Jump to content

Beyond Earth - An RP-1 based alternate space race - Update XXXIII - The Seat with the Clearest View

Recommended Posts

XXII: Meet the Team I

The Aquarius 8


In between the two Connection Block I missions, an event which would shape the future of the IASRDA, and the world as a whole, took place. A press conference was scheduled for December 11 at Cape Canaveral AFB. In front of nearly two hundred journalists from a dozen different nations the first manned program of the IASRDA was announced to the public: the Aquarius program was officially born.

Logo of the Aquarius program, showing an early concept of the capsule that would eventually be used.


Preparations for the program had actually commenced nearly a year before. Research and Development teams had been assigned to developing systems to send men into an orbit around the Earth, others had been assigned to modify the existing launch vehicles so that it would be safe for people to fly on board, and, most importantly, a strict selection process had taken place to select who would actually be sent into orbit.

Out of nearly a thousand available candidates, they were narrowed down to 120, after an interview, 32 were further selected for the required physical and fitness tests. Of these 32, only 8 would actually become what is now known as an astronaut, one who will navigate the stars (eventually).


P001 Isaac R. Perry, 1943

Isaac Robert Perry, also known as “the Commander”, or simply as the “Chief” by his peers, was born in Liverpool, England, on the 2nd of December 1917. He was one of the “Original Four” pilots of the International Rocket Society.

Perry had studied at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell, where he graduated in 1939, at which point he was commissioned into the Royal Air Force. He then joined the No. 41 Squadron RAF just months before the Second World War started. He subsequently saw action over Dunkirk, fought during the Battle of Britain, and then flew a wide number of combat missions over occupied Europe. At the end of the war he was credited with 21 enemy kills, and had reached the rank of Squadron Leader. He remained in service in the RAF for a further five years, and was finally commissioned as a Wing Commander.

On the 19th of December 1950 he was selected to be part of the newborn IRS, and has been part of the organization through all its years, continuing to serve in the IASRDA. He at the time of writing holds the rank of Commander, the second-highest rank for an Agency pilot. He is the IASRDA’s most experienced aviator, and is widely regarded as been a sort of fatherly figure to refer to by his colleagues. He has a strong wit, but is very calm and composed under stress; even at 42 he is in top physical and mental shape.


P002 Joseph F. Mitchell, 1953

Joseph Frank “Joe” Mitchell was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, on the 27th of June 1919. He was one of the Original Four.

Mitchell graduated at West Point in 1941, and joined the United States Army Air Forces soon thereafter. He was assigned to the 20th Fighter Group, and fought in Europe from 1943 to 1945. He is credited with 14 kills during his combat tour. After the end of the war, he become one of the most experienced USAF test pilots, flying a large variety of jet aircraft, his favorite of which was reportedly the F-84F Thunderstreak. In 1950 he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

He was selected on December 19, 1950 to be part of the IRS, and subsequently of the IASRDA. At the time of writing, he holds the rank of Senior Captain, just below the rank of Commander. His experience as a test pilot has proved to be invaluable in several occasions. He loves joking, although he is a true professional during flight, and is great friends with Commander Isaac Perry.


P003 Samuel M. McDonald, 1952

Samuel Mark “Sam” McDonald was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 14th of August 1929.

McDonald graduated at the United States Naval Academy in 1951, after which he was assigned as a naval aviator with the VFA-32 “Fighting Swordsmen”. During US Navy service he flew a large number of aircraft, namely the F2H Banshee, the F4U Corsair, the F9F Cougar, and the F8U Crusader. In 1959 he held the rank of Lieutenant.

He was selected and confirmed as part of the IASRDA test pilot team on December 11, 1959, after a long and grueling selection process. Due to his USN rank, he was assigned the Agency rank of Flight Lieutenant. He is considered to be a capable pilot with thousands of hours of experience who is in prime physical and mental shape.


E001 Douglas J. Cherry, 1950

Douglas James “Fixer” Cherry was born in Glasgow, Scotland on the 18th of October 1924. He was one of the Original Four

He studied and graduated at the Oxford University in 1946, obtaining a master two years later. He joined the Royal Air Force, where he was selected for pilot training. He was commissioned in the RAF in 1949.

He was selected to be part of the IRS on December 19, 1950, and has been part of the IRS and IASRDA since then. He underwent a rigorous training regimen as a full-blown flight engineer; his first flight on board of an IRS aircraft was on April 3, 1954 as part of the Project Thunder 4 mission. In 1959 he held the rank of Master Engineer. His skills as an engineer earned him the nickname of “Fixer”, due to his ability to reportedly fix everything broken he put his hands upon. He had a strong Scottish accent.


E002 Ivano D'Antonio, 1958

Ivano D’Antonio was born in Rome, Italy on August the 23rd, 1928.

He studied at the Accademia Aeronautica in Naples, and was commissioned into the newborn Aeronautica Militare in 1950. In 1959 he rose to the rank of Capitano.


He was selected by the IASRDA to be part of the Aquarius 8 on December 11, 1959, being assigned the rank of Engineer First Class. He was a calm and composed professional, performing extremely well under stress, as well as being an experienced pilot. Together with the IASRDA R&D teams he would go on to develop the Aquarius launch abort system.


E003 Jean-Pierre Giraud, 1959

Jean-Pierre Giraud was born in Toulouse, France on the 8th of July, 1923.

