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Chasing Dreams: Reimagining the Space Shuttle


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What if NASA chose a different plan for spaceflight after the Apollo program?


  Faced with tighter budgets after the completion of the Apollo program, NASA outlined a plan that would establish a crewed space station in low orbit, while also using a small, reusable logistics vehicle to support it. An orbiter with large cargo area that used an external propellent tank was proposed, but this idea was discarded when spiraling cost projections and the maintenance schedule for such a vehicle would be prohibitive. The Air Force was lukewarm to such an orbiter, but had lately come around to the idea of getting a lifting body spaceplane back into development. The plan presented for a post-Apollo space program was a cheap, reusable lifting body that could ferry crew and cargo to a space station, while riding a  powerful booster that used Saturn technology, but within the reduced budget. With this approach, NASA could develop the shuttle, a space station, and a new launch vehicle, rather than just the shuttle alone. This plan was approved and put into motion in 1972. Out of the submitted designs, Grumman was chosen to develop this new space shuttle. 

  The new launch vehicle was a smaller, stripped down Saturn V variant with a single F1 engine as the core stage. Development costs were kept in check with this approach, and the Saturn MO3 began static firing tests. 



  NASA also decided to return to improving upon the SkyLab design to save money. At this point SkyLab had faced several problems during its launch, and engineers wanted to take the lessons learned and apply it to a new, improved version. To this end, SkyLab B began modifications for later use, to be put into orbit by the last remaining Saturn V in stock. 



  Last but not least, a reusable, light, cheap, shuttle - dubbed at first the X-22. Testing flights were conducted, and a final wing design made the vehicle quite robust and easy to land. Two versions were developed - a crewed version that could bring 4 astronauts to the space station and back, and a cargo version with a small cargo bay that could be flown autonomously if needed. NASA leaders were excited over the estimates of the maintenance schedule and cost of the vehicle, which could be refurbished and put back into service in less than a month. While testing continued on the design and the 48-7S 'Spark' engine that would power it, the Apollo Program came to a close, and NASA had no vehicle to save the ill-fated SkyLab. Still, NASA was an optimistic enviroment about the future.





Edited by RandomSciFi
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For right now the plan is to re-do history a little bit; I'm still basically experimenting with Kerbalism and Kerbal Launch Failure. First up is a few sat launches, SkyLab 2, Soyuz 35 from 1980.  I'm open to ideas about how divergent things get during the 80's. It's just dawned on me that I didn't list the mods being used.

Primary Mods: 

BlueDog Design Bureau


Astronomer's Visual Pack

Rescale 2.5x (recently added)


Kerbal Launch Failure

Antenna Helper

Engine Light Relit


Kerbal Engineer and MechJeb


Modular Launchpads, Tundra Center, OSSNTR

Sunflares of Maar




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February, 1980

  While NASA preps SkyLab 2 for a launch in March, an Atlas E/F rocket is set to deliver Navstar 5 to medium Kerbin orbit.





  The second launch planned for the month is SolarMax, set to launch aboard a Delta 3910.






  Meanwhile, the European Space Agency is poised to enter the competition for space real estate, with satellites and research probes being their primary mission. Internally, politicians want to get manned spaceflight off the ground, and haven't been successful getting traction from the Hermes program. A few member countries hit on the idea of buying capsule technology from either the USSR or the USA, to give the ESA a leapfrog up on making their own spacecraft while the bugs are ironed out of their Ariane rockets. 

  Energia seems open to the idea of selling ESA some of it's Soyuz spacecraft or produce the parts for a similar vessel on the cheap. The US seemed far more reluctant to part with its remaining Apollo CSMs, but offered a possible deal for Gemini capsules. While talks stall over the licensing, other avenues are explored; the ESA has already had discussions with NASA about getting some of their own astronauts into space. A tentative deal is underway where ESA would build modules to use for SkyLab 2 in exchange for rides to the station. 

