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Journey to Laythe, with the Power of Fusion - ft. Far Future Technologies, JNSQ, OPT, and more


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lemon cup's
Stellar Frontier Initiative presents...

PROJECT STARPOWER - 
Combining Kerbin's many sectors of industrial might with years of trailblazing research and experimentation in the field of nuclear fusion propulsion. STARPOWER aims to do what has never been done in the history of Kerbalkind, and do so with the utmost ambition and intrepidity:

Harness the latest in fusion drive technology to send a crew of 6 brave kerbonauts to the surface of Laythe, and back, in under 6 months. 

CONTENTS
Introduction
Part 1: Pre-Mission
Part 2: Departure
Part 3: Arrival
Part 4: Landing
Part 5: Return
Part 6: Home
Epilogue: The Future

Introduction

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PREFACE
This is a somewhat straightforward mission to Laythe with a few twists and heavy emphasis on realism, or rather, what could be reasonably assumed to occur and what obstacles (some huge) would have to be overcome. I couldn't make up my mind on how hard to go with this, so I figured I'd go all in! Expect detailed explanations, real-world science, tons of pictures, and the unwitting Kerbal perspectives on such matters. That being said I will do my best to keep fluff to a minimum, and content rolling in thick.

MOD LIST
Lots...I won't list them all! Rather I will list the ones that feature prominently here in plain sight. Those that reside beneath the surface, I will mention throughout if I think it to be relevant.
In order of significance:
JNSQ - the astounding community-favorite planet pack, where this all takes place.
Far Future Technologies(beta) - provides all of the theoretical nuclear propulsion aspects that make this mission possible; Nertea just dropped the 1.0 release for download.
Near Future Technologies (full suite) - I think of this as the de facto expansion pack to KSP as I know it, adds incredible depth and utility parts for advanced spaceflight and features heavily on this mission.
OPT Spaceplane - used to craft the Mk.III-J "Shadowfax," the mission's interplanetary SSTO.
Restock - revamped models for every stock part, meshes flawlessly with NFT and other mods.
Kerbal Atomics - nuclear fission reactors and advanced NTR rockets
CryoEngines/Tanks - adds hydrolox and methalox engines and tankage
SSPXR - Stockalike Station Parts Expansion Redux adds the large hab modules you'll see here. 
Kerbal Konstructs - you will occasionally see some decorative infrastructure, thanks to this mod.  
Visual Mods include: 
EVE, Scatterer, TUFX, DistantObjectEnhancements, and Planetshine
Some QOL mods:
MechJeb, KerbalEngineerRedux, BetterTimeWarp, PersistentThrust, Kerbal Joint Reinforcement, Tweakscale, RCS Build Aid, EditorExtensionsRedux, and more...

AND LASTLY, playing in KSP 1.10.1, let's get started.

STELLAR FRONTIER INITIATIVE
Excelling where previous space programs have failed, SFI was founded to put a stop to repetitive gameplay mission architecture centered in Low Kerbin Orbit. Instead of wasting excess time, resources, and funds at the behest of corrupt save files administration changes and economic lulls, SFI is the result of a joint venture between many Kerbal nations to go to the Mun, Duna, and beyond, and this time for good. Many strides have been made in the past 3 decades. We've researched much science, completed many contracts, and earned much reputation. Also we took some pretty pictures.

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Over the last 10 years, breakthroughs in rocket propulsion and particle physics has led to a boom in the exploration of parts unknown.

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I'm playing in JNSQ, where planets are 2.7x the size and even further away from each other. A minimum-energy Hohmann transfer to the Mun takes 4 days. To Duna takes almost 9 months, and beyond that, years. The reality is, Kerbals don't live such a long time, being the little frog men that they are, and that would be cut even shorter should they be exposed to the harsh radiation of interplanetary space for such long durations. Of keen interest to Kerbalkind is Laythe, the crown jewel of, erm... Jool. Before now, it has been held beyond our reach by vast gulfs of time and space, accessible only by our long range probes.

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But this, is the Fusion era! Behold the latest in experimental atmospheric probes designed to study Laythe and identify areas of interest for future exploration teams.


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Nicknamed the "Blindwolf," it is both a high-concentration test bed, and a valuable research platform. It is able to convert superheated air into reaction mass via a state of the art high-powered electromagnetic ramjet, and a compact spherical Deuterium-Deuterium powerplant generates the electricity necessary to do so.  Top speed is limited only by the melting point of the skin.  As it tears through Laythe's atmosphere, it is able to send back telemetry on a particularly optimal equatorial island, with ample flats for a landing...  

All that's left to do is assemble the vessel, the crew and their vehicle, and the resources needed to get them there. Easy, right?

Spoiler

It's not easy.

 

Edited by lemon cup
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Part 1: Pre-Mission

VIEW ALBUM
Going forward I will upload low-res photos. I'll link to the album if you care to view the hi-res versions.
(Mod authors if you see your work here feel free to use them as you wish but please notify me so I can mark the pictures to avoid deleting them.)

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OVERVIEW
Now that we've arrived at the real subject matter, a summary of the mission's key pillars is due:

1. Minimize travel time

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While the old breed of kerbalnauts were rather thrilled to go on deep space journeys regardless of if or when they happened to come back, our new selection seems unenthusiastic about spending years floating through the cosmos eating freeze-dried snacks. Additionally, interplanetary radiation poses a big threat to our crews, so the less time spent soaking up gamma rays, the better.

2. Safety

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No need to worry, these are just test dummies (they volunteered)
Safety is relative when you're talking about pointing yourself at a distant gas giant strapped to a hundred tons of fusion products and then lighting them.  That being said the use of advanced materials to block harmful radiation, plenty of snacks, and spacious living quarters with artificial gravity are all high on the wish list.  For the sake of this mission, I will attempt to faithfully simulate this, as I do not have any life support or kerbal health mods installed

3. Reliability

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To put this mission into perspective, consider how vastly different this would be from a trip to the Moon in the Apollo program. While that was inherently dangerous, the use of redundant systems, a backup habitat, a backup engine, and the free-return trajectory saved the lives of the crew of Apollo 13 when their propulsion system was compromised. Even on low-energy transfers to somewhere like Mars, there is no such thing as a free return - and unless you've ludicrously overbudgeted fuel, there is no turning back. Imagine a straight high-energy shot to the outer planets - if your engine doesn't light for the deceleration burn, you're basically on a one-way trip out of the solar system. For this reason, missions of this sort must be highly vetted for near 100% reliability, something we find challenging with even the simplest machines nowadays. Possible solutions could be line-replaceable components, on-board fabrication of new parts, and even robotic wards capable of repairing damage.

4. Cost Efficiency

Whoops! This got left in by mistake from our last pre-mission slideshow. Cost is definitely not a factor here! This mission can not fail, all stops are pulled out and all stakes are on the table. The lives of the 6 crew and the future of SFI depend on resounding success.

BUILD IT UP, FUEL IT UP

Segments are shipped off-world in partially assembled "kits" by traditional heavy lift vehicles, which cannot be beat for their simplicity and dependability. Once arriving on-orbit, they are deployed, fully constructed, and joined together by a combination of robotic tugs and crews of Kerbal engineers.