He studied at the École de l'air in Salon-de-Provence, where he graduated in 1949. After a short period of service in the Armée de l'Air Française, he became a test pilot to aid in the development of the Mirage aircraft. During this time, he developed several invaluable engineering skills.

He was selected on December 11, 1959 to be an astronaut for the Aquarius Program of the IASRDA. At his request, he was trained to become a full-blown flight engineer, despite being already qualified enough to be a pilot. Upon joining, he was assigned the rank of Senior Engineer.


S001 Daniel Higgins, 1953

Daniel “Danny” Higgins was born in Washington, D.C. on May the 28th, 1924. He was one of the Original Four test crewmembers of the IRS.

He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1946; there he obtained a Master in 1948, and was applying for a PhD, which he subsequently obtained in 1955. He was the only civilian to be part of the IRS test team.

He was selected on December 19, 1950, despite being a civilian, unlike his colleagues. He was put on an intense training schedule, and finally flew for the first time on the Project Thunder 5 mission on February 27, 1955. He is widely regarded to be a genius in various fields, most notably astrophysics and mathematics, and would help the IASRDA determine the optimal flight path for the Aquarius missions. As of 1959 he held the rank of Senior Specialist.


S002 Thomas Lynn, 1958

Thomas Lynn was born in Toronto, Canada on the 14th of April 1930.

He studied at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he graduated in 1952. He then became a test pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was one of the few people who flew on the Avro CF-105 Arrow.

He was selected for the Aquarius program on December 11, 1959. His areas of expertise included several scientific subjects, and his speed of thought made him well liked by his crewmates, and notably, by Higgins as well. When he joined he was assigned the IASRDA rank of Specialist First Class.


These eight men would soon become known as the Aquarius 8, the best the West had to offer. In the following months and even years they and everyone working behind the curtains to ensure both their success and safety would face difficulties never faced by anyone before; but why choose the easy way, when to further science you often need to follow the hardest path?

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I gotta say, you're one of the reasons for me to actually stop lurking and actually start interacting around here!
I'm a sucker for visual candy when it comes to game reports and you've done some real good work here!

Actually inspired some designs of my own in my current RP-1 career and made me want to share my own alternate history background for my RP-1 career.

Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, Maravone said:

I gotta say, you're one of the reasons for me to actually stop lurking and actually start interacting around here!
I'm a sucker for visual candy when it comes to game reports and you've done some real good work here!

Actually inspired some designs of my own in my current RP-1 career and made me want to share my own alternate history background for my RP-1 career.

I'd read your alternate history!

Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

I'd read your alternate history!

Why, thank you!
Well, I'm planning on starting a Mission Report series soon(ish).
I dont want to start at the usual RP-1 starting date. Probably will start from a later point. Either way, there's some content I want to produce before jumping into that. And I've been kinda busy IRL, so it'll take just a wee bit longer. I'll rather start and be able to regularly update, or not start at all.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for keeping this alive on my behalf, guys! :) I have been *ahem* stuck on a mountain for the past week and will remain here for the next days at the very least. And I don’t have a towel with me, but for now I’m not panicking.

Also, thank you @Maravone for the very kind words! I’m happy to be an inspiration for you, and if you need any help with your report feel free to ask. It’s always good to see more RP-1 AARs on here, and I’m glad you’ve become part of this wonderful community.

Anyway, although I don’t have my computer with me right now, I’ve been working on some Beyond Earth stuff...


...such as the above drawing of the Sirius upper stage; which is similar in scope to the Centaur (with some pretty important differences, however). I’m not that good at drawing, and the photo doesn’t make it any better, but this is something you can expect to see in the future of this “series”. Please ignore the random Nightfall (which I recommend, btw) on the left, I was using it so that the notebook wouldn’t close while I was drawing and taking the photo.

See you soon! (hopefully)

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is chonky indeed, but it’s supposed to be flown inside a fairing (much like the Centaur-T on the later versions of the Titan), so it is shorter than the D version, which would instead limit payload space (or require a longer fairing).


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 8/14/2019 at 5:02 PM, Fenisse said:

Thanks for keeping this alive on my behalf, guys! :) I have been *ahem* stuck on a mountain for the past week and will remain here for the next days at the very least. And I don’t have a towel with me, but for now I’m not panicking.

Just as long as they serve Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters there, you'll be OK :P 


On 8/14/2019 at 5:02 PM, Fenisse said:

...such as the above drawing of the Sirius upper stage; which is similar in scope to the Centaur (with some pretty important differences, however). I’m not that good at drawing, and the photo doesn’t make it any better, but this is something you can expect to see in the future of this “series”. Please ignore the random Nightfall (which I recommend, btw) on the left, I was using it so that the notebook wouldn’t close while I was drawing and taking the photo.

I see through your scheme here.  You're hoping your design will absorb some of that Asimov mojo by osmosis ;) 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I just wanted to say a few words of praise. Although I am taking a break from KSP at the moment, I like to read your report again and again. The high quality of the pictures/plans and the alternation between the rockets and the airplanes have particularly impressed me.

Keep up the good work :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey guys, I'm finally back home and with a decent internet connection (and a keyboard, most importantly).

@kewcet @The Dressian Exploder thank you very much for the kind words :) 

@Geschosskopf I've been able to hitch a ride on a weird spaceship where everyone dressed in red, yellow and blue uniforms; but at least they weren't Vogons. Also I sincerely hope the Earth doesn't catch fire at the end of this story; although I must admit that I was indeed trying to infuse Asimov's mojo into my designs, but I messed up and my notebook became sentient instead -- and now refers to himself as Isaac.

