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JNSQ: Commercial Space Ventures - Chapter 20


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Chapter 10




Scott jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. A couple of seconds later, he pulled the ripcords to deploy his parachute. As the droning of the plane’s prop-rotors faded in the distance, he enjoyed the feel of the wind on his face as he soared in the sky.


Scott thought about Tito’s proposal to pay for a ride into orbit as he pulled the risers and shifted his body weight to control his direction. Space tourism was not something that he had thought of, but it made sense! If they could get enough paying customers and things for them to do, then they could keep the company going and fund their long-term goals.

Tito wanted to fly to Starlab, but KSP expressly forbid any companies outside of KOTS contracts from visiting the station, citing safely reasons. Scott understood the policy, but it ignored the fact that he had several former KSP astronauts on staff, and some were experienced pilots who had docked Shuttles to the station.



Scott made a last-minute course correction and then flared right before landing on one of the old missile test platforms that were converted into landing pads. At this point, only Phoenix Aerospace used them- for a small fee. He gathered up his chute and paused in thought. He either needed to build a space station of his own, or- Scott made a phone call.

“Hey, Sara, it’s Scott. I’m fine, thanks, I just landed. How are you? … Good to hear. Um, so, uh, the reason I called is, that KSC used to have some old hardware called a Logistics Adapter Module, and I’m wondering if our Corporate Relations team can see if it’s still around. If it is, and KSP will agree to what I want to do with it, then I have an idea that we can propose to Tito…”






After a little over four weeks in orbit, Firebird undocked from Starlab and prepared to deorbit. After it plotted its burn and ignited its motors, Firebird began to slow down- and narrowly missed the Kerbin Orbiting Station in the process. Twelve minutes later, the K-24-derived orbiter jettisoned its service module and then hit the atmosphere. As expected, Ground Control lost contact with Firebird at 51km altitude due to plasma blackout. Phoenix Aerospace regained control of the vehicle at 30km, but the orbiter overshot the landing corridor by a wide margin.



Fortunately, it was still within ferry range, so Firebird started its jet engines and flew the 80km back to KSC. It landed safely, deployed its drag chute, and rolled to a stop, but KSP was not happy about the near miss at Starlab.





The ground crew drove out to the new payload crane and brought the surplus Logistics Adapter Module from KSC. After some wrangling, they managed to attach the winch cables to the LAM and hoist it into the air. Then Skyranger, fresh from being refurbished, rolled under the crane and opened its payload bay doors. Next the ground crew rotated the walkways in place, extended their ladders, and then lowered the LAM into Skyranger’s hold. Lastly, they removed the payload’s attachment points, retracted all the cables and walkways, closed the Mk-33’s payload bay doors, and rolled the vehicle out from under the crane.

Engineers took notes on how well the process worked and what needed changing. They hoped to have a quick turnaround between missions, but they were not quite there yet. The crane needed additional work- possibly even a redesign, for instance…





Later that afternoon, with the payload crew’s job done, the pad crew got to work and towed Skyranger to the launchpad, hauled it into position, hooked it up to the strongback, and rotated it vertical. With her propellant loading underway, she would be ready to fly by morning…



By mid-morning, the pad crew finished pre-launch preparations and the flight crew drove out to the pad. Once again, Mabo (CDR), Scott (PLT), and Frolie (ENG) comprised the crew, but Tito Kerman (TST) joined them for the flight. Once the camera crew finished taking their pictures, the flight crew got on with the business of boarding Skyranger and running through their checklists. Before long, the countdown clock reached zero.



“Yeeeeeehaawww,” Tito yelled as Skyranger lifted off the pad. Scott smiled. He knew exactly how the world’s first space tourist felt. The launch went smoothly, with the Mk-33 ending up in a 167.8km by 169.0km orbit. Scott was glad that he had a light brunch; he felt queasy. He kept a spacesickness bag nearby, just in case.

With Skyranger secure in orbit, Scott ran through the checklist for orbital configuration, including switching the mains over to orbital thrust and shutting them down until needed for orbital maneuvers, opening the cargo bay doors, turning on the bay lights, and so on. Normally the Commander directed the crew through these tasks, but Mabo was following a time-honored tradition of giving Shuttle pilots command experience before they became Commanders themselves. Scott may be the CEO of Orbital Dynamics, but on a spaceflight, he had to perform the role that he was assigned.

As they swung around to orbital dawn, Scott executed a plane change burn to align the Mk-33 with their target. Once aligned, he plotted an intercept burn and finally found a point in space about 4 hours away. That gave plenty of time to check in with Tito…



“Ah am loving it! I can do this all day,” Tito boomed. “Wow, we’re really orbiting Kerbin! OOOO Wee! Look There! That’s Kerbal Space Center! Look at how fast we’re zooming by! I can see why all y’all love coming up here! I-” There was a loud bang that made Tito freeze with fear. “WHAT WAS THAT!?”

“That’s just a short burst from the RCS thruster, uh, Reaction Control System,” Mabo said calmly. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Uh, ok,” Tito said nervously, “if you say so… Uh, can you warn me next time?”

“Sure thing,” Mabo said and smiled.



A couple of startling RCS bursts later, Skyranger reoriented herself for the next maneuver. The crew took the time to share a meal, relieve themselves, and generally relaxed while they waited. Both Tito and Scott could not help but gaze out the windows. The time passed so quickly, it felt like just a few seconds, but soon after Skyranger executed a perfect velocity change to intercept their target. They had an encounter a half-hour later, at night, which was only right and proper. Scott kept their distance while Skyranger and her quarry orbited towards the sunlight, then held position less than 100 meters away from the craft.

“There it is, nicely done, Scott,” Mabo praised. “Ok, I’ll take it from here.”

“Thanks! You have the spacecraft,” Scott answered.

“I have the spacecraft,” Mabo confirmed.

“Weren’t y’all here back on SLS-7,” Tito asked.

“I was,” Mabo responded. “Maiden flight of Spirt, and the last Shuttle flight to SkyBase. And it was my first Shuttle flight. I guess unofficially, this makes us the SkyBase 9 mission… Anyway, Frolie beat me to space by one flight. Speaking of, you’re up, Frolie.”

Frolie powered up and unlocked the KerboArm and began a systems check. It started rotating at the shoulder. They quickly hear grinding noises, and the arm immediately locked itself and went into Safe Mode.