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Munar orbit was chosen as the building site for the new interplanetary vessel in order to make easier the shipment of liquid helium-3,  an extremely rare and difficult to obtain fuel necessary for high-energy fusion.  Fully assembled, the vessel becomes the first in the line of Paragon-class colony ships, and by tradition bears that namesake. At the center of the Paragon is a retracted rotating habitat with ample crew amenities for the journey ahead. The front is a docking cradle for the underslung SSTO; a helium tanker is docked there for the time being. 

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The propulsion system is the very efficient and moderately powerful "Fresnel," our newest mirror-cell linear inertial confinement fusion drive. Not quite a mythical nuclear "torch" drive, it's more of a nuclear lantern. To get it's intended payload out to Laythe in the desired 2-months, and back in the same amount of time, it needs a LOT of fusion products, and a LOT of radiators to stave off the enormous heat generated by the reactor. 

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 To get a vessel like this mission ready, several truths must be assumed - a fully formed industry must be in place on the Mun for harvesting He3, very small amounts of which is present on both the Mun and Kerbin, but is far easier to extract from Munar regolith. Fleets of logistics vehicles are needed, most if not all of which must be fully autonomous, and fully reusable. This tanker can haul up roughly 1.2 million funds-worth of stuff at a time, thanks to massive Helium-3 mining rigs on the surface.

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A nuclear tug like this one acts as both transportation to and from low orbit as well as an on-orbit propellant depot... but to do so requires an entire other industry to be present! A Hydrogen-Oxygen farm on the Mun's south pole processes all the Hydrolox fuel needed to keep the tankers in operation. We're talking two separate industries working non-stop over the course of several years to provide the exotic resources for this singular mission. Again, the stakes are astronomically high.

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After the long and demanding process of fueling the interplanetary craft, it fires its engine for the first time to transfer to Kerbin orbit and wait for the crewed SSTO before starting its journey. Without crunching the MW hours, I'd ballpark the total onboard power to be equivalent to months, possibly years of the combined power output of entire countries.

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The crew will be flying to LKO onboard the latest generation of spaceplane produced by Orbital Portal Technologies, a Mk.3 J-type design custom built for the mission incorporating data gleaned from the Blindwolf drone. Jeb insisted it carry the name "The White Horsey" yet after mission control demanded "THE" be removed, the ensuing tie resulted in a random name being drawn from a hat. Thus the Shadowfax was born.

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The Paragon crosses high overhead, and with the eyes of all kerbalkind on them, the Shadowfax and its intrepid crew take off from KSC under clear skies.

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Edited by lemon cup
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Part 2: Departure

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ASCENT
Before meeting up with the nuclear tug/fuel depot, the Shadowfax had to claw it's way up through Kerbin's atmosphere using it's powerful magneto-scramjets, switching to its dual hydrolox engines for the final ascent and circularization in low orbit. The mission got off to a rocky start with a longer-than-planned orbital  insertion that caused a delay in the first rendezvous window - arriving to the tanker with less fuel than planned and an even tighter schedule for the next maneuver. The crew reported rushing through their tasks but praised the Shadowfax for its flexibility and handling in less-than optimal conditions. 

Commander Jebediah Kerman III is quoted as simply uttering "good horsey" after putting the craft through its paces.

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With it's payload doors open, a glimpse of the dual D-D powerplants are just barely visible tucked in between the cabin structure. They both run at maximum throttle to provide ample power to the engines, but during orbital coasting, one hums at idle while the other rests. After refueling, it makes a small burn to meet the Paragon at 350 km above Kerbin.

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After meeting up with the Paragon, the spaceplane's RCS thrusters are used to carefully guide it into position. This is one of the mission's critical events and everyone is on pins and needles - clearance between the lateral trusses on the docking cradle and the Shadowfax's outboard engine pods is very small, and the orientation must be nearly perfect. Altogether, the docking takes roughly 20 minutes of very precise adjustments to attitude and translation, and (thankfully) the spaceplane's rudders are of sturdy construction. 

Breathing a huge sigh of relief after the docking clamps lock and optimal orientation is confirmed, the crew immediately sets off on prepping the Paragon for departure.

PLOTTING THE COURSE

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Docked together, the combined vessel constitutes the largest interplanetary vessel ever fielded, and the single most expensive and complex machine in the history of kerbalkind. PROJECT STARPOWER has officially begun its first mission, Paragon 1.

The crew performs various procedures in preparation for the mission ahead, such as deploying and powering up the habitation segment, calibrating the nuclear fission generator that supplies primary power to all systems, and plotting the maneuvers necessary to send Paragon 1 on a high-speed trajectory to the Joolian system.

The course itself will differ greatly from earlier kermanned missions to faraway worlds. With new advanced technology comes advanced techniques, though at their core the maneuvers are quite simple. 

As we mentioned in the "Pre-mission" section above, the Fresnel is not quite a theoretical "torch" drive, which are characterized by their ability to burn continuously throughout the journey on what's known as a Brachistochrone trajectory, with wanton disregard for any notion of fuel efficiency or power concerns. This is a nuclear "lantern," which indeed does have a dV budget that must be carefully controlled to achieve the desired results. Transfer windows do still exist, but they look quite different from the standard Hohmann transfer window. Keep in mind our total dV budget is 260,000m/s, 15,000 of which is allotted to gravity losses and planetary maneuvers once in the Joolian system.

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To get there in a hurry, we want to catch Jool when it is almost exactly tangent to Kerbin's prograde direction around the sun.  As it so happens, this is quite easy to eyeball. We want to take advantage of Kerbin's orbital velocity which in JNSQ is roughly 15km/s around the sun. We could one day overcome that and launch anytime of the year, but for this mission every gram of He3 fuel is precious. We've allotted 60km/s for the departure burn - this huge change in velocity results in our orbital path going from an ellipse to a nearly straight line. Aiming just a little ahead of Jool is all that is needed. 
-Jool circles Kerbol at only 7km/s. At it's distant orbit that gives it a solar year of 11.3 Kerbin-years. 
-In the two months it takes to get there, Kerbin will have advanced 1/6th of the way around the sun. By contrast Jool will have only advanced 1/69th of it's total orbit, which is basically nothing. 

Remember those variables for now, as they will be important on the return leg. 

LIGHT THE CANDLE

To break Kerbin orbit in one burn would be unideal... the 60km/s maneuver will take just over 11 hours. Paragon 1 orbits Kerbin every 1.5 hours. With a low thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.14, our best bet is to perform two "periapsis kicks" to turn our circular orbit into a highly elliptical one. Placement of the Kerbin periapsis is key - we want prograde at PE to be again nearly tangent to Kerbin's overall orbit, pointing us right at Jool. 

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These periapsis kicks take the better part of the day, with long bouts of waiting as Paragon 1 circles high above Kerbin. 

Coincidentally, both burns provide mission control with the opportunity to do detailed remote systems checks of the propulsion segment. Hundreds of sensors are monitored, cross-examined, and base-lined to determine if any faults exist. So far, so good! Furthermore, the 3-burn maneuver gives anyone on board the chance to chicken out.  The hand of Chief Scientist Bob Kerman IV hovers over the abort button, only to discover that Jeb rewired it to power the mini bar.  On the third periapsis pass, the excitement swells and everyone holds their breath as the Fresnel lights to blast Paragon 1 out into the distant reaches of the solar system.