Well, I'll need some time to make a couple of adjustments here and there, but in a few days we shall return to regular(-ish) posting! See y'all soon™!

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Fenisse said:

Hey guys, I'm finally back home and with a decent internet connection (and a keyboard, most importantly).

I hope your adventures made (or can be enhanced and retold as) a ripping yarn to spin for your grandkids, now that you're out of that story arc.


2 hours ago, Fenisse said:

@Geschosskopf I've been able to hitch a ride on a weird spaceship where everyone dressed in red, yellow and blue uniforms; but at least they weren't Vogons. Also I sincerely hope the Earth doesn't catch fire at the end of this story; although I must admit that I was indeed trying to infuse Asimov's mojo into my designs, but I messed up and my notebook became sentient instead -- and now refers to himself as Isaac.

Primary colors rule!  That's why Piet Mondrian Starfleet and the Circus use them.  I hope you got picked up by Starfleet.  Otherwise, things might end with brain blenders....

I trust your notebook obeys the 3 Laws :) 



Link to post
Share on other sites

XXIII: In the Pale Moonlight, Part 4

Moonbound Again


While manned space exploration was the latest trend, for at least the following year the future of space exploration still laid in probes and satellites. These spacecrafts were rapidly becoming larger, with better capabilities and capable of carrying more experiments. Not only that, also new instruments had been made light enough, and resistant enough for space travel, for probes to bring them in the most remote places of the Solar System. With an interplanetary mission in the planning stage, the scientific teams of the IASRDA wished to test their expensive gear on a smaller scale, before sending them to another planet. That “smaller scale” request meant that another lunar mission was due.


Schematic of the Explorer 6 lunar impactor.

It was time to forget about the tiny probes that had been sent to the Moon up to that point, for the second-generation unmanned spacecrafts were larger than ever before. Explorer 6 would be the first probe (an impactor in this case) fashioned around a common core that would be the base for many 2nd gen satellites.

Weighing a grand total of 276kg (compare that to the 45kg of Explorer 5), Explorer 6 carried a large variety of instrumentation, namely: an infrared radiometer (capable of sensing the variations in temperature on the surface of a celestial body from space), an orbital perturbation experiment (which allows to better understand the concentration of mass of said celestial body), a Geiger counter, a thermometer, an ion mass spectrometer, a magnetometer mounted on a boom, and a TV camera, in the hopes it would not fail this time.

The probe was controlled by four 4-way 24N thrusters burning hydrazine, of which there were 53.6 liters on board. The spacecraft’s power was supplied by 12 7.88W solar cells. Communications with the Earth were handled through two 400Mm, 512kbit/s, 1.5W antennae.


The satellite would be launched by a Prometheus B-Arcturus A, due to the probe’s mass. While a Prometheus B-Alcor A2 would actually be able to carry more payload to the Moon, the diameter of Explorer 6 meant it wouldn’t fit inside the 1.2-meter Alcor, instead fitting quite comfortably inside the 1.7m Arcturus.


The launch date was set for April 4, 1960, as the spacecraft had to be sent into a direct ascent to the Moon.

Image 19600404A. The Prometheus-Arcturus stack a few minutes before launch.

Launch occurred in the mid-afternoon, at 16:37, although, due to the time of year, sunset was already approaching.

Image 19600404B. Liftoff!

The Prometheus B was an upgrade to the earlier A model, and its first stage was powered by two LR79-NA-11, which were rather more powerful than the -NA-9 version used on the Prometheus A. The first stage worked marvelously, and was separated at T+157 seconds.

Image 19590404C. A tracking camera gets a good shot of the launch vehicle during ascent.

The Prometheus B second stage was powered by a LR105-NA-5, also an upgrade over the A model, which would burn for 3 minutes and a half. This stage would provide most of the velocity to orbit.

SIMULATION. The second stage after separation and engine ignition. The first stage is visible in the background.

The last part of the orbital insertion and a majority of the TLI would be handled by the Arcturus A third stage.

SIMULATION. The Arcturus A stage executing its part of the burn.

After the Arcturus finished its part of the burn, the avionics shut down its engine and spin stabilized the X-248 kick motor, which was then ignited.

SIMULATION. The X-248 performs the final orbital insertion.

After its burn was finished, the X-248 was separated from the spacecraft, which was now on its way to the Moon.

SIMULATION. Explorer 6 drifting towards the Moon.

Explorer 6 performed a series of maneuvers during its flight to fine-tune its trajectory to the Earth’s satellite.

SIMULATION. Explorer 6 performs a course-correction maneuver.

The TV camera appeared to be working well this time, and it recorded several frames of the probe’s descent towards the lunar surface. It reached the Moon’s SOI by April 9.

Image 19600406A. This photograph was taken just before entry into the Moon's sphere of influence.

Image 19600409A. The Moon is still far away, even after entering its SOI.

Image 19590409B. Approximately four thousand kilometers away, and counting.

Image 19600409C. Surface features are starting to become visible.

Image 19600409D.

Image 19590409E. This was the last image transmitted by Explorer 6, taken approximately fifteen seconds before impact.

The probe impacted that same day in the Grimaldi Crater. The mission was a complete success.


The images received from Explorer 6 were some of the most breathtaking ever seen by man. They were not the only important data received, however. The Orbital Perturbation Experiment had demonstrated that the Moon has very irregular mass concentrations, at least where examined by Explorer 6. If this was true everywhere across the Earth’s satellite, any probe orbiting around it would be very short lived, unless stable orbits in fact existed.

