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JNSQ: Shuttle Launch System - Epilogue


Angel-125
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If you’ve been reading To the Mun, this mission report is a continuation of my JNSQ career save. It’s a kind of interlude series while I finish up my Mk-33 mod and get it ready for release. I don’t have a whole lot planned, but I’m definitely having fun with the new ship. Stay tuned!

Mod list:

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... And the shuttle...

Chapters

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Epilogue

———

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Prologue: The Shuttle Decision

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The Kerman States’ Kerbal Space Program beat the vonKermans to the Mun and to Minmus using their massive Lindor 5 launch vehicle and returned their crews home safely in their reusable K-20 KerbalSoar gliders. Project Munflight succeeded in breaking the Kerman States out of its nationwide apathy and reinvigorating its economy by reaching for the Mun, but at just under 500,000 Funds per flight, its scientific benefits no longer justified its cost. As a result, KSC ended the Munflight program after three flights to each moon and a final flight that used a heavily modified Lindor to launch SkyBase, a large space station, into orbit. KSC launched three missions to the station before ending Project SkyBase as well.

When Kongress directed KSP to design a reusable launch system to replace the mighty Lindor and their aging fleet of K-20 gliders, they also slashed their budget. As a result, KSC had to completely rethink how they launched spacecraft and payloads into orbit. With barely enough Funds to launch the equivalent of a K-20 tipped Edna into orbit every month, whatever reusable craft they created had to be cheap. To that end, KSC engineers began designing the Shuttle Launch System.

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There were several SLS proposals. The first one took a radical approach and suggested a wedge-shaped single stage to orbit craft whose revolutionary linear aerospike engines had already been successfully test fired. But the design was deemed too risky due to its karbon komposite fuel tanks. Simply put, the Mk-33 mod isn’t done yet nobody knew how to build them.

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The second proposal consisted of a winged orbiter that looked remarkably like Wernher vonKerman’s old Ferry Rocket that was stacked atop an expendable Lindor 5 Second Stage (L5SS) and the Lindor 9 Reusable First Stage (L9RFS) that helped deliver SkyBase into orbit. Called the Lindor Ferry Rocket, engineers thought it would help preserve the existing Lindor infrastructure should the heavy lifter ever be needed again. While it would be easy to fly and mostly reusable, the L5SS throwaway hardware cost just over 69,395 Funds minus its propellant. It was not fully reusable but, it had promise.

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The third proposal had a delta-winged orbiter powered by redesigned “Vector” engines that burned kryogenic propellium and oxidizer instead of the typical liquid fuel and oxidizer. The orbiter was side mounted to an expendable external tank, and the tank was then stacked atop the L9RFS. Engineers dubbed it the Lindor Shuttle. But the design had a big problem with burning up its engines on reentry.

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A variant that only recovered the propulsion and threw away most of the tankage proved to be too expensive. KSP rejected the design on cost alone. Plus, it had stability issues even with help from the stability assist system.

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Not ready to let go of the Lindor, engineers tried one more time, this time taking the Lindor 9, removing the landing legs, chutes, and grid fins, and adding enormous wings and a set of landing gear. They hoped that such a design could take the heat of reentry away from the engines while giving the booster gliding ability. Sadly, that design also could not take the heat and had to be rejected.

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Saddened that the Lindor Shuttle looked to be a dead end, KSC engineers went back to the drawing board, kept the delta-winged orbiter that was side mounted to an expendable tank, and coupled it to twin recoverable liquid rocket boosters. They demonstrated that the configuration would be stable in flight, but booster recovery was a different matter. Each booster had to drastically slow itself down or its engines would burn up on reentry like the L9RFS. Plus, they needed good cross-range capacity to reach Welcome Back Island. Both were achievable but simulations showed that the boosters tended to flip and run out of propellant before they could slow enough to safely deploy their parachutes. And the extra fuel needed for boost-back ate into the orbiter’s payload capacity.

The final proposal arrived in the form of the orbiter and external tank configuration from before, but with expendable solid rocket motors in place of the liquid boosters. The design proved to be stable in flight, had simpler recovery requirements, and best of all, it was the cheapest proposal of the bunch. Expending just 44,151 Funds of hardware per flight (ignoring fuel costs), the design fit well within KSP’s reduced budget. The astronauts were not thrilled about riding solid rockets, which had not been done since the early days of the K-20, but they also realized that lower budgets meant fewer options.

KSP whittled the proposals down to just two: The Lindor Ferry Rocket, and the Space Shuttle. The Lindor Ferry Rocket cost 441,098 Funds to launch and expended 69,395 Funds after accounting for recovery. It also preserved the Lindor production line and the ability to lift heavy and/or oversized payloads. By contrast, the Space Shuttle cost 181,458 Funds to launch and expended 44,151 Funds after accounting for recovery. It also side-mounted the orbiter, which made it more difficult to control during the early stages of flight and posed a potential safety hazard to its heat shield tiles. And it abandoned superheavy lift, which arguably was no longer needed. It was a very tough call.

Ultimately, it came down to how quickly I’d get bored of landing the first stage ease of flight and recovery operations and how many Funds KSC needed to keep in its coffers just to process a shuttle flight. So, while the Lindor Ferry Rocket was the original plan an attractive solution, SOCK is just too cool the Space Shuttle had the best overall design. But to satisfy detractors, KSC also kept their Lindor 9 Reusable First Stage and mothballed the tooling for the Lindor rocket just in case they needed one for a heavy lift mission or two.

With their design finalized at last, KSC contracted out the production work to the Drax Aerospace Corporation (DAC), who made sure that all seven Kerman States- Eridu, Tibira, Larsa, Sippar, Mittania, Assyria, and Akkadia (the capital)- had a hand in developing the Shuttle Launch System, just as their predecessors had done with the Lindor 5. That helped ease the sting of losing their heavy lift rocket.

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KSC ordered a prototype shuttle to conduct approach and landing tests and launchpad fit tests with and named it “Freedom” after an obscure sci-fi series’ shuttlecraft of the same name. It was designated OV-201 for Orbiter Vehicle, Series 2, unit number 1. Equipped with jet engines and mass simulated main engines, Freedom proved the airworthiness of the orbiter design and helped astronauts train to land the shuttle. At some point, KSC hoped to retrofit the prototype for space flight as well. But for now, Mariner (OV-202) was almost flight ready while Spirit (OV-203), Opportunity (OV-204), and Curiosity (OV-205) were in various stages of construction.

Edited by Angel-125
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27 minutes ago, KerballingSmasher said:

*GASP* I SEE A THEME HERE! Does this mean OV-206 will be Perseverence?

Yup! I have been naming my K-20s after space probes and continuing the tradition with the shuttles.

 

18 hours ago, TheSaint said:

LOL

I was wondering if anybody would notice... @Invaderchaos has a texture pack for the Shuttle Orbiter Construction Kit:

Also, here is the shuttle mod I'm using:

 

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12 hours ago, Selective Genius said:

It's always a delight reading your mission logs :) Are the VonKermans going to build a 'Buran' analog? Or are they satisfied with their existing fleet of medium lift launchers?

Glad you are enjoying the read! Currently the vonKermans are satisfied by their reusable Fleigenross lifter and Drakken capsule. The Fleigenross (“Flying Steed” in the Kerman tongue) was inspired by Long March at first but is also influenced by the Falcon 9. With the Drakken capsule (inspired by Shenzhou) being low cost, it doesn’t make sense to the vonKermans to make a reusable space plane just yet. They are more inclined to perfect their reusable Fleigenross, perhaps recovering the second stage.

Edited by Angel-125
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When I wrote the prologue, I had a lot of fun trying out different concepts in KSP. My original plan was to keep the Lindor flying and stack a ferry rocket on top similar to this:

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It would’ve been an interesting sight to see. Then I started thinking about all the fanboy stuff I have on the shuttle, and how awesome @benjee10’s shuttle mod is (though I wish it had a steerable nose wheel), and that led me to try different shuttle concepts. I almost went with my Lindor Ferry Rocket given how similar the throwaway costs were, but I’ve wanted a shuttles career for a long time, and Benjee’s mod looks really clean when paired with Restock/Restock+.

What’s funny is that in going through my own shuttle decision, I ran into several questions that the real-world engineers and politicians did; what is the most economical and practical solution, and how do I justify tossing aside the other rockets I’ve made, especially since in KSP it’s a simple matter to stack parts together and go fly. But hey, it’s a game, and I can explore both options! :) So the Kermans fly that awesome ship from the Shuttle Orbiter Construction Kit, and the vonKermans can explore reusable boosters that keep crew and cargo separate.

Edited by Angel-125
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17 minutes ago, ItzNicko124 said:

Wow! Just wow, these mission reports series are amazing, you are even covering rocket concepts and your own concepts. Keep up the great work on this series! :)

Glad you're enjoying them! :) This mission report is the successor to To The Mun, where my "Apollo" was a K-20 (X-20) winged craft instead of a boring capsule. Now the kerbals are forging ahead with shuttle. :)

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Chapter 1

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Jeb and Dudmon sat on their backs in the cockpit of Mariner, the first spaceworthy shuttle orbiter, that was poised for launch. Named after the K-20 KerbalSoar that broke apart on reentry during its maiden flight, Jeb really hoped that its namesake’s first flight had a better ending. He was in Mariner when it broke apart. They were about to find out.

A veteran of the Last War and one of the first Astronauts, Air Force Colonel Jebediah Kerman had a long and distinguished career as an astronaut. He helped test the K-20 and the SeaGoat- the K-20 recovery and transportation plane, became the first kerbal to orbit Kerbin, became the first and so far only kerbal to bail out of a failing spacecraft, became the first kerbal to walk on both of Kerbin’s moons, drove a pressurized rover across the Mun, and set the record for the longest off world road trip.

By contrast, Navy Lieutenant Commander Dudmon Kerman only had one spaceflight on record- he got sick right before the Skybase 2 flight and Valentina’s crew had to step in, and then Gene (yes, that Gene, the Chief Flight Director and head of KSP) borrowed his crew for Skybase 3. But what a flight! He joined KSP right as Project Munflight ramped up and he commanded Munflight 3. During the ascent, the Lindor 5 oscillated widely and threatened to break up. Then the third stage decoupled from the still burning second stage when it should have jettisoned the fairings. Dudmon carefully balanced the third stage atop the second and kept on course while the second stage depleted its propellants. And he had the honor of driving the first passenger vehicle on another world when he deployed the lander’s mun buggy.