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TRANSIT
Paragon 1 executes the burn flawlessly. Things get HOT, but the many graphene radiators along the engine's length manage to wick away the blazing heat of thermonuclear fusion at the heart of the reactor. 

The 11 hour burn is greatly aided by the use of Persistent Thrust, a mod that lets you keep engines lit when timewarping. Paragon 1 crosses the Mun's orbit in less than 4 hours. Half way through the burn, our trajectory on the map screen begins to dance its way into Jool's sphere of influence. The best way to fine tune this encounter is by rolling the vessel so that solar north is directly "up" on the Nav Ball. By cutting timewarp, switching SAS to "hold" and making very small adjustments up, down, left, and right, then re-engaging timewarp, we can see where our trajectory will end up in relation to Jool. 

At the end of the burn, Paragon 1 is well outside of Kerbin's sphere of influence and set to encounter Jool in 59 days. Our velocity in relation to the sun is 73km/s, making us the fastest Kerbals in history. The crew unbuckles from their seats aboard the Shadowfax, and with great celebration and fan-fare, move on to the next phase of the mission - Transit. 

In interplanetary space, four Kerbals disembark the rear fuselage airlock.

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Engineers Katnand Kerman, a veteran of the Duna Exploration Campaign, and rookie Leopold Kerman inspect the Shadowfax and the forward structures of the Paragon for signs of damage.

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Bob and Jeb make their way to the back of the propulsion segment and inspect the many radiator channels and magnetic coil housings comprising the Fresnel. Part way through, Bob asks if they remembered to shut down the fusion reactor. A few minutes later, mission control reports that they should be good...

Katnand examines the propellant block for a sense of scale any signs of stress. Of particular importance is the toroidal radiation shield, which enshrouds the fuel tank cluster, and protects the sensitive superchilled contents (along with the crew further ahead in the hab segment) from the gamma radiation emitted by the engine during firing. Many crewmembers suggest this is simply a regular run-of-the-mill inflatable heatshield, though the engineering department assures us it is not.

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In the following weeks, the crew of Paragon 1 will come to know the various nooks and crannies offered by the hab segment and the Shadowfax's crew decks. Each of the three rotating blocks has plenty of room for activities, as well as quiet dwellings to spend off-time. Here you can see some crewmembers have started a small (non-profit) growhouse.

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In the common areas, Jan Kerman, the mission's medical officer, listens as Bob discusses various science objectives planned for the surface of Laythe. As you can see, she is thrilled.

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Leopold Kerman enjoying the artificial gravity in his living quarters. He passes the time by playing HSP (Human Space Program) on his laptop, and fantasizing about kerbalkind's prospective new home, trying to grasp the idea that in just a few short weeks, he will be one of the first to set foot there.

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Edited by lemon cup
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Part 3: Arrival

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FLOATING
Paragon 1 passes though Duna's orbit in just 12 days time, roughly twice the speed of previous missions to the red planet. Despite this blistering pace, the crew environment feels no different than routine deployments to the S.I.S. or any other orbital station in Kerbal space. In fact, it's even a bit nicer. The crew begins to slip into a casual rhythm of monitoring systems, performing equipment checks, relaxing, and exercising. In the rotating hab, Jan Kerman can maintain her stout stubby figure in the 1/2 gravity gymnasium. 

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As the craft draws farther and farther away from Kerbin, the speed of light comes into play. Communications delay goes from several seconds to many minutes. Once the mission arrives at Jool, to send a radio signal to Kerbin and back will take upwards of 45 minutes. Video and audio logs can be sent to mission control and friends back home using the command stations on the Shadowfax's middeck. 

Bob and his junior scientist, Gren Kerman, have also discovered you can use them to watch GooTube videos if you disable the firewall. 

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JOOL
Time flies by as the trip nears the end of it's second month. Our entry into Jool's sphere of influence will be one of the trickier maneuvers of the mission. We have to reduce our speed by nearly 60,000m/s or else we will zoom right on past the green giant and careen into the outer reaches of the solar system.

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As a force of habit we set down a maneuver node, but this really won't help here. Because the node system is limited in it's ability to predict such high dV maneuvers, it does not give us the correct burn time. Even if it did, the good old tried and true method of "halving the node" can't be applied. If we did, we'd still have a ton of velocity at PE and be well on the other side of Jool's SOI before we slowed down enough. BUT, the node does give us some useful information - it gives us the time it will take between now and when we reach Jool PE, at our current speed. We can easily calculate the burn time by dividing the desired change in velocity with the acceleration of our engine, and using that we can ballpark about how long before PE to start the burn. *[see note]

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The engine lights just moments before passing through Pol's orbit, and continues to do so reliably for the next 10 hours. The crew has enormous gratitude for that as it means that they don't have to worry about being ejected from the Kerbolar system, and it means they get to watch Jool grow bigger and bigger in the rear view screens. The view is breathtaking. Laythe, the closest moon, can be seen on it's busy orbit nearby. 

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Capture complete! But there is a small problem. As we near the end of the braking burn and swing around the dark side of Jool, it becomes clear that our calculations were slightly off. To keep our periapsis above Jool's atmosphere, we also had to apply some velocity Radial OUT, to counteract the drop in altitude as we slowed through the long burn. This caused a further loss in efficiency and we spent more time on the backside of the planet than anticipated.

Our eccentric orbit is now inclined by about 20 degrees in relation to Laythe, and set to miss it by about 1/5th of it's orbit. One of the strict mission goals is to limit the amount of time spent in the high radiation environment around Jool, so the decision is made to perform a costly maneuver to correct our orbit and reacquire an intercept, which combined with overspending on the capture burn, eats heavily into our reserve fuel budget.

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Letting the bobble heads at Mission Control worry about the finer details of spaceflight, the crew turns their collective eyes to the prize.

LAYTHE
Now that our trajectory is less linear and more round-ish, we can throw ourselves right in front of the moon for an appreciable gravity brake. Inserting into very low orbit will provide ideal conditions for the Shadowfax to make a safe entry, and Laythe's magnetic field will shield us from that pesky cosmic radiation that has been slowly chipping away at our DNA.

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We only need a burn of roughly 3,400 m/s to make low orbit. The Fresnel can do this in a relatively short time, but even then, just like on our Jool capture, some dV is wasted by burning too much propellant too far from periapsis.

Before the Paragon was designed, R&D proposed that the Fresnel could be equipped with an LH2 afterburner for maximizing thrust and cutting down burn time very close to gravity wells, in order to hopefully overcome the dreaded "gravity drag," but the proposal was declined for being overcomplicated. Perhaps with the data from Paragon 1, the engineering department can give it a second look...

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The crew watches the blue sheen from Laythe's oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere grow dimmer as the Paragon passes into the night-side shadow and slips into a circular 120 km orbit. Learning from the mistakes of the late Kolombus Kerman, Bob verifies on the navigation that they hadn't in fact sailed all the way around the Kerbolar system and ended up back at Kerbin.

Nope, we've arrived at Laythe!  After two months of seeing nothing but the empty black void surrounding their ship, the crew struggles to focus on the mission and takes in the beautiful planet beneath them. But after their initial wonderment subsides, they set to work prepping the Shadowfax for its big day. 