The China National Space Administration, expecting a cancellation to their manned spaceflight program, were surprised to learn that their budget had doubled. Capitalist reforms and changing Chinese attitudes towards space made a Chinese manned mission and the development of their rockets a priority. Unfortunately, the Sino-Soviet split and meager budgets had left them with little to start with, and the spacecraft designs up until 1980 had been rejected. The CNSA had no choice but to explore back channels in buying Soviet spacecraft technology while continuing to develop their own craft. 

  For the USSR, stationkeeping remained the name of the game. Soyuz 35 was launched a full month early to rendezvous with Salyut 6, without issue. Kerdan and Rosmon Kerman busied themselves with testing the station's water recycler technology and crew study reports. In a month's time Progress 8 would undock and return to Kerbin in a fiery display, and Soyuz 36 would arrive. 



Edited by RandomSciFi
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March, 1980


The last of the Saturn V rockets was prepped for launch and all systems are double checked. Simulations of the launch are run around the clock - if anything goes wrong, NASA had no other inventory to replace these vehicles for another attempt. 



  As the rocket attempts orbit, Guidance and Fido report everything nominal. 





  Orbit achieved. All systems appear to be functioning well and the Telescope Mount is locked in place.  


April, 1980


  Two flights of the X-22, now called the Crew Transportation Shuttle (CTS), have already occured in 1979 to test landing and atmospheric flight, courtesy of Jebediah Kerman. Four such shuttles began construction in 1977, two of which are ready for mission status: the Athena shuttle will be the first to launch. 

  NASA attempted to save costs by using a current launch vehicle to send the shuttle to SkyLab 2, but simulations so far with a Titan IIIc were unsuccessful. NASA instead went with the new Saturn MO3 vehicle. The astronauts chosen for this flight were Jebediah (duh), Bob, Nataly, and Barbo. 



  Alarms start to sound as the rocket reaches 10k feet. After several seconds, MMACS confirms that a strut connecting Athena  to the 2nd stage has failed.  Flight confirms; the mission is still a go. 







  Docking is completed easily and everyone begins settling in. Supplies are transferred, and engineer Barbo powers up the water recycler. Bob begins powering up experiments on the Telescope mount and begins sending telemetry back to Mission Control. Jebediah fills out a crew report, much to his dismay. 

  Six hours into the mission, Alarms begin to sound, and the crew gathers in the workshop. Pressure is falling - SkyLab is leaking nitrogen! Jebediah orders the crew to don their spacesuits, and he rushes back to Athena for pre-flight checks - it's possible the crew may have to escape in a hurry and return home. Habitat systems and pressurizers in the various compartments were re-booted, but still the station continued to bleed nitrogen. Barbo scrambled to retrieve, and then quickly scan, the Kerbalism: All the Ways Space Can Kill You handbook. Bob and Nataly poured over the SkyLab 2 schematics, hoping to find a solution. Finally, Jeb calls to scrub the mission. The crew make their way back to the Athena for a hasty escape. 

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The SkyLab Conundrum 

  The crew of CTS-3 had gathered aboard Athena with only Bob bringing up the rear; he began shutting down the science experiments on the Telescope Mount before heading back. However, as soon as the crew had strapped in, the alarms ceased. The nitrogen leak had stopped once all the science experiments had been shut down.  Carefully and in spacesuits, the crew began checking the pressurization of the modules and life support, and then waited a day before turning the experiments back on. All life support systems were functioning normally. The crew relaxed; crisis had been averted. 

  The crew spent the next several months aboard SkyLab 2 running experiments and writing crew reports regarding their long-term stay.  It was noted that exposure to radiation would become a problem for longer visits; more shielding would be needed for longer habitation.  As the mission ended, the crew strapped into the Athena and undocked. 



Unfortunately, NASA had not been prepared for a return to Kerbin from this orbit and at this inclination. Athena ran out of fuel during its retro-burn, and overshot the runway by a good distance. A safe splashdown was managed, and the survivability of the spacecraft was a sigh of relief for Mission Control. 




