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JNSQ: Commercial Space Ventures - Chapter 17


Angel-125
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A continuation of JNSQ: To The Mun and JNSQ: Shuttle Launch System, this mission report is a continuation of my existing JNSQ career game.

Chapters

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

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Prologue

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To the Mun” had been the mantra of the Kerbal Space Program for nearly a decade. It was a way to break the Kerman States out of a wave of wars, recessions, apathy, and a string of bad leaders. The nation rallied around the goal of reaching Kerbin’s natural satellites. When the vonKermans expressed an interest in reaching Kerbin’s mϋns as well, the Kerman States saw it as a challenge, a race to see who could get there first. They “won,” but in so doing they also completely missed the point that the vonKermans were creating a sustainable approach to exploration. Consequently, after the Kermans landed on the Mϋn and Minmus, public interest in the space program faded.

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KSC tried to renew interest by creating the next-generation Shuttle Launch System to replace their K-20, used it to build the Starlab Kerbin Orbital Station, and then built the Magellan Mϋnar Shuttle. For a time, their efforts recaptured the public’s attention. But going to KOS and occasionally back to the Mϋn failed to sustain the interest that KSP had hoped for.

So, with Kongress’ approval, KSP began planning a kermanned mission to the Rusty Planet. But to get there on their limited budget, they had to retire their aging Shuttle Launch System and once again make changes to how they did business. Fortunately, they had a plan. KSP created the Kerbin Orbital Transportation Services (KOTS) program to help private companies develop the capability to deliver crew and cargo to Starlab and, hopefully, beyond.

To help jumpstart the commercial space industry, KSC would provide technical consultation, lease its facilities at cost, and purchase crew and cargo flights to orbit. By seceding low Kerbin orbit and cisminmar space to commercial companies, they would free up Funds to focus on Project Duna. That is where Scott E. Kerman came in…

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“So,” Scott continued, “After being promoted to Major and meeting my minimum three-year time in grade, I resigned my commission in the Air Force. I wasn’t happy just being a test pilot, and since KSP rejected my astronaut application, the career path that I had had for myself was at a dead end. Then a week after I got out, I bought a lottery ticket on a whim- and won the largest jackpot in history.”

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Sara Kerman looked him over and examined the row of delta-winged Shuttle orbiters. Freedom, the first of the fleet to fly- and the last to fly- retired a year ago. She understood why Scott asked to have their meeting in the Boneyard. “That lottery ticket is your second chance,” she said. “I take it that you want my help to start a space company?”

Scott nodded. “Not just start it,” he answered, “but run it. They taught us how to be leaders and handle pressure, but running a successful corporation is beyond my skills...“

“Actually, a lot of your skills are in demand in the corporate world,” Sara interrupted. “It’s just a matter of finding and emphasizing the core competencies instead of a particular weapons system. You might need some mentoring to translate your skills over, but I’m sure you’d do fine.”

“You sound like you’ve made the transition yourself,” Scott suggested.

Sara shook her head. “No, but I’ve worked with service people who have.”

“I see,” Scott responded. “I’ll keep that in mind. But for now, if I provide the strategic vision, and uh, handle the public interface, would you be willing to handle the daily operations?”

Sara could see that the younger Kerman had a lot of drive- and the funds- to pursue his dreams. “I’d want to have a lot of autonomy,” she said.

“To be honest, I just want to provide the overall direction of the company, and not get bogged down with the details,” Scott admitted. “If you were the uh,” he glanced at his notes, “president and chief operating officer, would that give you the autonomy you want?”

Sara smiled. “There’s more to it than just a title, but if you let me set up and run the company the way I think it should be run- as long as I stick to the corporate vision- then I think we can work something out to our mutual benefit. Deal?”

“I’m still majority shareholder,” Scott prompted.

“Of course.”

Scott nodded and smiled. “Then it’s a deal,” he practically yelled.

“So, do you have a name for this venture of yours,” Sara asked.

“Yes! I’ve given it a lot of thought: Orbital Dynamics. It’s derived from orbital mechanics- the art of applying ballistics calculations to determine trajectory- and the ability to be agile and maneuver quickly.”

“Orbital Dynamics,” Sara repeated, “I like it...” She looked around again. “So, where do we get a shuttle of our own?”

Scott grinned. “That’s part of my strategic vision…”

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First Bonus Chapter!

Chapter 1

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“Tell me about this ‘Shuttle-C’ of yours,” Gene said, looking at the vehicle poised on its launchpad. It used much of the same hardware as the Shuttle Launch System, but a squat cylindrical vehicle took the place of the Orbiter, and the nose of the external tank was replaced by an enormous payload fairing. The twin solid rocket boosters also looked taller.

“Shuttle-C is part of our SLS Block 2 system,” Drax Kerman, head of Drax Aerospace began. “If you recall, when you awarded us one of your KOTS contracts, you expressed a desire to launch payloads larger and heavier than your first-generation orbiters could. We have addressed that. Shuttle-C is a cargo-only launcher that can deliver 34 tonnes into Low-Kerbin Orbit- twice that of our new Block 2 Mϋnraker-class orbiter, after accounting for the extra propellants in the orbiter’s ‘wet wing’ tanks.

“Shuttle-C uses the same 5-segment solid rocket motors that Mϋnraker does, and a nearly identical super lightweight external tank, which simplifies our manufacturing and operations processes…”

“That payload fairing looks as wide as the tank,” Gene interrupted.

“Indeed,” Drax hid his annoyance and continued. “Shuttle-C is a semi-inline design that offers a substantially larger payload volume than the Block 2 Orbiter. We moved the payload to the top of the stack for better performance. It can accommodate payloads up to 10 meters long and 4.8 meters in diameter.”

“Hm. We have something in mind that’s wider than the tank,” Gene thought aloud.

“We anticipated as much,” Drax said calmly. “The fairing can be replaced with a wider design, albeit one not as long.”

“I’m sure we can work with your designers to fit our needs,” Gene responded. “You said that Shuttle-C is a semi-inline design?”

“Indeed,” Drax replied. “In order to maximize the use of existing launch infrastructure and minimize development costs, we kept the engine placement comparable to the Block 2 Orbiter. Hence the side-mounted propulsion module…”

“Uh, ‘propulsion module?’”

“In- Yes, Gene. The side-mounted vehicle that replaces the Orbiter is the propulsion module,” Drax said. “It is functionally equivalent to the aft section of an Orbiter. In fact, the thrust structure and engines separate from the launch vehicle after the deorbit burn and parachutes to a soft landing. We will refurbish the module, much like how we refurbish the Orbiter for another flight. We intend to land it back at Kerbal Space Center to simplify our operations. Our only expenditures become the external tank, boosters, and payload fairing, which accounts for about half the cost of the vehicle. That may seem low compared to Shuttle, but it is significantly better than expendable vehicles in its payload class.”

“Impressive,” Gene admitted. “Will flying Shuttle-C disrupt Mϋnraker flights?”

“Not at all,” Drax answered. “with four high bays, we can process Mϋnraker 1- formerly your unfinished OV-205 orbiter that we purchased- along with up to 3 Shuttle-C vehicles simultaneously depending upon your needs.”

“Excellent’” Gene smiled and replied. “We will need that increased capacity… Well, shall we head to Launch Control and watch it fly?”

“Indeed,” Drax said and smiled slightly.

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After Gene, Drax, and the ground crew cleared the launchpad, CSLS-1- the first Commercial Shuttle Launch System flight- lit its three KS-25B “Rainbird” motors a few seconds before igniting its twin 5-segment solid rocket boosters. Once the boosters ignited, a fraction of a second later, the vehicle was cut free of the bonds holding it to the mobile launch platform. It immediately roared into the sky atop pillars of fire, cleared the tower, and rolled into its equatorial launch trajectory. A couple of minutes later, the solid rocket boosters expended their propellant and were discarded, leaving the rest of the stack to continue its climb.

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A second after exiting the atmosphere, Shuttle-C jettisoned its cavernous payload fairing. Unfortunately, the propulsion module’s aero cone failed to automatically jettison as well, forcing Mission Control to manually trigger the jettison sequence. Engineers made a note for future launches.

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Since it was a test launch, the vehicle only carried a mass simulator in the form of a pair of large ore tanks. But Shuttle-C successfully climbed into a 214.3 km by 223.7 km orbit. A day of system checks and evaluations later, Shuttle-C ignited its Viking Orbital Maneuvering System engines once more and performed its de-orbit burn. The vehicle then spun around prograde and discarded its modified external tank and mass simulator payload.