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Bob and Gren do a final sweep of the cargo bay. Gren examines the primary payload while Bob looks up at the Atmospheric Telemetry Sensor, or ATS Module, ensuring that its array of science thingies are combobbled properly. The ATS is basically a materials package with a probe core and RTG attached, along with a few other experiments. It is set to deploy and gather precise data on Laythe's atmosphere once the Shadowfax has reached a certain altitude. 

Everything onboard the Shadowfax - from the navigation system, to the landing guidance, broadband uplink, to the cappuccino machine - checks out. Strapped in and ready to go, the crew waits out the 45 minute signal delay to finally hear Mission Control break in over static: "Commander Jeb, you are go for EDL!"

EDL stands for Entry, Descent, and Landing, and is something that Jeb and a few other crewmembers are not new to, having flown spaceplanes in and out of Kerbin's atmosphere regularly. But this is the first time a manned spaceplane has ever attempted this maneuver on another planet. As such, it is the single most critical event of the entire mission. 

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DEORBIT
The clamps disengage, cargo doors close, and the docking clamp retracts as the Shadowfax begins the deorbit maneuver. Previous missions recorded Laythe's atmosphere starting at approximately 75km above the surface, but being 60% as dense, the entry profile needs to be a steep one. A small burn sends the spaceplane into a suborbital trajectory down to the planned landing site. The target is a small archipelago in the middle of the Wayward Sea, with distinct flats by the shoreline, inland bodies of water, and several surface features that R&D feels are of particular interest. 

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The Shadowfax steers itself into a 40-degree nose-up orientation as it hits the upper layers of Laythe's atmosphere.  As the spacecraft sinks lower and lower, the thin air gradually thickens and allows us to bleed  off our velocity from Mach7 while bathing the craft in a halo of plasma. The culminating event of Paragon 1 is only minutes away: Landing. 

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[note] Originally I had some erroneous data when writing the part  about arriving at Jool. After some testing I have been led to a slightly different conclusion. Firstly, I mistakenly believed the burn time was roughly 7 hours, but found out it was closer to 11. Secondly, I found that the default maneuver node system could have done a better job at predicting this had my Fresnel been isolated at the bottom of the stage list by itself, along with reloading a quicksave. Lastly, as long as your initial periapsis is high enough, halving the maneuver node is generally still effective, but giving yourself a maybe 30 minute lead on the node is usually the safe bet, as blowing past the planet and out the other side of the SOI really sucks!

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Part 4: Landing

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ENTRY
With Jeb on the controls and Leopold running flight metrics in the copilot seat, the Shadowfax plunges into Laythe's lower atmosphere atop a cushion of flames. Inertia and the pull of gravity are soon overcome by aerodynamic drag, and the crew is plastered into their seats as the craft rapidly slows and maximum gee forces set in. The flight computer does the majority of the work handling the craft on its way down into the Laythan atmosphere. It provides minute impulses to the RCS system in the upper cloud layers, switching later to the aircraft's control surfaces as they gain more authority in the thickening air. 

Jeb keeps an eye on the trim gauges and notices the system is having to give steadily more "pitch down" input to counteract aerodynamic forces trying to yank the Shadowfax's nose up and induce a backflip. This is expected, so in response the flight computer steadily decreases the aircraft's angle of attack from 40 degrees nose-up to a mere few degrees above prograde. For the final moments of entry, the cockpit is exposed to peak heating, and things get a little toasty.   

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But the flames gradually begin to die down, and the growing roar of the alien air whipping past the windshield cues Jeb to disengage the autopilot and assume control of the Shadowfax.

The crew's raw fear and excitement is clearly masked by their steely-eyed focus on the task at hand.

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DESCENT
At 30km altitude, enough air is being siphoned into the scooped intakes on the ramjets to kick them on for powered flight, and precisely guide the craft down to the landing site. The target is a small island in the Wayward Sea. Laythe is in a tight inner orbit, tidally locked to Jool much like the Mun is to Kerbin, meaning that over time gravity has pulled the "heavy" side of Laythe to always face towards it. Thus the distinction between "Joolward" and "Wayward" for the sake of navigation. 

Jeb pulls up the SCANsat imagery and plainly marks the target island. Later in the mission, Katnand would explain the option of using the Waypoint feature built into SCANsat software, rather than marking up the #4 MFD with red sharpie.

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Closing in on the island, surface features come into view to expose a very different world than anyone had imagined. But the Shadowfax takes to the skies like it was born here, revealing to Jeb that the thinner air means he can push supersonic speeds at very low altitudes with no trouble at all. The black waves zip below at a dizzying pace. Bob and the rest of the crew hang on for dear life. 

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Passing over the island, it's time to ready the ATS module for deployment. Unfortunately for Jeb, this means he has to slow down to a measly 200m/s and fly a boring straight and level flight path over the inland bodies of water. From the aft deck, Gren opens the cargo doors and waits for the green light on the jettison control panel.

Payload away!

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The solid rocket motors on the ATS module ignite, shearing the breakaway mounts and blasting it out of the cargo hold, whereupon its parachute's deploy and yank it back behind the Shadowfax as it begins its rapid data collection mode.

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Of course the ATS module has no means to transmit this data on it's own, why would it? It's been a long-standing tradition that somehow, science is always more valuable if a Kerbal himself recovers it and brings it home, and far be it from the folks at SFI mission planning to deviate from that tradition in the slightest. This means that Jeb and the crew will have to land nearby, hop out, and collect the data by hand. 

LANDING
With Jeb on the controls and the remainder of the crew tracking the ATS module and calling out flight data, the Shadowfax circles around for a landing. Dropping well into the subsonic regime, controls start to feel sluggish and less responsive, and gusts of wind close to sea level further exacerbate the poor handling. 

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Jeb fights a combination of yaw instability causing the plane to fishtail out of turns, and stall conditions at speeds below 150m/s, with sharp bursts of engine power and heavy use of the airbrakes to trade lift for pitch authority. During the hairy maneuvers Jeb is cool as a cucumber, but some time after the mission Jeb would go on to admit that he wished Val was at the controls, acknowledging her skills on fixed-wing aircraft over his own. 

After fighting the controls in a desperate attempt to get lined up for an optimal landing, Jeb is just moments from putting the wheels down on the flats and deploying the drogue chute when a gust of wind pulls the Shadowfax sharply back up into the air. At this point airspeed is dangerously low and Jeb firewalls the engines to get out of the stall, forcing him into a go-around. One wrong move getting onto the ground could snap a landing gear or worse, crippling the crew's only ticket off the planet. Utmost care and precision is required.

On the second landing attempt, now coming from the opposite direction, Jeb selects a much shallower glide slope, hugging the ground with the engines barely kicking and the airbrakes fully deployed. The Shadowfax dips below stall speeds right as the wheels touch the ground. The drogue chute deploys just a touch early, and the nose gear slams ungracefully into the Laythan surface. Despite the bumps and jostles, everything (and everyone) is intact, and the first kermanned vehicle to touch the Joolian moon slowly comes to a halt in front of the ATS module. 

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Jeb and Leopold shut down the Shadowfax's engines and set the parking brake, while the science team gets ready to deploy.  The crew is ecstatic and riding on the combined high of having landed on Laythe for the first time in history, along with the sheer terror of what they've just been through.

Bob and Gren make their way to the aft airlock, deploying the ladder and climbing down to the firm, moist surface of Laythe. They collect the myriad of data courtesy of the ATS module while they take in their surroundings.