  May, 1980

  ESA and NASA began finalizing a plan that would send two modules to SkyLab 2 - The European Research Module and the Docking Adapter. For both the modules and extra funding help, NASA provided ESA with reserved seating for a few of their astronauts on future missions, and provided them with Gemini spacecraft for study. 

  For the ESA this was the best of both worlds. While they recognized the need to be a part of the satellite industry, they also thought manned missions to these satellites would be necessary, but weren't excited about the funding and testing that would have to go into creating their own vehicle; funds better spent for their upcoming space probes. Already there had been member countries that were unhappy with the progress on the Hermes program. With the Gemini and it's decent technology in hand, they could work out a vehicle in short time that would suit their needs, and give them a ticket to SkyLab 2 in the future, and possibly to Russian stations as well. 

  This all depended on the launch of the first Ariane 1 to go well. 



  Unfortunately the maiden flight of Ariane 1 will have to be delayed. 


July, 1980

  NASA launches Intelsat V F-2 on an Atlas SLV vehicle. While there is an issue with the guidance computer on the rocket that delayed launch, and a further malfunction with guidance on the Centaur upper stage, the mission was successful. 




August, 1980

  NASA launches GOES-4 into a geostationary orbit on a Delta 3914. 



  While Athena needed extensive refurbishment due to an ocean splashdown, the next shuttle of the group, Hera, was prepped for an early 1981 launch. Her mission would be to test various science equipment and the new Canadarm, as well as the use of the new Orbital Propulsion Module (OPM). 





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The Upstarts 


March, 1981

  With the Ariane 1 finally ready for it's maiden flight, ESA schedules a launch on March 12th.  The rocket gets to space, but struggles with guidance most of the way. The satellite, CAT-1, is left in an unusable orbit. 



  Europe is understandably unhappy at this turn of events, but it's clear things can be improved quickly before testing of their manned capsule begins. The culmination of their designs based on the Gemini technology is the Miranda spacecraft. 



  Thus it comes to quite a shock for the rest of the world when the newest addition to the nations that have put a man into space doesn't come from the ESA, but China. Working around the clock on a new capsule design based on the Shenguang designs, but with an emphasis on cutting weight, the China National Space Administration are ready at the end of March to launch the Shenguang-1 on a modified Feng Bao rocket. Orbital velocity is achieved, but Leo Kerman is only able to stay in orbit for a few hours before his batteries are nearly dry. He returns to Kerbin safely. 



  April, 1981

  Following up after these eventful launches from the newcomers, CTS-4 launches on April 13th. 




  Hera will orbit for at least a month while testing the new Canadarm and running several scientific instruments. Testing of a new chemical plant in the payload bay was scheduled, but it was not ready by the launch date. 

  The morale at NASA is good considering the success of the Crew Transportation Shuttle up to this point, and Athena is planned to launch in a few short months to take a crew back to SkyLab 2, followed shortly by the launch of the European Research Module.  


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15 hours ago, Misguided_Kerbal said:

This is great! So, from what I've seen so far, this is basically a Saturn Multibody single-core, but with a spaceplane on top?


  Exactly. I have tried to fiddle with launching the plane on a Titan III, but haven't had much success with it. 

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De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da


May, 1981

  The USSR, in an effort to boost prestige in the face of space advancements from other nations, decide that de-orbiting Salyut 6 isn't a good look. Kosmos 1267 is launched and remotely docked, and Salyut 7 will more than likely join them the following year. 





  Hera completes her mission and heads for home. She arrives just short, but any safe landing is a good landing. 



June, 1981

  ESA is set for a test run of their Miranda spacecraft. The flight mostly goes as planned, but the Ariane's final stage struggles to circularize the orbit - the Miranda arrives back on Kerbin safely a few hours later. 





July, 1981

  The European Research Module is finally ready to head to SkyLab 2.  The ESA has modified an automated service module from an Apollo spacecraft, courtesy of NASA, to dock the module. 