Link to post
Share on other sites

XXIV: The Way to Progress, Part 1

Charting the Unknown


With the successful mission of Explorer 6, the unproven probe core had finally been tested. It had performed excellently, adjusting course and generally keeping the spacecraft safe for the whole 5-day trip to the Moon. The design was ready for more demanding missions.

The IASRDA had wanted to send probes to other planets for a long time, and the more powerful rockets, coupled with the new unmanned cores, meant that the dream would soon become a reality. Exploration of the interplanetary medium, as well as Mercury, Venus and Mars would be the objective of the Pathfinder Program.

Logo of the Pathfinder Program, with the Earth, Venus, Mars and Mercury depicted.


The IASRDA astrophysicists had calculated that the optimal time to launch something towards Mars would be in mid-September 1960, with Venus some months later. Since there was a lot of time before these “launch windows” would open, a preliminary mission was designed, to explore interplanetary space around the orbit of the Earth. A total of five missions were planned, one in heliocentric orbit, two towards Mars and another two towards Venus. In the end, the two Venus missions were scrapped to avoid overloading the newly built Deep Space Network.


Schematic of the Pathfinder Block I series of probes.

The Pathfinder Block I spacecraft was designed around the Explorer 6 probe core, albeit it was slightly different and had been stripped down of unessential material to lower the weight. The complete spacecraft weighed 245kg at launch, and was equipped with a large variety of scientific experiments. The probe carried an ion mass spectrometer, an orbital perturbation experiment, a Geiger counter, a micrometeorite detector, a thermometer, an infrared radiometer, and a magnetometer on a boom.

 Power was supplied through seven 7.88W solar cells. Attitude was controlled through four 24N, four-way, thrusters burning hydrazine, there were 53.6 liters of it stored on the spacecraft. Communications were handled in two ways: through a dish antenna, which was able to communicate up to a distance of 351Gm, with a maximum uplink capability of 768kbit/s, with a power consumption of 25W, this was the main way the spacecraft would communicate with Earth; and two low bandwidth and power antennae, these were the secondary comms.

The weight of the spacecraft required the heaviest launch vehicle ever assembled by the IASRDA.


Schematic of the Vega B upper stage.

The Vega B upper stage was of similar design to the Vega A2. It was equipped with the same X-405H main engine, but the diameter of the tank had been widened to match that of the Prometheus: 3m (so the stage was actually shorter than the A2 variant). The extreme mass of the upper stage and payload meant that, in all cases, two Castors 1 solid boosters were required to lift the launch vehicle off the pad.

Pathfinder 1, that would be sent to heliocentric orbit, would have a single X-248 kick stage, while Pathfinder 2 and 3, which would go to Mars, were equipped with a double kick stage of an X-242 mounted atop a X-248 in a very precarious assembly.

Unfortunately, the development of the uprated versions of both the Arcturus and Alcor stages rendered the Vega stage almost obsolete, its only true usefulness being its wide diameter.


The launch of Pathfinder 1 was scheduled for mid-July 1960, and ultimately the spacecraft would launch on July 14 from Launch Complex 2.

Image 19600714A. Daybreak at the Cape, with the Prometheus-Vega standing by for launch.

The rocket took off at 9:24 in the morning, under a discrete cloud cover, which would render attempts at tracking the launch vehicle during ascent close to impossible.

Image 19600714B. Take off of the Pathfinder 1 mission! Notice the heavy cloud cove over the launch site.

The Castors were separated at T+37, as the rocket was passing through the clouds.

SIMULATION. The Castor solid boosters are separated once they are spent.

The first stage burn went smoothly. MECO occurred at T+156, and separation occurred a few seconds later.

SIMULATION. Staging occurs without issue.

The second stage functioned perfectly, and third stage separation went well.

SIMULATION. With the fairing decoupled, the payload is clearly visible.

The Vega stage ignited as planned.

SIMULATION. The Vega stage in operation.

The stage inserted itself and the payload into a preliminary 185km parking orbit.

SIMULATION. The Vega stage in its parking orbit.

Two minutes later, the X-405H re-ignited to commence the boost towards heliocentric orbit.

SIMULATION. The Vega stage fires again.

After the main engine exhausted its propellant, the kick motor was ignited, not before having been spin-stabilized by the Vega ACS. After its burn was complete, the spacecraft was on the correct trajectory to interplanetary space.

SIMULATION. Pathfinder 1 drifting in space around the Sun.

Pathfinder 1 entered its heliocentric orbit seven days after launch, on July the 22nd. It was the first IASRDA probe to communicate with no issue from beyond the Earth’s sphere of influence. The probe orbited the sun in an orbit with an apoapsis slightly higher than Earth’s, and a periapsis slightly lower. It stopped communicating after 100 days, when its electrical system malfunctioned, but remains there to this day.

The next step in the Pathfinder Program were the two Mars probes. The even higher delta-V requirements of these missions meant that not only the double kick stage was needed, but also that the Prometheus needed four Castors boosters attached to its side, the maximum it could support.


Pathfinder 2 launched first, on September 16, 1960.

Image 19600916A. Aerial image, taken by helicopter, of the Prometheus-Vega rocket that would lift Pathfinder 2.

The launch took place in the mid-morning, at 10:01, from LC-2. Ignition of the LR79 was smooth and all four Castors were started with no issue.

Image 19600916B. Lift-off!