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A short correction burn later, the propulsion module slammed into the atmosphere, trading speed for heat and drag. When it hit the thicker parts of the atmosphere, the module ran out of electric charge- its fuel cell had failed after the deorbit burn- and it began to sideslip as aero-forces gripped it. Despite the difficulties, the propulsion module’s chutes deployed successfully, and the reusable module landed safely- albeit 54 km short of KSC

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Last Bonus Chapter!

Chapter 2

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Pad A- the historic launchpad that sent the first spacecraft into space, the Mϋn, and a host of other important missions, was about to send off another historic first. In this case, a new space company, Phoenix Aerospace, was about to launch their first rocket. They were just minutes away from launch.

When KSP created the KOTS program, CEO Phil Kerman resigned from his previous company and immediately gathered several investors to form Phoenix Aerospace. The company then quickly licensed KSP’s retired Edna launch vehicle, famous for launching the K-20 KerbalSoar and for escaping retirement many times- and their K-24 Kerbal Return Vehicle design that served as Starlab’s lifeboat. They also bought all the production tooling for the two craft before anybody else could. So, while other companies could license the same technology, it would take them years to build the production tooling that they would need to make new vehicles, and that gave Phoenix Aerospace a big advantage.

Not content with expending the Edna on each launch, Phoenix Aerospace made several changes, First, they standardized the first stage and boosters to become the Common Core Booster. While the Edna 1E used an RE-M3 “Mainsail” motor in each booster and an RE-I5 “Skpper” motor in the core stage, all three CCB stages used the Mainsail. Next, they gave the side boosters a set of grid fins and landing legs just like the ones on the vonKerman’s Fleigenross. The central CCB lacked grid fins and landing legs since it would be too high and going too fast for a safe recovery. Instead, a set of guidance fins took the place of the landing legs. The company planned to convert used side boosters into an expendable core stage, but for this flight all three cores were brand new. Finally, they left the upper stage largely unchanged, but it did have a new set of small solar panels and a probe core to control its deorbit. With all the changes, Phoenix Aerospace appropriately dubbed their rocket the Edna 1F.

For its inaugural “resurrection” flight, the Edna 1F carried a new Sentinel satellite that was designed to hunt for asteroids that could potentially threaten Kerbin. Like the rocket it flew on, the Sentinel was rescued from the scrap heap after funding ran out.

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“Service arm retracted,” Phoenix Aerospace’s mission announcer proclaimed. Sighs could be heard in PA’s Mission Control. The Edna Launch Tower hadn’t been used since the Skybase 3 mission over a decade ago. “Seven, six, five, main engines start, two, one, liftoff! Liftoff of the first Edna 1F, rising from the ashes of retirement and carrying the Sentinel satellite on a mission to search for near Kerbin asteroids!”

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As many Edna rockets had done before, the new 1F rotated to the desired launch azimuth and pitched over. At 25 km, the side boosters detached. This time though, as the vehicle continued to climb, the stage recovery team took over and soft-landed them on awaiting barges. The barges they built and the recovery technology they licensed from the vonKermans were expensive, but if they kept recovering boosters, they would pay for themselves in a few flights.

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The central core and upper stage were another story. They both worked as expected, but they had no chance of recovery.

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And rather than attain orbit, Sentinel ignited its kick stage and continued to escape Kerbin’s gravity. The probe left Kerbin’s SOI 12 days later...

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7 minutes ago, TheSaint said:

Great mission reports. Still cracking up over Drax Aerospace. Someone should keep an eye on that guy.... :D

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Indeed...

1 minute ago, Misguided Kerbal said:

Wow, 2 bonus chapters! Great work! There is a slight issue though, the title of chapter 1 isn't bigger than the rest of the text. Other than that, it's great! I can't wait to see what's next!

Mun Shuttle?  :confused:

Thanks! Yeah I noticed that and fixed it.

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Chapter 3

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“We proposed the Mk-33 as a single stage to orbit launcher,” Lyta A. Kerman, President of the Polecat Spaceworks Division said. Formerly known as Polecat Ironworks, a division of Stonewell Aviation (the company that built the Lindor 5’s second stage), the division earned a reputation for creating innovative aircraft designs during the Last War. When the Shuttle Launch System was proposed, Polecat set up shop on Welcome Back Island after the previous tenants moved out so that they could be closer to Kerman Space Center, and they changed their name to Polecat Spaceworks as part of their bid to win the Shuttle contract. They had hoped to revitalize their division with a revolutionary launch vehicle, but their gamble failed. The division barely survived thanks to subcontracts from the Shuttle Program, but with that program concluded, things were looking grim…

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“It was a novel approach to the shuttle program at the time,” Lyta continued. “It still is. We finished about eighty percent of the spaceframe before we ran into manufacturing problems with the karbon komposite fuel tanks. They kept losing lamination and exploding when pressurized. We proposed to solve the problem by using metal tanks but that incurred a significant payload penalty. So, KSP moved on with the Drax shuttle… We tried to get our parent company to revive the project for KOTS, of course, but they denied our request. They said they wanted to focus on their commercial aviation business instead.”

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“So, it could fly if you finished it,” Scott said. It was not a question.

Lyta nodded. “We’d need new linear aerospikes- the test models are in museums. We’d have to dig up the plans and build new fuel tanks, finish the fuselage, attach the wings, add the A.R.M.O.R. panels…”

“Armor, the Mk-33 was armored?”

“Advanced Robust Metallic Operable Reusable thermal protection system,” Lyta explained. “It’s a more durable heat shield than what they use on the shuttle. One good foam strike on the underside tiles, and the Shuttle wouldn’t survive reentry. They’ve been lucky so far… Anyway, she needs work, but she could fly. Why, do you have some spare aerospikes laying around?”

“I just might,” Scott suggested.

“Well, uh, okay…” Lyta responded. She did not expect his answer. “You do realize that the payload isn’t great though, right?”

“What if I told you that I know how to make karbon komposite tanks that hold up under pressure,” Scott asked.

That got her attention. “I would be curious to know how,” Lyta said.

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Scott grinned and quickly changed the subject. He pointed to the front of the craft. “Can you add a cockpit in that space in the forward tank?”

“Uh, we could,” Lyta said, puzzled, “but why? The Mk-33 was designed to be fully automated- no crew needed. We didn’t feel the need to have crew and cargo on the same flight. Instead, we designed a passenger module. Just swap out one of the payload bay modules and put the passenger module in its place.”

“Oh, I still want the automated capability,” he admitted, “Being optionally kermanned is great for missions where a crew isn’t needed. But I’m a pilot. I don’t want to be a passenger when I’m aboard, I want to fly the thing.”

“I… see...” Lyta answered. She clearly was not going to win that argument. She thought for a moment before broaching the subject. “Are you… interested in… having us finish the Mk-33?”

“Indeed, I am,” Scott said as he beamed. He pulled out a list. “And I have some other changes that I’d like to make…”

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 4

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“Next slide, please,” Brigadier General (ret) Gene Kerman, Director of KSC, said. The screen behind him switched to a new image, this one depicting a large space vessel with a bulbous bow, a torus mid-section, and an aft section consisting of an array of heat radiators and a cluster of tanks. A single rocket motor protruded from the tank cluster.

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“This is the Nautilus, what we’re classifying as our first Deep Space Exploration Vessel, or DSEV. At nearly 50 meters long, she will be the largest kermanned spacecraft ever built…”

“Why aren’t you going to Duna instead of Laythe,” Karbal Kerman, one of the reporters, interrupted and asked. “Wasn’t that the original plan?”

“It was,” Gene sighed and admitted, “and it was the reason that we handed cisminmar space over to commercial companies. But our scientists recently confirmed that the Jool Surveyor’s sensors were correct. Laythe does have a breathable atmosphere and liquid water on its surface. Given how far Jool is from Kerbol, Laythe shouldn’t have liquid water. We would really like to know why. More importantly, is there life on Laythe? We want to know that too. Because if life can exist here on Kerbin and on Laythe, then it’s likely to exist throughout the universe. So to definitively answer your question, the new president saw our findings and redirected our efforts to reach Laythe instead of Duna.”

“How does Kongress feel about that,” Karbal jabbed.

“You’ll have to ask them,” Gene quickly shot back. He took a brief pause before continuing. “As we did with the Shuttle Launch System and Starlab, we’re expanding the limits of technology with Project Laythe. For the Nautilus, we’re creating a centrifuge to generate artificial gravity through centripetal force. Based on our research at Starlab, the bodies of astronauts can degrade over time without sufficient gravity. And since it takes a couple of years just to reach Jool and another couple of months to enter Laythe orbit, we want the crew to be as fit as possible when they arrive…”

“How will the crew avoid getting stressed out? It doesn’t look like they have much more space than on KOS,” Karbal interrupted. Again.