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Out the windows, Jeb could see Pad A to his left- unaltered to preserve its historical significance- and Pad B, which had been remodeled from its Munflight days and was almost ready to support Shuttle flights. Pad C, where Mariner sat, was brand new, and like Pad B, it received rockets stacked for launch via the new Vehicle Assembly Building 2. VAB 2 had four “high bays” to simultaneously prepare rockets for flight, and KSC needed every one of them to keep up with the anticipated demand for Shuttle flights. The crews in VAB 1 were a bit envious of their “big brother” but also relieved that they no longer needed to cram two missions into one building anymore. Gene got word of the envy and insisted that work crews rotate through both buildings to quell "us versus them" mentality.

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“…Eight…seven…six…ignition sequence start…” FLIGHTCOM- Flight Communications said over the radio.  The roar of the Vector main engines starting up snapped Jeb back to the present.

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“Here we go,” Jeb said coolly. The two astronauts were thrown back into their seats as the orbiter’s twin solid rocket booster ignited and catapulted the winged spaceship into the sky on pillars of fire. Mariner lurched sideways as well as upwards due to the offset thrust of its modified KS-25 engines. Powered by cryogenic propellium and oxidizer, the Vectors gulped propellants from the huge external tank strapped to the orbiter’s belly.

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Jeb took semi-automatic control, letting the autopilot kill rotation while he guided Mariner’s trajectory by hand. He rolled the craft to the correct heading and gradually pitched it over. Right on time, the solids burned out and dropped away, and Dudmon breathed a sigh of relief. He hated having to rely on solid rockets on a modern launch vehicle- the K-20 started flying with solids as well and the pilots back then hated them too, but they wisely switched to liquid rocket boosters as soon as the technology caught up. But as with the early K-20 flights, if something went wrong, then they were stuck until the solids burned out.

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Right after exiting the atmosphere, Jeb commanded Mariner to roll upright in preparation to jettisoning the external tank. A few minutes later they reached their target altitude. Part way through the circularization burn, Mariner dumped the tank, moved away from it, and completed the burn using their Viking orbital maneuvering engines. Once their engines stopped, Mariner circled Kerbin in a 349.9 km by 353.4 km orbit.

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“Welcome to space,” Jeb said, “now get to work.” Dudmon did not like working with Jeb- hardly anyone did- but he could not fly on SLS-1 without him. Jeb may be a brilliant pilot and KSC’s most experienced astronaut, but his interpersonal skills were severely lacking when he was not in front of a camera. Dudmon sighed and made his way to the payload engineering station and flipped some switches. Normally an engineer would handle his tasks but there were none on the maiden flight. Mariner’s payload bay doors opened to expose the orbiter’s radiators and deploy the high gain antenna. He could clearly see the external airlock as well and off in the distance, the shuttle's tail section.

They'd done it. They'd launched an airliner-sized vehicle into orbit.

“Let’s hope that we don’t need a ride from Sojourner,” Dudmon said as he looked out the payload bay windows. When KSP first began flying astronauts into orbit, they had no backup solution if something went wrong. But with SLS’ delicate thermal tiles and unconventional launch configuration, KSC wisely kept Sojourner, the last operational K-20 KerbalSoar, on standby. If the damage was too extensive, Sojourner would launch into orbit and retrieve Mariner’s crew. Of course, once the shuttle started flying more than two astronauts at a time, Sojourner could not help.

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Once Mariner looped around to the dayside of Kerbin, Dudmon stepped into the external airlock and took a walk outside. He boarded the Kerbal Maneuvering Unit- first used on Munflight 6- and undocked from the payload pallet. Unfortunately, the RCS thrusters failed to fire despite having ample monopropellant and electric charge. Dudmon had no choice except to abandon the KMU and use his personal jet pack to complete his task.

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“Looks like the engineers messed up again,” Jeb said as he looked out the window.

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Dudmon ignored him and focused on not running into the Mariner’s delicate tiles as he flew around the orbiter and took pictures. Meanwhile Jeb ran some experiments located in the aft of the payload bay to gather some token science. The resource scanner picked up some interesting observations though. After Dudmon hopped back inside, he began downloading the pictures to KSC for analysis. They had to wait for KSC engineers to analyze the images and determine if SLS-1 needed a rescue mission.

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Two days later, Mariner was cleared for reentry. The digital autopilot refused control input so Jeb took manual control. Unfortunately, the RCS thruster failed to fire as well, but the shuttle’s reaction wheels provided adequate backup. The fuel cells also had problems generating electric charge so Dudmon activated the emergency batteries. And though he did not show it outwardly, Jeb was nervous about the reentry.

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The plasma fires engulfed Mariner as she dove into the upper atmosphere and Jeb struggled to keep the nose pitched upward to 30 degrees. Every time he hit the mark, the shuttle wanted to yaw left or right. But Dudmon sorted out the RCS issues by bypassing the digital autopilot, so he corrected the yaw and helped pitch the nose up. As the fires subsided, Jeb breathed a sigh of relief as he took his eyes off the navball. When he checked the instruments, he was disappointed that they were nearly 70 kilometers off course. But that was what the jets were for…

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As their altitude dropped below 12,000 meters, Jeb commanded the engine intake cones to retract. The rushing air spun the fan blades and brought the twin Panther jet engines to life, transforming Mariner from spaceship to airplane in seconds. After a fifteen-minute flight, the orbiter touched down nearly on the centerline, rolled out, and stopped about midway down the runway. And while not without her problems, Mariner’s maiden flight redeemed her K-20 namesake.

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***

Post-flight analysis of SLS-1 revealed software defects with the flight control software. Namely, the flight mode selector overrode the “default” controller and ignored input commands. A simple uncheck of the override would correct the problem for SLS-2. Additionally, the oscillation issues on ascent were attributed to incorrectly enabled roll control on the main engines. Flight software engineers already had a fix. Further, the orbiter apparently had insufficient fuel cell generation, so engineers planned to add backup generators for the next mission. Plus, the external tank ended up as orbital debris, so engineers began working on a deorbit kit to test on the next mission. And the reentry calculations suggested by Drax Aerospace proved to be wholly inaccurate. It took several simulations to get Mariner lined up for KSC before Flight gave the go for landing. But pilots were already working on a lookup table for various deorbit altitudes and entry points. And the split rudder airbrake tended to yaw the orbiter to the left, so it had to be used sparingly. Finally, the abject failure of the KMU sent engineers back to the drawing board to revert back to the original KMU software- they thought they could get away with using the digital autopilot from the shuttle, but the KMU had the same control issues.

Several things went right, however. The payload bay doors operated as expected. The Viking orbital maneuvering engines had no issues. The digital autopilot successfully oriented the control point when needed. The orbiter proved to be responsive during launch. The protective cones on the jet engines worked well. And the Panther jet engines were worth their mass, giving the orbiter the range needed to reach KSC.

Engineers had a lot to think about for SLS-2, but all in all, Mariner’s maiden flight went rather well.

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Chapter 2

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Sixty days after SLS-1, SLS-2 rolled out to Pad B in preparation for launch. Once again, Mariner was the chosen vehicle. The orbiter had some modifications to its tile layout after her maiden flight to better withstand the heat on her orbital maneuvering system pods. Additionally, engineers added thicker heat shield tiles to the Panther air intake cones. Finally, they made some software changes to fix issues in the digital autopilot.

With the orbiter updated, engineers turned their attention to the external tank and added a pair of separatrons along with an experimental deorbit kit. The kit did not have much delta-v, but they hoped it would be enough to at least push the tank into the atmosphere where drag would take care of the rest. The new kit along with the existing Panther jet engines reduced the shuttle’s payload capacity but engineers had some ideas on how to compensate.

As with SLS-1, SLS-2 only carried two kerbals so that if something went wrong, Sojourner could launch and rescue the crew. Tesen, the mission commander, was a veteran of Munflight 4 and Skybase 1, while Hensen was a rookie. Since the shuttle needed two pilots to fly and could hold up to seven astronauts, KSP began recruiting more kerbals to fill their ranks and to meet their mission goals.

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Tesen’s assignment as mission commander was no accident. Mariner launched into a 193.5km by 208.7km orbit as Skybase passed over KSC and began to chase down the space station. SLS-2 successfully placed its external tank on a suborbital trajectory, but KSC nonetheless test fired its experimental deorbit kit.

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Technically also designated Skybase 4, SLS-2’s mission was to resupply the station and assess its condition. To do that, the orbiter carried a specialized Logistics Adapter Module (LAM) with the old-style docking port on one end and a new OV-100 docking port on the other end. The OV-100 was compatible with the Mark 2 port developed by the vonKermans that was shared with KSP as part of the Munflight Drakken Test Project. It was redesigned to fit the smaller crew tubes used on the shuttle.

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To attach the LAM to Skybase, Mariner had to successfully test its newest addition: Kerboarm. The Kerboarm was designed to pluck payloads out of its payload bay by latching onto grapple fixtures attached to the payloads. If for some reason the arm failed, then Hensen could pilot the KMU and fly the LAM into place.

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Normally operated by an engineer, Hensen specifically trained to operate the arm during SLS-2. He unlocked the servo joints and moved them around to test their flexibility and control-ability. Satisfied that everything worked as expected, he locked the joints again as Mariner burned for Skybase. Upon arrival, Hensen unlocked the arm and grabbed the LAM.

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After several attempts to dock the module, the end effector failed and lost its grip. Fortunately, Hensen was ready for this and hopped into the KMU. This time, it worked perfectly. Hensen flew over to the wayward LAM, captured it, and docked it to Skybase. He then returned to Mariner and helped Tesen dock the orbiter to Skybase after stowing the arm.

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Low on propellants, Mariner transferred some over to the orbiter before the two astronauts unloaded the LAM. With their main tasks aboard Skybase completed, the pilots ran some simple experiments. Skybase was still in good condition; Gene and his crew did some cleaning before they left, though it was apparent that someone had run on the lockers during a previous mission.

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The shuttle remained docked for two more days before undocking and leaving the LAM behind. Not long after, Mariner deorbited and landed back at KSC. Again, the jet engines proved immensely helpful, though the orbiter ran out of fuel just as she approached the runway.

***

The post-mission report showed that the Kerboarm experienced severe oscillations as it maneuvered the LAM around. The issue was attributed to poor joint strength, a need to move the arm slowly, and the need to lock the joints as soon as possible to improve rigidity. KSC engineers began working on a software fix to Servo Controller* the KerboArm that would auto-lock the joints when the arm was not moving.

The lower orbit meant that the external tank deorbit kit was not needed but the test proved to be successful. The separatrons also improved the tank’s decoupling and separation rate. The changes to the thermal protection system also proved their worth.

* The update to Servo Controller can be found here.