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Just the Two of Us


September, 1981

  Emboldened by their recent leap into space, China has outlined new steps to maximize their potential. Not only does China wish to be a major player in the yet-unrealized satellite market, but they wish to go where the Soviets never could; the Mun. Work on an improved Long March rocket began in earnest, with even more improvements along the way. Several designs have been developed for a new space vehicle, one that can handle more than one crew and is more robust than the current Shenguang. 




  The Shenguang 2 is able to orbit Kerbin three times before descending back into the atmosphere.  With each success, the space program is pushed more to advance into new territory.  Before they can attempt the Mun and even Minmus, China must gain experience docking in space; any mission to the moons will require multiple launches. 


November, 1981

  Has 1981 rounds to a close, it's time for the crew of CTS-5  to depart SkyLab 2.  Having arrived prior to the ERM, Athena undocked and prepared for de-orbit. 

  During the burn, Athena jolted violently. One of her 'Spark' engines had malfunctioned. 



  With no way to get back to headquarters, Valentina Kerman looks for a good place to set down. 








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Eye in the Sky (Looking at You) 

January, 1982

  NASA starts off the new year with the launch of a KH-8 military satellite, launched on a Titan III(24)B. 





  Three days later,  Satcom 4 was launched on a Delta 3910.




March, 1982

 Not everything was sunshine and giggles at NASA. A failure in the Centaur upper stage of an Atlas SLV 3D prevented the rocket from getting out of the atmosphere, and Intelsat 504 was lost. 




  The CTS-6 mission will be the first trip to SkyLab 2 for Hera. Her payload of science experiments and several test devices for chemical processes will stay with the station for a long duration. 



April, 1982

  For the USSR, the Salyut 7 station is finally ready to go. All systems are nominal for the Proton-K launch vehicle. 



  Shockingly, Salyut 7 runs out of propellent within 30km of a rendezvous with Salyut 6.  It is quickly decided that any available propellent will be moved aboard the Soyuz-T still docked to Salyut 6, who will ferry the propellent to the depleted station. Kerdan Kerman is selected for the mission, and monopropellent is moved to the Soyuz. However, the fuel pump fails before fueling can complete, and the Soyuz will have to make do with approximately 80% of it's fuel reserves. Undaunted, Kerdan Kerman departs. 







Edited by RandomSciFi
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Eye of the Tiger


  Kerdan Kerman rendezvous with Salyut 7 and begins transferring fuel. Despite this, there isn't enough Dv onboard to bring the station back to Salyut 6.  




  It is decided that the Soyuz-T will return to Kerbin, and Progress 13 will rendezvous with Salyut 7 and boost it with extra propellent. 


May, 1982

  Progress 13 is ready for launch, bringing along extra mono tanks for refueling. 




  After rendezvous with Salyut 7, the pair begin boosting towards Salyut 6





  While prepping to connect the two stations, Soviet mission control suddenly realizes that they did not adapt the zenith docking port on Salyut 7 to mate with Salyut 6. After several ensuing facepalms, it is decided that Salyut 6 would be de-orbited as previously planned. The TKS would move to Salyut 7, and the T-6 crew mission would be launched to meet up with the cosmonauts already aboard. 






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Heat of the Moment


September, 1982

  Japan's push to enter the satellite marketplace gets a strong showing with the launch of their N-1 rocket. The satellite, Kiku-4, cannot make it to geosynchronous orbit. 



  Later in the month, Europe launches an Ariane 1 with the MARECS B satellite. The launch is one of their most successful to date and optimism is high for the launch of their next Miranda spacecraft. 




October, 1982

  Athena transports a crew to Skylab 2



  Meanwhile, China makes it's big push into the frontier of space stations with the launch of Tiangong-1.






November, 1982

  NASA's last big launch for the year is the maiden flight of their newest shuttle, the 'Mighty' Aphrodite. 