Image 19600916C. Aerial photograph of the Prometheus moments after lift-off. Image taken by Jean-Pierre Giraud aboard a IASRDA Thunderstorm.

Separation of the solid boosters occurred with no accident. The core kept burning until it exhausted its propellant, at which point the second stage was ignited and separated.

SIMULATION. Separation of the core and ignition of the second stage.

The second stage worked perfectly as well. It now was time for the Vega to provide the last push to orbit.

SIMULATION. The Vega ignites for the first time.

Nearly 10 minutes after lift-off the rocket and payload were into a 185km parking orbit. Thirty minutes later, the kick program was activated, and the probe was on its way to Mars, although a series of correction maneuvers would be needed to bring the probe to an encounter.

SIMULATION. Pathfinder 2 on its way to Mars.


Pathfinder 3 launched a day after its sibling, on September 17, from Launch Complex 1

Image 19600917A. Lift-off of the Prometheus B-Vega B rocket carrying the Pathfinder 3 space probe.

Despite a series of errors in the guidance of the Prometheus B-Vega B, the payload was safely inserted into a 185km parking orbit, and 30 minutes later was on its way to Mars. Pathfinder 3 would also require some maneuvers to properly intercept the Red Planet.

SIMULATION. Pathfinder 3 leaves the Earth on its voyage to the Red Planet.


The Pathfinder program was off to a great start, with three successes out of three launches. Pathfinder 1, despite the failure it suffered 100 days into the mission, had transmitted a large amount of data regarding conditions in interplanetary space. The two Mars probes were now beginning their 10-months trip to their destination, with, admittedly, very little probability of success, although many at the IASRDA were certain at least one of them would be heard of again.


Announcement: This update is brought to you by the marvels of editing the Windows Registry for breakfast, after the latest update mysteriously corrupted all of the accounts on my computer, despite an entirely correct installation process. Also, this is why you make backups (take this as a PSA :wink:). You may now resume your duties.

Link to post
Share on other sites

XXV: Rising Thunderstorm, Part 2

Boom Zoom


The newly-established manned space program came not only with considerable engineering challenges, but also with the need to train the future astronauts for the situations they were to encounter. This program started in January 1960, and featured a large variety of activities, ranging from extreme g-forces training to more mundane tasks such as pressing buttons. Alongside the crew training program, the IASRDA soon found a need to develop and test a pressure suit that would ensure the survival of the occupant of the first manned spacecrafts.

The human body is designed to operate better at altitudes below around 3000m, in the so-called physiologically-efficient zone. Above that altitude, the body enters the physiologically-deficient zone: there is an increased risk of hypoxia, of gases trapped in the body expanding, and of decompression sickness. Above roughly 10000m, breathing mixtures are required in order to get enough oxygen, while above 15000m, the pressure of the carbon dioxide excreted by the lungs is higher than the surrounding air pressure, therefore respiration is impossible. Pressure suits are thus required to compress the human body to aid in breathing.

Pressure suits were not a particularly new concept, in fact, they were used even since the 1930s aboard high-altitude aircraft. The main issue with standard aviation partial pressure suits is that they only cover specific areas of the body, ergo, they are limited to a maximum altitude. The IASRDA would instead need to develop a full-body suit, which instead wouldn’t have such limit, and would protect the occupant of a spacecraft in case of sudden decompression even in the vacuum of space.

The result of this endeavor was the IASRDA Aquarius Block 1A (AB1A) suit, derived from studies of the US Navy and the Royal Air Force, ultimately being visually similar to the Navy Mark-series pressure suits (with differences).

The Aquarius Block 1A was incredibly compact and light (at just 10kg) for its capabilities, and wouldn’t limit the astronaut’s mobility as much as the other designs that had been considered. The suit was equipped with a closed-cycle breathing system, with oxygen entering through a hose at the waist of the wearer, and circulated around the suit for cooling, and exited through the helmet via either the opened visor, or a small hose in case the aforementioned visor was closed; the suit’s outer shell was made of aluminum-coated nylon, and the leather safety boots were covered in the same material, all for thermal control purposes. Each astronaut was provided with three suits: one for training, one for the eventual flight, and one to be used as backup.

The AB1A suit was extensively tested before it would ever be used on a space mission, and one of these tests would be conducted through the Thunderstorm 3 mission; in which a crew of two would use the experimental aircraft to make a zoom climb to 30km altitude and beyond. Ultimately, it would be Commander Isaac Perry and Senior Captain Joe Mitchell who were chosen to fly the extremely perilous mission.

Thunderstorm Program patch.


The flight was scheduled for the mid-morning of September 22 1960, just days after the successful launch of Pathfinder 2 and 3.

The aircraft that would be used was a modified version of the Thunderstorm, named Thunderstorm HA (for High Altitude). The only difference was the addition of an oxygen supply and extra batteries behind the cockpit, therefore apart from a slightly higher weight, it was completely identical to the base model.

Image 19600922A. "Thunderstorm 3, ready for take-off"

Take-off occurred at 10:04AM, in a particularly clear morning. They were followed by another Thunderstorm, flown by FLtn Sam McDonald and SpFC Thomas Lynn.

Image 19600922B. Mitchell engages the afterburner and initiates take-off, the other Thunderstorm is circling above the Cape, taking photographs.

The aircraft started a slow climb to 12900m, mostly to conserve fuel, with the two crewmembers only engaging the afterburner above 8500m to maintain a vertical speed of 20 m/s.