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Chapter 3

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SkyBarge aircraft number 05 approached KSC from the west, carrying the SLS External Tank destined for SLS-4. Unlike the first three flights, the fourth’s ET lacked any thermal paint- engineers determined that it was not needed and leaving it off increased the payload to orbit by nearly a metric ton. Seemingly effortlessly, the SkyBarge settled down onto the tarmac and taxied into its cavernous hangar. Once secured, engineers would remove the external tank and tow it over to VAB 2.

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Meanwhile, the last Edna flight was ready for launch. The venerable launch vehicle was nearly retired several times during its career, but technological advancements kept it flying. However, with the Shuttle Launch System's debut, its time had come. But with the Duna launch window nearly open and Mariner about halfway through her processing for SLS-3, the Edna was the only rocket available to launch KSP’s first interplanetary probe.

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As the rocket lifted into the sky, critics wondered why KSC needed the Shuttle Launch System to launch payloads that clearly didn’t need a crew. KSP countered by pointing out that the Edna cost about as much as a shuttle launch, but none of the rocket could be recovered. They also mentioned that the shuttle needed crew to land it properly. When critics pointed out that the Pathfinder landed on autopilot, the engineers claimed that the shuttle was much more complex and needed live kerbals to handle the nuances of landing as well as payload handling. The critics weren't entirely convinced, though they did acknowledge the cost savings.

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The last Edna had no trouble lifting the Duna Surveyor into orbit, and a couple of days later, the probe departed for the Rusty Planet.

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Thirty days after that, SLS-3 sat on the pad as its "sparklers" ignited in anticipation of igniting unburned propellium as the main engines started. Mariner carried Valentina Kerman and Samny Kerman aboard.

A veteran of Project Munflight and Project Skybase, Valentina was nearly as experienced as Jeb. She was instrumental in testing the K-20 KerbalSoar and became the first kerbal to reach space when she flew the Pioneer on a suborbital test flight. After several orbital flights in the K-20 fleet, she also became the first kerbal to reach the Mun and walk on its surface during Munflight 1, and she walked on Minmus during Munflight 6. Also known as the Munflight Drakken Test Project, Munflight 6 was the first time- and thus far only time- that the Kerman States performed a joint space mission with their space race rivals in the vonKerman Republic. Post Project Munflight, Valentina and her Munflight crew stepped in to fly the Skybase 2 when Dudmon got sick. And given that she trained the second and third classes of KSP astronauts and was easy to get along with, it was no surprise that she was appointed Chief of The Astronaut Corps after Skybase 2. By her own rules, she needed periodic missions to maintain her flight status, and SLS-3 fit the bill.

By contrast, Samny was a rookie making her first flight. She trained alongside Hensen Kerman on the Kerboarm as part of the SLS-2 backup crew and was tasked with testing the software fixes that KSC hoped would resolve the arm’s control issues.

“Have a good flight, dear, uh, Mariner,” Bob Kerman, Valentina’s husband, and the voice of FLIGHTCOM for SLS-3, radioed from Mission Control.

“Copy that, FLIGHTCOM,” Valentina said and smiled. "See you in a few days." Someday she hoped that she and her husband could be on the same mission together, but that would take a policy change by KSP.

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Mariner launched into a 245km by 256km orbit a few minutes later. The ET’s separatrons failed to fire, so Val activated the RCS to put distance between it and Mariner before finalizing their circularization burn. The ET’s deorbit kit prevented the tank from become more orbital debris.

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After configuring Mariner for orbit, the pilots moved to the aft control station and activated various experiments carried in the shuttle’s payload bay. One of them was a surveillance camera for the Kerman Aerospace Defense Command. While relations between the Kerman States and the vonKermans Republic had improved since the Munflight Drakken Test Project, the two nations kept to themselves and there was still distrust on both sides.

Valentina did not like spying on her former country- she and her mom moved to the Kerman States when she was a child- but she also knew that both nations needed independent means to verify treaties. The thought made her wonder what Hanse vonKerman- her counterpart from the MDTP- was up to these days. They had kept in touch for a while after the test project, but they had not spoken much at all recently. The last she knew he was pushing his superiors for more cooperation between the rival space agencies.

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After running the multi-spectral imaging sensor for a few orbits and setting the surveillance camera on automatic, Samny got to work on testing the Kerboarm and its new fixes. She used a pre-programmed maneuver to deploy the arm, and it worked as expected. Once the various joints reached their targets, they locked into place. She then used the second pre-programmed maneuver to position the arm next to the test payload’s power data grapple fixture. The arm worked perfectly and latched onto the payload.

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Afterwards, Samny took manual control and moved the payload around, taking snapshots of the arm’s positions to return to later. After taking snapshots at the payload raised position and simulated docking to the shuttle’s airlock port, Samny commanded the arm to return to those positions. Finally, she returned the payload to its docking port, engaged the magnets, and unlatched the arm. The test payload hard docked to its stowage port without incident. Then she used the pre-programmed snapshots to stow the arm. With the arm barely wobbling, she locked the joints without any trouble. The software fixes worked!

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Six days later, Mariner deorbited and returned to KSC. With limited fuel reserves, Valentina went long and used s-turns and the speed brakes to slow down before she looped the orbiter back towards the space center. She barely needed the jet engines to land.

The post-mission debriefing attributed the failure of the external tank’s separatrons to ignite to a software glitch in the staging code. The defect was corrected for subsequent flights. More significantly, the orbiter had limited delta-v for orbital maneuvering. In the case of Skybase 4, Mariner was able to refuel at the space station. But for flights not headed to Skybase, mission planners needed to carefully manage their maneuvering burns. The situation also gave engineers incentive to create an auxiliary fuel tank system; the orbiter already had the plumbing needed to situate one in the payload bay. Unfortunately, that also meant an additional payload penalty.

With so few issues to report and the major problems worked out of the system, KSC decided that SLS-3 was the final test flight. As a result, they proudly proclaimed the Shuttle Launch System fully operational.

***

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To the west, at the Yeager Astrodrome, the Ministry of Space launched their first mission since the end of the Kerman States’ Project Munflight. Their new Arrow 4 launch vehicle took to the skies on a pair of solid rocket boosters that replaced the expensive common cores from the Arrow 3. As the Arrow 4 made its way through its routine, the solid boosters dropped away while the core stage ignited. Right on time, the core first stage was jettisoned, and its upper stage ignited. As the vehicle exited the atmosphere, the Arrow 4 dumped its fairings and continued its climb. Finally, the payload separated from the launch vehicle. As the upper stage deorbited itself, the new Arrow Lab spread its solar wings…

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Chapter 4

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Since Kongress left it up to them to make recommendations, the KSP Advisory Board had to formulate a strategy. Gene passed the deciding vote. Their response was clear. Now they just had to convince the right kerbals…

Despite losing their funding after Project Munflight ended, the McKerman Kingdom was forging ahead. With the Ministry of Space’s launch of their Arrow Lab, they clearly had their own designs on space exploration, and it involved flying kerbals on their own spacecraft. But such a vehicle would take payload opportunities away from the Shuttle Launch System.

KSP could ill afford another space race, and that influenced Gene’s decision. In the coming weeks, he would speak with the McKermans and propose a partnership that he hoped would put more payloads and crews on SLS while delaying their plans for independent crew transportation. He tried to clear his mind for the task at hand though.

With the Shuttle Launch System declared operational, KSC allowed more than two astronauts to fly aboard the orbiter on the same mission. But that also meant that the K-20 KerbalSoar could no longer be used to rescue the crew in the event of a mishap. As a result, it was time to retire Sojourner, the last K-20, and Gene and Valentina had the honor of flying the space glider to its retirement home. There were some in the KSC community that wanted to see Sojourner make one last space flight for old time’s sake, but the space center lacked the Funds, an Edna rocket, and a purpose for such a flight, so Munflight 6 remained the K-20’s last mission.

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The venerable K-21 SeaGoat had been KSC’s go to aircraft for a long time. It began as the transportation and recovery aircraft for the K-20 KerbalSoar, but it doubled as a science plane that conducted numerous scientific studies across Kerbin. It underwent several modifications throughout its career, mainly centered around engine upgrades for greater power and greater range. Though there was talk of retiring the SeaGoat along with Sojourner, KSC was not quite ready to let go of her as well.

Gene firewalled the throttles, and SeaGoat responded by bolting down the runway. As the plane took off with Sojourner underslung, he could see Mariner and Freedom parked outside of their Orbiter Processing Facility hangars. Mariner was ready to be towed to VAB 2 for SLS-4 while Freedom was undergoing conversion into a flight-ready orbiter.

“Passing the baton,” Valentina commented as they sped by.

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MM hm,” Gene responded as he focused on getting the SeaGoat on course. In truth, he was hiding his emotions and trying not to get sentimental about the sendoff. It was a nice touch. He fiddled with the flight controls and eventually felt satisfied.

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A few minutes later, the K-21 approached The Boneyard, an aircraft retirement home built on a patch of scorched kerbin situated 30km away from KSC. Scientists thought that the ground had been burned by an asteroid that exploded over the surface, but some patches of soil had trace amounts of radioactive materials. Conspiracy theorists suggested that the Kermantians tested radiological devices on the site long ago. They were quickly debunked, but some controversial evidence suggested that based on their decay, the materials had been around for thousands of years. At any rate, the grass never grew at The Boneyard; it was a small blackened desert in the middle of an oasis.

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Gene landed the transport on the dirt runway and taxied over to the other K-20s on the tarmac. After some careful maneuvering, he lined Sojourner up with her sister ships and then shut the engines down. He and Valentina hopped out and disconnected the K-20 before moving SeaGoat out of the way. They took a moment to pay their respects.

“It’s the end of an era,” Valentina lamented. “I’m going to miss flying these.”

Gene nodded. “It’s the beginning of a new one,” he countered. “There’s so much more that we can do with SLS... By the way, I never did thank you for suggesting that I fly Skybase 3. I hated it and loved it at the same time.”

“You just did,” Valentina smiled and said, “but you never had to. I saw the joy in your face…”

“Yeah, I have to admit that I loved it,” Gene admitted, “just not the zero gee parts…. Someday, the Shuttles will be out here too. But until then, let’s fly some great missions.”

The pair hopped back into the SeaGoat, fired up her engines, and flew back to the space center, ready to get to work.

***

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Though the lack of thermal paint helped restore some of the Shuttle’s payload capacity that was taken up by the jet engines and deorbit kit, engineers had more work to do. They had a few ideas, but for now, KSP had to settle for lighter payloads. Fortunately, SLS-4’s payload was still within its limits. For her first operational mission, Mariner carried a new SCANSat into orbit that was destined to replace SCANSat 3. MunSCAN 2 carried an advanced multispectral scanner that could survey terrain, biomes, and resources. KSC needed the satellite to find a better location for Billstown, a munar outpost established during the Munflight 5 mission.