Gene sighed. Again. “For those who may not be aware, kerbals are distantly related to several amphibian species on Kerbin, genetically speaking. Some of our distant relatives hibernate during winter. Their bodies are nearly frozen solid and their hearts stop beating. But they don’t die, thanks to antifreeze permeating their cells while ice forms in body cavities around their vital organs. When spring arrives, they thaw out and resume their activities. I am not an expert on the subject, but the vonKermans have been testing some ‘deep freeze’ technologies that would enable kerbals to hibernate too…”

“The crew be become… corpcicles,” Karbal asked. “Is that safe?”

“Nothing about space flight is entirely safe,” Gene admitted. “The astronauts know the risks each time they launch. But the deep freeze technology does look to be relatively safe. It is revolutionary technology, one that enables us to stretch our resources for longer duration missions. But we have even more innovations in store.

“If you look at the ship’s main engine, you’ll notice that it’s an unusual design. That’s because the vonKerman Space Agency, the mcKerman Ministry of Space, and Kerbal Space Program are all collaborating to jointly develop the NV-GX ‘Emancipator’ Atomic Rocket Motor. Before you ask, yes, the NV-GX is indeed powered by nuclear fuel. That’s why all three spacefaring nations are working together to develop it-to ensure that none of the technology would be used for atomic weapons research, which was banned by the Last War Armistice, and that we all share the technological benefits.

“While an ‘Atomic Rocket Motor’ may sound like a bomb of some sort, in truth it is more like an atomic power plant here on Kerbin. But instead of heating water and producing steam to spin generators, the NV-GX heats propellium to produce thrust. The net result is an engine that is over twice as efficient as a cryogenic engine like the KS-25B ‘Rainbird’ engines that powered the Shuttle. Next slide, please.”

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The picture changed to show Nautilus without its aft radiators and propulsion section. Additional modules adorned its docking ports including some that were clearly of vonKerman design.

“DSEV-01 is rated for up to five missions to Laythe,” Gene continued, “after which it will remain in Kerbin orbit to form the basis of KOS-2 and replace Starlab, which will be about twenty years old by then and ready to retire. Next slide, please.”

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The picture changed to another craft, this one consisting of a dart-shaped craft tipped by what looked like a modified Estonian crew capsule. A set of tanks similar to those on the Nautilus followed behind it.

“This is the Laythe Ascent Descent Vehicle, or LADV,” Gene began. “On the outbound trip it carries no crew, but it’s designed to land a crew of eight onto the surface of Laythe and return them safely. Next slide, please.

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“This is the Laythe Mission Support Vehicle, or LMSV,” Gene began. “It carries no crew, but it does carry a habitation module where the crew will spend their time while exploring Laythe. Next slide, please.

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“This is the Laythe Rover Supply Module, or LRSV. This craft consists of a drilling rig, extra supplies, and an automated rover. While we don’t expect to find much in the way of resources, the drilling rig will enable us to stretch our supplies. We intend to dock the LRSV to the Habitat to augment its capabilities. Next slide, please.

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“Finally, the Icebreaker Mining Vehicle, or IMV. The IMV is needed to produce the propellant that Nautilus will need for its return trip- though if needed it can scavenge propellant from the other vehicles.

“When the next available Jool window opens in about a year, we’ll be sending the IMV along with the LADV, LMSV and LRSV. We’re calling this space flotilla the Laythe Support Fleet. We’ll also send a Bumblebee Atmospheric Mobile Flyer, or BAMF to find a suitable location to land.

“Every Jool launch window thereafter, we’ll send a LADV, LMSV and LRSV to pre-position the equipment and resources needed to explore Laythe. They’ll become the outpost for the next mission to Laythe, or if needed, they’ll provide backup hardware should the previously sent mission craft fail. In addition, we launch Nautilus with a crew of eight.

“As you can imagine, all these vehicles are awfully expensive. The Nautilus alone, for instance, costs almost as much as a Lindor 5 launch. They would be beyond KSP’s budget to handle alone. But if you haven’t already guessed, Project Laythe is an international program like Starlab- only this time, the vonKermans are joining us along with the mcKermans…”

***

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Back in his Gene’s office, Oskar vonKerman (Director of the vonKerman Space Agency), Charles mcKerman, (head of the mcKerman Ministry of Space), joined Gene for a post-press conference debrief.

“That went well,” Charles began. He sighed. “Our planet truly has such a… Je Ne Sais Quoi feel to it like the leKermans say…”

“A hundred years, that’s all we’ve got left,” Gene lamented. “Just like the kermantians had...”

“But unlike the kermantians, we have spaceflight. We shall save as many as we can,” Oskar decreed.

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Awesome chapter, though I would like to know why you picked the Emancipator engine over the Liberator or the Poseidon. The Emancipator would essentially be spewing out radioactive death, as it's an open-cycle gas core engine. I do imagine that wouldn't fare well with the public, and you probably don't want to contaminate Laythe either.

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1 minute ago, Misguided Kerbal said:

Awesome chapter, though I would like to know why you picked the Emancipator engine over the Liberator or the Poseidon. The Emancipator would essentially be spewing out radioactive death, as it's an open-cycle gas core engine. I do imagine that wouldn't fare well with the public, and you probably don't want to contaminate Laythe either.

I figure that the exhaust velocity of the Emancipator is high enough to escape orbital velocity around Kerbin and Laythe, so it's not as much an issue as one might think. Plus, the Emancipator has very high thrust, which I need for these craft. The LADV uses cryogenic fuels so the surface of Laythe is safe. :)

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1 hour ago, Angel-125 said:

“While an ‘Atomic Rocket Motor’ may sound like a bomb of some sort, in truth it is more like an atomic power plant here on Kerbin.

Oh the poor kerbals, they haven't yet figured out the glory of the Nuclear Salt Water engine.  Not only is it like a bomb, it's like a bomb in liquid form that is constantly detonating in your engine nozzle!

1 hour ago, Angel-125 said:

"A hundred years, that’s all we’ve got left,” Gene lamented. “Just like the kermantians had...”

 Hm, we're getting some more lore here. Maybe this is why the president was so happy to divert funds to exploring Laythe...

Great looking crafts by the way! Very interested in seeing how this mission turns out.

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5 minutes ago, CDSlice said:

Oh the poor kerbals, they haven't yet figured out the glory of the Nuclear Salt Water engine.  Not only is it like a bomb, it's like a bomb in liquid form that is constantly detonating in your engine nozzle!

 Hm, we're getting some more lore here. Maybe this is why the president was so happy to divert funds to exploring Laythe...

Great looking crafts by the way! Very interested in seeing how this mission turns out.

Heh! At this point, NSWR is beyond their technology, and the open-cycle gas-core rocket is right on the edge of theory and practice. The designs are still in flux but the majority is figured out. I was originally going to go for Duna like I did in many previous saves, but I decided that for JNSQ I'd do something different. And JNSQ Laythe looks really cool...

The president looked at KSP's data, realized that Laythe might be their salvation, and indeed diverted the space agency's funds and directive to Laythe...

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JNSQ Kerbin does seem a little less lively than our stock one, now that you mention it. Also, an originally straightforward story of spaceflight eventually getting tied up with some sort of decay that threatens to wipe out the Kerbals? I’m getting reminded of First Flight.

This existential threat to the Kerbals is new in the context of your series, right?

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4 minutes ago, RyanRising said:

JNSQ Kerbin does seem a little less lively than our stock one, now that you mention it. Also, an originally straightforward story of spaceflight eventually getting tied up with some sort of decay that threatens to wipe out the Kerbals? I’m getting reminded of First Flight.

This existential threat to the Kerbals is new in the context of your series, right?

I'm not familiar with First Flight, but an existential threat is a common theme in my mission reports. This time though, I have some different ideas on the matter. :)

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Chapter 5

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Stonewell Aviation was almost eager to sell off their ailing Polecat Spaceworks Division to Orbital Dynamics when Sara negotiated the deal. It was expensive, but Scott needed their technology and expertise. As a bonus, the company took over Stonewell’s lease of Welcome Back Island and made it their company headquarters. Alyta also agreed to stay on as Vice President during Polecat’s merger with Orbital Dynamics- and possibly longer.

They quickly got to work rebuilding the infrastructure and building out the Mk-33. Scott brought in his secret weapon, a materials scientist named Matthais M. vonKerman, a recent immigrant who did his doctorate’s thesis on large composite structures. Until Scott hired him, Matthais couldn’t find a buyer for his process since metal tanks were cheaper. He had no trouble adapting his work to the Mk-33’s fuel tanks.