“Uh, hang on,” Frolie said, concerned. “Diagnostics is running… There’s a problem with robotics drift a stuck Shoulder Rotary Joint. It appears that the robotics parts keep drifting, something’s jammed the joint, rendering the arm useless.”

“Is this a mission scrub,” Scott asked. Tito groaned.

“Let’s see what Orbital Control has to say,” Mabo responded. The crew anxiously awaited to hear what the team on the ground wanted to do. With SkyBase effectively space junk, it was Orbital Dynamics’ call whether to continue or to scrub. Eventually, they got back to them.

“Guess what, Frolie,” Mabo began, “you get to test your KMU a bit sooner.”




Frolie got to work in the Mk-33’s airlock, donning his EVA helmet and readying his gear. After depressurizing the airlock, he stepped outside and set up the KMU Cradle before moving the Kerbal Maneuvering Unit in place. Then he hopped aboard his pride and joy, and undocked, allowing Frolie to float inside Skyranger’s payload bay. A few puffs from the RCS thrusters told him that the flight pack was working properly.

“As I recall, SLS-2 had a problem with its KerboArm,” Frolie began, “and Hensen had to step outside with their KMU to grab the LAM as it flew away. My design is more compact, and this time, the LAM is nice and secure…”




In a near-repeat of SLS-2, Frolie docked with the LAM, undocked it from Skyranger, and flew it over to SkyBase. It docked without issues, so Frolie flew his new KMU back to Skyranger, cradled it, and went back inside. Then, with Mabo at the controls, Skyranger approached the LAM and docked with it just before orbital sunset.

“Congratulations on your first successful docking, Skyranger,” Orbital Control congratulated. “You’re now unofficially the SkyBase 9 mission. Now get some rest while we test the seals and we troubleshoot the arm.”



Launched atop the last Sarnus 5 booster at the end of the Space Race, SkyBase became the first long-term space station in orbit. Three K-20 KerbalSoar spacecraft and five Shuttle flights visited the station before it was abandoned in favor of building the larger and more advanced Starlab Kerbin Orbiting Station. KSP was supposed to deorbit the derelict but they never got around to it. So, when Orbital Dynamics requested permission to use the Shuttle’s old Logistics Adapter Module and to visit SkyBase, they gave them the module for just the shipping cost and laid out a set of mission requirements.

A day of tests verified the atmospheric integrity of SkyBase. Though mostly breathable, air samples showed that it had some odd smells and the station’s air scrubbers had failed, so the crew vented the stale air and replenished it from SkyBase’s reserves, causing creaks and groans in the process. Once satisfied with the air quality, the crew entered the LAM, using it as an airlock between SkyBase and Skyranger.



“I swear I won’t touch anything unless you tell me to,” Tito said. He had received some training on SkyBase- such as it was given that all the mockups and simulators had been torn down- so he knew just enough to not be in the way. But most importantly, his job was to take pictures of the interior and visually document the state of the station. He sat down at one of the stations and got to work.

“It’s cold in here,” Scott commented.


“Almost all the heaters are dead,” Frolie pointed out. He checked a maintenance panel. “Looks like half the electrical system shorted out too. Not a good sign. I’ll see what I can do…”

As the engineer got to work, Scott helped Mabo with the other inspection tasks. He noticed a bad smell seeping from the upper storage tank. “What’s that smell,” he asked.

Mabo caught a whiff of it and made a disgusted look. “Decayed bio-matter,” she said simply. “This was the waste storage tank. My guess is that the seals are cracked from all the heating and cooling cycles. It also smells a bit like… coolant… now that I think about it. Last time I was here, there was a hint of coolant in the air. Seems like it’s gotten worse, even with our flushing of the air supply.”

There was a hum as the air scrubbers started up again. “Found the circuit breaker,” Frolie called out from somewhere.

“That’s a good sign,” Scott responded.

“Yeah, except that the water circulation pipes are leaking,” Frolie answered back, “and there’s some kind of crud around the joints. I need to check the filters…” A few minutes later, he found them, opened the filtration assembly, and stared at what he saw. He looked around and opened a panel, then frowned. “There’s mold growing in the filtration system, and it’s in the thermal insulation too. We should put our masks back on, and make sure to double-cycle the air circulation in the LAM before heading back to Skyranger.”

Scott sighed, but he had to ask. “So, Frolie, can we salvage SkyBase?” There was a brief pause.

“Salvage? Technically yes, but by the time we get done stripping the insulation, replacing the pipes, and cleaning out the waste tank, we could have a brand-new station with modern electronics and such. Mulch, most of the manufacturers for the spare parts that we’d need are probably out of business by now or have swapped out their tooling…”

Scott felt crestfallen. His hopes of salvaging SkyBase were dashed by Frolie’s assessment. “I guess we’ll need to step up development of Homestead then,” he said simply.

“Ok, crew,” Mabo called out, “given the health risks, we’re heading back to Skyranger- unless you need to be inside to check out the station’s thrusters, Frolie.”

“Nope, I can do that outside.”






After activating SkyBase’s backup flight computer and cycling back through the LAM, Frolie took a brief walk outside to inspect the station’s thrusters. Since they were in working order, Scott transferred some of Skyranger’s propellants into the LAM’s tanks to help it deorbit. With nothing more to do, Mabo undocked the Mk-33 and slowly backed away from the old station.

“Too bad it’s too big for Skyranger,” Tito said, “or we could pack it up and bring it down for display in a museum. This is a piece of history. So sad to see it go to waste, but I’m glad I got a chance to see it- and take lots of pictures for future generations!”

That gave Scott an idea. He wrote a note down in his log: what other relics from the Space Race are still around?




With their mission to SkyBase completed, the crew focused on Skyranger’s ailing robot arm. The game’s robotics drift shoulder rotation joint was hopelessly jammed with no way to lock it back in place. Mabo had no choice except to have Frolie perform a spacewalk to sever the arm. A few minutes later, the crew watched as the sole KerboArm 3 drifted away from the Mk-33 and contributed to Kerbin’s growing space junk problem.





A short while later, Skyranger deorbited and landed safely back at Welcome Back Island. One of the Mk-33’s jet engine intake cowlings ripped free during reentry- which would require repairs- and the company needed to evaluate replacement of the KerboArm, but overall the spacecraft performed well.