To reach munar orbit, MunSCAN 2 was attached to the new Payload Assist Module. The PAM-A was built to fit the Shuttle’s payload bay and could carry small satellites to high orbit or munar trajectories. It was powered by a derivative of the Shuttle’s Viking Orbital Maneuvering System engine, which had excellent fuel economy that rivaled the Terrier. KSC engineers had a larger version, dubbed the PAM-B, that nearly spanned the Shuttle’s cargo bay width, but it had to wait until SLS had improved payload capacity. A prototype PAM-B launched the Duna Surveyor on its interplanetary mission.

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Mariner launched Shersey (CDR), Jeslong (PLT), Bill (ENG), Bob (SCI), and Malus (SCI) into a 194.8 km by 207.6 km orbit. It was the first 5-kerbal crew mission in history. Bill, Bob, and Malus were all veterans of the Munflight program. Of the three, Bob walked on Minmus during Munflight 2 while Malus walked on Minmus during Munflight 4. Bill flew on KS-12, Munflight 2 and Munflight 5, and had a hand in designing numerous spacecraft including Billstown, the first munar outpost. By contrast, Shersey and Jesong were both rookie astronauts making their first spaceflight.

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After configuring the orbiter for on-orbit operations, Bill deployed the Kerboarm and checked out its systems. As Mariner looped back around to the day side, he ran the satellite grab routine. The arm effortlessly re-positioned itself to grab MunSCAN 2.

With some careful maneuvering, Bill removed MunSCAN 2 from Mariner’s payload bay, just as the orbiter reached the night side of Kerbin. He waited until they again looped around to the day side before extending the satellite’s antennas and solar arrays. After pointing the satellite towards Kerbol and verifying that it had full electric charge, Bill released MunSCAN 2. Shersey immediately backed the orbiter away from the satellite to give it maneuvering room while Bill stowed and locked the Kerboarm. Thirty minutes later, MunSCAN 2 sped off towards its destination.

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With the space probe safely on its way, Mariner began the second phase of its mission. Shersey aligned Mariner’s orbital plane with Skybase, and a day later, he and Jeslong maneuvered the orbiter next to the space station and docked with it at orbital sunrise. The crew secured the orbiter for its stay and transferred over to Skybase. Bob and Malus were delighted to run experiments in the orbital lab.

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Four days later, KSC radioed Shersey and his crew and let them know that MunSCAN 2 successfully entered munar orbit and began its surveys. “That’s great news,” Shersey responded. “It’s good to know that the Shuttle can deliver on time.”

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After three more days at Skybase, Mariner replenished her propellant reserves for the trip home and undocked from the space station. An hour later, Mariner plunged into the atmosphere, and a few minutes after that, the orbiter passed through 20,000 kilometers and 420 m/sec and was just 55 kilometers away from KSC. They were a bit short, so Shersey dumped the excess oxidizer to lighten the load, and at 8,000 meters, he air-started the Panther jets. Mariner was still 30 kilometers away from the space center- easily within range. After couple of minutes of flying, Mariner touched down and rolled to a stop.

***

The post-mission debriefing revealed few problems. Mariner was short on propellant but could have deorbited and returned to KSC. The ET’s lack of paint did improve payload capacity, but additional improvements to the Shuttle Launch System were still warranted. There were some issues with the Kerboarm during ascent, so KSC engineers needed to double-check and make sure that the arm was fully locked after running tests in the VAB.

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Chapter 5

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Unlike Mariner, Freedom lacked high-temperature thermal tiles on its wing roots; they proved to be unnecessary, and all future orbiters would not have them as well. Additionally, Freedom lacked the extra fuel cell generators since they also proved unnecessary. But otherwise, the orbiter was the same as its sibling.

OV-201 was originally going to be named Magellan, but fans of a popular science fiction series called the KSOS Mission Chronicles (now out of print) conducted a write-in campaign that successfully changed it to Freedom, named after the series’ shuttle. The prototype orbiter validated the Space Shuttle’s airworthiness, participated in the ground vibration tests that verified the SLS launch configuration, served as a test article to ensure proper fit of various pieces of equipment, and helped astronauts train to land the orbiter before the K-23 Shuttle Training Aircraft became available. Today though, Freedom transitioned from a test vehicle into an operational orbiter.

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Freedom carried Dudmon (CDR), Samger (PLT), Gerrim (ENG), Jofrey (ENG), Santrey (SCI), and Danwig (SCI). Previously SLS-1’s pilot, Dudmon was more than ready to be SLS-5’s mission commander. While Samger and Danwig were new and Jofrey only flew once on Skybase 1, Gerrim and Santrey were old pros at spaceflight. They both first flew into orbit on the KS-14 flight that tested a prototype space station and flew on Munflight 1- Santrey even walked on the Mun. They flew again on Munflight 6, where Gerrim walked on Minmus and helped the vonKermans set up Hause 2. They flew a third time, spending 60 days conducting research during the Skybase 2 mission. And because they made such a great team, the duo was flying a fourth time together on SLS-5.

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SLS-5 launched into a 178 km by 188.1 km orbit around Kerbin. Due to the low orbit, Freedom’s external tank also achieved orbit, but while the deorbit kit was supposed to push the tank into the atmosphere, it lacked the delta-v needed to do so. KSC engineers made a note to add extra propellant for the next couple of missions.

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After securing the craft for orbital operations, Dudmon and Samger conducted several burns to rendezvous with their target over the course of three days...

***

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The Kerman States’ space program and the McKerman Kingdom’s space program were not the only space agencies that suffered financial cutbacks after the Mun Race ended. The vonKerman Republic also drastically reduced their expenditures for space exploration and hadn’t flown anything since Drakken 10’s historic mission as part of the Munflight Drakken Test Project. That was about to change.

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Kontrol had hoped to fully refuel one of their new reusable Drakken Tanker Tugs using local resources from Minmus before conducting an aerobraking test with it, but with their crews getting stressed out before the tankers refueled, they had to stop their tests and send the crews home. Instead, they undocked Drakken 10’s tug from Unity Station and sent it on its way back to Kerbin after determining that it had enough delta-v remaining in its tanks. Eight days after its Trans-Kerbin Burn, as Freedom waited to burn for its rendezvous target, the tanker folded its solar arrays and antennae, and closed its docking port for the plunge through Kerbin’s upper atmosphere. It also extended its airbrakes to help it stay properly aligned and to slow down. The test did not go well.

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The tanker’s airbrakes overheated and exploded first, followed by its main fuel tank. The tanker broke up rapidly, and its shielded docking port melted and exploded, leaving only its probe core and heat shield intact. A few more passes through the atmosphere was all it took to turn the sub-orbital remains into debris that dumped into the Western Sea. It was disappointing to say the least. The vonKermans had to find another way to shield their tankers.

***

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In contrast to the vonKermans, the Kerbal Space Program perfected aerobraking with their Lindor 5 Upper Stage and had four of them circling Kerbin. Each one participated in a Munflight mission. Instead of deorbiting them, KSP chose to leave them in orbit so that they could be repurposed for future missions. After being refueled by newly funded Arrow Transfer Vehicles and conducting orbital flight tests, the L5US from Munflight 3, renamed L5US-3, became SLS-5’s rendezvous target. Freedom pulled up alongside the Munflight-era upper stage and Gerrim got to work.

After exiting the airlock, the engineer pulled tools and equipment from the storage locker and jetted over to L5US-3. She bolted handrails, batteries, and work lights to the structure along with a Power Data Grapple Fixture. With her work completed on EVA 1, Gerrim headed back inside to rest.

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Meanwhile, Jofrey unlocked the Kerboarm and maneuvered it to its capture position. With Dudmon and Samger carefully holding the orbiter still, Jofrey attempted to capture the upper stage with the arm. Nobody was sure it would work; then again, nobody ever tried capturing a satellite with a robot arm before. Ultimately, it took a combination of arm maneuvering by Jofrey and Shuttle piloting by Dudmon and Samger to capture L5US-3.

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While Jofrey calmed his nerves, Gerrim stepped outside again, this time to fly the Kerbal Maneuvering Unit. After a brief systems check, she decoupled from the payload pallet and backed up to dock with Freedom’s primary payload: MIDAS-A. The Multi-platform Interplanetary Deep-space Array System was intended to greatly extend KSC’s Deep Space Network. MIDAS-A, B, and C were designed to replace the Pulsar network that was launched at the start of Project Munflight. Due to their proximity to munar orbit, the network fell apart as the satellites fell into the Mun’s SOI and either spread them out or caused them to impact the surface. Of the seven satellites deployed, only Pulsar 4 and Pulsar 7 remained. To avoid a similar fate, the MIDAS platforms needed L5US-3 to boost them into High Kerbin orbit in between the Mun and Minmus and time their deployment to spread them evenly throughout their target orbit.

Gingerly, Gerrim flew MIDAS-A out of Freedom’s payload bay and docked it to L5US-3. Once she returned to the Shuttle’s airlock, Jofrey moved the Kerboarm aside while Dudmon backed Freedom out of the way. With their primary mission complete, SLS-5’s team admired their handiwork before aligning orbits with Skybase. A day later, they docked with the space station to take on additional life support supplies and fuel to power the ship’s generators.

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Santrey and Danwig had ten days to conduct science experiments before Freedom had to return home. While Dudmon activated the jets, he elected not to use them and instead glided back to KSC and landed perfectly on the runway. With a total of 14 days on orbit, SLS-5 was the longest Shuttle Launch System to date.

***

The post-mission analysis had even fewer issues to discuss. The ET stranded in orbit was definitely an issue and became yet another piece of space junk. But other than that, the mission went well, and OV-201 performed flawlessly. Mission Control even commended Dudmon for not using the jets during landing. If such feats became routine, then KSC engineers would consider removing them.

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Chapter 6

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“The dream of having space stations in orbit has been around for a long time,” Gene continued, “but they became popular because of fictional series like the KSOS Mission Chronicles and Mϋnlight Mile. Until we flew the prototype MOLE space station though, they were just fiction. Next, we delivered Unity Station to Minmus orbit for the Mϋnflight Drakken Test Project. It remains in orbit to this day. More recently, we launched Skybase, our first long-term space station, into Kerbin orbit. We flew three K-20 KerbalSoar missions and thus far, two SLS missions to the station, and we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, Skybase is nearing the end of its service life so it’s time for the next logical step.