  While preparing to boost SBS-3 into a geo orbit, one of the engines on the OAM fails, and Gary Kerman has to EVA to make repairs. 



  SBS-3 is then released from the cargo bay, using it's solid rocket motor to kick it into geosynchronous orbit. 




  Aphrodite then returns to Kerbin within a few days. She misses the runway at NASA completely, but the landing otherwise has no issues. 



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December, 1982

  China proceeds with the maiden flight of their Shenguang-2 spacecraft, set to rendezvous with Tiangong-1. 





  Unfortunately, a malfunction in the docking adapter prevents the Shenguang-2 from achieving soft dock. The crew have no choice but to practice docking maneuvers for a few hours and then de-orbit. 

February, 1983

  The first crewed launch of the year comes from the European Space Agency, with a second test flight of the Miranda.





  The Miranda orbits for 3 days before returning. The next upcoming flight should be bringing ESA specialists to SkyLab 2. 

  Later that same month, Athena departs from SkyLab 2 and returns to Kerbin. Again, the craft misses headquarters completely and ends up in the ocean. Athena is badly damaged, but the crew are unharmed. It may be some time before she is ready to return to active duty. 



April, 1983

  NASA and ESA are finally ready to launch the Airlock/Docking Adapter Module.  Joining in this joint venture is the USAF, who agree to use a Titan IIIC to transport the segment. 






  An Orbital Assist Module is used to remotely to dock the segment. 



Edited by RandomSciFi
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  With 1983 shaping up to be a year where not much happens, space agencies around the world kick around various ideas. 


  NASA bigwigs have begun to kick around the idea of expanding SkyLab 2 into a true international station with support from the ESA and possible participants such as Japan and India.  With this expansion they find that they will need a true dedicated autonomous resupply spacecraft. 



  The Autonomous Cargo Vehicle (also lovingly referred to as "Ace-Vee")  can bring both pressurized and unpressurized cargo blocks up to the station, both filling the need for EVA repairs and ensuring long-term crew habitation without the need to swap out shuttles. Along with Ace-Vee, NASA decides to design a launch vehicle specifically for it, one that is low-cost and the utilizes existing infrastructure. Achilles I would utilize an Aerojet solid rocket motor as the first stage, and a Rockwell liquid-fuel second stage  or a Centaur upper stage can be used to bring the ACV to orbit.  This plan was readily approved while NASA and their partners considered designs for the future space station. 

  Thanks to a modest shuttle budget, NASA was able to re-visit older proposals that had been cancelled in previous years. Possible future plans that could use a space station for refueling were heavily considered, such as an Eve flyby or possibly sending astronauts to Minmus. NASA began taking submissions for a cost-effective heavy lifter that could be used for these missions, and also to begin retiring older launch vehicles. The first idea was to add more rocket boosters to a Titan rocket with a large diameter core. Another idea was to design a newer vehicle that still used F1 engines and solid rocket boosters. 



  Meanwhile, the ESA found themselves at a crossroads. They were quite happy with the inexpensive Miranda spacecraft giving them quick access to space, but it can only carry two astronauts at a time. With member nations all wanting hours to use the ERM, they found themselves backlogged with experiments, and developing a larger vehicle would take years. They were already behind schedule in developing a resupply vehicle that could transport food to SkyLab 2

  The ESA then approached the USSR about an agreement to pair a similar European Research Module with Salyut 7. Russia was quite happy with this idea; the idea of a large, modular space station appealed to them and they had already begun plans to add modules to Salyut 7.  With this arrangement, the ESA insured access for their large contingent of scientists. 



  With the ESA taking some of the pressure off to man a larger space station, Russia could continue plans to build a new heavy-lift vehicle called Energia, which could possibly jump-start the USSR's mission to land cosmonauts on the Mun and Minmus. 


  The Chinese National Space Administration continued plans to upgrade their rocket and improve their orbital capabilities.  Plans to lengthen the Long March first stage began development, as well as configurations that would use several first stages and liquid fuel boosters. These new launch vehicles could then be used in multiple launches to configure a vehicle that would get them to the Mun.  