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Imagine the severity of the situation having set foot on this alien world. A place that is strikingly similar to Kerbin, yet also distinctly different in every way. Here, a scientist would likely experience sensory overload. Every single detail taken in by your senses would be of immense scientific value. What might seem mundane on your home planet would be entirely worth noting and speculating about here on Laythe. Examining the soil, Bob describes it as tightly compacted, moist, but also fluffy when picked up and pulled apart. Thus he is inspired by the great physicist Julius Sumner Kerman to ask simply, "Why is it so?" as he does with every thing else on Laythe to come.  

BASE CAMP
The two scientists mull around a bit then return to the Shadowfax. The next order of business is to pick a good spot to set up camp. Rather than take off again, they decide to taxi across the flats downhill to the shoreline. There was some concern that the wheels would get bogged down and stuck in the surface, but the game's physics engine tightly packed soil prevents that from happening. 

The crew disembarks a few hundred meters from the shoreline; while Laythe is tidally locked and therefore should have stable tides, the other moons of the Joolian system drive a somewhat drastic tide cycle, limiting how close to the water we can park. Katnand and Leopold unload the primary payload from the Shadowfax, a telescoping COM tower and an inflatable habitat to facilitate the next 3 weeks on the surface. 

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Mission control is now once again part of the loop and directs the remainder of the crew's activities. Of great importance to the shareholders back home is the breathability of Laythe's atmosphere, so the order is given to remove helmets, for science! Thanks to the strong presence of ammonia vapor in the air and coming off the water, Laythe stinks! But breathing it for extended periods is fine, if just a little eye-watering.

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The other thing worth noting is how cold it is, or rather how cold it isn't. Surface thermometers read 9 degrees on average, chilly but still above freezing, which is completely atypical for a body this far from the sun. The leading theory credits tidal forces at the heart of the moon  caused by Jools strong gravity, lending to a sort of geothermal heating. Geysers scattered around the surface further point to this, and regular hikes out to the inland hills provide some up close views.

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The presence of oxygen is also puzzling. "Why is it so?" Bob theorizes that, while the surface seems devoid of life, the warm ocean floors of Laythe could be teeming with a treasure trove of diverse organisms, releasing oxygen into the water and subsequently dissolving at the surface. Perhaps future expeditions to Laythe will invest in aquatic studies...

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The water is salty and ammonia-rich, the air is foggy and smelly, gravity is about 60% as strong as Kerbin's, and the beaches are definitely not sunny and warm like the postcards make it seem, but the crew of Paragon 1 reckon that with some hard work and creativity, this place could serve as kerbalkind's biggest foothold to the stars yet. Though for now, this small stretch of rock, which has been deemed "Joeger Island" in honor of the first Kerbal to give his life in the name of spaceflight, still begs to be explored and studied. In 3 weeks time, they will set off to meet the Paragon back in orbit, and return home. 

 

 

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@Wilhelm Kerman @AeroSky @Nivee~ and everyone else following along, thanks a ton. I’ve never done a mission like this before, and reporting it all here in this fashion is helping to keep me very honest. Though while we’re on the topic I guess I should say, I didn’t actually “bring” the inflatable hab... that was *ahem*... “simulated.” But c’mon, that’s believable, right!? :P

I’m a little behind but I will be playing the final part of Return later tonight (fingers crossed we didn’t waste too much fuel!) and hopefully uploading the report tomorrow at some point. 
 

Cheers! o7

 

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Part 5: Return

VIEW ALBUM

[Disclaimer] This was going to be the last chapter before the epilogue, but as the mission played out, it became apparent that I needed more space
to expand on some of the key events. This post will soon be followed by Part 6: Home.


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GOODBYES
Sunrise at Joeger Island on the morning of the 22nd day, overlooking Enming Bay.  For the duration of their stay on the surface, Mission Control directed a wide variety of experiments, though the crew also took it upon themselves to come up with a few of their own. For instance, studies show that sand castles are extremely possible, nay - inevitable - when venturing out on foot. As for swimming in the ocean, the only Kerbal brave enough to try was Leopold. He made it a few dozen meters out in the cold black tide before realizing that the "Ocean" biome was not for another kilometer or so off-shore, and quickly returned science-less. Gravity is just enough to facilitate normal waddling, but light enough that a powerful jump combined with a standard-issue thruster pack can allow for sizeable leaps, such as onto the wings of the Shadowfax from the ground. In related studies, dents in titanium-alloy skin are relatively easy to buff out with the old "whack it with a mallet" approach. 

Besides field science, the secondary goal of the expedition was pathfinding. Mission Control was very adamant on surveying sections of the island with a large area of clear, flat terrain, with stable ground composition and sitting above the water table, but also near the shore. Indeed, such a place does exist on the south side of the island. On one of the last expeditions to that sector, Katnand and Bob set up a locator beacon labeled "LZ Bravo." Little do they know that LZ Bravo is of supreme interest to SFI's many corporate lobbyists, and the industrial superpowers of Kerbin. 

Though intrigued by the rumors of a future airfield on Laythe, our Kerbal crew's collective minds are elsewhere. While Laythe is certainly a gem among the cold airless bodies of the kerbolar system, nothing beats Mother Kerbin, and it's time to go back to her. 

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Leaving behind the Enming Bay Resort, and Joeger Island as a whole, The Shadowfax takes to the Laythan sky one final time.  Unlike on the initial landing, the aircraft has no problem maintaining control with it's engines screaming full throttle. To line back up with the Paragon, Jeb takes the craft out over the water heading north-east.

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Nearing the equator, a mild dog-leg maneuver puts the Shadowfax onto a matching 0 degree inclination. From there the ascent resembles that of a standard one on Kerbin, only much quicker. At max power the spaceplane cuts effortlessly through the thin air and jumps out of the moon's atmosphere like a Laythan Flying Fish out of water. Though unlike that totally-theorized and yet-unseen aquatic animal, the Shadowfax does not come back down. 

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REUNIONS
Towards the end of the ascent, what started off as a mild concern has escalated into a major problem. Multiple thermal warning alarms are going off in the cabin, and Katnand traces them to the dual D-D powerplants. The spacecraft's radiators are functioning properly, but both power cores are steadily overheating and approaching dangerous temperatures. It seems that somehow, instead of offloading their stored charges into the primary systems and throttling to meet power needs, they are instead remaining in a state of overvoltage, likely due to a malfunctioning distributor.

To stop the cores from melting, Kat is having to manually throttle the reactors and reroute power to the systems one by one - something that the interface was not designed to do. She is is now task-saturated, leaving Jeb and Leo to fly the craft, manage the instruments and software, AND plot orbital maneuvers on their own. Additionally, the power surges fried the mini-bar on the foredeck. 

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With the lengthier engine burns now complete, Kat is free to place one power core on idle and rest the other one, then alternate them after a short cooldown period. Back in the cold vacuum of space, the crew can now move to the rendezvous and docking phase. We come once more to meet the Paragon in low orbit, who has been patiently awaiting our return.

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Lining up the final docking approach is even trickier than the initial one at the start of the mission, thanks to the fuel tanks being partially empty, giving the RCS system an especially hard time balancing the Shadowfax during translation. But thankfully as we faff about below, the Paragon remains motionless, and is not rotating at 68rpm, making it just a matter of time before the sound of the clamps locking together rings through the hull.