“SkyBase has reoriented itself retrograde and successfully performed its deorbit maneuver, nine minutes and twenty-three seconds until reentry,“ Diller Kerman, KSC’s commentator, said. Nine minutes and twenty-three seconds of commenting on SkyBase's history and accomplishments later, the main event began. “Any moment now it will begin its fiery descent to Kerbin,” he said...





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  • 2 weeks later...
On 5/27/2021 at 4:57 PM, Angel-125 said:




Maybe there'll be something to put in museums after all, huh?

Nice work! That was, as always, a very entertaining read.

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1 hour ago, RyanRising said:

Maybe there'll be something to put in museums after all, huh?

Nice work! That was, as always, a very entertaining read.

Yeah, I need to make a recovery boat for it. I'm working on it...


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Chapter 11


“Well, at least we won’t have to file for bankruptcy,” Sara said as she saw the stack of proposals on her desk. Flying Tito into orbit and back had opened doors for Orbital Dynamics- a lot of doors. After Tito recounted his experiences to the media, three more rich kerbals wanted a ride into orbit, four wanted to visit Starlab, one wanted to visit Unity Station in Minmus orbit, another three wanted to tour Billstown on the Mϋn, five wanted to see an asteroid up close, a reality TV show wanted to send a dozen kerbals to Space Camp- literally a camp in space where they could train to be astronauts, two competing investors wanted to create a space hotel and a casino, respectively, and one particularly wealthy individual wanted to pay for a tour of Jool and all its moons.

“That last one is out of the question,” she said adamantly. “We simply don’t have the technology to do that.”

“What about the others,” Scott asked. Accepting contracts fell into Sara’s domain as CEO. Scott could only provide input and feedback.

“With Skyranger’s passenger capacity, we can definitely fly the three hopefuls on the next flight,” she began, “but I’ll have to disappoint the Starlab group since we don’t have docking rights. With Homestead, maybe we can offer it as an alternate destination. For that matter, with Homestead, we could build Space Camp and combine it with a Casino.”

“Not a space hotel?”

“You said it yourself, Scott. Tourists need to do more than just stare out of a window in space. With a hotel, that’s about all we can provide. But with a Casino, we get the benefits of a hotel and an additional stream of income from the gambling. The more income streams we have, the better our revenue.”

“I don’t like the idea of space casinos,” Scott admitted. “The ones I visited on the ground were seedy.”

“Not all commercial space ventures will be squeaky clean,” Sara countered, “Besides, ours will be upscale and classy. Although, we can always start with the hotel, and then upgrade it to a casino… Anyway, with Space Camp, we can raise our media awareness as the reality show touts our products and services. We use the media capital to drive kerbals to the hotel and casino. Once we get that income stream going, we can go further.

“Unity is international territory, so legally we can’t be stopped from visiting it. But the problem is how to get there. The asteroid mission is also lucrative, but again the problem is how to get there. And going to Billstown? We’d need to create our own Project Mϋnshot. All three contracts fit within your vision for the company, but all three aren’t going to be cheap…”

Scott harrumphed. “Maybe space casinos aren’t all that bad,” he admitted. “With the exception of the mission to Starlab and the Jool 5 tour, which contracts are you planning to accept,” he asked.

Sara grinned. “All of them.”




It was supposed to be a test flight of the redesigned Laythe Habitat Module, and the liftoff went smoothly. Drax Aerospace’s Shuttle-C rotated to the correct launch azimuth, pitched over onto its back, and rode its solid rocket boosters to burnout. But that’s when disaster struck. When the solids jettisoned, something happened with the payload fairing that caused it to break apart and shatter the new Laythe Habitat in the process. The sudden loss of mass caused the stack to spin uncontrollably and veer off course.



Drax Mission Control attempted to regain control of the vehicle and boost the propulsion module back to KSC, but to no avail. Instead, as debris sailed over Welcome Back Island, DMC ordered Shuttle-C to separate the propulsion module from its external tank, jettison its OMS propellants, and arm the chutes.



Unlike the rest of the debris, the propulsion module splashed down safely 52km east of Welcome Back Island. The rest crashed into the ocean and wasn't salvageable.

KSP immediately began gathering members for the accident investigation board to determine what caused the accident. Don’t forget to check yo’ stagin. Drax Aerospace hoped to resolve the matter quickly, but nonetheless, the launch failure was a significant setback to Project Laythe.




“This is the Homestead,” Scott said, showing the slide on screen. The spacecraft looked like a large white cylinder that tapered at both ends. One end tapered more than the other.  The pointier end had a pair of solar arrays. “The original concept comes from Bigby Tools’ Space Division- the same people who made Skybase- and intended it to be a successor. That never happened, of course. R&D bought the design and modernized it to what you see here.

“If it looks bigger than Skyranger’s payload bay, that’s because it is. The habitat section is expandable. By pumping gasses into the habitat section’s walls, it expands like a balloon until it reaches its final shape.”

“Wouldn’t it pop the moment it gets hit with a micrometeor,” Sara asked.

“Good question, but the answer is not likely,” Scott answered. “There are several layers that provide ballistic, thermal, and radiation protection. Once fully expanded, the shell is about a third of a meter thick and as hard as konkrete. In fact, it offers better protection than the KOS and double the living space of KOS’ Tranquility habitat module with only a 50% increase in mass. Just one of these holds up to 7 astronauts.”



Scott advanced to the next slide before continuing. “This is the Homestead Hotel. It consists of eight Homestead station modules and two connector nodes derived from the KOS nodes. It can hold up to 50 tourists and a staff of 6 for 97 days without resupply. It has eight docking ports for visiting spacecraft plus another four for expansion. For Space Camp, we’d start with two Homesteads connected to a node. Once that mission concludes, we can expand Homestead Hotel.” Scott didn’t like that Skyranger would have to stay on orbit for the entire duration of Space Camp, but they didn’t have another option. “By the way, did you get the requirements for the casino?”

“Yes,” Sara lamented. “We’d need twice the capacity of Homestead Hotel- 100 kerbals minimum- at least twenty-four lights for entertainment purposes and get this- four asteroids! We may need to table the casino for now and start with just the hotel. Speaking of asteroids, how are we doing on locating one?”

“I have a meeting with an astronomer on the 16th to discuss our options,” Scott answered.

“Great. Meanwhile, how are we doing on our Mϋnshot?”



Scott advanced the presentation to the next slide. The image depicted a relatively small spacecraft with a cupola module, a small set of solar arrays. A large docking port separated the crew cabin from the propulsion section.