While Matthais worked his magic, Sara negotiated with Kerbodyne to produce a new set of KR-2200L “Velociraptor” aerospike engines. When she told them what they were for, Kerbodyne’s CEO was all too happy to produce the engines.

With the deadline for KSP’s next KOTS award approaching and with Phoenix Aerospace already testing their reusable Edna launch vehicle and their K-24-derived “Firebird” space plane, the pressure was on for the team to finish the Mk-33 and perform a demonstration spaceflight.

Scott looked at the Mk-33, newly named Skyranger, that was wheeled out of her hangar. Unlike the first time he saw the air frame, the spacecraft looked fully assembled, with its forward section now sporting a cockpit, a completed nose with RCS thrusters, a finished cargo bay, and the aft section filled out with wings, tails, linear aerospikes and jet engines.

Scott and his copilot, veteran Astronaut Mabo Kerman- who joined the company mainly to get away from Jeb- climbed the air stairs to Skyranger’s cockpit. After the stairs got out of the way, Scott and Mabo powered up the Mk-33’s fuel cells and started her four jet engines- the same J-404 “Panther” afterburning turbofans that the Space Shuttle used. As it had done many times before, Skyranger, devoid of its cryogenic propellants used for orbital flight, taxied onto Runway B. But unlike the previous taxi tests, Skyranger was about to live up to is name…

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“Skyranger, you’re cleared for takeoff,” the air traffic controller in Welcome Tower radioed.

“Thank you much,” Scott radioed back. Then he turned to Mabo. “Hit it.”

Watching from the tower as Skyranger rolled down the runway, Sara did not like that the CEO of the company was taking the risk of piloting Skyranger’s maiden flight- even if it also represented supreme confidence in their products. “The insurance on him alone is sky high,” she said to no one in particular. She knew that Scott was very much a “hands on” kerbal, but his active involvement with things better left to lower-level employees went against the traditional CEOs that she had encountered. It was his prerogative, of course. She just did not like it.

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Skyranger rotated on her main landing gear and gracefully lifted into the air. Once they flew over Welcome Harbor, Scott banked left to take a trip around the island.

As they flew around and tested various systems, Scott reflected on some troubling news from Sara. To speed up their timetable, they had to rent KSC’s Launchpad A for their flight tests. While their mobile launch platform, launch tower, and strongback were nearly finished, the problem was with the pad itself. Specifically, the demand for the pad.

Unlike Launchpad B and C, which were dedicated to SLS, pad A was the only “universal” pad available for commercial companies. Worse, with Drax Aerospace leasing VAB 2, that left only VAB 1 for other companies to share. That meant that Orbital Dynamics and Phoenix Aerospace had to compete for time slots.

And Phoenix Aerospace had won the next two available slots.

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“So much for ‘at cost’ leasing of KSC facilities,” Scott said in disgust.

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“It sounds like they got around the problem by letting companies bid for time slots while keeping the keeping the facility costs as promised,” Mabo commented. “Knowing Gene, he’ll use the extra funds to build more pads and VABs to reduce the bottleneck.”

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Scott scoffed and sighed, then maneuvered Skyranger so he could get a view outside the port windows. He could see the construction for the Mk-33’s launchpad beginning to take shape. Workers recently finished the taxiway and roads surrounding the pad as well as the pad’s foundation. They still had much more to do, but it was off to a good start. He just wished that it was farther along…

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After flying out to sea for a few kilometers, Scott turned the Skyranger around and landed back on Runway 090 before taxing the Mk-33 back into its hangar. They had more flight tests to conduct, but Skyranger’s maiden flight definitely showed that their hard work was paying off.

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  • 1 month later...

Chapter 6

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“LDV-5 is cleared to launch,” the voice of Flight Control called out over the radio. The fifth Laythe Development Vehicle stood on Launchpad A at Kerman Space Center and was the Ministry of Space’s major contribution to Project Laythe. LDV-5 was the first LDV built to fully test the Laythe Ascent/Descent Vehicle design. For this test, the vehicle had a special Boost Stage to get the vehicle up to the desired altitude and speed. To be successful, LDV-5 had to decouple the Boost Stage and land- fully fueled- at the landing zone. The vehicle had mass simulators in place of actual cryogenic propellant for this test.

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LDV-5 lifted off successfully and decoupled its Boost Stage, but it veered off course with no hope of reaching the landing zone. Worse, the lander could not lift its nose for gliding. As LDV-5 hurled towards the ground, flight controllers anxiously waited for the parachutes to deploy. Just as they resigned to watch it crash and explode, LDV-5’s chutes deployed, and the vehicle crushed its landing gear as it landed at 12.2 meters per second.

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With LDV-5 written off for scrap, engineers modified LDV-6 with new wings, an additional set of landing legs, two new sets of drag chutes and 8 new main chutes. Then they tried another launch.

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LDV-6 lifted off without incident, but when it arched over, the Boost Stage exploded! Flight Control reacted quickly, leveling off the craft as best as possible before it too nosed over. As they frantically deployed the parachutes, LDV-6 flipped tail first and landed hard like its precedessor.

Their next attempt needed a lot more work.

*

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“Mϋnraker 1, launch,” Alan Kerman, the voice of Drax Mission Control, stated simply. Aboard the Shuttle, a crew of seven, including two Drax Aerospace shuttle pilots along with Jeb, Bill, Malus, and Seanner and Sammal mcKerman two veteran scientists from the McKerman Ministry of Space, lifted off from Pad B for their flight into space. Jeb did not like being a passenger, especially on the maiden spaceflight of a Shuttle, but he had no choice since Drax Aerospace owned the vehicle and had complete control over the flight crew. It did not help that ship needed a software patch just two days ago…

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With its upgraded solid rocket boosters, Mϋnraker 1 had no trouble lifting off the pad and slamming Jeb into his seat. He tried to quell his nervousness by mentally reviewing the new ship’s specs. Its "wet-wing" tanks held fuel for the jet engines for the inevitable time when the Drax flight crew missed the entry corridor. Its 5-segment SRBs and super-lightweight external tank- developed during SLS- enabled the Block 2 Shuttle to loft 17 tonnes into orbit. And from what he heard, Drax had ambitions to make five more Mϋnraker shuttles, though he could not figure out why since they had the new cargo rockets, and four of the original Shuttles was more than enough during the SLS days.

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A minute and eighteen seconds later, the upgraded solid rocket boosters dropped away. Jeb breathed a sigh of relief. As a pilot, he did not have time to fear the things, but as a passenger, he could not help but feel anxious as they thundered and burned.  Five and a half minutes later, the former OV-205- cancelled before completion- achieved a 173km by 192km orbit. They even had an impressive 406 meters per second of delta in the tank thanks to the design changes.

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Jeb held is tongue as the flight crew let the orbiter tumble for a bit until they finally activated the digital autopilot and oriented the craft prograde. At least they got the ship upright in time to jettison the external tank. He remembered back on the very first SLS flight- the one which he commanded- the external tank dropped away and remained in orbit. It took Bill working with the Drax engineers to create a de-orbit kit to ensure that the tank re-entered the atmosphere and burned up. At least Drax kept the kit for the Block 2 Shuttle, and it performed flawlessly.

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Ten hours later, Mϋnraker 1 approached Starlab, "the space station that I helped create",  Jeb had to point out. "This is my sixth Expedition," he added. Nobody was impressed. Jeb watched painfully silent as Mϋnraker 1’s pilots wrestled the orbiter to the station’s primary Shuttle docking port. He breathed another sigh of relief when the two spacecraft finally connected.

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After the official handoff of the station, Jeb took his place in the cupola while Bill headed for the airlock and Malus and his scientists took over in the lab. The shuttle flight crew deployed their manipulator arm to grab the craft’s primary payload, but when they unlatched it, the arm failed to grab the payload’s grapple fixture!

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Bill scoffed at the flight crew’s embarrassment, quickly exited the airlock, and boarded the station’s Kerbal Maneuvering Unit. He remembered a similar problem on SLS-4, when the remote manipulator failed to latch onto the logistics module that they needed to dock with Skybase. As he did with the logistics module ten years ago, Bill chased down the wayward module and expertly docked it to Starlab.

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With the new module attached, Bill had the Shuttle crew unlatch the Pressurized Mating Adapter, and he quickly plucked it out of the payload bay. A short flight later, he had the PMA attached to the Pier module’s zenith port.

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With its primary objective complete, Mϋnraker 1 departed Starlab an hour later, wobbling off the docking port. Jeb cringed and shook his head as the orbiter backed away awkwardly, and he wrote the results down in his flight log. If Drax is going to supply their own flight crews, those youngsters have to do a much better job, he wrote in his notes.