Image 19600922C. "Passing 2000m, velocity still rising"

Image 19600922D. "We're right behind you, Mitch"

Image 19600922E. "Engaging afterburners, vertical speed dropping too rapidly. Altitude 8700m"

The two aircrafts reached the determined altitude after 11 minutes; the crews then conducted a system check before accelerating to the maximum rated speed of Mach 2.621.

Image 19600922F. "Afterburner at maximum rated thrust on  my mark, McDonald... mark!"

Image 19600922G. "At 532 m/s now; we need to get to 775"

After reaching Mach 2.621, the two crews saluted each other, as only Mitchell and Perry would commit to the climb. A few seconds later, Mitchell pulled hard on his stick, and the Thunderstorm started rising.

Image 19600922H. "See you two later at the Cape, stay safe up there!"

Image 19600922I. "We're passing through 25km as we speak"

Image 19600922J. "Vertical speed dropping to almost zero... God, it's beautiful up here! I can see the curvature of the Earth very well!"

The aircraft reached an apogee of 31734m before the combination of lift and thrust wasn’t able to keep it airborne no longer. The crew started their long fall towards a “flyable” altitude.

Image 19600922K. "Hold it steady Mitch. Pull it up slowly when you feel air pressure is high enough, don't force it just yet"

Through extensive use of the airbrakes, Mitchell was able to stabilize the plane completely by 14000m, albeit pulling up to a steady 5.7gs in the process. The two then kept descended through the atmosphere and, half an hour after take-off, started returning to base. Due to limited fuel reserves, they weren’t able to rendezvous with the other Thunderstorm.

Image 19600922L. "We're on our way back home. We did it, boys!"

The two pilots landed safely after 1 hour 21 minutes and exactly 30 seconds since they took off. Mitchell later played those numbers at the lottery in the hope they would bring him fortune, but lost anyways.


The flight altitude record established by Perry and Mitchell was incredible, and beat the previous one by more than two hundred meters, but wouldn’t last long, as just a few months later, in April 1961, they would be beaten by a Soviet aviator flying in a Mig-21.

Nonetheless, the flight proved that the Aquarius Block 1A pressure suit worked fine, even in extreme situations, successfully protecting the wearer while allowing respiration. However, the pilots still found something to complain about, in this case, the difficulty of moving the head with the helmet on.

Link to post
Share on other sites

XXVI: This Side of Paradise, Part 4

Navigation from Above


Humanity had been navigating the oceans since the earliest of times. Many civilizations learnt to use several techniques to determine their location, the most important of which was the observation of celestial bodies. Among those who sailed the ancient seas were the Austronesians, the Polynesians, the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and even the Romans.

In the medieval times the greatest advancements in the art of navigation were made by the Arabs, who developed extensive trade routes ranging from the Mediterranean Sea to the China Sea. They made use of magnetic compasses, the quadrants, and the kamal to navigate the oceans, even without the need to follow the coastlines. In Northern Europe, the Vikings developed methods to allow navigation in overcast skies through the use of the Sunstone, and possibly even reached the coasts of North America centuries before Columbus did.

In the following centuries, navigation became fundamental to the thriving of nations. The development and use of the astrolabe in the 1400s, of rudimentary clocks such as the hourglass, of much more precise quadrants, maritime maps, and, later, of the marine chronometer and sextant, made navigating the seas easier, but still no mundane task. These tools, and others, allowed Columbus, de Gama, Magellan, Barentsz, Cook, and many others to discover many new places, and ushered the world into the Age of Exploration, with all the geopolitical, social and technological consequences of the case.

In the modern era, radios started appearing on ships, and soon it was found that they could be used to aid in determining a ship’s location, and also in calibrating the onboard chronometers. By the end of the Second World War, RADARs had become the norm on most warships, and radio navigation had become widespread especially in aviation, and made night operations a far easier task to complete successfully.

More recently, scientists at various institutes across the world had calculated the position and velocity of the early Ethereal 1 and 2 satellites by measuring their doppler shift, the change of frequency of a wave in relation to an observer who is moving relative to the wave source (a very simple example of this phenomenon is the change of pitch of an ambulance siren as it approaches and then recedes after it has passed by). Researchers at the IASRDA thought that by working backwards, it would be possible to use a satellite to determine the accurate positioning of an observer. After years of development, finally a test satellite was to be launched as part of the Ethereal program: Ethereal 8.

Schematic of the Ethereal 8 test Navsat.

The heavy, 163kg satellite required a high inclination orbit, and could not be spin stabilized, so that prevented the use of a solid kick stage. Therefore, the IASRDA decided to test the newly developed Alcor B stage, which had been widened to 1.5m in diameter, had new avionics, and also used the new AJ10-104 engine (which could be restarted in space), in the Hyperion ELT-Alcor B configuration. This vehicle was capable of inserting 400kg into a 185km LEO at 29° without the use of a solid kick stage (that could still be fitted if the mission was beyond-LEO).

Blueprint of the Alcor B upper stage, diameter: 1.5 meters.


The launch had been scheduled for November 11, 1960 at the Cape Canaveral LC-2 pad. The launch was to occur at first light for meteorological reasons. Two US Navy cruisers and a Royal Navy destroyer were positioned downrange, roughly 400 nautical miles from the complex.

Image 19601111A. Sunrise at the Cape, the Hyperion-Alcor ready to launch after the final checks are completed.

Liftoff took place at exactly 0600 hours, in somewhat clear skies, but with severe overcast arriving at the launch site in the morning.