“This is the Finch,” Scott began.


“It’s named after the first Mϋnar Excursion Module, the first Kermanned lander that reached the Mϋn’s surface and returned to orbit. If it looks like the Magellan Mϋnar Shuttle Module, that’s because we licensed the basic MSM design and improved upon it. Finch seats five in the command cabin, plus another four in the propulsion module- something that Magellan can’t do. This baseline configuration allows Finches to be used as orbital transfer vehicles. And while we can dock other propulsion elements to the aft port like Magellan, Finch can swap its propulsion module for something else. Like this…”




He moved the presentation forward to show a larger craft with an I-beam-shaped propulsion section. The side view showed a set of landing gear and landing rockets.

“This configuration is called the Finch Transporter. It’s designed to bring a pilot and up to four passengers to the mϋnar surface and back again- two more than the Mϋnar Surface Access Module. The best thing is that because it’s modular, we can increase the crew capacity, add additional propellant tanks, swap out the engines for something better, and make a completely new craft from the modules if desired.”

“Interesting,” Sara replied. “How does the Finch return from the Mϋn? Won’t we need to refuel it like the Magellan?”

“Definitely,” Scott admitted. “We haven’t worked out all the details yet, but we’ll need some kind of fuel depot- uh, like a flying gas station- where Finches can make a pit stop and refuel for the trip down as well as the trip home. A similar depot will orbit Kerbin to refuel the Finch.

“If we can negotiate with the Ministry of Space to sell us one of their tankers with the heat shield, then we can aerobrake at Kerbin. Otherwise, Finch will support propulsive capture.”

Sara took a few moments to process all the information before responding. “Based on what I’m seeing then,” she began, “we send up the first Homestead and use it as a testbed. Once we work through any issues, we bring up a couple more and one of the nodes to host Space Camp, then use the revenue to build out the hotel, then use the revenue from the hotel to build out our infrastructure to reach the Mϋn and an asteroid. Or four… I like it.”



It takes a lot of work to turnaround Skyranger for its next flight, and without the ground crews, the vehicle would just sit around doing nothing. From the moment that the Mk-33 taxies off the runway at the end of its flight, Orbital Dynamics’ various ground crews get to work. First, the Hangar Team directs the space plane into its hangar and rolls up the air stairs so that the flight crew can disembark once they have completed their closeout procedures.


Next, the Cleaning Team and Catering Team begin their tasks. While the cleaning team cleans the crew spaces, the catering team drives their snack truck into the hangar and raises its container up to Skyranger’s service port. From there, crews restock the space plane’s consumables like its supply of snacks and fresh air. After finishing up, the Cleaning and Catering Teams transfer Skyranger over to the Maintenance Team.




The Maintenance Team takes care of any repairs needed. For instance, since the last flight tore off the outermost starboard air intake, the Maintenance Team rolled out a spare on a specialized service truck. The team raised the work platform up to the top of the aeroshell, installed the new intake, verified the fix, and then performed an inspection of the craft to see if it needed any other repairs. Once their work is finished, the team hands Skyranger over to the next team.


Next, the Payload Integration Team docks a tractor to the Mk-33’s service port. Previous tractor designs proved to be too unwieldy and difficult to connect with the space plane, but the new design is a significant improvement. It makes use of Skyranger’s powered landing gear instead of relying on the old tractor for propulsion, and the new tractor also provides power as well as steering commands through the service port.



The tractor tows the Mk-33 to its next destination: the new and improved payload integration crane. The old crane had issues with robotic drift in the hinges on the service gantries, and the structure itself was unstable, so Orbital Dynamics replaced it with a dedicated part that greatly reduces part count a newer and sturdier design. It, along with the new tractor, represents some of the changes that the company made as they gain operations experience with the Mk-33.



After docking to the crane’s support umbilical, the Payload Integration Team (a.k.a. pit crew) gets to work opening the Mk-33’s payload bay doors, extending the crane’s service gantries and ladders, and preparing the payload bay for its next cargo.






In this case, the pit crew extracts both the payload adapter and the airlock- the next payload needs all the room it could get. Once lowered onto awaiting trucks, they then wheel in the next payload- a satellite and expendable payload assist module- hook up the cables, and hoist it into the air.





Finally, the team lowers the satellite into Skyranger’s payload bay and secures it. Once a new payload is installed, the pit crew retracts their service gantries, closes the payload bay, disconnects the Mk-33 from the crane, and signs the vehicle over to the next team.



At that point, the Pad Integration Team takes over. They tow Skyranger out to the launchpad, dock it to the strongback, raise it vertically, and begin fueling it for its next flight. The company still has to purchase propellants for the flight, but they have plans to manufacture them on site to save costs.





Finally, with all the pre-launch preparation work completed, the flight crew drives out to the pad for the next mission. In this case, the flight crew consists of Mabo (CDR), Scott (PLT), and Frolie (ENG), but also includes three tourists. The crew drive out to the pad in the company’s new bus, board Skyranger, and launch into orbit to begin their mission. In this case, it's a simple satellite deployment and tourist ride.


A couple of orbits later, the company-owned satellite, named Ikon, ignites its payload assist module’s engine and boosts towards Kerbin’s nearest natural satellite. Orbital Dynamics hopes to test new sensor and avionics technologies that could pave the way for more sophisticated satellites in the future. It is the company’s first step towards reaching the Mϋn.



A day later, on Montezu 11th, Skyranger deorbited and landed and taxied back into its hangar, ready to begin the turnaround process once again...

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11 hours ago, Philae_Rosetta2021 said:

Hello, @Angel-125! Great story here, I'm really enjoying it!

Could you possibly tell me which mods are used for the Pheonix SSTO? I have had a look through some of them, and it looks like Knes, but I just wanted to make sure.

Thanks! and keep up the good work!

Phoenix Aerospace is using the X-20 Moroz mod:


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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 12


“It’s hard to believe that it it’ll be the turn of the century in just a couple of weeks,” Scott said in between bites of his lunch. “Goodbye twentieth century, hello twenty-first. We’ve accomplished a lot in the last decade and a half. We went to the Mϋn and Minmus, created reusable space shuttles- and an even better single-stage shuttle- and sent probes to the planets. In fact, the Eeloo Surveyor is due to arrive any day now…”

Adsii Kerman (named in honor of @adsii1970), one of the leading astronomers at the Kerbal Space Center, smiled. “You know,” he began, “the Kermantian Calendar was created by the Kermantians to unify the various calendars and measurements of time used throughout the Kermantian Empire. It was enacted by Emperor Acamapichtli nearly 2000 years ago. Their sages used science and mathematics to measure the time it took for Kerbin to rotate once around its axis and once around Kerbol and used their measurements as the basis for their calendar. The calendar was so accurate, a modified version of it is still in use today.