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Total Eclipse of the Heart


May, 1983

 CTS-8 kicks off with Aphrodite launching the TDRS-1 sat in a short mission. 




June, 1983

  The maiden voyage of Demeter carries a crew of six to SkyLab 2. 



  Thirteen days later, an Ariane 1 lifts the first Europa cargo vehicle into orbit for a station resupply. 




August, 1983

  China launches a Shenguang-2 to with a station crew while also carrying an airlock adapter to mate with Tiangong-1




January, 1984

  A Titan 34D lifts off with a classified DoD payload called Vortex. No other information is available at this time. 




April, 1984

  It is time for flight CTS-41-C, with the primary mission being to repair the SolarMax probe. This will be the first shuttle flight without a designated pilot; Bob and Barbo Kerman will be the two crew members. 



  The Hera is carefully maneuvered to the tumbling satellite; this is the first attempt to grapple a satellite in space with the Canadarm.




  Bob Kerman spends several hours repairing the probe while also replacing a few of its scientific experiments. It may look like Bob is just tumbling around in a cargo bay, but he's actually performing very delicate work. 



  With her mission complete, Hera de-orbits and returns to Kerbin to... land in a field. 




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When Doves Cry


August, 1984

  The maiden flight of the Ariane 3 rocket will take two satellites to geosynchronous orbit; Eutelsat 1F2 and Telecom 1A. Both are successfully deployed, although the kick motor fails to jettison from Telecom 1A, which may hinder functions in the future. 




October, 1984

  Athena is set to return to Skylab 2 with the Multiadapter Node, which will add berths for both NASA and ESA spacecraft. 



  Approximately 30 seconds into flight, the F1 engine suffers an catastrophic failure, and is aborted to prevent an explosion. Athena abort procedure is to simply drop her cargo, release the fairing, and use her engines to escape the launch vehicle and glide for a landing. While the Athena is able to make a safe landing, the Saturn launch vehicle and the Multiadapter Node are lost. This will leave SkyLab 2 with a skeleton crew of 2 ESA scientists and delay much-needed repairs; mechanical failures to a solar array and two reaction wheels plague the station. 

Occurring just ten days later is the maiden launch of the Achilles I launch vehicle and an Ace-Vee resupply vessel. The rocket has seen extensive testing for the past year, mainly due to working out problems associated with the solid rocket booster. It was finally decided that a Titan booster would be used as the first stage. 




December, 1984

  USA-6 was launched on December 4th on a Titan 34D.  When asked for further specifics the DoD representative replied, "no comment."



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Money for Nothing


February, 1985

  USSR's plans for space station Mir get underway with the launch of the Mir Core Module. Extra effort and funding was put forth to get the module in orbit as soon as possible, with help from the ESA.  It is hoped that by doing so they can extend the functionality of  Salyut 7 another 5 or 7 years. 







April, 1985

  Hera launches on April 12th, 1985 in order to save satellite Westar 6, which suffered a kick motor malfunction after being launched on a Atlas rocket late last year.  The crew will retrieve the satellite with the shuttle's Canadarm, and bring it back to Kerbin. 






  Retrieval was a success, and Hera returns home with the satellite in tow. 



  The loss of the Multiadapter Node means that NASA will move up its plans to launch the next module of the space station, Node 1. A final agreement is in place with both the European Space Agency and Japan's National Space Development Agency for both additional funding for modules and station time for their astronauts. Japan specifically has benefitted drastically from the increase in the satellite market in the last few years, and have increased funding for their ISAS/NSDA departments for a native rocket design and possibly a vehicle that can resupply the station. The first phase will see the additions of Node 1, and second node module (Node 2), and the 'Atlantis' Lab Module supplied by NASA. A large solar array to power the new additions to the station is being developed, and will be needed before the station can be used to its full potential.