Image 19601111B. Ignition of the main engine... and we have lift-off!

The payload would be placed in an orbit with an inclination of 47° at an altitude of 330km. Due to launch safety considerations, the rocket would go north, compared to the southbound launches of past high-inclination satellites.

Image 19601111C. The chase camera operator takes one last shot at the rocket as it disappears into the clouds.

Second stage separation occurred as planned 2 minutes and 44 seconds into the flight. The ACS separated the two stages and a few moments later the AJ10 ignited.

SIMULATION. Notice the separation motors on the lower stage.

Fairing separation took place at T+187 seconds, at an altitude of 116km.

SIMULATION. Fairings deployed, continuing to orbit.

With the payload now exposed, the Alcor B stage was now just four minutes away from orbit.

SIMULATION. Notice the much longer nozzle of the new AJ10-104 engine, this improves performance significantly.

Orbital insertion occurred after 7 minutes and 44 seconds, with Ethereal 8 separating at T+591 seconds. It then performed some small burns to adjust its orbit to a 332x330km one with a period of exactly 1 hour and 31 minutes, where it remained for more than 4 years.

SIMULATION. Ethereal 8 in orbit around the Earth.


The three ships positioned downrange were able to receive data by Ethereal 8’s second orbit, although getting a usable fix took almost a day of fiddling around, and required the help of ground stations. Nevertheless, on the following day, November 12, the three ships were able to obtain their approximate location, with considerable error, by only using data received by the satellite. The system worked, but just one satellite would not be sufficient to provide an accurate service: an entire "constellation" of Navsats would need to be sent up.

Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Fenisse said:

@Geschosskopf thank you very much! I've also been spending some more time on post-processing the images, in particular I've been redrawing the rocket plumes on the "photographs" by hand, as I was not satisfied with the RealPlume ones.

Well, the effort paid off.  It looks good enough that I didn't notice :) 

Link to post
Share on other sites

So guys, very quick update. I'm working right now on the post-processing for Update XXVII; in fact, I just re-launched KSP to get some more shots. I'll post the update either in a few hours, or tomorrow morning (Italian time), depending on how smoothly things go. This is the last part of Chapter II; soon we'll enter into Chapter III, where the fun stuff (and, with all probability, many explosions) starts to happen.

By the way, since my RP-1 install of KSP takes around 10-15 minutes to load, I generally do something else. Today I was trying some Dire Straits-y licks on my Telecaster, sitting near my computer. I randomly stared at the screen (probably a change in background caught my attention), when I noticed the Module Manager patch counter was... well...


Welp. And to think I deleted a lot of parts and mods that I wouldn't be likely to use, I'm quite sure when I first installed all the mods the total patch number was probably closer to something like 140-150k. Now I can understand why it takes so long to load. Well, better for me, more time to completely destroy the frets on my guitars.

No Telecasters were harmed in the making of this post.

Edited by Fenisse
Link to post
Share on other sites

XXVII: Connecting the World, Part 2



The Connection 2 test early in 1960 had proved that communications could be relayed through the use of satellites, but had also shown that for such a network to be feasible with the current technology, the spacecrafts would have to be placed in substantially higher orbits than ever before.

All objects in orbit complete one such lap around the parent body in a specific time period, called orbital period; as an example, the first artificial satellite of Earth, Ethereal 1, had an orbital period of 2 hours, 4 minutes and 6 seconds. In general, an object in a circular orbit will have a shorter orbital period the closer it orbits to the parent body; i.e. if a satellite orbits at 200km from the planet’s surface, it will complete the lap in less time than if it were orbiting at, say, 600km.

Astrophysicists calculated that a spacecraft in a circular orbit exactly 35,786km from the Earth’s surface would complete the orbit in exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds, the length of one sidereal day. Such a satellite, when seen from the ground, would appear to return to the same point in the sky each sidereal day, tracing a path similar to an eight-figure, with characteristics depending on the orbital inclination and eccentricity of the spacecraft. This is what is called a Geosynchronous Orbit, abbreviated GSO.

A particular case of geosynchronous orbit is the Geostationary Orbit, or Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO), in which the objects orbits in the Earth’s equatorial plane, with an inclination of 0°. A satellite in such an orbit would appear completely motionless in the sky to a ground observer, rendering it perfect for a communications satellite, since ground-based antennae wouldn’t need to rotate to track the spacecraft’s motion. Unfortunately, such an orbit was beyond the capabilities of any IASRDA launch vehicle of the time, so a simpler to achieve GSO was selected instead for the next Connection missions.


Schematic of the Connection Block II satellites.

The Connection Block II satellites were small communication satellites weighing 195kg. They carried 9kg of communications equipment, and were outfitted with two small omnidirectional antennae for data relay. The probes carried 79kg of hydrazine in the aft compartment, and attitude control was provided by four 4-way 24N thrusters.

The launch vehicle selected to launch the satellites was the Prometheus B-Arcturus B.

Schematic of the Arcturus B upper stage.

The Arcturus B was a much-improved variant of the earlier A model. The engine had been upgraded to the XLR81-BA-7, which produced 71kN of thrust at a vacuum specific impulse of 285 seconds, while still burning the same UDMH/IRFNA-III mixture as the earlier variant. Another improvement over the A model was the capacity of the new engine to restart in space. The tanks had been thoroughly overhauled, both of them were now 1.7m in diameter, while the bottom 1.4 tank had been modified to house the hydrazine for the ACS as well as the pressurant for the main tanks. The avionics package had remained mostly the same, with minor upgrades to allow for finer control of the stage.