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“Ladies and gentlekerbs,” Gene a bit louder. “I’m proud to announce the latest joint venture between Kerbal Space Program and the Ministry of Space: Project Space Station!*” He waited a moment for the slide to appear on screen before continuing. “Project Space Station takes what we learned from Skybase and applies it towards an advanced Kerbin Orbiting Station that will become a world-class research facility in space. This station will help us learn orbital construction techniques in space, long-term habitation, space-related stress management and reduction, and much more. It will challenge us to create new technologies that will enable us to reach Duna. And Project Space Station will be the next important step in becoming a truly space-faring civilization.”

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Gene switched to the next slide. “Here, you can see the various modules that comprise the station. The Starlab Core Module forms the cornerstone of the station. It and all the modules to the left of the core form the Kerman States Orbital Segment. But without the Pier Docking Service Module, Starlab wouldn’t get very far. Pier and everything to the right of it form the McKerman Kingdom Orbital Segment. Not shown are things like grapple fixtures and the station’s robot arm, and KOS is likely to undergo some revisions before orbital assembly, but what you see is close to the final revision.

“The space station will be kebal-tended initially, meaning it will only be staffed when a Shuttle visits it in much the same way as the SLS missions to Skybase. But once we launch the Pier and the Kerbal Return Vehicle- a lifeboat if you will- we can permanently staff the station with a crew of two. And once the Tranquillity Habitation Module flies, we can increase the staff to five astronauts.

“The Shuttle will handle crew rotations exclusively until the Ministry of Space develops their Arrow Crew Vehicle. But that is down the road a bit. Both SLS and Arrow Transfer Vehicles will periodically resupply the station.

“It will take some time to build the flight hardware, so we will continue flying to Skybase for a few more missions. Starting with SLS-6, Phase One of Project Space Station will fly two McKerman astronauts-“

“What about the vonKermans,” an overzealous reporter yelled out. “Weren’t they invited to participate in Project Space Station?”

“Good question,” Gene answered, trying to hide his annoyance. “We reached out to them, but they politely declined. As I was saying-“

“Why did they decline,” the reporter persisted.

Gene took a deep breath and exhaled to calm down. “They said…”

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***

Announcing Project Space Station had the desired effect. With SLS flights becoming routine, the public attention on KSP began to fade. But the new project captured their imagination once more. And hinting at reaching for Duna gave just enough of a foothold to parlay that interest into a fever pitch not seen since Project Munflight.

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The next three SLS flights did nothing to hold public interest, however. SLS-6 and SLS-7 were essentially repeating SLS-5’s mission to deliver MIDAS satellites to L5US-3. SLS-6’s external tank failed to enter the atmosphere and the orbiter had to return to Kerbin after delivering MIDAS-B when its life support supplies ran low. Worse, Jeb missed the reentry corridor by nearly 100km. But SLS-6 set the record for the largest crew count in a spacecraft with its 7-kerbal crew, made the first pre-dawn landing at KSC, and Sammal Mckerman and Seanner McKerman became the first astronauts from the McKerman Kingdom to reach space.

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SLS-7 fared better. It was the maiden flight of Spirit, and this time, the orbiter carried extra life support consumables. With proper timing, the external tank’s deorbit kit had enough delta-v to hit the atmosphere and it broke apart. The crew again included the McKerman scientists as part of the crew. After Spirit dropped off MIDAS-C, the orbiter docked with Skybase for a 10-day layover.

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While Sammal and Seanner performed experiments, Mission Control ignited L5US-3’s engine once more and it set out to deploy the MIDAS constellation.

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Ten days later, with its research kits expended, Skybase completed its mission. With KOS on the horizon, KSP elected to not resupply the station and instead detached the Logistics Adapter Module upon Spirit’s departure so that a future ATV mission could dock and deorbit the soon to be derelict station. It was the first time that a shuttle retrieved a payload from orbit that was launched by another spacecraft. And to top it off, Hensen, the mission commander, landed Spirit without activating the jets.

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SLS-8 brought MinSCAN 2 into orbit along with a crew of Maxpond (CDR), Johnsted (PLT) and Richny (ENG), the first all-rookie Shuttle crew. After deploying the probe, Freedom returned home, spending less than a day in orbit. Once again, the shuttle didn’t need its jet engines.

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With SLS-9, things got interesting again. Mariner carried Dudmon (CDR), Samger (PLT), and Gerrim (ENG), into a 249.3km by 253.2km orbit- and due to a miscalculation involving removing its deorbit kit, Mariner brought its external tank into orbit as well. KSC engineers vowed to never do that again…

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Tucked away in Mariner’s payload bay was a familiar friend. Though the K-20 KerbalSoar retired after the end of Project Mϋnflight, its legacy lived on in the form of the K-24 Kerbal Return Vehicle. KSC engineers took the K-20 airframe, stretched the fuselage, covered its upper surface in thermal blankets and kept its underside metallic heat shield. Then they clipped its wings, only to redesign and reattach them via hinges. Next, they tucked an advanced probe core into the flared end of the glider and gave the K-24 a set of parachutes for emergency landings. Finally, they took the truncated service module that was originally designed for space station flights and truncated it even further; it only needed to deorbit the KRV. By the time that they were done, the craft could bring up to 5 kerbals back from the space station, and it fit into the Shuttle’s cargo bay with its wings folded.

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Mariner carefully plucked the KRV from its payload bay, deployed the glider, and returned home. Once more pilots didn't use the jets. KSC again considered removing them- at least for heavier payloads...

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After spending several days in orbit, the KRV deployed its wings, performed its deorbit maneuver, dove into the atmosphere, and went subsonic about 150km away from KSC. Its radar determined rough terrain in its landing path, so the KRV armed and deployed its emergency chutes.

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It touched down 125km away from the space center, but the SeaGoat was ready to retrieve it just as it retrieved its predecessors during the KerbalSoar program. With the KRV validated, KSP was ready for its next phase of operations…

[*] Named after an old video game of the same name…

Edited by Angel-125
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Try this for deorbiting stuff:

It means you'll have to put stations at above 300 or so km, but that's well within SOCK's capacity if you use the SSMEs to (nearly) circularize at 200 km. The ET will deorbit in a couple weeks, and you'll have to spend very little dV to get to a 350-km station.

This also goes well with it:

 

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19 minutes ago, Clamp-o-Tron said:

Try this for deorbiting stuff:

It means you'll have to put stations at above 300 or so km, but that's well within SOCK's capacity if you use the SSMEs to (nearly) circularize at 200 km. The ET will deorbit in a couple weeks, and you'll have to spend very little dV to get to a 350-km station.

This also goes well with it:

 

Those look neat! I've heard of Orbital Decay before and thought about using it, but one reason I'm keeping the debris is for the story that comes after SLS. I actually have a use for the debris.. :)

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Chapter 7

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“Fifteen seconds,” Diller Kerman, KSC’s commentator announced, “10…9…8…go for main engine start…main engine start…4…3…2…1…we have booster ignition…and liftoff of the Space Shuttle Freedom carrying the first element of the Kerbin Orbital Station!”

“Main engines nominal, boosters nominal,” Valentina Kerman, SLS-10’s mission commander radioed. “Tower cleared, initiating roll program…”

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As it had done several times before, Freedom worked through its launch routine and ended up in a 235.6km by 275.2km orbit and ready to go to work. The only difference was that the Shuttle used the ET deorbit kit to help circularize its orbit before dropping the tank and letting it burn up while Freedom’s OMS engines finished the job.

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After Valentina and Samny completed their checklists for orbital operations, Bill maneuvered the KerboArm and latched onto the Starlab core module. Once he knew that he had a solid hold, he carefully maneuvered it out of the bay and docked it to Freedom’s docking port and stowed the arm. Next, he took a walk outside to install the Buckboard supply containers and flew the modified KMU to its docking port on the station. Unlike previous KMUs, this one had a latching end effector in addition to its docking ports. It provided a backup in case there were issues moving payloads around with the robot arms. Lastly, Bill verified that Starlab’s connections were sound and then extended its solar arrays. Starlab was open for business.

Santrey and Danwig were delighted to enter the new space lab and try it out. They wasted no time unpacking various equipment and setting things up. With Freedom’s extra supplies, they had several days on orbit to work out any issues and perform test experiments.

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With their mission complete, Freedom undocked from Starlab and headed home- no jets needed.

***

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A few days later, across the solar system, the Duna Surveyor entered the rusty planet’s sphere of influence. KSC celebrated the event and immediately commanded the probe to execute a “right turn” to head towards the planet. The maneuver set the probe up on an aerobraking trajectory, but its solar arrays would not survive the event, so seven hours later, the probe executed another maneuver that arced over the north pole. Then a day later, Duna Surveyor executed a circularization burn that left it in a 1346.8km by 1354.1km orbit. It was the first time in history that a spacecraft from Kerbin had done so. Unfortunately the orbit was too high for the SCANSat sensors, so KSC commanded the probe to dip down to 210km. There was just enough propellant in the PAM-B and Duna Surveyor’s own kick motor to circularize the probe in low-Duna orbit. After reporting its status, the probe took several readings with its experiments and relayed the results back to KSC. With that complete, Duna Surveyor settled in for its lone vigil over the planet and started its detailed scans...

***

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Eleven days after Duna Surveyor arrived in low Duna orbit, L5US-3 dropped off MIDAS-C. A few minutes later, MIDAS-C circularized its orbit and deployed its relay arrays.

***

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For the first time, a Shutle lifted off at night. Spirit carried Jeb (CDR), Malbo (PLT), Frolie (ENG), Munlorf (SCI), and Malus (SCI) into orbit and began their mission. They carried what they thought would be a light payload: a pair of Buckboard 2000 cargo boxes full of life support resources, some extra liquid fuel and oxidizer propellant, and Starlab’s station arm. As it turned out, the payload proved to be heavier than expected. Spirit had enough delta-v to reach Starlab but it couldn’t deorbit properly from its current altitude.

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As KSC worked the problem, Frolie got to work unpacking the Shuttle’s payload bay. First, the engineer unstowed the station arm and grabbed one of the PDGF ports on Starlab. After undocking its opposite end and retracting it, the arm successfully deployed from Spirit’s payload bay. With the free end, Frolie grabbed the docking spacer stowed at the front of the payload bay and docked it to Starlab’s nadir port. To say the least, KSC was delighted that the arm worked so well. Finally, the engineer unlatched the buckboards and attached them to the station’s available External Station Payload Racks (ESPRs).

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Starlab had a good 65 days of fresh air and snacks to wait for a solution to their problem, but they didn’t have to wait that long. As it turned out, KSP had an unused Arrow Transfer Vehicle leftover from Project Munflight that somebody forgot he launched was full of propellant. Within a day, Mission Control directed it to Starlab.

