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Once in space, the crew of GU-5 waited for the time dictated by orbital mechanics, at which point Larson fired the Gemini engines for the intercept. A few more engine burns brought the American and Soviet spacecrafts together, allowing for the docking maneuvers to take place. Moving in ever so slowly, the tip of the Gemini docking probe finally connected with the port on the Soyuz and the two became linked together.

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The Gemini-Soyuz combination remained docked for several orbits, during which time, the crews communicated via an intercom system and performed a slew of tests. They also observed Earth and various celestial bodies. On the second day, preparations began for the highlight of the mission; the crew transfer.

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Using the tether of the Soyuz, the end of which had been attached near the docking port, Mccoy carefully made his way over to the orbital module of the Soviet spacecraft and entered through the hatch. He was greeted enthusiastically by the host crew in a televised event to the world. Next, it was Melekhov's turn to jump ship so to speak. He reversed Mccoy's tracks and got into the Gemini capsule, where he received a warm welcome by Larson.

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Mccoy got to do one more EVA to remove the tether device from the outside of the Soyuz. The two spacecrafts then undocked and moved away from each other. Five days had passed since the launch of YB-1, so it would land first. Firing its engines, it broke orbit and headed for home.

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A miscalculation led to the burn being too short. This, in turn, caused the descent module to come down in some uncomfortably rugged terrain. It did make a safe landing however, and the crew was recovered unharmed.

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The following day, Gemini Utopia 5, with Larson and Melekhov, made a textbook splash down in the Pacific. The entire mission, one landing aside, had been a complete success. All around the world, people had watched as astronauts and cosmonauts worked together in space. The road now lay open for the main objective of the project; building and manning a space station.

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@SBKerman, I believe that you forgot to put your above post in a spoiler. If it's intentional, forgive me for reminding you.

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11 hours ago, NISSKEPCSIM said:

@SBKerman, I believe that you forgot to put your above post in a spoiler. If it's intentional, forgive me for reminding you.

It was done intentionally. I've decided to always keep the latest episode as is and then put it in spoilers whenever I post a new one. Thanks for the comment though and all the likes. It's much appreciated.

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46 minutes ago, NISSKEPCSIM said:

@SBKerman Any news on this?

Unfortunately, my gaming rig needs a new power supply. The old one has finally died after 10 years of use. ;.; I have a new psu ordered, which should arrive next week. Once I've installed it, I'll continue with this mission.

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