Edited by RandomSciFi
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13 hours ago, Commander Zoom said:

Neat alt-history, well-documented, and as someone who grew up in the 80s, I'm loving the song titles.

I'm guessing that the whole Salyut 6 debacle caused a few heads to roll, Back in the USSR?

What's the mod or tool you're using to generate blueprints?


1. Thank you!

2. Glushko Kerman could not be reached for comment, comrade. Honestly the only head that needs to roll is my own; I've made the same mistake with docking ports about 3 times already. 

3. I use Kronal Vessel Viewer for in-game screenshots, then use GIMP to put the blueprints together. Pretty rough at first, but I think I'm getting a little better. 

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We Don't Need Another Hero


June, 1985

  For the crew of the Soyuz T-13 mission, their stay aboard Mir was fairly routine. The Salyut 7 station had made orbital changes in February in order to rendezvous with the Mir Core Module, and had been occupied continuously in the months since. In that time, Salyut 7 had not been struck by meteorites, and its sun tracker mechanism continued to function as normal as T-13 arrived to dock with Mir's forward port. 




  However, it's always best to check. 



  July, 1985

  The event of the decade is finally here; the arrival of Halley's Comet sometime next year. Anticipating this event, several space agencies have agreed to launch Halley's Armada, which will cooperate together to gather the most science from a nearby encounter with the comet. 

  First to launch on the 2nd is ESA's Giotto.



  On the 15th the USSR launches Vega 2 on a Proton-K rocket. Originally scheduled to go to Eve for a gravity assist along with Vega 1, it was later designed with a more direct approach in mind, negating the need to carry a detachable lander. 


  Also joining the armada were two Japan probes, Suisei and Sakigake. 

NASA largely decides to use probes it already has in heliocentric orbit as well as observations from space station Freedom.  To prepare for the arrival of Node 1, the Ace-Vee resupply vessel is de-orbited. 



  A few days later, Demeter arrives with a fresh crew. The rest of the month is dedicated to several EVAs to repair systems aboard SkyLab 2





Edited by RandomSciFi
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Take On Me


August, 1985

  Node 1 arrives at space station Freedom after being launched from a Titan IIIC. 




  Demeter undocks along with the ERM to clear the way. 



  Once Node 1 is secure, Demeter maneuvers to the front port of Node 1. The shuttle must dock at the front port, detach the Common Berth Adapter, and then move to the starboard side of the module. 





September, 1985

  Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Solar System Exploration Committee devise a concept of using cheap, modular  spacecraft to explore the outer planets and numerous comets and asteroids. These craft would be based on systems used for the Mariner program, along with parts and subsystems left over from the Pioneer and Voyager programs. To offset costs further, JPL pitches the program, known as Mariner Mark II, to international partners, who could supply various scientific experiments for the probes - specifically the ESA, ISAS, and the Indian Space Research Organization. 

  Four probes in all were proposed in 1983; the Jool Orbiter/Laythe Probe (JOLP), a probe for Dres, a Comet Rendezvous And Flyby spacecraft (CRAF), and an EVE orbiter. Rolled into this program was an earlier proposed spacecraft that would drop a probe into Jool before orbiting the system; Galileo had been scheduled to launch in 1982 but the mission had been pushed back due to heatshield issues for the lander and to allow international partners to supply their own experiments. Galileo was ready in 1985, and it was decided that instead of using a gravity assist from Eve, JPL could 'brute force' an insertion to Jool with a Titan IIIE vehicle and a Centaur-G upper stage. 



  Next on the schedule would be Magellan, another spacecraft that could be assembled quickly and sent to Eve at a relatively low cost, and Piazza/Nakamura, which would be sent to map the surface of Dres. 