Mighty Jool above, the ward of the outer planets, silently spectates this peculiar little event.

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Back onboard the Paragon, the crew has one week scheduled for thorough post-mission activities and routine maintenance before returning home. The next day, a quick multi-member space walk to recalibrate the ship's antenna array turns into an intricate game of hide-and seek.

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But Mission Control has other plans. While the crew was on the surface of Laythe having fun in the sun, the team back on Kerbin was tasked with coming up with a solution regarding two pressing concerns.
1. We have less fusion fuel than was expected for this point in the mission. We can still get home, but our transit time will be longer as a result.
2. Solar recon probes have detected a spike in activity over the past several weeks, strongly indicating that a major solar storm will occur in roughly 60 days, or more according to some sources. 

Weighing the options presents two clear choices. We could stay in the relative safety of Laythe's magnetic field and wait out the storm, rationing snack-intake to try to stretch the few months of limited supplies left on the Paragon, or chance a return now and try to squeeze out every last ounce of Helium-3 and Deuterium left in the tanks. 

But a plucky intern by the name of Rich Kerman suggests a third option. If executed at the right time, an orbit-breaking maneuver down into an incredibly close slingshot around Jool could net a huge boost in dV and get the crew back home in less than 60 days, with plenty of fuel to spare. The big-wigs at Mission Control are doubtful at first but after plotting the maneuver nodes on the map screen, they realize it checks out. When asked if he used a supercomputer to come up with the idea, Rich simply stated "I eye-balled it."

OBERTH
To meet the requirements for the planned maneuver, the crew has just three days to complete their one-week checklist. Namely, all of the samples recovered from Laythe need to be carefully extracted, placed in sterile containers, and stored in the specially-constructed vacuum compartment in the Shadowfax's cargo hold. After doing so, the cargo hold is sealed and cannot be accessed for the remainder of the mission. This is to limit the possibility of rogue pathogens returning from Laythe, which could endanger all life on Kerbin. Jan regularly examines the other members of the crew and herself for any signs of infection. So far so good, but no risks can be taken here.

After securing the cargo and pouring through the ship's myriad of complex systems, it's time to hit the road.

The Rich Kerman Maneuver involves 3 burns. The first is a periapsis kick at Laythe to put us into position for the second burn, a well-timed orbit-break that will spiral us deep into Jool's gravity well. The third will be a single ejection burn at Jool periapsis, where we should be able to reap the benefits of the Oberth Effect and get in a high-velocity escape out of the Joolian system. Every stage of the maneuver has to go off without a hitch. 

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After hitting the first burn and swinging around once more to escape Laythe's sphere of influence, the crew waves goodbye as the alien moon gets smaller and smaller. Jeb searches deep within to find the right words. Then, as if to quote the great poetry of yore, simply says "We  came, we saw, we left some doodads for later, possibly."

We're now on the right trajectory to pull off the slingshot maneuver. This will be our closest pass to Jool of the entire mission. Though we will spend a short time passing through the green giant's intense radiation belts, this is considered preferable to the pending solar storm. Here you can see us whittling down to the final orbit with a Pe of 770km.

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As we come around the backside of Jool, the sun disappears, then so do most of the stars. Soon, one side of the sky is nothing but pure black. Then just moments away from periapsis, cresting the horizon, the Kerbals are treated to the most spectacular view in the entire solar system.

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Dancing across the cloud tops at periapsis, Paragon 1 exceeds 16 kilometers per second, before our engine fires once more to send us home. Bathed in the green glow of the vast cosmic sea below us, an epic Hans Kerman score begins to play in Jeb's head. Shortly after, the rest of the crew informs him he is in fact humming this out loud. Then, they join in.

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The Rich Kerman maneuver saved about 10,000m/s of dV while also putting us on a course to reach Kerbin a few days ahead of schedule, with plenty of fuel left in the tanks.

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Pulling away from Jool, Laythe comes up over the horizon one last time.

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In a few days, Paragon 1 and it's crew will be well away from Jool, and it will once more be a small green dot against the cosmos. They'll never forget what they saw, but before any celebration can take place, they'll have to make a safe landing back on Kerbin first.

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Wow!

This is by far the best Mission Report I've read (although I'm new I have read back a few forum pages for fun). Your writing is excellent; informative but witty, and you have also incorporated truly gorgeous pictures as well. Not to mention the massive accomplishment that is going to the Joolian system in JNSQ (yes you used FFT, but the point stands).

Great Job!  :D

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Part 6: Home
VIEW ALBUM

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INBOUND
Only a few days from home, the crew watches in elation as Kerbin goes from a pale blue dot in the sea of stars, to the bright and beautiful planet they left behind almost six months ago. The return leg of their trip has consisted of sorting through the plethora of data and personal logs collected from the exploration of Laythe, along with routine maintenance, housekeeping, and one-too-many invasive medical screenings courtesy of Jan.  

Word of the mission's success has spread far and wide among kerbalkind. The crew of Paragon 1 regularly receives the heartfelt messages from all walks of life, praising their bravery and accomplishments in the name of adventure. Global excitement is at an all-time high. Pictures of the six kerbonauts walking along the beaches of Laythe - with no helmets- sparks the hopes and dreams of Kerbals everywhere. 

As the historical ramifications grow by the minute, Paragon 1 readies it's engine for the deceleration burn into the Kerbin sphere of influence.

 

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As you may recall from the start of the journey, we used Kerbin's rotational velocity around the sun to our advantage, by launching at the time of year that Kerbin was directly approaching Jool. 

Arriving at Jool full broadside to it's orbit, we netted no gain or loss from its own sluggish pace around the sun. But with the Rich Kerman Maneuver, we did manage to preserve our in-system energy to the fullest extent by passing very close to Jool at 16km/s, converting much of that into an escape trajectory.

Now on approach to Kerbin, the selection of our 6-month timeframe pays off two-fold: Kerbin is now in full retrograde. Coming up directly behind her, she generously gifts us 15km/s of dV.

The resulting capture burn costs only 47,000m/s, which the Paragon more than has.

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Coming out of our initial elliptical orbit following capture, the engine fires for the last time of the entire mission, circularizing into Low Kerbin Orbit.

We made it!

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HOMECOMING
Having  exhausted nearly all of it's fusion fuel after faithfully blasting it's crew halfway across the solar system and back, the Paragon spools down and enters hibernation mode. Jeb and the gang set off in the Shadowfax, catching a glimpse of the interplanetary vessel receiving a congratulatory ray of sunshine from Kerbol, is if to praise a job well-done.

It may be months before the decontamination team arrives to clear the vessel for return to service, but after the long journey, it's in no hurry.

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The issue of our malfunctioning power cores is mitigated as best as possible. Bob will be riding in the co-pilot seat to assist with operating the plane while engineers Leo and Kat will be manning the crew stations on the middeck, sharing the responsibility of power distribution and heat management through the descent. 

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After the deorbit burn, what little cryogenic fuel that is left in the Shadowfax is pumped all the way forward, and permanently sealed there with the use of pressurized breakaway valves. This is to ensure the craft's center of mass is correct for the reentry profile. 

After the customary friendly banter between the flight crew and Mission Control, the order comes in loud and clear: "Commander Jeb, come on home!"