The stage was capable of mounting either an X-242 or X-248 kick motor, depending on mission parameters, for any beyond-LEO class mission. When used in conjunction with a Prometheus B, the launch vehicle was capable of lifting a maximum of 2719kg to low Earth orbit, or up to 636kg to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) when paired with the X-248.


The first launch of a Connection Block II, Connection 3, was scheduled for December 15, 1960.

Image 19601215A. The Prometheus B-Arcturus B at LC-1, awaiting lift-off authorization.

The rocket took off at 9 in the morning, when weather conditions were deemed to be good enough for a launch.

Image 19601215B. The two LR79 create a majestic exhaust plume as the rocket ascends through the first few thousands meters of atmosphere.

Without a single cloud in the sky, the camera crews were able to track the rocket for much longer than ever before; while the launch date hadn’t been selected for this purpose, it was still a very appreciated side-effect.

Image 19601215C. The Prometheus passes through Max Q at an altitude of 15.5km. The plume expanded considerably.

Unfortunately, once above roughly 20km, the rocket became too small in perspective for any appreciable photograph to be taken. MECO occurred at T+156, and separation of the second stage occurred just a second later.

SIMULATION. The second stage ignites successfully.

Fairings separation occurred at T+330, with SECO happening a minute later. The Arcturus B stage separated and ignited for the first time.

SIMULATION. The Arcturus A separates from the upper stage of the Prometheus launch vehicle.

The Arcturus stage provided for the last 1700m/s of velocity to orbit. The stage and payload would then coast in their 185km parking orbit until the proper time for the second burn was reached.

The requirement for the GTO burn to be performed by the Arcturus stage was the main reason why Connection 3 was launched aboard a Prometheus, even though a Hyperion would have probably been able to do the job just fine. The X-242 kick stage wouldn’t be used to execute the transfer maneuver, actually it served the purpose of circularizing the orbit at apogee.

The second Arcturus burn, 2460m/s in delta v, would occur as the stage passed the equatorial descending node, exactly 16 minutes and a half after orbital insertion.

SIMULATION. The Arcturus ignites for the second, last, time.

With the payload placed onto its transfer orbit, it was finally time to spin stabilize the kick motor and separate it, delaying ignition until it reached apogee 5 hours and 15 minutes later.

SIMULATION. Connection 3 and its X-242 kick stage drift towards apogee.

The apogee burn would require 1470m/s of delta v, of which 1440 would be provided by the kick motor, with the onboard RCS concluding the burn.

SIMULATION. After the solid motor burn is complete, Connection 3 circularizes its orbit via its RCS thrusters.

SIMULATION. Connection 3 in orbit over Southeast Asia.

After the burn was finished, Connection 3 had been placed into a 35802x35783km orbit at 28.609° inclination, with an orbital period of exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds, a sidereal day. The satellite orbited above Southeast Asia, and started relaying messages from ground stations in Australia six hours after final orbital insertion. The satellite is still in orbit to this day, although the exhaustion of the hydrazine propellant means it no longer is in a geosynchronous orbit.

Connection 3 would be only the first of a long line of geosynchronous communication satellites, with the first generation of them due for launch starting the following year.

Edited by Fenisse
Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Fenisse said:

Today I was trying some Dire Straits-y licks on my Telecaster, sitting near my computer. I randomly stared at the screen (probably a change in background caught my attention), when I noticed the Module Manager patch counter was... well...

Ah, a fellow Fender fan and playing a Telie at that.  Salute!  I could never get a good sound out of a Telie so stuck with Strats.  Really, my stubby fingers would be better suited to a Gibson but I prefer the sound of the longer neck and single-coil pickups.

But DAMN!  100K+ MM patches?!?!?!?!?!?  I think my all-time max was 16K but I try to keep it below 1500 these days.


2 hours ago, Fenisse said:

Connection 3 would be only the first of a long line of geosynchronous communication satellites, with the first generation of them due for launch starting the following year.

Congrats on beating the real world by 4 years :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Geschosskopf said:

Ah, a fellow Fender fan and playing a Telie at that.  Salute!  I could never get a good sound out of a Telie so stuck with Strats.  Really, my stubby fingers would be better suited to a Gibson but I prefer the sound of the longer neck and single-coil pickups.

Heh, took me some time to get a good tone out of that Tele, but once I learnt how to, I rarely needed anything else: I can play every genre on it, bar metal probably, but I don't really play that stuff -- and even then, just switch the neck pickup for an humbucker and you should be good to go. Telecasters are really an exercise in simplicity; nowadays I mostly use a wah pedal, an OD/Distortion pedal and some reverb, sometimes I like to add some delay. Just follow the twang and you're good to go. Also great guitars to play in fingerstyle and clawhammer techniques.

About Gibsons, I have a lot of experience with Les Pauls (my very first electric was one). Heavy, weird to reach the upper frets, that G string detuning every time you need it... but really amazing sound, in particular with coil tapping. I'd say it's probably best to get a PRS these days. Or, if you don't want to spend much, Epiphone Standard Pro LPs are great for their price.

7 hours ago, Geschosskopf said:

But DAMN!  100K+ MM patches?!?!?!?!?!?  I think my all-time max was 16K but I try to keep it below 1500 these days.

My 1.7 KSP installation, which is way heavier and with many more mods than the RP-1 one, tops out at 13k patches, for comparison.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...