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Don't You (Forget About Me)


Semptember, 1985

  As 'Minmus Fever' began to take hold of the space programs of Kerbin, newer probes are proposed to send to the wayward moon. Proposals include a probe made from spare parts that can be rolled into JPL's new Planetary Observer Program; essentially a Ranger lander made from parts. Meanwhile, the USSR will send a prototype of their new Fobos probe design, called Minmus 1

Minmus 1 launches first on a Soyuz-U rocket. After a minute into flight time, a radial decoupler attached to a side booster fails, and the rocket cannot hold course. Both the probe and vehicle are lost. 



October, 1985

Hoping for better luck, NASA launches Ranger 10 on a Delta launch vehicle. 






  Ranger 10 lands easily in the south polar region, and the search for water-ice on the moon starts in earnest. 


Head Over Heels

  By the beginning of 1986 the satellite market began to heat up at a breakneck pace, forcing many rocket manufacturers to adapt to competition and improving their fleet of vehicles. Nations with growing rocket programs, like ISRO, began to make themselves noticed, while commercial rocketry burst onto the scene in the early 80's with a grab of the headlines. 



  Possibly the company reacting the least to this changing landscape was Martin Marietta. With a full schedule of USAF deployments and NASA work lifting station modules, Martin concerned itself with also taking the largest share of JPL deep space probe launches. While the idea of stripped-down Titan III vehicles with smaller, more modular solid rocket motors was kicked around the office, there was very little hurry to put a plan into motion when times were good. 



  On the other end of the spectrum, Boeing seemed determined to trot out their workhorse rocket, the Delta. Engineers seemed happier to tinker with produced better cryogenic upper stages rather than commit to designing an entire new system from scratch, even though such a plan may get them more of the heavier launches that NASA and the USAF had planned. It did not go unnoticed to many in the company, however, that they faced aggressive competition from new players besides just ISRO and China. 



  Aggressively expanding their market share was Japan, beginning with their Delta/Thor derived N-I and building steam with the H-I, with improvements featuring their own technology. Instead of resting on this achievement, the ISAS began designing other vehicles and probes, possibly getting a larger customer base for both launch vehicles and satellite buses that they can produce. To improve their capability rapidly, Japan began testing an H-I hybrid called H-I LDC, which featured a first stage planned for use with their future H-II rocket. 



  Stuck in the middle of the pack was General Dynamics, who found that the aging Atlas rocket couldn't keep up with the rising success of the Centaur upper stage it used. 




  While they enjoyed a successful share of the satellite market battlespace, the first stage that had been derived from a ballistic missile from the 50's had reached an evolutionary dead-end. While significant improvements to the Aerojet engines and avionics had kept this aging dinosaur in the fight, its light-skinned construction, revolutionary for its time, meant that the system wasn't modular and adding capability with strap-on boosters wasn't possible. With these problems in mind, engineers set about designing a completely new first stage that could better handle the effectiveness of the Centaur, was modular, and could possibly net future slots pushing probes to the outer planets. 

The wildcard that no one predicted was commercial rocketry, in the form of Space Services. 



  Space Services rise to star upstart began around the design for the Percheron engine, which ran on kerosene/oxidizer and could drastically reduce the cost of launches. The engine was test-fired in 1981, and despite all logic (and history), the engine was a resounding success. Space Services began designing an entire vehicle centered around this new engine, and hired former astronaut Deke Kerman to make it happen. 

  The first test launch of the Conestoga I was set for Semptember 1982; the Percheron engine powered the first stage, aided by Castor strap-on boosters. A Castor 30 solid rocket motor and a Star 48 kick motor rounded out the second and third stages. 



  This launch, despite all odds, was a resounding success. Space Services found themselves swimming in investors in no short order, and began in earnest of designing a new vehicle that would put them at the front of the satellite market for the coming decades. 

  Engineers decided that for an expanded tank first stage, the Percheron engine could be placed in a cluster of 7, aided by 2 vernier Aerojet engines. While a vacuum version of Percheron was being developed, Space Services bought Aerojet upper stage engines. Thus, the Comet-9 was born.  Its first test launch began in early 1985. 







Edited by RandomSciFi
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