“Sages divided up the calendar year- known as a “haab” in ancient Kermantian- into twelve months. A month is called  a winner- er, winas. Anyway, each month is named after one the twelve Kermantian Emperors who had ruled prior to the calendar’s creation. The months used to be called Acamapichtli, Huitzilihuitl, Chimalpopoca, Itzcoatl, Moctezuma, Axayacatl, Jool, Tizoc, Ahuitzotl, Cuitlahuac, Cuahoctemoc, and Montezuma. That’s where we get Acama, Huitzil, Chimal, Itzcoatl, Moctez, Axaya, Jool, Tizoc, Ahuit, Cuitla, Cuahoc, and Montezu.”

“Wait, Jool was a kermantian emperor,” Scott asked. “I thought he was a god.”

“I’m sure Jool wanted you to think that,” Adsii mused. “He did have a newly discovered planet named after him. Anyway, while our modern calendar doesn’t use it, the Kermantian calendar used a Long Count system that was borrowed from another calendar that marked the- oh, what did they call it- oh yeah, the ‘turning of the world.’ Every 2,100 years, the current world would end and the next would begin. If you back-date the Kermantian calendar and align it with the Long Count, we’re currently in the Fifth World, and in another century, our world ends and the Sixth World begins.”

“So, a hundred years from now, what happens when our world ends,” Scott asked. “Do kerbals suddenly experience an unexplained genetic expression? Do we suddenly get to see dragons flying around? Do we get to use magic? Or does the sun spontaneously spew some previously undiscovered particles that heats up the planet’s core and cause continents to shift and huge tidal waves that wipe out all life?”

Adsii chuckled. “It’s just a marking of time, Scott. When the clock strikes 6:00am, one day ends and the next begins. No muss, no fuss. On Montezu 31, 2100, when the clock ticks past 5:59:59pm, 6:00am will mark just another day in just another year. Anybody who says anything else is just spreading conspiracy theories and fear. Though admittedly, a hundred years after establishing the Kermantian Calendar, the Fourth World ended, and Kermantian Empire did mysteriously vanish…”

“Huh,” Scott said simply.

“Yeah! Think about it,” Adsii said and grinned. “We could very well be living in the last world- or the last major update if you believe the conspiracy theorists that we’re living in a computer simulation.” Adsii shrugged. “A hundred years from now, maybe the legendary kraken awaken to wipe us out, remove all traces of civilization- save for some ruins here and there- and harvest our DNA so they can reproduce. Or, the world could just keep on turning…”

“I guess we’ll find out in a hundred years,” Scott replied. “Interesting stuff! Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.”

“Hey, I appreciate the lunch! What can I do for you,” Adsii asked.

“I’ve read that you helped advocate for the Sentinel Program,” Scott said, “the one that looks for asteroids near Kerbin that could hit the planet.”

“Oh, I can tell you stories about that,” Adsii responded, “we barely got funding for the one satellite- it flew on the first Edna 1F flight as a joint mission with Phoenix Aerospace- and our Funds got cut back recently. The space agencies are more interested in going to Laythe to ‘seek out new life and new civilizations’ like that old Galaxy Trek show than they are in preserving life on this planet. You interested in funding Sentinel?”

“Possibly,” Scott answered. “We’re hoping to gain access to the data. We’d actually like to visit one. In person.”

“You want to visit one in person? Huh. That’s a new one… Well, you could go to VDP-762 and spare yourselves a trip outside of Kerbin’s sphere of influence…”


“Yeah,” Adsii answered, “it’s an asteroid that was captured by Kerbin’s gravity about a decade ago. It’s in a high-inclination orbit but at least it’s prograde. Discovering VDP-762 is one of the reasons we got funding for Sentinel. That, and jobs. We tried to convince KSP to send a probe, but they were too busy funding the Shuttle, and now the Laythe mission…”

“Wow,” Scott said as he absorbed the news. “Kerbin has a third mϋn. That changes everything…”



The Shuttle-C Accident Investigation Board concluded that a certain player needs to check his staging a software error in the launch control software caused the payload fairing to separate and the Laythe Habitat Module’s descent engine to fire when the vehicle staged its solid rocket boosters. The combination of the two exposed the payload to the airstream, which immediately resulted in the payload and fairing disintegrating and causing the loss of mission and vehicle. Drax Aerospace had to pay out of pocket to launch the space agency’s second Laythe Habitat test article, but the launch insurance payout from the mishap left his company with a tidy profit. But between the issues with Mϋnraker and the launch mishap, they needed a win to boost their reputation. Today, they had their chance.




This time around, the Shuttle-C lifted off successfully, jettisoned its SRBs and fairings at the proper times, and entered a 216.5 km by 90.3 km- with its Laythe habitat module intact. As planned, fifteen minutes later, the vehicle performed its de-orbit burn. Next, the Laythe habitat detached from the stack as did the propulsion module. While the external tank fell to its doom and the propulsion module handled its own EDL operations, the habitat expanded its vonKerman-supplied heat shield before entering the atmosphere five minutes later.




The shield protected the habitat as it careened through the atmosphere, and it didn’t flip due to the low center of mass. After the plasma shock subsided and the chutes deployed, the habitat dropped its heat shield and deorbit tanks. A few minutes later, it landed 57km from KSC. Unfortunately, it toppled onto its side, but KSC realized that it could help prevent that from happening by leaving the deorbit tanks in place and discarding them after landing. It was a good step forward, but there were many more needed to carry Project Laythe to its conclusion.



With the first Homestead undergoing flight preparations, Orbital Dynamics rolled out a modified Ikon satellite for Skyranger’s next mission. Engineers replaced its resource scanners with monopropellant tanks and RCS thrusters, and they replaced the main imaging telescope made with a grappling claw. Dubbed the Beagle Asteroid Probe, the satellite had more than enough delta-v to reach VDP-762. Before sending kerbals to Kerbin’s third mϋn, the company wanted to get a good look at it.