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The de-orbit and reentry went ok, except that Mϋnraker 1 completely missed the KSC entry corridor, and the pilots’ frantic efforts to slow down left them over the water and well short of land. Fortunately, the jet engines that were originally intended just for the first few SLS test flights but kept throughout the entire program proved their worth once again. The orbiter made an emergency landing at Welcome Back Island, a feat that was always an option during SLS but never used.

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After a brief stopover and refueling, Mϋnraker 1 taxied to Runway 090, lifted off, and flew back to Kerman Space Center. The first commercial Shuttle mission came to an ignominious end.

*

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Just before dawn, Drakken 28 lifted off from the Darude Launch Complex, carrying Hanse vonKerman (PLT), Sarah vonKerman (SCI) and Jebman Kerman (ENG). It was the first time that a Kerman rode in a vonKerman spacecraft. After a nominal launch into orbit and a six-hour flight, Drakken 28 rendezvoused with Starlab! Until now, no vonKerman spacecraft had ever visited the orbiting station. Drakken 28 approached the Pressurized Mating Adapter delivered by Mϋnraker 1 and docked without issues.

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Hanse, Sarah, and Jebman met up with Jebediah in the station’s Tranquility Habitat Module and exchanged pleasantries. Jeb barely contained his distrust of the vonKermans, but at least he kept things professional. After exhausting all their topics of conversation, Sarah got to work in Starlab and met with the research team while Jebman and Hanse made their way over to the prototype Cryo Module that Mϋnraker 1 delivered. They spent several hours checking and re-checking the module before the two settled into their assigned pods.

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“See you in a year,” Jebman said as his pod closed and activated. Minutes later, his body was frozen solid moments after Hanse vonKerman had a similar experience.

*

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LDV-7 lifted off Pad A and detached its Boost Stage after its propellant ran out. Its large, redesigned wings were set well forward of its predecessors to generate lift. At last, the craft’s nose pitched up and it began to fly! LDV-7 glided towards the landing zone, pitched up, and deployed its chutes. Though it missed the landing zone, LDV-7 did manage to set down on one of the taxiways- and lost the lower-left quad of landing gear.

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With LDV-7’s survival, Arrow Space, the prime contractor, repaired the legs and modified the craft with even more chutes to survive Laythe’s thinner atmosphere. They also planned to extend the landing struts to double as emergency landing gear. Arrow’s engineers figured that the mission engineers would need to remove all the used chutes- and possibly the wings- to reach orbit after landing.

After making the repairs and modifications, LDV-7 again sat on Pad A- this time on its own legs and with a full propellant load. For this test, the craft had to launch into sub orbit and test its thermal protection system.

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It launched to a height of 104km before burning out its propellant. After biting through the atmosphere, it made a turn for Desert Isle, a small island east of Welcome Back Island. Flight Control did not expect to land LDV-7 on the island, but devoid of propellants, it did splashdown safely offshore.

*

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Designed and used since the early days of the Space Race, the venerable Drakken spacecraft was showing its age. Only capable of flying a crew of 3 and requiring a fleet of rescue and retrieval vehicles in an age where reusable shuttles reigned supreme brought criticism to the vonKermans. Critics both in and out of the vonKerman Republic claimed that their spacecraft were old and obsolete and making the country look bad. But with their limited budget and a desire to keep crew and cargo launches separate, they never had the means or desire to develop their own reusable spaceplane. Until now.

Perched atop a fresh Fleigenross (“Flying Steed”) second stage that was about to be boosted by a veteran first stage and well used boosters, the vonKermans’ new Kallisto space plane was ready to fly. At about the size of the K-24 Kerbal Return Vehicle, Kallisto was far smaller than the Shuttle Launch System orbiter. And while it lacked the cargo capacity of the Kerman States’ craft, it had the same crew capacity. On this flight, however, Kallisto carried no crew.

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The Fleigenross easily lifted off the pad and quickly built speed. A couple of minutes later, the spent boosters rocket away as they have done many times before and parachuted to a safe landing. Several minutes after that, the core stage dropped away and began its preparations for landing. Finally, the upper stage completed its 147.07 km by 152.17 km parking orbit with 1,243 m/sec of delta-v remaining. It seemed like overkill, but the vonKermans wanted the ability to match planes with either Drakken Palast or the Kerman States’ Starlab at any point in their orbits.

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The upper stage then performed the plane change maneuver for Drakken Palast before separating from the small orbiter and performing its deorbit burn. A day later, Kallisto made its rendezvous burns and docked with Drakken Palast. Rudolf vonKerman, the current station commander, took a tour of Kallisto and perform system checks before re-sealing the inner hatches.

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A week later, Kallisto concluded its Orbital Soak Test and departed Drakken Palast. Still flying on automatic, the orbiter lined up with Darude Launch Complex and lit its orbital maneuvering engine. It completely missed the entry corridor, going subsonic a good 247km away from Darude. Calculations showed that the orbiter lacked sufficient range to reach the launch complex, so Kallisto flew as close as she could before making an emergency landing in the arid lowlands.

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An old vonKerman Air Force tanker flew out to Kallisto not long after, landed, and refueled the space plane. Afterwards, with the orbiter’s autopilot re-engaged, Kallisto lifted off of the desert floor and flew the remaining distance to the space center, bouncing on landing but finally settling down safely and rolling to a stop. Once they perfected their landing techniques, the Drakken spacecraft would at last be retired.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 7

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“Is it me or do the Kerman Segment modules appear darker than before,” Bill asked as he stepped outside. He looked at the MMOD panels on Starlab and Magellan. They appeared to be gray instead of off white. He could have sworn they were off white.

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“Hadn’t noticed,” Jeb radioed from the cupola. It still had its white thermal blankets. KSP’s chief engineer could not shake the feeling that the station looked different. Structurally everything was the same as he remembered, but the modules just didn't look right. Bill distracted himself by flying over to the aft end of the station. A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Space launched their Automated Science Vehicle to the Mϋn, ran a bunch of experiments, and returned it to Kerbin orbit. It failed to reach Starlab when it ran out of propellant, so the mcKermans re-tasked an Automated Transfer Vehicle to rescue the ASV and tow it to the station. Bill’s job was to retrofit the ASV for its trip to Minmus.

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After prying open the ATV’s forward cargo hold, Bill got to work installing a ladder so that he had something to hold onto while working. Next, he installed the ASV’s new batteries to give it enough electric charge to transmit its results. Finally, he installed the Magellan’s new storage tanks and then reconfigured the ATV’s cargo hold by expanding its fuel bladder.

“I could swear this hatch was white before,” Bill mumbled to himself as he jetted over to the Magellan's Quantum Leap airlock and climbed inside.

*

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A few days later, the ASV/ATV craft undocked from Starlab and boosted for Minmus. Then the Ministry of Space launched another ATV. This one had an experiment storage unit for the Magellan as well as additional resources to reconfigure the spacecraft. After docking to the station, Bill reconfigured Magellan’s aft cabin into a science lab and filled the ship’s new storage tanks with minerite and nitronite for the life support recyclers. And after attaching the new science container, he headed back inside. Not long after, the ATV disembarked from Starlab and deorbited.

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Over the next week, the Ministry of Space launched a pair of expendable tankers towards Minmus as well. With the science and support craft on their way, Ribler mcKerman (PLT), Diltrey mcKerman (ENG), Glesby mcKerman (SCI), and Bob Kerman (SCI) boarded a Mk2 Arrow Crew Vehicle for their ride into orbit.

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Five hours later, the ACV arrived at Starlab, where Jeb, Bill, Bob, and Ribler caught up while Diltrey and Glesby worked through the Magellan's preflight checklists. During his EVA walk-around, Diltrey quietly installed some fuel cells that he smuggled aboard the ACV at Bill’s suggestion.

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With everything checked out, the Magellan departed Starlab and burned for Minmus an hour later.

*

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After more than a week of travel, the ASV/ATV crossed over to Minmus’ sphere of influence and conducted several experiments. After storing one set for further analysis, the probe transmitted another set home thanks to its new batteries. Then three hours later, the probe slowed down enough to circularize its orbit.

Fourteen minutes later, the first tanker crossed into Minmus’ SOI and scheduled its circularization burn. Four hours after that, the second tanker arrived. They took turns circularizing as the ASV/ATV probe adjusted its inclination, dropped off the ATV, and headed for low Minmus orbit.

