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The Argonaut Program: Small Steps And Big Strides

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Hey everyone!

I'm SiriusRocketry, and this mission report came about after a  corrupted save file killed my abortive Jool V attempt. I've been struggling with staying committed to stock KSP, as my litany of barely-started mission reports on the forum can attest, so I was looking for a fresh challenge. I'd heard of the JNSQ planet pack on the grapevine, and after a bit of inspiration from both @septemberWaves's Constellation mission challenge and @Misguided Kerbal's JNSQ and BDB modded mission report One Small Step, I decided to embark on a new quest; creating a Kerbalized Orion program to take kerbals to the Mun and Duna, in JNSQ's scaled up Kerbol system.  This is your regular old sandbox save, etc, etc.

THIS IS NOT A REPLICATION. Although the craft and missions may look similar, I am in no way, shape or form attempting to recreate the exact profiles of the Orion missions.

Mods, in case anyone's bothered (running on KSP 1.8.1):


Animated Decouplers
Community Resource Pack
Configurable Containers
Custom Barn Kit
Custom Pre Launch Checks
Distant Object Enhancement
Environmental Visual Enhancements (standard JNSQ configuration)
Final Frontier
Hangar Extender
JNSQ Planet Pack 
Kerbal Alarm Clock
Kerbal Engineer Redux
Kerbal Konstructs
KSC Extended
LCD Launch CountDown
MechJeb 2
Persistent Rotation
Texture Replacer
The Janitor's Closet
Tundra's Space Center


Edited by SiriusRocketry
added Argonaut mission flag
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Chapter One: Testing, Testing, We're Trying to Get Through

After the end of the Dynawing spaceplane program, the Kerman States Space Administration was left without manned spaceflight capabilities, and was forced to purchase seats on the Kostov crew ferries opreated by the Krassvet Federation. Times were dark in an era of declining budgets and wilting public support, and gradually, citizens of the Kerman States began to forget the great achievements of the KS manned space program.

Until, one day, everything changed. The Kerman States government gave the go-ahead for the KSSA to develop the next step in the Kerman States' manned spaceflight endeavours. An audacious plan to return to a landing on the Mun within 5 years, and land on Duna within twenty. Ribbons were cut, budgets were (generously) allocated, and the Argonaut Program was officially underway.

The backbone of the Argonaut program was obviously the manned spacecraft. Argonaut Block I had propelled the crew of the Bizmuth munar missions to the Mun forty years earlier; now, the name was being reinvented as Block II and III went into service.

The Argonaut Block II was a small crew ferry, intended to carry crew to orbital installations in Low Kerbin Orbit as efficiently and cheaply as possible. Four 48-7S orbital maneuvering engines were mounted onto a combined power, propulsion and logistics module, called the Argonaut Orbital System (AOS). The AOS was mounted behind the  three-kerman Theseus re-entry capsule system, which served as the common factor in the Argonaut spacecraft's construction. Four OX-STAT solar panels on the sides of the Argonaut Block II supplied power to the spacecraft. In total, the Argonaut Block II had 637 m/s of delta-V, and an estimated 420-500 m/s once orbital insertion was completed. 

The Argonaut Block III was a deep space crewed system, meant for operation in the Kerbin-Mun-Minmus system and eventually to Duna. As well as a bespoke version of the Block II's AOS, Block III had an extra 1.8m fuel tank, giving it a total of 1,035 m/s of delta-V. The AOS's solar panels were reconfigured into large, extendable models for longer periods spent in space and further from Kerbol, with an external DTS-M2 communications antenna replacing the integrated Communotron 16-S in the Block II's AOS. Plans are being made for an extended exploration stage to facilitate Argonaut Block III missions for much more extended durations, or to further destinations outside the Kerbin system.

(Reports and photographs will be placed in spoilers during this thread; this is to ensure those on poor internet connections can deal with the constant updating of images somewhat reasonably)

Argonaut Block II LKO test 1-2:


The KSSA allotted several Cassiopeia-class medium and heavy launchers for testing while the KSC propulsion labs continue the development of the modular super-heavy lifting vehicle, the Vorpal Launch System.

On Year 51, day 107,  Argonaut Block II - 1 and its modified Cassiopeia IB launch vehicle were on KSC launchpad 40B, prepped and ready for launch.