Frolie took the time to rewire some internal plumbing aboard Starlab. The port used to dock and refuel the station’s KMU could now transfer liquid fuel and oxidizer. After repositioning the KMU and latching it onto a Power Data Grapple Fixture, ATV Mun 1 docked with Starlab. And with their fuel problems solved, SLS-11 enjoyed a 20-day stay at the station before returning home.

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Jeb nearly overshot the reentry corridor, so he performed an "unusual pitch maneuver" to slow the orbiter down. It worked, and Spirit landed back at KSC. Once more, an orbiter didn't need its landing jets.

***

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To help restore lost payload capacity, Drax Aerospace Corporation introduced a new lightweight external tank for SLS-12. The LWT was about 5.5 metric tons lighter than the standard-weight tank flown for the previous 11 missions. Unfortunately, it also cost a bit more. Tesen (CDR), Hensen (PLT), Jofrey (ENG), Bob (SCI), and Sammal (SCI) launched aboard Mariner and brought with them the Pier module, the Ministry of Space’s first KOS element. As expected, the lightweight external tank gave Mariner enough delta-v to reach orbit without using her OMS engines.

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Pier was equipped with both the older Clamp-O-Tron Jr ports used since Project Munflight and the newer Mk2 standard ports used on vonKerman spacecraft. Once berthed to Starlab’s aft port, Pier allowed the Ministry of Space to begin sending resupply flights via Arrow Transfer Vehicle. Until then though, Jofrey transferred fresh Buckboards full of research kits to the core module after attaching Pier and moving the spacer module to its permanent home.

Mariner enjoyed another 20 days of on-orbit experiments before returning home, during which time MIDAS-B deployed to its operational orbit. With so many pilots hitting the reentry corridor and gliding to a landing, KSC began making plans to remove the jets during a shuttle's schedule Orbiter Maintenance Down Period.

***

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Finally, SLS-13 was another milestone mission. The maiden flight of Opportunity carried KRV-2 on its maiden flight. Unlike its predecessor, KRV-2 intended to stay in orbit. Opportunity brought Shersey (CDR), Jeslong (PLT), Gerrim (ENG), Santrey (SCI) and Seanner McKerman (SCI) to visit KOS as well.

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After docking with Starlab, Santrey and Seanner entered the lab and got to work while Gerrim maneuvered the station arm and moved KRV-2 to its temporary docking spot.

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With their work completed, Gerrim, Santrey, and Seanner stayed aboard KOS while Shersey and Jeslong departed in Opportunity. The Pier module slept 2, so the crew of three would need to hot bunk or someone would need to camp out in the KRV, but at last the Kerbin Orbital Station could be permanently occupied...

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... And after Tesen missed the reentry corridor by 140km and had to fly home, KSP quietly shelved their plans to remove the landing jets.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Chapter 8

Finally finished my Mk-33 mod, so it’s time to finish up this intermission mission report…

 

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Project Space Station Phase One flew astronauts to Skybase via Shuttle Launch System. Phase Two involved launching the core components of the Kerbin Orbiting Station to reach Initial Operating Capability. Phase Three kicked off with the launch of SLS-14 and with few exceptions, it did not stop until the station was completed. Approximately every thirty days, a Shuttle launched to the station, completed its mission, and then returned for a 100-day turnaround time- 60-days turned out to not be enough for complete refurbishment and it caused unexpected wear and tear on the orbiters.

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Spirit started off the launch cadence when it brought up the port and starboard Truss 1 segments along with several Buckboards intended to store reserve propellants for visiting Shuttles. SLS-15 through SLS-18 launched the port and starboard Truss 2 and Truss 3 segments along with additional Buckboards.

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SLS-19 delivered the Soprano Storage Node, and the station crew took the opportunity to move the KRV to its permanent berth. SLS-20 delivered the Quantum Leap airlock while SLS-21 launched the Tranquility Habitat Module along with the station’s first full crew complement: Philidas (CDR), Gerrim (ENG), Santrey (SCI), Munlorf (SCI), Seanner (SCI).

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SLS-22 fielded the Midlands Hydroponics Module. It was a laboratory to test growing crops in space. If successful, it would help extend food supplies on long voyages.

SLS-23 took a break from space station assembly to deliver the Eve Surveyor probe into orbit. It was a copy of Duna Surveyor, but it had the new PAM-C Payload Assist Module. Since the Shuttle could not carry a fully fueled PAM-C, Mariner briefly stopped off at KOS to top off the PAM’s fuel tank before departing and deploying the probe. It left Kerbin orbit a few days later.

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SLS-24 Continued the break when it brought the Jool Surveyor probe into orbit- this time, rendezvousing with L5US-3. As part of the cooperative agreement, the Ministry of Space refueled the old upper stage for one last mission. They also had an extra ATV waiting to refuel the PAM-C after Freedom docked the probe and L5US together. With its tanks topped off, Jool Surveyor departed Kerbin orbit right on time.

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SLS-25 delivered the Vista module, which completed the Kerman States Orbital Segment, while SLS-26 brought the Beagle Support Module and the Faraday Supply Module, and SLS-27 introduced the Shuttle-delivered Multipurpose Logistics Module along with a partial station crew rotation.

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Then KSC took another brief pause to launch the Lindor Surveyor on SLS-28, which sent L5US-4 on one last mission, and the Kerbin Surveyor on SLS-29.

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Finally, KSP celebrated SLS-30, which delivered Newton, the final element of the Kerbin Orbital Station into orbit.

***

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After Spirit departed and landed, the Ministry of Space launched the Arrow Crew Vehicle, their first crewed spacecraft. Carrying two McKerman astronauts, ACV-1 completed Starlab’s full crew complement. In fact, with regular flights, Arrow Crew Vehicles could increase the station’s crew capacity to 8...

***

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94 days later, Eve Surveyor entered a 297.5 km by 18,430.1 km polar orbit- just minutes before the probe lost contact with KSC as it rounded the planet. After it regained contact, the probe transmitted the first images of the clouded planet- the probe even detected lightning! Eve Surveyor began its radar and lidar survey of the planet’s surface. Without the propellant to circularize its orbit, it would take months to complete its map…

-----

Author's Note: I've wanted to build Starlab for a long time, and I finally got to do it. :) Here's the original Starlab from 2013:

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It was built largely from the Kerbin Shuttle Orbiter System's shuttle and station parts mod, along with a core module from my old Multipurpose Colony Modules mod (the precursor to Pathfinder). After SLS-30, I tried to recreate the above image using Starlab 2020:

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The angle is a bit off, but then again this new station is a massive upgrade from the original. These parts all come from DSEV, Restock, Breaking Ground Mini Mods, and of course SOCK. The station arm proved to be tremendously helpful!

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  • 3 weeks later...
1 hour ago, Clamp-o-Tron said:

@Angel-125 that was a great phantom chapter 9! Unfortunately, it got erased when the server reset. Mind reposting it?

Ack! Here's an encore presentation...

Chapter 9

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“Valentina, I’m glad we’ve got this opportunity to chat in private,” Gene began, “I know that you’re considering hanging up your wings and focusing on managing the Corps.”

“How did-“ Valentina said astonished. “Gene, you have a knack for knowing things about your staff, sometimes even before we do.”

Gene just laughed. “You know someone long enough, you almost get a sixth sense for some things,” he shrugged and said. “And a good leader knows his people. Anyway, I hope you’ll reconsider.”

“Why?”

Gene sighed. “Well, the public is already losing interest in SLS since we declared it operational, and we completed Starlab, so our kongressional supporters are about to push for our next long-term goal. It will take some time to gear up for it and a lot of things must be in place first. But if you keep your flight status, then you’ll be ready for it... What I’m about to tell you doesn’t leave this office,” he said sternly.

“You got it,” Valentina nodded and responded.

“We’re going to Duna. I want you to command the first expedition.”

Valentina’s eyes widened. She gasped. It took her several seconds for her to recover. “I… um, I’m honored, Gene, really. Thank you… Jeb is going to throw a fit when he finds out...”

“I think he knows he’s not command material,” Gene responded, “A Mϋn mission? A shuttle flight? Sure. A long-term interplanetary mission? Not so much. But I’ll break it to him gently. Besides, he’s one of our best pilots. He’ll be on the flight too…”

Swell, Valentina thought to herself bitterly. “I accept, Gene, but on one condition.”

“Yes?”

“I want Bob to go with me. Going to Duna has been his dream since he was a kid. Plus, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be an astronaut. I owe him.”

“Done,” Gene said without hesitating. He knew that was going to happen.

Valentina smiled. Change was in the air. “You know, Gene,” She continued, “Jeb’s situation isn’t unique. Not all our pilots want to be mission commanders… Hensen and Jeslong have been hesitant to step into those shoes, for instance… As our ranks continue to increase and missions extend beyond cisminmar space, we might want to have a command track and a technical track for the various astronaut departments, and training missions to give said individuals command experience.”

“Hm,” Gene pondered. “You’re right. What did you have in mind?”

“Well,” Valentina began…

***

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As Valentina’s plan began to take shape, SLS-31 launched the Edna Surveyor, rendezvousing with L5US-5 before sending it on its way, while SLS-32 sent the Ike Surveyor and Duna Horizon off to the rusty planet after a refueling stop at KOS.

With KSP nearly out of available Lindor 5 Upper Stages, engineers knew that they had to create an alternative. Some wanted to build cryogenic orbital propulsion stages while others lobbied for atomic rockets. Both had their advantages and disadvantages. But given their experience with the Shuttle’s Vector engines, KSC leaned towards cryogenic technologies while making nuclear propulsion a long-term goal. With the decision made, engineers started designing an efficient and low-cost cryogenic engine and an upper stage to go with it.

***

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Meanwhile, the vonKerman Raumfahrtbehörde (vonKerman Space Agency in the Kerman tongue) launched their new Raumschlepper (Space Tug), a dedicated spacecraft designed to haul payloads to and from Minmus. Unlike previous designs, the new prototype tug hauled payloads under its bulk instead of on top of it. The change enabled engineers to place a large heat shield on the spacecraft‘s nose, but it also meant placing the engines to either side of the body.

 

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Raumschlepper-1 departed Low Kerbin Orbit, performed a flyby of Minmus 12 days later, and then fell back to Kerbin 9 days after that. The tug plunged through the atmosphere nose first in an effort to slow down. 22 days and 6 hours into the mission, Raumschlepper-1 successfully performed its aerobraking maneuver without incident. At last the vonKermans had a tug capable of surviving an aerobraking. It then docked with Drakken Palast as a test of its RCS thrusters, at which point the vonKermans realized that they needed a redesign. Nonetheless, the tug realigned the station to match Minmus’ orbital plane before undocking and deorbiting.