Magellan still had another day’s travel to go…

*

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A day later, the Magellan arrived in orbit and had just enough propellant to attain a 29.9km by 32.6km orbit. Over the course of two days, the expendable tankers rendezvoused with the Mϋnar Shuttle Module, docked, and transferred fuel before undocking and deorbiting. Diltrey also took the time to “borrow” a clamp0-tron junior port and install it over the lab’s experiment hatch. After some clever welding and rewiring in the lab, the engineer enabled the port to receive experiments and supplies. With the ship modified and secure, Magellan received the Arrow Science Vehicle. It docked to the newly installed port and Bob transferred its scientific data into the lab for detailed analysis. At last, they were open for business.

*

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With their extended mission supplies docked to the ship, the crew prepped the Sea Duck Mϋnar Surface Access Module for its trip to the surface. Having landed on Minmus over a decade ago during Munflight 2 and the Mϋn on Munflight 5, Bob elected to stay behind and continue his research while Ribler, Diltrey, and Glesby boarded the MSAM. An hour and a half later, they were safely on the ground. It was the first time that an all-mcKerman crew landed on Minmus.

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After receiving clearance from the vonKermans- with certain conditions- the crew landed near Brown Basins Base; the first outpost established on Minmus. Landed during the Space Race, Drakken Outpost had many other firsts including the site of the first hopper test- built on Minmus out of scavenged parts- and the discovery of “space stress” due to long-term habitation in an enclosed space in microgravity. Ribler, Diltrey, and Glesby respectably kept their distance from the historic outpost and took pictures before taking surface samples and EVA reports and lifting off again for the Highlands. After repeating the process, Sea Duck launched into orbit and returned to the Magellan.

Bob was delighted at the new science to analyze.

*

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As they did for Magellan’s ongoing mission, the Ministry of Space had been launching tankers for many years and pushing the performance of the Arrow 4 to its very edge. Today though, they were about to test their new Arrow 5 launch vehicle. Taking advantage of its location on the equator and fed up with Kerbal Konstructs continually closing bases, the Arrow 5 rolled out of KSC’s VAB and onto Pad A for its maiden flight. Like the commercial companies, the Ministry of Space had to bid for VAB time, but they had their own pad and integration building at KSC under construction, so their situation was only temporary.

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The Arrow 5 entered a 121.8km by 134.4km orbit after a successful launch. The Arrow Space Corporation took extensive notes of the new vehicle’s performance, including adding a decoupler and set of parachutes to the first stage so that they could recover the expensive engines, and adding a probe core to the upper stage so that it could automatically deorbit as well. For this flight, however, they needed all the delta-v that they could get- the payload was headed to the Mϋn.

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Once the upper stage burned out and dropped away, the payload, known as an Ore Carrier, ignited its own engines and continued its journey to Kerbin’s nearest natural satellite. Three days later, it arrived in low orbit and waited. Not wanting to risk its propellant margins, the Ministry of Space launched another ATV workhorse atop an Arrow 4 Heavy vehicle and aimed it for the Mϋn. It refueled the Ore Carrier four days later, but the lander had to wait another week for its landing site to enter sunlight.

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It landed right next to Billstown and began drilling for ore.

*

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A month later, Magellan’s resupply ATV arrived in Minmus orbit, carrying fresh air, research kits, and a host of scientific sensors that a certain player KSP wished that they had added to the Mϋnar Shuttle Module during her refit, but stupidly forgot weren’t ready in time. With the resupply, the mission’s limiting factor became snacks; Magellan’s crew had another 110 days of life support before they had to receive another resupply or return home.

With the supplies transferred, Diltrey got to work installing the ship’s new science instruments. Most of them went to the Sea Duck, but a few were attached to the lab module. There wasn’t much else to do except to continue with their scientific research, but they had a test flight for the refit Sea Duck scheduled in a few days.

*

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Finally, after weeks of drilling and refueling, the Ore Carrier gathered up enough ore for research, decoupled its drilling rig, and lumbered into orbit where it was met by an awaiting ATV. Some careful maneuvering and four days later, the spacecraft entered low Kerbin orbit and docked with Starlab within a few hours. After the station crew transferred the ore to the station’s recently emptied Permanent Logistics Module, the Ore Carrier completed its mission by undocking and deorbiting.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 8

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“Three, two, one, Fire!” Phoenix Aerospace Mission Control expected Firebird to leap into the sky as the abort motors ignited. Instead, the motors fired, and the craft toppled over. By sheer luck, the space plane suffered little damage, but the prototype service module was ruined. The accident investigation board quickly determined that a software error ignited the engines in OMS mode instead of abort mode, which resulted in a significant under-thrust.

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A month later, Phoenix Aerospace tried again. This time, the vehicle rocketed into the sky and then dropped its service module as expected. The vehicle tried to start its jet engines but they were starved for fuel due to another software issue. PA Mission Control took manual control and unlocked the fuel lines. The engines finally started, but Firebird nearly hit the ground as it built up speed. In the nick of time, the craft pulled up and gained altitude.

After circling around the nearly completed Ministry of Space’s VIB and pad, Firebird touched down on the runway.

KSP was not impressed.

*

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“Skyranger, you’re cleared for takeoff,” the Welcome Island air traffic controller radioed. Mabo thanked the controller while Scott shoved the throttles forward. Skyranger lumbered down the runway and achieved takeoff speed. For this flight, its central propellant tanks held additional fuel for the flight, and given the additional weight, they had to use the afterburner mode. The Mk-33 had more than enough fuel for the flight, but Orbital Dynamics was not taking any chances with theirflagship.

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Twenty minutes later, Skyranger landed at Kerbal Space Center- formerly Kerman Space Center, renamed to reflect its use by international partners. The longer flight showed Scott that the Mk-33 needed more adjustments, but they had time before their first demonstration flight.

*

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Over at Pad B, after Skyranger taxied into its rented hangar, Drax Aerospace took care to prepare Shuttle-C’s first operational launch. Everything on the vehicle was new except for the propulsion module. It was refurbished from the demonstration flight. Shuttle-C launched into the sky without issue until it tried to circularize. The craft burned propellant from the payload instead of the propulsion module, but Shuttle-C nonetheless attained a 225.2km by 85.6km orbit. Mission Control quickly traced the problem to an enabled resource transfer valve and disabled it after refueling the payload. Additionally, the propulsion module’s aerocone failed to jettison, but Drax Aerospace was already working the problem for future flights.

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Shuttle-C stayed up less than an orbit before initiating its de-orbit burn with the payload in hand. That was deliberate though. KSP wanted to test the re-entry properties of the payload. After rolling upright, the propulsion module finally jettisoned its aerocone in preparation for landing. Then, the module separated from the external tank and shed its fairing adapter, leaving the payload to its fate.

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About a minute before atmospheric entry, the payload detached from the external tank to let it burn up upon reentry. Not long after, the payload, a prototype Laythe Mission Support Vehicle, reentered Kerbin’s atmosphere. Sadly though, the LMSV’s payload fairing could not take the heat- literally. The LMSV broke up as the reentry plasma burned through the fairing before tearing the landing craft apart.

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Gene sighed. “Well, that settles that,” he said simply. “But this is why we test.”

“As I tried to warn Kongress, repurposing the Duna architecture for Laythe would be problematic. Now maybe they’ll listen. We need to completely redesign the base’s architecture.”

“That’s going to be expensive,” Gene lamented.

*

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With their current timeslot on Pad A nearing an end, Phoenix Aerospace rushed to make repairs and mate Firebird to their third and final pad abort service module. If they failed their pad abort test, they would have to forfeit their next available timeslot- to Orbital Dynamics.

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As before, Firebird rocketed off the test stand, but this time, it immediately unlocked its fuel lines and started up its jet engines. The move proved successful; Firebird immediately took flight, flew past the new launch facilities, made its turn, and landed safely on the runway before taxiing to its hangar.

*

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Weeks later, Wernher vonKerman displayed a slide on Gene’s office monitor. It looked like a large can with wheels.

“Laythe Habitat Module,” Gene read aloud.

Wernher nodded. “Since we can’t safely land the Laythe Mission Support Vehicle, we had to redesign it,” he began. “This is the result. It’s smaller and more compact, but it’s mobile and can dock with similar modules. The chassis consists of a standardize frame with retractable wheels to allow the module to rest on the ground, and a storage node with four mini airlocks that are equipped with docking ports to allow for base expansion. The habitat section is modular to allow us to make a laboratory, central meeting area, and greenhouse module out of the same basic design, with storage and support modules possible as well.”

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Wernher switched to the next slide. It was labeled LHM Descent Hardware. “Thanks to the vonKermans, the new Entry, Descent, and Landing system consists of an inflatable heat shield that expands out to 10 meters. The module also has a ‘skycrane’ on top with rockets to provide powered landings. It is also equipped with parachutes to slow its descent.”