The single KR-1 engine on the launcher's lower stage ignites, and the Argonaut Block II strains against the launch clamps holding it in place.

The plume of fire from the KR-1 can be seen for miles; engineers note that the KR-1's thrust to weight ratio is in excess of what is needed, and agree to tone down maximum thrust levels for the next test flight.

The rocket begins the second phase of it's gravity turn as it reaches the upper atmosphere.

Stage separation is confirmed, and the Cassiopeia IB's lower stage descends back to the surface. The fairing shroud separates on the Deneb-M upper stage, and the LV-T91 engine ignites for the push to orbit.


Unfortunately, the thrust-to-weight ratio of the Deneb-M/Argonaut Block II combination is much lower than simulated testing showed; the craft attempts to make it into space but it remains in the upper atmosphere, not even able to reach space.


The Argonaut Block II spacecraft separates from the Deneb-M at the 65km apoapsis.


Jettisoning its service module, KSC loses contact with the re-entry capsule; the probe core system was incorrectly installed in the service bay instead of the docking port attachment, and the capsule sails down on a perfect re-entry with nothing to control it.


The capsule is spotted by a fishing boat before it smashes into the water at well over 200 m/s. The inaugural test launch of the Argonaut program is a complete and resounding failure, and the KSC's scientists are left scratching their heads.



KSC scientists are undeterred, however, and the second Argonaut Block II test launch sits atop its modified Cassiopeia IB launcher on KSC launchpad 41 just a week later, with the extensive modifications made to the launcher that the KSC is hoping will make a successful unmanned orbit.


Liftoff is nominal!
The thrust limiting on the KR-1 engine proves to be successful, as the launch profile is far more efficient than it was on the first test launch.
The Deneb-P upperstage, now mounted with an RE-L10 engine instead of an LV-T91, separates from the depleted lower stage.

The RE-L10 fires against the inky backdrop of space.


The Deneb-P stage burns out far earlier than expected, and the Argonaut Block II service module is forced to extend it's propellant test to attempt reaching orbit.


Despite using its monopropellant docking thrusters as well as 550 m/s of its available 635 m/s propellant reserves, the Argonaut Block II spacecraft is unable to make orbit. It separates from its service module to prepare for re-entry.


Once again, the entry is absolutely perfect, and probe signal stays consistent up until atmospheric plasma disturbance cuts the connection as expected.


The landing parachutes deploy perfectly, and the re-entry glides down to a textbook splashdown on the Western Sea.


An extended Deneb-P upper stage would be perfect to reach Low Kerbin orbit, and the Block II spacecraft demonstrated exceptional autonomous functions throughout the flight. KSC will trial the extended launch vehicle with the Argonaut Block II later this month, after the initial Argonaut Block III boilerplate test next week on a Cassiopeia III Heavy.


Argonaut Block III Medium Kerbin Orbit test:

Despite the headaches with Argonaut Block II, the scheduled testing of Argonaut Block III begins on Year 51, day 130. The first test launch for Argonaut Block III is rolled out to KSC pad 39A atop a Cassiopeia III-C launcher. The III-C is the second heaviest launch vehicle in the Kerman States Space Administration lineup - only the Cassiopeia III Heavy beats it in terms of payload.


The four BACC solid rocket boosters ignite, followed by the mighty roar of the core engine, the RE-M3.


Liftoff is nominal as the Cassiopeia III-C uses its control winglets to angle itself into a gravity turn.


The RE-M3 pushes the Argonaut Block III stack ever higher into the atmosphere.


The RE-M3 in the core stage burns out at last; the Deneb-P's RE-L10 engine ignites to push the Argonaut Block III into orbit.


The payload fairing separates once the upper stage and Argonaut Block III spacecraft reach space at 85km.


The Argonaut Block III successfully deploys its solar panels and DTS-M2 communications antenna.


The RE-L10 engine reignites to send the Argonaut Block III into a 2,200 x 115 km parking orbit. The Argonaut Block III will insert itself into the circular 2,200 km orbit using its own propellant reserves.


Argonaut Block III jettisons the Deneb-P upper stage on a sub-orbital trajectory.


The Argonaut Block III spacecraft performs a short burn to calculate burn times for the circularization maneuver.


Altitude 475 km, sailing over Kerbin's terminator line.