Our target is none other than the KSC. Jeb can recognize all the landmarks by heart, which is good considering his MFD is still covered in sharpie.

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Kerbin's atmosphere catches us like a baseball glove at Mach 12. Minutes later, we're soaring through the stratosphere with the scramjets kicking, fine-tuning our trajectory to the KSC

There is a small problem, however. We've come in a bit high, meaning that we'll miss a gliding entry into the Heading Alignment Cones at the end of the runway. We're set to come down miles out over the Cape, then turn around for a powered approach to KSC - usually not an issue. But, reentry heating combined with the power distribution malfunction means that the the cores are already dangerously hot. Running the scramjets for very long could risk a total meltdown. 

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Mission Control offers a few solutions, but the final call comes down to the pilot. Jeb decides to execute a high-speed dive to cut all of our lateral velocity, and get us onto a short approach to the runway below.

The crew crosses their fingers and tightens their straps, prepping for the high-gee maneuver. Nearing the HAC, Jeb pushes the Shadowfax near it's structural limits and subjects the crew to upwards of negative 5 gees, yanking them out of their seats against their shoulder harnesses. It feels like their eyeballs want to pop (more than usual) out of their skulls.

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AND THE HORSEY YOU RODE IN ON...
We bleed off a ton of speed, putting us down into the lower atmosphere where we can acquire the control we need to turn around and land. Overjoyed spectators look up and cheer as we drop below Mach 1 over Cape Harbor. 

In this picture you can see the mid-fuselage, where the power cores are mounted, glowing red-hot as they approach failure.

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To the surprise of the flight crew, Valentina Kerman III comes in from Mission Control and, after a few quick jabs at the harrowing dive, guides Jeb in through the landing. Gear down, engines at 20%, feather the airbrakes gently.

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Touchdown at KSC! The Shadowfax floats down elegantly onto the runway, and the drogue chute deploys. Mission Control erupts into a cacophony of cheers and jubilation, while the crew - now mostly in a liquid state - sinks back into their seats in relief. It is not known how many high-fives occurred after this point, but some say they are still high-fiving to this day.

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It's a monumental event that is broadcast all over the world to homes, schools, and downtown city squares. Everyone on Kerbin knows the names and unique faces of all six members of Paragon 1, thanks to the popular action figure line new from SFI's toy department. The world is ready to give them the heroe's welcome they deserve.

However, instead of hanging a right to park in front of the spaceplane hangar and disembark like usual, the Shadowfax continues down the runway and exits onto the northside ramp, where a quarantine complex has been constructed. 

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The battered spaceplane pulls into the hangar and shuts down, it's power cores all but melting through the cabin structure. Within seconds, a crew extraction vehicle arrives and whisks our heroes away to the Kerbal Quarantine Facility on the northern end of the compound, where they will stay for the next two weeks. More vehicles arrive to fully defuel and make the vehicle safe for D-CON teams to get to work. A specialized apparatus is used to access the sample storage canister through a sealed hatch in the aft cargo hold, after which it is sent to the sterilized laboratory at the quarantine center's eastern edge.

Against overwhelming odds and insurmountable technological challenges, Paragon 1 draws to a close - a resounding success and a unifying event in the tapestry of Kerbal history.  With this great leap into the cosmos, civilization is ready to take the next small step into parts unknown. 

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Epilogue: The Future
VIEW ALBUM

DEAR READER
If you've enjoyed this Kerbal adventure, I am inclined to recommend a similar work that happened to serve as my thematic and stylistic inspiration. A couple of years ago, Reddit user u/16807 posted a series of adventures from KSP Interstellar, culminating in an incredible multi-star system mission:  The Voyage of Star Boom 2 - a Von Neumann Probe

I wrote Journey to Laythe as a "spiritual prequel" to this. I can only call it spiritual since his series already has an established backstory, and other key differences prevent a true crossover from being possible, but I envision my Kerbal civilization as arriving at a very similar interstellar future.

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SCALING UP
While deployments to the S.I.S. seem mundane following the events of Paragon 1, LKO stations like this one will soon be serving as a vital link between Kerbin and worlds beyond.

Opponents of SFI had long criticized the organization as a massive misuse of resources that could be better spent solving Kerbin's energy shortage and overpopulation crisis. The Duna Exploration Campaign, which led to many breakthroughs in technology, was ultimately a waste of billions of funds, and a dead end. Likewise the fusion fuel harvested for use on Paragon 1 could have powered entire countries back on Kerbin. For this reason, future Paragon missions were specifically designed to be about more than just flags and footprints, something that Kerbin's industrial giants were privy to from the start.

In the following years, SFI's reliance on private industry for the development of off-planet infrastructure led to an economic boom like no other.  

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Owned and operated by  Kerbin Resources Development Administration, vast helium fields like this one cause a spike in demand for virtually all commodities on a new frontier. KRDA seeks kerbals from all areas of expertise needed to run operations of this magnitude. In addition to aerospace engineering and support, every career from food service and custodians, to nurses, doctors, paralegals, and geologists are required to be on-site to sustain the growing industry.

Seasonal workers live in surface habitats on the Mun and Minmus, while planetside service firms now offer their employees regular stints to orbital facilities across the Kerbin system, for a sizable per diem, of course. SFI still holds the regulatory reins and operates via taxpayer money, but now subsidizes the majority of it through private contractors, where it flows back into the flourishing economy. Space contracting is the new gold rush.

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Orbital fusion fuel depots like this one still take years to cultivate. Driving the Munar mining industry: the mission to expand into the Joolian system, the success of which will ironically lead to its very collapse. 

An even greater industry exists beyond the bounds of the Kerbin sphere of influence, and holds the only hope of fusion drive transportation being sustainable: gas giant mining. While some industrial superpowers like KRDA are content exploiting Kerbin and its moons for fusion fuel, companies like the Post Kerbin Mining Corporation have their sights set on Jool, where profit margins are orders of magnitude higher. From the beginning of PROJECT STARPOWER and the Paragon program, Laythe was the key to unlocking it. 

In a bold move, PKMC sells the majority of their Helium-3 rigs on the Mun and siphons funds into SFI for guaranteed seats on the upcoming mission to the Joolian system. Paragon 6  will pick up where previous missions left off, and it will be the largest single interplanetary mission to date. 

Three of the latest iterations of the Paragon-class vessel will be used, each specialized for a unique part of the mission. 

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The flagship Hvaldimir will carry the crew transport SSTO. While sharing much of the same design, the Hvaldimir and it's two sisters differ from earlier ships of the line in many ways. In addition to the underslung spaceplane, the docking bus can also accommodate various orbital pods, making the ship it's own mobile space station. The fission powerplant is replaced with a new generation of large solar arrays coupled to supercapacitor banks, which can dump a huge amount of stored electricity to charge the propulsion reactor. The Fresnel engine has been modified with an additional 4 meter segment of mirror cells for even greater performance, and an LH2 afterburner can provide leagues more thrust when needed

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For the Kerbin departure burn, even higher-thrust systems are used. Utilizing mad scientist Robert Kerman's notorious design, a Nuclear Salt Water tug docks to the rear of the vessel and provides the initial escape trajectory, after which it separates and reinjects into Kerbin orbit, where it can service the next vessel. Meanwhile, the first ship fires its Fresnel and takes over for the rest of the journey. 