Throughout the morning, crews readied Skyranger for her next flight by pulling the previous payload adapter out of the cargo bay and installing the Beagle, then wheeling the Mk-33 over to the pad for fueling and flight. The Mk-33 launched without incident with Mabo (CDR), Scott (PLT), and Frolie (ENG) aboard. After attaining a 250km orbit, Skyranger deployed the satellite, verified that it was in working order, and then backed off so that Beagle could ignite its PAM. It burned completely through the Payload Assist Module and some of its own propellant to match planes with the asteroid- Orbital Dynamics’ engineers noted that next time, Skyranger should adjust its launch azimuth after liftoff to avoid the plane change maneuver. Nonetheless, Beagle had a 22-day wait until it could try to intercept VDP-762 during its closest approach to Kerbin.





Two orbits later, Skyranger deorbited and landed. While the flight crew took a rest, the ground crew immediately got to work by rolling the SSTO back to the payload crane, removing the previous flight’s payload adapter, and installing the next cargo. Once they completed their work, they rolled the Mk-33 back to the pad, tilted it vertical, and fueled it. Mabo, Scott, and Frolie, relatively fresh from their rest, boarded Skyranger and launched skyward once again. The feat set the record for the fastest turnaround time of a reusable spacecraft: less than a day.



Skyranger attained a 248.2 km by 254.1 km orbit, and then aligned its orbital plane with the Mϋn.  After reconfiguring for orbital flight, Frolie undocked the payload and Mabo carefully maneuvered away from it before handing the controls over to Scott. For his fifth overall flight and fifth consecutive flight- another record- Scott docked Skyranger to the payload that they had just deployed.

With the hard dock completed, Frolie interfaced with the payload’s remote-control systems and commanded it to deploy its solar panels and high gain antenna before expanding the habitat compartment. Satisfied with the deployment, he turned on the payload’s external lights.

“Homestead 1 is fully deployed,” Frolie said triumphantly. “She’s ready for her orbital trials.”

“Too bad we can’t go aboard,” Scott said solemnly.

“We could if we dismantled the stuff in the way between us and the service port,” Frolie responded. “The cleaning catering team does it all the time.”

“Yeah, we really need to redesign the forward avionics bay at some point,” Scott said. “That forward port was supposed to be crew accessible on orbit.”

“Well, somebody decided to put extra fuel tanks up there for the jets,” Frolie pointed out. Scott harumphed and Mabo stifled a laugh. “Seriously though,” Frolie continued, “it would be better to move the maintenance panels in the crew cabin than to redesign the avionics bay, so the cleaning and catering crew have a better time of it. I think we should do that for the next Mk-33.”


Skyranger and Homestead slipped into the nightside of Kerbin. Frolie took the opportunity to change the station’s color scheme. “See,” he said. “On the nightside, when we have red on port and green on starboard, we know what side we’re approaching the station on. Maritime vessels use white fore and aft, but that can be disorienting in space- especially when we need to be careful about what docking port we’re approaching. But if we use blue for the bow and keep with white for the stern, then we’ll know how the station is oriented.”

“I didn’t know we could change the light colors,” Scott admitted.

“Yup, I had R&D use LED lights for this demonstration,” Frolie said and grinned. “They’re a bit more expensive but they don’t use as much power,” he quickly added.

“Okay, I admit it, I should’ve listened to you,” Scott said. Let’s set up the production Homesteads like this.”

“Great! We need four lights fore and aft,” Frolie quickly added. “Two on the stern isn’t enough.”

“How do we know if we’re approaching from the top or bottom,” Mabo asked.

“Ok, uh, six lights then,” Frolie admitted. “Oh, wait. The blue and white lights blink, and the top and bottom ones blink at different rates. The next time we dock in the dark…”

“As is right and proper,” Mabo interrupted.

“…we’ll know which way the station is oriented,” Frolie continued without missing a beat.

“Speaking of darkness, it’s time for us to get some rest,” Mabo said. “It’s been a long day. Good work, team.”

“We do make a great team,” Scott added. “It’s sad that this’ll be our last flight together.”

“Hey, Sara promoted me to Chief Astronaut, so I can arrange for us to have a flight together now and then,” Mabo countered. “Speaking of, you’ve passed all the tests, Scott. After this flight you’ll be qualified to command Mk-33 flights. Time for you to pay it forward and teach the recruits.”

“Thanks, Mabo, I’m looking forward to it,” Scott said and beamed. “Hopefully KSP isn’t too mad at us poaching their Shuttle crews…”

“Surprisingly, Gene isn’t squawking too loudly,” Mabo answered, “but I’m sure Drax is mad at us for poaching them before he could…”


Scott stared out the window for a long pause as Skyranger rounded back to the light side of Kerbin. “We’re really doing it,” he said wistfully and nodded. “We launched the first reusable single stage to orbit spacecraft, the first tourist, and now, the first commercial space station. If it wasn’t for Kerbal Space Program and all their achievements, none of this would be possible. Our lives would be very different. They’ve inspired so many to reach for the stars.”

Mabo patted the console in front of her. “Without KSP,” she began, “the Mk-33, and many other projects, wouldn’t exist… Anyway, time to get some rest. We still have a mission to fly.”




The next morning, Skyranger deorbited and landed, and the ground crews got to work once more…

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 13


Launched by Freedom during its SLS-41 mission, the Eeloo Surveyor at long last entered Eeloo’s sphere of influence! Barely in contact with Kerbin, Eeloo Surveyor gathered data from its scientific instruments and discovered that the distant planet had two moons: Tam, the outermost, and Celes. Sadly, the little probe lacked the propellant to visit either one. Instead, on Montezu 27, 1999 it made a course correction that put its nearly empty PAM on a path to collide with the planet. Then it corrected once more with the probe’s maneuvering engines to make a high-speed, exceptionally low pass at the planet’s surface.





On Montezu 29, 1999, the Ministry of Space’s Arrow Science Vehicle, parked at MSM Magellan for months, finally returned to Starlab. As Bill refueled the probe and Sara vonKerman cleaned its experiments, Malus stepped outside to pull its science data for further analysis in the Newton Mobile Processing Lab. After its brief stopover, the ASV departed from the station and headed for its next destination: the Mϋn.