Argonaut Block III successfully inserts itself into an optimum Medium Kerbin Orbit at an altitude of 2,200.9 x 2,200.4 km. It remains in space for three days, two hours and 21 minutes, undertaking several longevity experiments.


Kerbol rises behind the rim of Kerbin.


The infamous 'Blue Marble' shot garners massive public attention in a way not seen since the early launches of the Dynawing program. It finally hits home for the civilian population - the Kerman States will be returning to the Mun.


The Argonaut Block III deorbited after its primary mission was completed. The craft ran out of onboard propellant for the LV-T91 engine, and was forced to use its monopropellant thrusters for the final deorbit. KSC immediately allotted a Cassiopeia III Heavy for the upcoming ballistic high speed re-entry test, noting that even the III-C lacked adequate propellant reserves to launch Argonaut Block III.


The Argonaut Block III successfully separated from its service module at the planned altitude of 105km, and prepared for re-entry.
Re-entry, however, was not without its hiccups. Upon noticing an anomalous temperature increase to the thrusters on the Argonaut Block III re-entry pod, Mission Control realised that instead of the full Block III model heatshield, a Block II heatshield had been incorrectly installed on the capsule. Atmospheric plasma then cut off the signal, and all KSC could do was wait.
Contact was regained with the pod at 11,000m, and Mission Control hastily ordered it to open its parachutes as it descended over the Arid Lowlands. The generous safety margins on the Block II heatshield had saved the capsule! However, the heat shield was burnt to a crisp, completely deprived of ablator; temperature sensors indicated that the re-entry capsule had actually decelerated the last part of re-entry with no ablator at all, and was still cooling.
After the continued failures of the Argonaut Block II test launches, Mission Control broke out in raucous cheers as Argonaut Block III descended safely over the sand below.
Landing complete; Argonaut Block III is now ready for the ballistic high speed re-entry test!


Edited by SiriusRocketry
separated the spoilers
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12 hours ago, AeroSky said:

Interesting story! Your writing is definite and concise! I'll be waiting for more. Just asking, are the Argonaut spacecraft made with stock parts only? They look like they are :) 

Yep, the Argonaut spacecraft are made with stock parts, although I do use the ReStock+ mod with a few extra parts for lifters/launchers.

2 hours ago, Misguided Kerbal said:

This is looking great! I'm glad I inspired you to do something, and I can't wait to see what's in store for the Argonaut Program!

Thank you :) Glad you're looking forward to it


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Chapter Two: The Second Verse, Much The Same As The First

Following on from the successful initial test of the Argonaut Block III, and the failed attempts at an orbital test with the Block II, KSSA approved a longer testing and milestone schedule for the Argonaut program. It read as follows:

Year 51, day 132: Theseus re-entry and crew capsule abort testing.
Year 51, day 146: Argonaut Block II Low Kerbin orbit test, attempt #3.
Year 51, day 167: Argonaut Block III high-speed ballistic re-entry test.
Year 51, day 173: Vorpal Launch System Block I test/static fire.
Year 51, day 184: Argonaut Block II inaugural kermanned flight.
Year 51, day 199: Argonaut Block III unmanned munar fly-by.

Staff were allocated, engineers were given overtime, and the next phase of Argonaut spacecraft testing began.

Theseus capsule abort tests:


Barely two days after the Argonaut Block III test capsule had returned from its orbital testing, the KSC rolled out a Theseus capsule onto the KSC central launchpad. Atop it was mounted the newest iteration of an age-old technology - the ALES. Standing for Argonaut Launch Escape System, the ALES was a testament to the engineering of the Solid Rocket Motor bureau at Kerbodyne; a tiny but explosively powerful solid rocket was fired at the top of the capsule, and the thruster nozzles were angled, allowing the ALES to pull the rocket sideways and away from the rocket in the event of a launch abort.


The thrusters ignited, throwing the Theseus capsule over a kilometer into the air. The internal probe core quickly stabilized the spin caused by the off-center ALES thrusters, and prepared for a quick landing.


The capsule autonomously deployed its parachutes without a hitch. There was a hairy moment when the decoupled LES veered dangerously close to the VAB, but luckily it fell short, impacting the middle of the crawlerway and leaving a nasty scorch mark on the previously beautifully clean KSC lawn.


Touchdown! Now that the pad abort test was a complete success, the KSC hastily rigged up a Buzz II solid rocket test vehicle, and mounted it below the Theseus capsule for the in-flight abort test.