“Why the ‘CoM propellant tanks’,” Gene asked.

Wernher smiled. “They help stabilize the module as it enters the atmosphere and ensures that the heat shield stays pointed retrograde. Once the shield is no longer needed, we transfer the propellant to the skycrane and jettison the tanks along with the shield.”

Gene nodded approvingly. “I like it,” he said. “Do you have a cost estimate for the redesign?”

Werner handed him a stack of papers. The top sheet had the full cost.

Gene shook his head and sighed. “Kongress is not going to like this,” he said simply.

*

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As part of their safety improvements, Phoenix Aerospace added additional abort motors to their service module so that Firebird would gain additional speed and altitude in the event of a pad abort. They also added a drag chute to help the craft slow down after landing. That satisfied KSP for the early and late flight regimes, but they wanted to see how the vehicle performed during an in-flight abort. So, Phoenix Aerospace fitted Firebird to an Edna booster with a simulated upper stage, and rolled it out to Pad A.

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The rocket launched without any issues, and as planned, the abort system fired mid-flight. Firebird safely rocketed away from the booster and then detached its service module. After reaching an altitude of 99.2km, the space plane plummeted back towards the ground. Firebird then recovered from the plasma blackout, nosed up at an altitude of 5.6km, started its jet engines, and turned towards Welcome Back Island.

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A few minutes later, Firebird made a high-speed landing on runway 27, deployed its drag chute, and rolled to a stop.

*

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In the late afternoon, Scott and Sara drove out to Pad A to see their pride and joy sitting on its launch pedestal. He still could not help but notice Sara’s hair. “I have been too busy to dye it,” she mentioned earlier. Sporting one of Orbital Dynamics’ new flight suits, Scott stepped out of the borrowed van ahead of Sara, and the two took the elevators to the top of the launch tower. They reached the top and gazed out at Skyranger as the Mk-33 patiently awaited launch. He desperately wanted to be aboard the ship’s first flight into space, but the board of directors more than hinted that they would resign if he did. Plus, the craft’s life support systems were not yet installed. He sighed and made his way back to the tower and down the elevators. Scott and Sara took one last look at Skyranger before heading back to their guest office.

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The next day, Launch Control cleared the Mk-33 for launch.

“APU Start, Skyranger is on internal power,” Diller Kerman, KSP’s commentator stated. “The crew access arm has begun to retract… the arm is fully retracted.

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"T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, main engine start, 3, 2, 1, and liftoff! Liftoff of the Mk-33 Skyranger on her first sub-orbital flight into space!”

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Skyranger lifted off the pad, leaped into the sky, and then rolled to its launch azimuth. Seconds later, the spacecraft broke through the clouds as it angled towards Welcome Back Island.

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“MECO,” Frobert Kerman, the voice of Orbital Dynamics Mission Control, announced. Scott could hear cheering on the live link to ODMC. “Telementry confirms an apoapsis of 90.68 kilometers.”

Scott read the mission plan for the umpteenth time. Everything was going according to plan.

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“Vehicle has rolled upright for atmospheric entry… Apoapsis reached… 30 seconds to reentry… Vehicle has reached the upper atmosphere… Vehicle has dropped below 10,000 meters… Unused propellant has been jettisoned over water… Successful jet engine start, all four Panthers are operating nominally…

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”Vehicle is turning back towards Welcome Back Island…

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"She’s lining up on Runway 27 Right… Engines throttled down for landing… gear down and locked… On final approach… Touchdown! And wheels stop. Skyranger has completed her first suborbital flight!”

They did it! Orbital Dynamics turned a forgotten and incomplete spaceframe into a fully functioning launch vehicle. Scott heard the cheering from ODMC. He joined them.

*

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A few days later, after clearing the Mk-33 launch platform out of the way, KSC rolled out Phoenix Aerospace’s Edna launch vehicle, with Firebird perched on top. With its fuel cell started and access arms retracted, Edna lit its engines and launched into the sky. Its flight control system had some issues, but it quickly corrected and continued climbing. Not long after, the side boosters dropped away and the launch stack continued its flight. After the core stage dropped away, the second stage brought Firebird to near-orbital velocity and left its service module to finish the job. It settled into a 148.3km by 152.6km parking orbit.

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Eleven hours later, Firebird made a transfer burn, followed by a course correction burn, that placed it on an intercept course with Starlab. Then after another twenty minutes, Firebird successfully docked with the Kerbin Orbital Station. It marked the first time that two K-20-derived vehicles had docked at Starlab.

“It pays to use products derived from proven technology,” Phil Kerman, CEO of Phoenix Aerospace declared.

*

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“As you know,” Gene Kerman began, “our Kerbin Orbital Transportation Services contracts were created to open up cisminmar space to commercial companies, and it has worked out well. We have three promising candidates including Drax Aerospace- the makers of the original Shuttle Launch System and its commercial derivative. And we have Phoenix Aerospace, who licensed our Edna launch vehicle- developed during the early days of the Space Age- but modernized by them to carry their K-24-derived Firebird spaceplane, which recently docked to Starlab. And finally, we have Orbital Dynamics, whose revolutionary Mk-33 Skyranger recently concluded a sub-orbital test flight and is poised to make its first orbital flight.

“All three companies have benefited from our funding, technical consultation, and support, but sadly, today It is time to downselect the companies that will continue receiving KSP’s funding for KOTS Phase 2.”

Gene paused, more because his heart sank than for dramatic effect. 

“After careful consideration, the KOTS Phase Two contracts are awarded to…“

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Scott muted the sound. He already knew the outcome. Gene called him earlier in the day. He sighed. Without a source of income, Orbital Dynamics would not last long.

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“At least you’ve got your ride into space,” Sara said solemnly. "It'll be ready for crew soon."

 “It isn’t over yet,” Scott said determinedly.

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4 hours ago, Misguided Kerbal said:

Hmm... I thought the KSC would select Orbital Dynamics. It definitely has more potential than Phoenix Aerospace.

They do, but the KOTS Review Board took the safer route by sticking with known technologies like Drax and Phoenix Aerospace. They're essentially commercialized versions of technology developed by the space agency while the Mk-33 is all new. But like Scott said, it isn't over yet...

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 9

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The ground crew rolled Skyranger out to the pad, attached the winch cables, and winched it up the ramp. Then they backed it onto the strongback and bolted it to the structure. Once satisfied, they rotated the Mk-33 vertical and swiveled the crew access arm into place. Skyranger was ready to fly...

*

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“Perfect, guys,” Fabner Kerman, the Community Manager for Orbital Dynamics, said. “Now, let’s get a shot of you with your helmets on.”

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Scott, Mabo, and Frolie- another veteran astronaut recruited from KSP, who flew 8 Shuttle flights- put their flight helmets on and stopped fidgeting long enough for Fabner to take more pictures.

“Great. Now let’s get a shot of you guys heading to the elevator.”

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Scott sighed, but he listened to his publicist and wrangled the crew over to the elevator. This was a momentous occasion. The trio crowded in and waited for Fabner to do his thing before they rode the elevator to the top. Then they posed once more at the top of the launch tower before Fabner scurried down the crew access arm to get shots of the flight crew as the walked the corridor. But once Scott, Mabo, and Frolie climbed inside and closed the hatch, Fabner packed up and headed back down.

*

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An hour later, as Skyranger went through its automated pre-flight checklist, the Mk-33’s propellant tanks completed filling. With everything flight ready, the countdown clock resumed, and at T-0, Skyranger lifted off the pad. The launch went flawlessly; the Mk-33 gradually arched over, gaining both altitude and speed. As planned, MECO 1 happened six minutes later, at an altitude of 92.3km. As they coasted up to orbital altitude, Scott switched the Velociraptors over to orbital mode to reduce thrust and conserve propellant. Two and a half minutes later, Skyranger entered a 200.3km by 219.6km orbit.

“Wow,” was all Scott could manage as he took it all in. All their hard work paid off. He was in orbit!

“Welcome to space,” Mabo said. She and Frolie knew exactly how he felt. Off in the distance they could see the Mϋn. Someday, she hoped to go there… “Rolling upright,” she said, “Frolie, open the cargo bay doors.”

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“Doors coming open,” Frolie answered as Skyranger rolled over. The payload bay lights that they’d installed turned on, illuminating the bay and its contents. The front had an airlock based in part on the Shuttle’s while the back had a combination mass simulator and technology demonstration satellite. They hoped to use the technology for custom satellites- if they could make the company profitable.