With previous missions having delivered the bulk of the materials and robotic heavy equipment, Paragon 6 will ferry the specialized components and a joint crew of 30 kerbals, a mixture of SFI mission specialists and PKMC engineers and technicians. Their goal is to establish the first Laythan spaceport, and lay the seeds for an interplanetary empire.

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NEW WORLDS
In a few short decades, the Joeger Island Reserve Airfield, or "JIRAF" as it is referred to by it's inhabitants becomes the hub for the new Jool mining industry. It sits on the southern stretch of the archipelago, and staffs hundreds of pilots, maintenance personnel, administration teams, and researchers.

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Over the ridgeline on the eastern tip of Manley's Reach, a fully developed Enming Bay Resort resides at the original landing site of Paragon 1, where a bustling tourist economy thrives.

Flying over JIRAF, a descendant of Jeb helps a new pilot earn their wings.

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However, the majority of the island's air traffic is dedicated to the large mining SSTOs. Performing long, shallow dives through Jool's upper cloud layers, they can harvest vast amounts of Helium 3 with their atmospheric ram scoops. A prototype design like this one will depart from JIRAF fresh from overhaul,  carry out it's months-long mission in the gas giant's atmosphere slowly filling its tanks, deliver the payload to fusion fuel stations in Laythan orbit, and return to the airfield for maintenance with full autonomy.

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This business model paves the way for future interplanetary trade revolving around fusion drive-capable vessels, and turns corporations like PKMC into muti-billionaire firms. In time, Laythe becomes what is effectively a corporate oligarchy, a chain of working-class citizens connected to middle-class subcontractors and upper-class prime contractors, fully independent from Kerbin. For now, the governments of Laythe and Kerbin live in equilibrium.

Meanwhile, the great minds of kerbalkind are looking to go interstellar.

DREADNAUGHT
Having invested a great deal into PROJECT STARPOWER, a once-smaller experimental program now has the freedom to expand. PROJECT OMEGA, which began as a parallel to STARPOWER, has been seeking to perfect antimatter drives for the purpose of exploring into interstellar space. 

In the decades following the fusion revolution, and the dual-planet civilization that rose from it, vessels such as this might one day be constructed in Laythan orbit. The Vercingetorix-class starship.

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With its daunting antimatter drive, this ship possesses about 8x the delta-vee of the Paragon-class ships, roughly 15% the speed of light. With this power and scale, we could launch a mission to Kerbol's red-dwarf binary, Grannus, and return in just a matter of a few short years. But with the existence of Nodens, the fabled Kerbin-like world of the distant star, would we even want to return?

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If or when such a mission took place, it is safe to say that a breed of daring and adventurous Kerbals, just like those brave 6 that took to the stars and unlocked the road to Laythe, would proudly go forth on that journey to the unknown. 

THE END

Thank you for reading! What started out as a simple mission report clearly turned into something else, whoops! But now that it's over I'll gladly answer any questions from those wondering about specific parts of the mission, or wishing to share some pointers and tips. This was actually my first ever mission to Laythe with a crew (I have launched many probes but never any Kerbals) and wanted to pull it off while respecting all of my personal rules. Yep it's odd but I just can't leave my Kerbals out in space for too long without feeling like I've done them wrong! As it turns out FFT was the mod that got me set to finally pull it off.

Again, thank you and hope you enjoyed. I'll most likely be adding one more post various notes and asides to correct some errors that are present in the story right now. Some of my numbers and principles are not so accurate and I'd like to try to fix them as best I can. So until then, cheers!

 

 

Edited by lemon cup
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Is that a Dynetics lander in the background of the second photo in the Epilogue?

How did you make your photos look like it has post-processing or something? They look amazing! Looking forward to a continuation or sequel or something!

 

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30 minutes ago, AeroSky said:

Is that a Dynetics lander in the background of the second photo in the Epilogue?

How did you make your photos look like it has post-processing or something? They look amazing! Looking forward to a continuation or sequel or something!

 

Yes sir, good catch! :cool: That lander is kit-bashed using various parts from NFT, Cryotanks, Restock, and SSPXR.

TS2sZzl.png

As for the effects on the pictures, that is all thanks to TUFX. 

Very nice in-game post processing that takes very little performance toll, if any.

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Ok, I'm out of likes for today, but I must say, that is extremely impressive! I love your ship design, and even though we use the same mods (FFT, SSPxR, ReStock) I just can't get my ships to look as good. Is there any chance you will post craft files?

Also I agree wil Angel-125 that with the way you ended it, you are required to make a Grannus mission! :sticktongue: 

Not really, but I love your writing style, and your pictures are excellent!

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This is great, 10/10 would read again!

Nothing like quality ships, quality screenshots to get me motivated to work on things. Need anything else for your next mission report? ;)

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6 hours ago, Spaceman.Spiff said:

Ok, I'm out of likes for today, but I must say, that is extremely impressive! I love your ship design, and even though we use the same mods (FFT, SSPxR, ReStock) I just can't get my ships to look as good. Is there any chance you will post craft files?

Thanks! Oof, I might consider it but I'm leaning away from distributing craft files. I've got quite a few mods stacked on top of each other, and without ever really knowing how a large mod library truly ends up affecting itself, I would be hard-pressed to positively say which mods you would need to run the craft properly. That, plus my designs only scratch the surface, there's a lot more that someone with some practice and a different approach could pull off :wink:

7 hours ago, Angel-125 said:

Are you planning a mission to Grannus?

Some day, though I'll be taking a break from KSP for a short time and might just get back into small-scale leisurely type stuff. But I'm definitely considering a mission report when the time comes!

1 hour ago, Nertea said:

Nothing like quality ships, quality screenshots to get me motivated to work on things. Need anything else for your next mission report?

MOAR radiators! :D

Thanks Nertea, highest praise coming from you. And in all seriousness what you've got already planned on your roadmap covers any wish list I could make at this time. 

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Absolutely bloody brilliant!! Great story telling and amazing screenshot sniping skills!!

Just one question @lemon cup, are you using the base TUFX config or do you have a custom one? Any chance you can share it? Those screenshots from your intro are truly beautiful and despite having nearly identical visual mods I still can't quite get that look :/

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13 hours ago, JadeOfMaar said:

You have my attention. You have all of it. :ph34r:

Thank you! Shoot, now I guess I gotta do more of these ;.;:D 

14 hours ago, Akira_R said:

...are you using the base TUFX config or do you have a custom one? Any chance you can share it? Those screenshots from your intro are truly beautiful and despite having nearly identical visual mods I still can't quite get that look.

Certainly, only I am a simpleton at making MM patches so I will just share my TUFX-Default.cfg and you can either copy-and-paste the profiles you like into your own, or replace yours with mine altogether. Real quick rundown:
Groundside: Used on the surface of atmospheric bodies, mostly Kerbin. Different planets usually need tweaking of brightness and color saturation to dial it in.
Groundside(Barren): Specifically made this for Duna but it works on other worlds with brownish hues too.
Low Orbit: Self explanatory, this looks best in upper atmosphere and space low
High Orbit: Same idea, also looks good on most airless bodies like The Mun. (I have this set for the map screen as well)
Deep Space: Harsh lighting and bloom levels, plus DOF effects, for when the vessel is the only thing in the picture against the black of space.

Also, check out Zorg's thread for more profiles and useful screenshot tips

 

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