Not long after the ASV departed Starlab, two days after entering Eeloo’s SOI, the Eeloo Surveyor detected that the frosty world had an atmosphere! It originally planned to skim the planet a scant 5.2km above the surface, but it quickly realized that doing so would cause the probe to burn up. The Surveyor immediately burned its maneuver engine’s remaining propellant to avoid the atmosphere and found that it extended out to about 80km. Once it reached low orbital space, Eeloo Surveyor ran its instruments and waited until it zoomed past the planet to begin transmitting its results.



Adsii was particularly satisfied; he had influenced the design of the Surveyor series, and it was nice to see one of his projects delivering results. “Hm, the multispectral imaging sensor’s data suggests that the white surface isn’t snow, but some kind of complex organic compound,” he said aloud. Other sensors data trickled in as the probe’s onboard radioisotope thermal electric generator slowly recharged the batteries after each transmission. There were no other experiments for the probe to perform, but Adsii remembered the plaque attached to its side. Eeloo Surveyor was headed out of the solar system, but maybe someday, some intelligent species would find it.

After the last bit of data arrived, the team celebrated and gave the Eeloo Surveyor a nice farewell party.  It was a great way to close out the year- and the century.



23 days after launch, the Beagle Asteroid Probe matched velocity with Asteroid VDP-762, burning nearly all its propellant in the process. Catching up to it in its shadow, the probe could not get a good look at it, so the science team at Orbital Dynamics requested a fly-around to circumvent the issue. Flight engineers issued commands to arm the grabbing unit and activated the probe’s RCS thrusters for a 0.6 m/s delta-v change towards the asteroid.


“I looks glittery,” Sara said, watching the monitors. “Is that gold?”

“We won’t know until we get a thorough spectral analysis,” Shanxi Kerman, one of the mission scientists responded.

“But if it is, it’s a floating gold mine…” Scott pondered aloud.

“Uh, it’s not guaranteed to be gold,” Shanxi pointed out. “It could be pyrite. We won’t know until we capture it and run an analysis.”

“If nothing else, it’ll make a nice attraction for the casino,” Sara countered.

“GNC is go for asteroid capture,” Frobert Kerman, Flight Director for Orbital Dynamics announced.



In space, high above the Western Sea and in international waters, Beagle aligned its approach vector to the asteroid’s center of mass and headed to its surface. It caught its own shadow as it made its final approach. A few minutes later, on Acama 9, 2000, Orbital Dynamics became the first space organization to rendezvous with and capture an asteroid.



“It’s been a while since I flew a shuttle,” Valentina said, but she was honored, nonetheless. When Drax Aerospace learned that Valentina, Chief of The Astronaut Corps, and her crew would be relieving Jeb’s crew on Starlab, they invited her to fly Mϋnraker 1 up to KOS. Since she needed several hours to keep her flight rating, she readily agreed. Her copilot, Corinne Kerman and relief pilot, Manuela Kerman, were both Drax employees- Manuela would handle the shuttle’s undocking and EDL maneuvers back to Kerbin.




The shuttle launched into orbit without any difficulties and docked with Starlab a day later. As the combined crew unloaded supplies, Bill took a walk outside to collect the unused power data grapple fixtures. With station assembly completed and the station arm showing signs of robotics drift wear and tear, they were headed back down in the shuttle’s logistics module.



With that task completed, Bill grabbed the external rack mounts that Mϋnraker 1 brought up and installed them onto the permanent logistics module. For his last task of the day, he grabbed the new micro ISRU converters and mounted them to the racks. With tonnes of mϋnar ore to spare, the new ISRUs would be used to convert some of it into useful propellants.








145 days after their mission began- nearly 5 months- the MSM Magellan finally completed their study of the Mint Mϋn and broke orbit. Eight days later, they began their aerobraking maneuvers. And 3 days later, the ship docked at Starlab on Acama 21, 2000. For the first time, all the Original Four were on orbit at the same time and in the same spacecraft.

Starlab was crowded; a whopping nineteen astronauts and kerbonauts were aboard (two in deep freeze for another six months), setting a world record.








The cramped conditions did not last long though; Ribler McKerman, Diltrey McKerman, Glesby McKerman, and Bob Kerman all boarded their awaiting Arrow Crew Vehicle and undocked for their trip home. The ACV landed in the Western Sea 41km away from KSC. The rescue crew flew out in one of the new K-25 Sea King amphibious cargo planes that the space center had been experimenting with. After retrieving the capsule crew, divers attached a winch cable to the ACV and hauled it aboard the Sea King before the seaplane flew back to the space center.



Magellan’s mission to Minmus revealed some deficiencies in the design that needed to be corrected. Namely, the Mϋnar Shuttle Module lacked sufficient electricity to power the vehicle when it orbited on the nightside. The ASV helped, but when it returned to Starlab, Magellan felt the loss of its supplemental power. To remedy the situation, Mϋnraker 1 brought up several new parts during its supply run to the Kerbin Orbital Station.


After the ACV departed, Bill got to work attaching Magellan’s new solar arrays, micro ISRUs- configured for power generation and emergency fresh air production- as well as Buckboards holding batteries and liquid fuel and oxidizer to power the new generators. With that done, he reconfigured some tanks to contain additional supplies of fresh air- Magellan reached dangerously low levels during her mission, and the recyclers barely kept up. Satisfied with his work, he went back inside and stocked the station's stores with solid oxium candle system canisters for good measure. He also wanted to stock some repair kits just in case something broke down, but Magellan neither had the space nor the kits to do so. Maybe the relief crew could use the Newton lab's experimental 3D printer and spare some ore to create some...




A day later, after transferring command over to Valentina, Jeb, Bill, and the rest of the relieved station crew boarded Mϋnraker 1 and departed Starlab for their return trip to Kerbin. While the orbiter missed the KSC EDL corridor by a wide margin, it had sufficient range to reach the space center from 212km away- something that the older Block 1 orbiters could not have accomplished.



The Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory (APPL) at KSC, jointly run by the Kerbal Space Program, Ministry of Space, and vonKerman Space Agency, finally achieved a breakthrough. During their research They created several prototype nuclear motors like the 60 kilonewton Nerv and the more powerful- and larger- 300 kilonewton Cherenkov, but those engines could “only” achieve a maximum specific impulse of 900 seconds. Further research into combining tri-modal propellium and oxium burning atomic rockets with built-in nuclear reactors resulted in the Neptune and Posidon, but those engines barely exceeded their predecessors’ specific impulse rating. While the prototypes showed promise for smaller spacecraft, they simply did not fit the needs of Project Laythe.