The three RT-5 boosters ignited, and with a belated gasp, Mission Control realised they'd forgot to remind the VAB engineering staff to limit the thrust on the Buzz II's triple engines. Hopefully the ALES could pull the capsule clear in time.


Luckily, they needn't have worried; the ALES successfully pulled the Theseus capsule away from the still-accelerating Buzz II launcher, and Mission Control breathed a sigh of collective release as the autonomous landing system primed the parachutes for release.


The capsule descended slowly over the lawns in front of the Runway 09 hangar; an irate member of the gardening staff had to be restrained upon hearing that the 2.7t capsule would flatten the carefully looked-after grass.


Touchdown! With that, the Theseus crew and re-entry capsule is officially kerman-rated and ready for spaceflight. The Argonaut system will soon follow, pending the next launch tests.




Argonaut Block II LKO test: third time lucky?



The KSC had made the final possible modifications to the Cassiopeia IB launcher that the Argonaut Block II needed. Any further development would render the rocket incapable of taking off, and the likely addition of solid boosters could take months to process and approve for kerman-rated flight; it wasn't the Moho program anymore; solids were deemed unsuitable for kermanned flight. KSSA had to lobby for two years just to get the VLS Block I boosters approved. With bated breath, Mission Control awaited takeoff of the third Argonaut Block II test launch.


Takeoff is textbook, as usual, and Argonaut Block II soars gracefully off the pad and into the sky.


The rocket continues its roll program into the upper atmosphere, progressing without a single error or problem. The launch controllers sit steely-eyed behind their consoles in Mission Control - they aren't fooled. Every other launch has failed after this point; a successful liftoff can't mean anything, and Mission Control refuses to get hopeful, fearing that their hopes will be dashed yet again.


The extended Deneb-P EX upper stage, identical to that used on the Cassiopeia III series, plus the Argonaut Block II spacecraft atop it, is at the theoretical maximum lifting capacity that the standard Cassiopeia IB can support without solid motors or a redesigned and expensive booster stage. It's KSC last chance; if this fails, the program is going to have some major setbacks to deal with.


 The Deneb-P burns out just 150 m/s shy of orbit, nearly identical to the plan. The autonomous engine systems on the Argonaut Block II capsule fire up the 48-7S orbital maneuvering motors, and all of Mission Control leans forward in their seats.


Argonaut Block II starts its initial orbital insertion burn.


After twelve nail-biting seconds, the Communotron 16-S antenna broadcasts the happiest signal that the KSC has heard for many years: the Argonaut Block II test capsule is successfully in a 106 x 109 km orbit around Kerbin!


The Argonaut Block II still has a fuel margin of 473 m/s in orbit; barring the 50 m/s safety deorbit margin, and allowing for 25 m/s of launch profile delta-V either way, the KSC engineering team is congratulated on exceeding all expectations with Argonaut Block II's successful launch. Here the spacecraft is shown completing an RCS thruster systems test on-orbit.


After four hours spent testing systems, Mission Control orders the autonomous probe core on board the Theseus capsule to return the craft to Kerbin; after performing a nominal deorbit burn, the re-entry capsule separated from the AOS module and prepared for re-entry.


Despite the re-entry taking place mostly on the dark side of Kerbin, the automated systems once again performed in an exemplary fashion; KSC regained contact just as the Theseus capsule passed into the light of dawn over the Western Sea.


The parachutes deployed nominally at 11,000m, and the capsule began its descent to the surface of the ocean.


The light of a new dawn glinted beautifully off the water as the parachutes unfurled and slowed the re-entry capsule to a safe landing speed. Of course, this was a new dawn in more ways than one; with a successful LKO test, the Argonaut Block II was now fully kerman-rated and ready for kermanned spaceflight. It was the dawn of a new era for kerbalkind; one where space exploration would rise to the forefront of technological progress.



Argonaut Block III: high-speed ballistic re-entry test.



Thanks to renewed vigour in the KSC after the success of the Argonaut Block II test launch, construction was completed on the second Block III test module two days earlier than planned. It was mounted to a Cassiopeia III Heavy launcher, and rolled out to pad 39A, which hadn't hosted a launch since the final Dynawing mission seven years earlier. Even as the heaviest launch vehicle in the KSC line-up, the Cassiopeia III Heavy flights were usually launched from pad 39B; however, the KSC allowed for a bit of sentimentality, and approved takeoff on pad 39A. There wasn't a dry eye in the KSC as the test launch went through its final pre-flight checks.