“When we swing back around to the dayside, we have a delta-v burn 102.4 meters per second,” Mabo said. “That’ll align us with Starlab.” While Skyranger was not cleared to approach and dock with the Kerbin Orbital Station, they were still practicing as if they could. Plus, it let them perform additional tests on the Mk-33.

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At orbital dawn, Scott tapped the RCS thrusters to slew Skyranger to port in preparation for their orbital maneuver. A few minutes later, the spacecraft performed its alignment burn. Mabo checked the numbers. “Nicely done, Scott,” she commended.

“Thanks, skipper,” Scott responded, “I-“

“Skyranger, Flight,” Frobert Kerman, the voice of Orbital Dynamics’ Mission Control radioed. “Gene Kerman is calling. He’d like to speak with you.”

Mabo smiled. “She’s your ship, you have the controls,” she quickly said.

Scott looks surprised. “Uh, sure, uh, copy that, Flight,” he answered. They switched places just before the call.

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“Hello Skyranger,” Gene began a few seconds later, “Greetings from Kerbal Space Center. I just wanted to call and congratulate you on your achievement. Orbital Dynamics has worked awfully hard to bring your Mk-33 to life, and it’s paid off. Skyranger is a revolutionary step for spaceflight. Single-stage to orbit is an amazing feat! And as you orbit over KSC, I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been…” The crew could hear the sadness in his voice. “…But there’s no telling what opportunities will present themselves to Orbital Dynamics in the future…” Scott looked to Mabo, who gave him a puzzled look. “Anyway, congratulations on achieving orbit, Skyranger, well done,” Gene concluded.

“Thanks, Gene,” Scott radioed back, “Uh, on behalf of the crew, we appreciate your call and, uh, words of encouragement. So, uh, does this mean we’re cleared for our orbital rendezvous?” He already knew the answer, but he wanted to record the response for posterity.

“Uh… that’s affirmative, Skyranger,” Gene responded, a bit confused. “We uh, look forward to what you find. Fly safe,” Gene said as he signed off.

Scott turned his head to change a setting, and suddenly the world spun.

*

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On Flight Day 2, Scott was still feeling spacesick. “It happens to everybody at some point,” Mabo consoled. “I was fine for my first three flights, then on SLS-21, I lost it. I was sick for three days. Eventually though, you get used to it if you fly enough.”

He tried not to think about it, but every now and then he felt vertigo and nausea. He kept his spacesickness bag nearby just in case. “I’ll take your word for it,” he croaked. “Ugh. It’s worth it though, the view is amazing.”

Mabo smiled. “Yeah… If you keep your eyes on the horizon and watch the world go by, it’ll help.”

Scott nodded, taking in the advice. “I take it we’re not going to rendezvous today,” he said, trying to distract himself.

Mabo shook her head. “Nope, Flight wants to wait a day and give you time to recover. We swapped tasks with Flight Day 3…”

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As Scott recuperated, Frolie got to work by powering up and unlocking the ship’s Kerboarm 3. Based on a combination of the Shuttle’s original Kerboarm and KOS’ Kerboarm 2, Kerboarm 3 was a commercial variant of the famous robot arm that offered the same functionality. It could grapple with payloads and satellites in orbit via its end effector, but like Kerboarm 2, it also had a magnetic locking mechanism for those times when targets had no Power Data Grapple Fixtures.

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For this test, Frolie grabbed DemoSat 1, plucked it from Skyranger’s payload bay, and deployed it in orbit without any issues. Then he stowed the arm, satisfied that it operated properly. Orbital Dynamics’ Mission Control then took command of the satellite as it sailed away. It had several days of tests ahead of it before being deorbited.

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With DemoSat 1 deployed, Mabo checked the rendezvous data for their target and elected to increase their orbital altitude by 100km to reduce the time to intercept. That worked well; they had a rendezvous burn in half a day.

*

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On Flight Day 3, Scott still felt nausea, but the spacesickness medications were improving his situation. He paid attention to Mabo’s directions as she shared her experience with rendezvous and docking. His company was lucky to have hired her before Drax Aerospace could. Offering her command of the Mk-33’s first crewed flight certainly helped- especially since she never had a chance to command a Shuttle flight.

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After some additional maneuvers, Skyranger met up with their target- the External Tank launched into orbit nearly a decade ago on SLS-5. During the mission, the tank’s deorbit kit- the first of its kind- lacked the delta-v that it needed to push the tank into the atmosphere and burn up.

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As a favor to KSP- and to give them practice- Orbital Dynamics agreed to rendezvous with the tank and photograph it to determine how well the structure faired during its years-long stay in orbit. While Frolie snapped pictures, Mabo expertly flew around the tank and Scott called out the ranges. After a while she let Scott handle the maneuvers to get some practice.

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“It looks like it’s held up pretty well,” Scott said after they had completed their survey and began slowly backing away.

“Yeah,” Frolie agreed. “Too bad we can’t deorbit it. Kerbin orbit has accumulated a lot of spent stages and other space junk ever since the start of the Space Age. Many of them share a similar orbital plane to Starlab. Mulch, even the old Skybase hasn’t been deorbited yet... Sooner or later, all that junk is going to become a navigational hazard.”

“Yeah,” Scott said absentmindedly. He kept gazing out the window. “Kerbin looks… fragile, from up here,” he said simply.

For a short while, he forgot about his nausea.

*

On Flight Day 4, Scott nearly had his spacesickness under control- just in time for Skyranger to head home. As the Mk-33 automatically ran through its deorbit checklist, the CEO-astronaut thought about the future of his company. With both Drax Aerospace and Phoenix Aerospace handling resupply of Starlab, they had to look outside of KOTS to find work. But what would turn a profit? Specifically, was there a business in cleaning up low Kerbin orbit? He was not sure, but it was worth a look.

He also thought about the Magellan and its ongoing mission in Minmus orbit. The Ministry of Space sent several expendable tankers into both Kerbin and Minmus orbit to refuel the ship, and he figured that it cost the mcKermans a large amount of Funds. Could Orbital Dynamics convince them (well, KSP, since they owned the Mϋnar Shuttle that the Ministry of Space was borrowing) to ship propellant into orbit aboard Skyranger instead of on expendable rockets? Again, Scott did not know.

Unfortunately, he was out of time to brainstorm. Skyranger’s computer finished its checklist, and Mabo directed him to close the payload bay doors and plot the deorbit burn. A short time later, they were headed back home.

As part of the Entry, Descent, and Landing procedures, Scott shifted the remaining propellant to the central tanks to balance the craft. With the vehicle reconfigured, they were ready to land.

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“Atmospheric entry in 3, 2, 1,” Mabo called out. Skyranger flew through its reentry corridor, keeping a 5-degree glide scope- a far cry from the 40-degree angle of the Shuttle. A few minutes later, the Mk-33 was passing through 1,100 m/sec and 16km above Welcome Back Island- right on target. At 10 kilometers altitude and 40 kilometers out from Welcome Back Airfield, Scott banked back towards the island and air-started the Panther jets.

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After cruising for a couple of minutes and flying over the shore of Welcome Back Island, Scott handed the controls back over to Mabo for the final approach and landing. She lined up with Runway 27 Left. “Gear down and locked,” she said. The Mk-33 touched down gently a few seconds later and rolled to a stop near Mission Control. “Wheels stop,” she called out triumphantly.

“Welcome home, Skyranger,” Frobert Kerman, the voice of Mission Control, announced over the radio. “Well done!”

“Much obliged,” Mabo responded. “It’s good to be back.”

Once Welcome Tower cleared them to taxi, Scott nudged the throttles forward and made a u-turn to head back to Hangar 4- Skyranger’s home. Once parked, he and Mabo shutdown the engines and closed out the Mk-33, readying it for the ground crew.

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As they exited the vehicle and walked down the air stairs, they were greeted by a growing crowd- including veteran KSP astronauts Dudmon Kerman and Chief of The Astronaut Corps Valentina Kerman. They cheered and congratulated the flight crew for their groundbreaking flight.

*

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As Scott exited the main building after the crew’s debriefing, he was met by a kerbal wearing a rodeo hat and sporting a VIP visitor’s pass along with his escort employee. “Hey, Scott, congratulations on your successful flight,” the visitor said with a drawl. “That’s quite a feat!”

“Thanks,” Scott said warily. After several days in space, he was again feeling spacesick- on the ground- and had trouble walking. “Uh…”

“Tito. Tito D. Kerman.”

“Tito. Nice to meet you. I hate to be rude, but it’s been a long day…”

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“Say no more, Scott. But before you go, I want to hire your company.”

Scott looked both confused and surprised. “Uh, hire us? You want something flown into orbit?”

“Yeah,” Tito said excitedly. “Me.”

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