***

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Spirit leaped into the sky as SLS-33 got underway. The orbiter rendezvoused and docked with KOS a day later and unloaded Magellan, the Mϋnar Shuttle Module, which docked to the station’s secondary shuttle port. Magellan seated a crew of three- five in a pinch- and its modular construction enabled it to use a variety of propulsion sections. Engineers were already thinking about an orbital shuttle variant.

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After the orbiter departed and headed home, the McKerman Ministry of Space launched Magellan’s first propulsion section atop their new Arrow 4 Heavy. Powered by a new CE-60 “Pavonis” cryogenic rocket engine, the propulsion module was actually a prototype orbital transfer vehicle that KSP hoped would be able to boost payloads towards their destination, detach, and then return to Kerbin orbit. For the Magellan, though, the OTV would remain attached to the ship until it was replaced- if it worked.

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Since KSP wasn’t about to risk a crew on an untested ship if they could avoid it, they programmed Magellan to undock from Starlab, burn to mϋnar altitude, swing back to Kerbin nine and a half days later, and dip into the atmosphere to test its aerobraking and heat tolerances. The unkermanned shakedown cruise validated the design- especially the new engine’s regenerative cooling system. By sacrificing a bit of cryogenic propellant, the engine avoided overheating and exploding during aerobraking. Soon after, Magellan returned to KOS.

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Seventeen days later, Opportunity delivered KSC’s newest creation, the Mϋnar Surface Access Module, into orbit during SLS-34. Unlike its predecessor, the Mϋnar Excursion Module that was flown during Project Mϋnflight, the MSAM was a single stage to orbit design that could deliver a crew of three to the mϋnar surface and back again. Once docked at KOS, Valentina hopped into the MSAM and docked it to Magellan.

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Then, after Opportunity departed with the outgoing station crew, Valentina, Bill, and Bob boarded the MSM, undocked from Starlab, and departed for the Mϋn, arriving three days later.

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Not long after entering orbit, the awaiting OTV-E - an expendable version of the OTV- rendezvoused with the Magellan to refuel it. As soon as it offloaded its propellants the OTV-E undocked and deorbited.

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With Magellan refueled and set to automatic, Bill, Bob, and Valentina boarded the Sea Duck for their trip down to the surface. The MSAM performed flawlessly; Valentina touched down next to Billstown without incident.

Bill, Bob, and Valentina became the first three-kerbal crew to land on the Mϋn and the first three-kerbal crew from the Kerman States to land on another celestial body. Bob and Valentina also became the first husband and wife team to share a mission together, and Bill became the first Kerman to return to a previous mission site. It was a groundbreaking mission in many respects.

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With the congratulations and pleasantries out of the way, the trio got to work. Bob and Val entered Billstown while Bill took a jaunt over to where he left the Owl’s rover from his Mϋnflight 5 mission. He had heavily modified the rover to serve as a makeshift fuel truck and hoped to use it as such once more.

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Bill was happy to see that the rover still operated after several years in the mϋnar environment, and he drove it back to base with hopes of refueling the MSAM. Sadly though, he could not find any power tools- he swore that Billstown had some! Frustrated and thwarted, he went back inside and vowed to ensure that every spacecraft from here on out would always have a set of power tools aboard.

As the Magellan team reactivated Billstown and assessed its condition, KSC examined MunSCAN-2’s data for potential sites for the base’s relocation. None of the sites had all the resources that they wanted, but some had more than others. They narrowed down the list to three: the mϋnar north pole, which appeared to have water-ice; the Voloni Crater, and a site along the equator. Of the two, only the equatorial site was potentially in range. Unfortunately, it was also a quarter of the way around the Mϋn and well beyond driving range.

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Valentina checked Billstown’s flight systems and found that it had just over 1,100 m/sec of delta-v in the tanks. KSC was unsure if that was enough to reach the new site, so Bill hooked up Miss Piggy’s transfer hose to the base and drained its jump jet propellant. That gave Billstown another 150 m/sec or so. It still did not seem to be enough.

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While KSC debated what to do, Bill, Bob, and Valentina decided to take a short road trip in Miss Piggy, the base’s pressurized rover that Bill and Jeb drove on their off-world road trip during Mϋnflight 5. Bob wanted to conduct some research at a nearby impact crater. As they sped off, Val rolled the rover and scraped a few parts off accidentally, but she was able to set Miss Piggy onto her wheels and they keep going. The team found a crater about 2 km away, and Bob ran the science arm. He did not get the readings that he had hoped for though. Disappointed, they returned to Billstown.

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Six days later, the crew had done all that they could at Billstown and it was time to head home. After leaving the base in flight-standby mode, Bill, Bob, and Val boarded the Sea Duck for their trip back into orbit. The MSAM ran out of propellant due to the large plane change maneuver it had to make, but Valentina completed the rendezvous and docking maneuvers using the lander’s RCS thrusters. KSC engineers made a note to increase the Sea Duck’s propellant tank capacity and restricted the MSAM to equatorial landing sites.

Not long after docking, Magellan performed its mϋnar departure burn and headed back to Kerbin. Four days later, the MSM tucked away its antennas and solar arrays for its trip through the atmosphere. After several aerobraking maneuvers, Magellan slowed down enough to circularize its orbit and then docked with Starlab.

***

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A few days later during the near side’s mϋnar noon, Billstown lifted off the surface and headed for Bartfen’s Obession, 272.8km away. As KSC scientists rejected landing site after landing site, Bartfen Kerman, one of KSC’s geologists, lobbied tirelessly for days for his chosen site until KSC’s senior staff finally caved in. About midway between Sector-QHQ9 and Lowlander 2/Billstown Site, Bartfen insisted that “his” site offered the best location for onsite ore gathering and had resource fields nearby for other resources such as blutonium.

After several tense moments, Billstown settled back down onto the mϋnar surface with a scant 15 m/sec of delta-v to spare, but it made it to Bartfen’s Obsession.

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With nothing to lose, KSC attempted to drive Miss Piggy to Bartfen’s Obsession. A mishap cost it more gyros, but once back under control, the rover set its autopilot and began its cruise. Unfortunately, while dodging rocks, Miss Piggy tipped over too far for its gyros to compensate and broke up as it hit the ground at high speed. Despite setting the record for the longest off-world road trip, the Mϋnar Ground Module Rover met its end just 7.2 km away from its departure point.

***

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Magellan’s post-mission assessment demonstrated the viability of using cryogenic propellants for the next-generation space tugs, but the Orbital Transfer Vehicle prototype lacked the delta-v needed to reach the Mϋn, orbit it, return, and aerobrake safely before returning to Starlab. For Magellan’s mission, KSP got around the problem by sending an expendable variant of the prototype OTV, but they knew that that approach was not a long-term solution. For something like the Magellan’s mass, they needed a larger OTV. Fortunately, they had an idea.

KSC engineers took the Duna 1B/Lindor 5 Upper Stage design as a starting point and modified it by slightly stretching and flaring out the aft tank and adding a heat shield at the flared end. Instead of the typical reflective white paint, engineers sprayed orange foam insulation onto the tank, and they filled it with cryogenic propellium and oxidizer in place of its predecessor’s liquid fuel and oxidizer load. In place of the single Skipper, engineers added two of the new CE-60 “Pavonis” engines. Finally, they added the RCS system from the D1B Minmus Tanker, a set of radiators and relay antennas, and a large docking port topped with additional habitation space for the Magellan.

To reach orbit, KSC looked to the past and the future. They pulled their Lindor 9R first stage out of storage- last used to launch Skybase- and equipped it with a pair of experimental SRB-KD75K “Monsoon” Solid Rocket Boosters. The Monsoons were derived from the Shuttle Launch System’s SRBs, but they had an additional fifth segment for increased thrust and boost time. Drax Aerospace had been developing and ground-firing the five-segment SRB for a while but launching the OTV Heavy proved to be the perfect opportunity to flight-test them.

KSC called the whole hybrid launcher the Lindor Int-20. The launch drew quite a crowd as many wanted to see the Mϋnflight-era booster launch and land once again, and they got a great show. The first stage lit all nine of its K-1 “Mastodon” engines right before the twin solids ignited and pushed the stack off the pad. 304 seconds later, the solids burned out and dropped away- though something exploded as they left. Nonetheless, the first stage continued its climb and built up speed until it too spent its fuel and was jettisoned. The OTV Heavy continued its climb to altitude and attained a 144.8 km by 269.8 km orbit 11 and a half minutes after launch.

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As expected, the twin solids impacted the water and broke apart, but they still gave Drax Aerospace invaluable data to perfect their new design. Sadly though, the Lindor 9R first stage was destroyed when it ran out of propellant and could not slow down enough to safely land. Flight data analysis revealed that when the starboard SRB clipped the L9R, it punctured the fuel tanks and caused a leak. With insufficient propellant to slow down, the reusable first stage slammed into the ground and broke up on impact.

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With the OTV Heavy docked to the end of Magellan, KSC decided to deorbit the prototype to perform a destructive test of its heat mitigation systems. The RCS had enough monopropellant to push the prototype into the atmosphere. Surprisingly, the engine survived the atmospheric plunge from near orbital velocity- without any available regenerative cooling. In fact, the entire vehicle survived and provided excellent data- right up to the point where it impacted the Western Sea and exploded…

At any rate, with Magellan field-tested and Billstown repositioned, KSC got more payload opportunities for SLS in the form of OTV refueling flights and they gained new missions to the Mϋn via reusable technology. There were even whispers around Cape Kerman about reviving the Mϋnar Ground Module system proposed during Project Mϋnflight and shipping them into orbit via SLS- if engineers could figure out how to fit them into an orbiter’s payload bay...

Valentina got her wish for a space-faring training vessel and the means to hone the command skills of promising astronauts. As KSP prepared to send larger flight crews further out into the void that inevitably would have a greater need for autonomy, her students would be ready for the experience.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 10

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With the space station completed and the Magellan assembled, KSP focused on missions to more planets. SLS-35 launched the Moho Surveyor after a layover at Starlab. Slated for a fly-by mission, KSC’s engineers believed that the probe’s PAM-C would provide sufficient delta-v for the mission. SLS-35 was also the first use of the new “super lightweight” external tank. Lighter than the previous external tank designs, the SWLT increased payload capacity by another 4 tonnes, which enabled the orbiters to carry more propellant during their space probe deployments and OTV refueling flights.

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Next, with the launch window approaching soon, SLS-36 launched the Hamek Surveyor into orbit to dock with L5US-6- last used during the historic Munflight 6 mission.  Opportunity approached the awaiting upper stage and its crew docked the probe’s PAM-C to it without incident. Soon afterwards, the Shuttle headed home to get ready for her next mission.