The three immense RE-M3 engines ignited, and for a moment the KSC was filled with the deep roar of the Cassiopeia III Heavy lifting off. Pad 39A was shrouded in smoke amid a bright glare, as Argonaut Block III ascended to the heavens.


The Cassiopeia III Heavy nailed its gravity turn maneuver, arcing over the KSC.


A fault with the crossfeed on the external boosters forced Mission Control to separate the entire lower stage assembly as one. Mission Control gave the go-ahead to continue, stating that some of the Argonaut Block III's propellant could be used to reach the desired altitude.


The RE-L10 upper stage burned out successfully, leaving the capsule in a 91 x 1,796 km orbit. The engineering staff agreed that Argonaut Block III would have to use 925 m/s of it's own propellant to reach the desired apoapsis of 60,000 km: 2/3 the distance between Kerbin and the Mun. The Block III engine hadn't been fired for this long before, and the engineers were intrigued to see how a long-duration burn would fare.


Argonaut Block III sailed round to its apoapsis, where it would use its RCS to deorbit the spent upper stage before continuing to periapsis and burning into the planned eccentric testing orbit.


Argonaut Block III separated the upper stage under the cover of darkness, illuminated only by the pinpricks of light from the night side of Kerbin below. After re-orbiting itself, it prepared for the longest burn it had ever undertaken; the burn that would send it sailing out into deep space.


After a two minute and eight seconds-long burn at periapsis, Argonaut Block III was placed into a 117 x 61,759 km orbit.


128 m/s remained in the service module tanks; more than enough to deorbit at periapsis. Now all that was left to do was wait.


As Mission Control watched, Kerbin slowly became smaller...


and smaller...


and smaller...


...until it was simply a pea-sized blue blob, hanging in space, far in the distance. The Argonaut Block III had reached apoapsis, far, far above the surface it had launched from. The KSC was in awe of the sight; there was no backslapping or raucous cheering, simply a quiet, measured sort of wonder, a gentle reminder that Kerbin, their home, was just this fragile little speck in the vast inky darkness.


After two days of travel, the Argonaut Block III re-oriented itself prograde and burned into a sub-orbital trajectory, with a periapsis of 45km. Job complete, the craft sailed on through the void, waiting for gravity to return it to its home.


A few hours prior to re-entry, the Argonaut Block III tilts into a normal orientation, preparing for service module separation.


Service module separation occurs at the planned 125 km detach altitude. This will be a true test of the Theseus capsule's re-entry capability, as the highest and fastest re-entry it has done thus far.


Re-entry however, is a harrowing affair; the 45km periapsis is found to be a far too shallow ascent profile, and rather than performing an atmospheric skip re-entry as planned, the re-entry capsule will circle around Kerbin again before final re-entry. Frantic calculations on the endurance of the onboard batteries and whether the remaining ablator on the heatshield can survive another re-entry are made. 


The Argonaut Block III ascends out of the atmosphere, on its way to a 670km apoapsis.


Fortunately, the ablator and batteries hold out long enough to complete a successful second re-entry; after a close call like that, the KSC orders re-entry altitude for the upcoming Mun flyby test to be set to 37.5km.


The parachutes open again at 11km, marking the end of a five-day journey for the Argonaut Block III capsule. Aside from the re-entry issue, the mission proceeded faultlessly, and the KSC approves the launch of the unmanned Munar flyby mission once the Block I of the Vorpal Launch System has completed testing.


Another successful splashdown marks the end of another test flight for Argonaut Block III, as the KSSA edge ever closer to their ultimate goal of landing kermen on the Mun once again.


In the next update:
Block II flies on its first ever kermanned orbital mission
The Vorpal Launch System is thoroughly tested 
And Kerbalkind prepares for a return to the Mun.

Stay tuned!

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8 hours ago, AeroSky said:

That's one fast schedule the KSSA is following! By the way, how did you make those capsule photos (in Chapter 1, showing the Block I, II and II)? I assume it was using Kronal Vessel Viewer?

All boots are on the ground and furiously working at the KSSA :D
Yes, the vessel pictures were captured in Kronal Vessel Viewer and edited together in Microsoft Paint.

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