Recently overhauled and upgraded, Freedom and Opportunity were scheduled to handle the next series of flights while Spirit and Mariner underwent their Orbiter Maintenance Down Period. The OMDP gave KSC the opportunity to thoroughly inspect their orbiters and make repairs. That proved fortuitous since engineers discovered corrosion on critical wiring in both Freedom and Opportunity that would have resulted in loss of mission, vehicle, and crew, and they found similar corrosion in Spirit and Mariner. Plus, the hexium pressurization tanks were due to be replaced on the shuttle fleet. If one ruptured during flight, the orbiter would be damaged beyond its ability to land safely.

***

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Seventeen days after SLS-36, as Opportunity got ready for its next flight and Freedom was nearing its next flight, the Ike Surveyor arrived at Duna. After a course correction maneuver to lower its periapsis, Ike Surveyor entered a highly elliptical Dunan orbit that took it all the way to Ike. The probe then detached the Duna Horizon lander as it coasted upwards to Ike. Eight days later, Duna Horizon entered Duna’s atmosphere, the first time that a spacecraft from Kerbin had done so. The lander survived atmospheric entry but briefly lost connection back to KSC. Once it exited the plasma blackout, KSC received more telemetry.

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Duna Horizon’s atmospheric sensor collected invaluable data as it descended towards the ground. The probe made an important discovery; Duna’s atmosphere was almost too thin for parachutes. Fortunately, the probe’s descent engine slowed Duna Horizon enough to avoid crashing into the surface. At the last moment, the chute deployed successfully, and Duna Horizon became the first probe to land softly on the rusty planet. Minutes later, Duna Surveyor’s orbit carried it over the horizon and the probe lost contact with the lander.

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Four days later, Ike Survey entered Ike’s sphere of influence and performed a couple of maneuvers that adjusted its inclination. Two hundred days after leaving Kerbin, Ike Survey settled into a 327 km orbit around Ike.

The party at KSC lasted a full day.

***

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SLS-37 was a virtual repeat of SLS-36, with Freedom bringing the Nara Surveyor into orbit and attaching it to the D1B Minmus Tanker. Launched atop a Duna 1B rocket in support of Mϋnflight missions to Minmus, the D1B Minmus Tanker was a modified D1B upper stage equipped with extra fuel tanks and an RCS system. KSC no longer needed the tanker since they were switching over to cryogenic orbital stages, but with the loss of the Lindor 9R first stage, they were unable to launch additional OTV Heavies, and they didn’t have any expendable OTVs available to refuel the Magellan’s OTV. Since pulling the Lindor tooling out of mothballs and building another rocket would take too much time, KSC repurposed the D1B Minmus Tanker to meet the Nara launch window. With its payload docked to the tanker and ready to launch, Freedom deorbited and returned to KSC.

***

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Two weeks later, the Moho Surveyor entered Moho’s sphere of influence. The probe immediately took science readings from high above the surface. With no way to slow down enough to enter orbit, KSC commanded the probe to lower its periapsis down to a scant 4.4 km for a low-space pass with its instruments. Fifty minutes later, the probe skimmed by the surface and hit a record 8,113 m/sec velocity as it sped past periapsis. As the data streamed in, KSC’s scientists were ecstatic. They had just discovered that Moho had a very thin atmosphere near the surface!

Two hours after its encounter with Moho began, it was over. The first fly-by of Moho was an astounding success and provided excellent data. Moho Surveyor exited Moho’s sphere of influence and entered kerbolar orbit. It would remain a monument of KSP’s achievements for centuries to come.

***

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Drakken 14 launched with Hanse, Karl, and Leon vonKerman aboard. It had a modified double-length orbital module. The spacecraft immediately headed to Drakken Palast after attaining orbit. Once docked at the station, the spacecraft detached its orbital module and then docked at an alternate port.

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A day later, Raumschlepper 2 leaped into the skies on a sunny afternoon and entered a 250.1 km by 247.4 km orbit. The tug also headed to Drakken Palast and attached itself to the orbital module. Hanse, Karl, and Leon then boarded the module, undocked from Drakken Palast, and headed for Minmus. Eight days later, the craft rendezvoused and docked with Unity Station.

A relic from the Mϋn Race era, Unity Station- little more than a single station module- was brought to Minmus orbit on Mϋnflight 6 during the Mϋnflight Drakken Test Project. During that mission, the Kerman States and the vonKerman Republic jointly explored Minmus before going their separate ways. Unity Station was declared a neutral ground where both nations could dock their spacecraft before heading to the Mint Mϋn. Neither nation had returned until the Drakken 14 mission.

As Raumschlepper 2 docked to the station, Karl confirmed telemetry readings from several years ago; one of the station’s inflatable docking ports had ruptured. Fortunately, all the hatches were sealed before the two crews departed, so the rest of the station remained airtight.

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After Hanse, Karl, and Leon transferred to the lander, they departed Unity Station and headed to Hause 2, the landing site of the joint mission. Karl scavenged several science instruments from the Schaffer-C and attached them to the Libelle. Then after refueling the lander, the trio set out on their science mission; they had several sites all around Minmus to take readings from.

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After the first site, they stopped off at Hause 1 to refuel. Given the large distance between sites, Kontrol authorized the explorers to scavenge what they needed from the Brown Basins Base, disconnect the Drakken Drill, and modify it for extended operations. The expedition planned to launch the drill to a survey site, then shuttle over in the Libelle to do survey, and then refuel from the awaiting drill. After investigating all the sites, they would return to Basins Base and land the drill to supplement their environmental resource needs.

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Karl gathered the minimum needed to make the drill effective but also to preserve the historical significance of the site. With the modifications completed, the Drakken Drill gently lifted off and headed to the first survey site. After it settled down and extended its drills, the Libelle lifted off to join the drill. Leon took the desired temperature readings while Hanse set the lander down next to the ISRU rig.

Several hours later, once their next sites entered daylight, the team repeated the process. Within a week the team finished surveying all their sites. The Libelle went back to Basins Base while their partner Drakken Driller landed at a site surveyed for the future Hause 3.

Back at Basins Base, Karl disconnected the transfer hose to the previous generation Drakken Tanker Tug. Uncertified for aerobraking, the tug, refueled at last after several months, could still shuttle propellant to Unity Station and refuel the Raumschlepper. After its brief stopover at the orbiting outpost, the tug undocked and landed at the new mining site.

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Their tasks on Minmus completed, the crew of Drakken 14 lifted off the surface- and accidentally clipped some solar panels as they launched- rendezvoused with Unity Station and docked. After boarding the extended orbital module, Raumschlepper 2 undocked and headed back to Kerbin. Hanse had eight days to listen to Kontrol scold him for breaking solar panels on a historic site’s outpost. Regardless they splashed down in Darude Lake, situated just a few kilometers away from Darude Launch Complex.

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Despite the accident, the team did accomplish their survey goals, and that enabled the vonKermans to launch their most ambitious project to date. Their first series of launches brought Hause 3 into orbit and the expendable fuel tankers that it needed to reach Minmus’ surface. Based on the Drakken Palast core, Hause 3 had repositioned solar arrays and a set of commercially available wheels and modular chassis to land out of harm’s way and then reposition at the desired site.

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With their fleet of reusable Fleigenross launchers working overtime, the vonKermans next launched a pair of advanced Drakken Drillers and a Drakken ISRU along with their entourage of expendable tankers. They landed near Hause 3 and docked to the core module over the course of a month.

After celebrating their latest success, Kontrol got down to the business of deploying the drills and extracting as much ore as they could for conversion into usable resources. Depending upon the extraction rates, they had the option of sending additional drilling rigs and ISRU converters, but the vonKermans had a growing concern that off-world propellant production wasn’t economically viable- Kerbin’s mϋns just didn’t appear to have enough of the needed resources.

***

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With the Surveyor series of probes sent to every planet except Dres and Eeloo- those launch windows opened about a year away- KSP focused their attention once more on the Mϋn. SLS-38 delivered “Miss Piggy II,” a redesigned Mϋnar Ground Module Rover that benefited from the experiences of its predecessor. The rover had improved gyro assemblies and a redesigned chassis. A combination PAM-A2 and MEM-derived Descent and Landing Stage would bring the rover from mϋnar orbit to the ground.

Once docked at Starlab, Opportunity offloaded Miss Piggy II while the station crew moved it to a staging port. Then Frolie hopped out and installed the rover’s wheels. Finally, they then undocked Magellan’s OTV Heavy and parked it on the rover’s PAM- without the ability to launch another OTV Heavy, KSP had to rely on Magellan’s propulsion module for mϋnar cargo trips.

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With its work done, Opportunity returned home. Not long after, Miss Piggy II undocked from Starlab and burned for the Mϋn. After the initial boost and some fine tuning, the OTV Heavy separated from Miss Piggy and decelerated to head back to Kerbin while the rover adjusted its orbit to circle around the Mϋn.

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As the rover waited for Billstown to enter mϋnar daylight, the OTV Heavy began aerobraking. The first pass went fine, but two days later, the vehicle either dipped too low or its regeneratively cooled engines proved inadequate to handle the thermal load. In either case, the OTV Heavy broke up as it plunged through the atmosphere. KSP was frustrated to say the least, but at least they did not lose the Magellan and any crew aboard it either.

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Miss Piggy fared better. The rover landed-barely- on the surface, albeit 14.5km away from Billstown. After ditching the landing stage, the rover engaged its wheels and drove the remaining distance.

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Despite the setback, KSC’s engineers went to work on an interim solution while Program Management rearranged the schedule. SLS-39, which was going to launch a cryogenic fuel tank to refuel the OTV, brought up the MGM ISRU instead. The Mϋnar Ground Module was designed to drill for ore and convert it into usable resources. After docking at KOS, Gerrim mounted the ISRU’s wheels and then moved the module to its staging port. After swapping out the station crew, Freedom returned home.

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SLS-40 launched KSC’s new PAM-D. Hastily modified from a PAM-C, the dash-D variant had stretched fuel tanks and a pair of Terrier engines. It had to be launched only partially filled due to the shuttle’s limited payload mass. Nonetheless, Opportunity docked with Starlab, the station crews unloaded the PAM, and they attached it to the MGM ISRU. The orbiter returned to KSC the next day.

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With its tanks topped off, the MGM ISRU departed KOS and entered mϋnar orbit 4 days later. As with Miss Piggy II, KSC waited for Billstown to enter daylight before landing the new module. With help from the new PAM-D, the ISRU landed safely and easily within range of the base...

***

At last, both former rivals returned to the mϋns of Kerbin and established or re-established outposts with a limited ability to utilize local resources. But both outposts also struggled to produce enough propellants to make off-world refineries economically viable. Despite the setback, the outposts still represented the first steps in creating self-sufficient colonies in outer space.

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