To get the high thrust and high specific impulse that they needed for their atomic rocket, they needed to heat the propellant to such a high level that a solid core nuclear reactor would rapidly melt the engine. Various attempts to create sufficiently heat resistant metals outright failed to achieve the necessary results. Then a vonKerman scientist had a brilliant idea, and they transformed the Emancipator from a solid-core into a gas-core nuclear rocket. By allowing the nuclear fuel to vaporize, it could superheat the propellium much hotter and faster and be expelled out the nozzle before it could melt the engine. Unfortunately, making the exhaust highly radioactive was a consequence of the gas core design. It was a controversial solution, and one that would require careful negotiations between nations for its use, but it solved the problem of moving large masses out to Jool.

After weeks of negotiation, the various nations of Kerbin agreed that the engine could be used, but only from a minimum orbital altitude of 1,000 kilometers, and it could not be used if any vessel approached within 500 kilometers. Additionally, the engine could only be used in orbit; it was simply too dangerous to be used in an atmosphere or near the surface of an airless world.


With those guidelines in place, KSC meticulously prepared a spacecraft to test the new engine and scrutinized the Drax Aerospace Shuttle-C that would launch it. If anything went wrong, it would be a political and environmental disaster for the space agency, even with the safeguards in place. Everyone from the launch team to the protestors- both for and against atomic rockets- were on the edges of their seats and barely containing their fear as the Shuttle-C lifted off with its dangerous cargo.






The launch went flawlessly. As soon as Shuttle-C cleared the tower, it rolled over to its launch azimuth and continued climbing. Right on time, the solid rocket boosters burned out and dropped away. As soon as it exited the atmosphere, it jettisoned its payload fairing and aero cone, and ignited its OMS engines for an additional boost.


Keeping its 45-degree pitch angle throughout the whole time, it had no intention of attaining orbit. Instead, Shuttle-C burned its propellants to exhaustion to ensure that the payload’s nuclear engine could ignite at the requisite 1,000 km minimum altitude. As it crossed the threshold, the payload, known as MIDAS-D, activated its new SAFER atomic reactor, deployed its radiators, and warmed up the Emancipator. It then oriented itself so that its atomic exhaust had no chance of striking Kerbin.


As the Shuttle-C’s external tank and propulsion module fell away, MIDAS-D ignited its engine for the journey outward. The first engine burn put it on an escape trajectory to ensure that should anything go wrong it would never harm Kerbin. Two days later, on Acama 24, 2000, MIDAS-D left Kerbin’s sphere of influence. During its journey to Kerbin’s gravitic edge, Mission Control checked the probe’s various systems and verified that they were working perfectly. Between the SAFER providing a new source of electricity for spacecraft, the new active cooling system for the cryogenic fuel tanks and new radiators shedding heat from the atomic rocket and tanks, the three space agencies celebrated developing their newfound advanced technology. At last, they had everything they needed to reach Jool. But MIDAS-D’s mission was not done yet.

Mission Control noticed that the Eeloo Surveyor barely had a connection to KSC when it transmitted its science data, and it was clear that the existing Multi-platform Interplanetary Deep-space Array System launched into high Kerbin orbit by the Shuttle Launch System, would not have enough range to reach the Nara Surveyor and Hamek Surveyor probes that were still outbound. MIDAS-D was an attempt to remedy that situation. Its job was to enter solar orbit out between Jool and Lindor and relay signals to and from the probes headed to the outer planets. In another 4 months, KSC intended to launch MIDAS-E, and in 8 months, MIDAS-F, both spacecraft based on MIDAS-D but also designed to test more components needed for Project Laythe.


But in the meantime, MIDAS-D ignited its engine once more to push its apoapsis roughly midway between Jool and Lindor, and then deployed its massive relay antenna before settling into its 4-year slumber…



“We had to correct a software glitch and correct for the probe burying itself into the regolith,” Shanxi began, “but we finally have an analysis of VDP-762. Take a look.”

“Let’s see… Mass is 11,464.45 tonnes, 9,415.8 tonnes of which consisted of mineable resources. Ore is 7.15 percent,” Scott read aloud, “Nice. Xenon and argon gas are both point 81 percent. So is hexagen and zeonium. Oh, nice, metal ore is 6.14 percent. But what’s this question mark? The readout says that it is 27.56 percent of the asteroid. Is that our gold?”

“It’s unknown,” Shanxi said nonchalantly. “The scanner can’t identify it.”

“Is it a software error,” Scott asked.

“Possibly. We’ll have to run some more diagnostics. Whatever it is, there’s a lot of it.”

“Hey,” Sara chimed in, “I’m looking at some pictures that Beagle took of the nightside of 762 during its approach. Has anybody noticed that the gold veins glow in the dark? Here, let me put the image up on the monitor...”


“Neither gold nor pyrite glow in the dark,” Shanxi pointed out.

“Then what is it,” Sara asked.

Shanxi did not have an answer.

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3 hours ago, Philae_Rosetta2021 said:

Ooooooh, magic boulders now!

The mystery deepens...

I am on edge for the next chapter!

Yeah, totally unexpected! The asteroid got captured by Kerbin’s gravity back when I was flying shuttles regularly. I always planned to visit it and last weekend when I did, I found out that it is a magic boulder! I would have been happy with a regular asteroid but this changes things…

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Chapter 14


“So, after we ran our diagnostics tests about a dozen times, we still can’t identify it,” Scott said between bites. He was enjoying his lunches with Adsii. He always had great conversation topics. “There are literally tons of the stuff in that asteroid, and we don’t know what it is. It glitters, like gold, even on the nightside. It glows in the dark.”

“It sounds like it is phosphorescent,” Adsii responded. “Are you sure your scanner isn’t defective?”

“Positive. We have its twin on the ground with the same software update and same calibration. Both can recognize the ore, metal ore, xenon, argon, zeonium, and hexagen, so we know they’re working properly. Whatever it is- 27.56 percent of the asteroid no less- it’s something new.”

“If I had to guess,” Adsii said, “I’d say that the scanner- oh- are you by chance using an SSM-2?”

“Yeah,” Scott confirmed.

“Yeah, the Experimental Engineering Group makes those. It’s not their best work. Under the right conditions the SSM-2 can give false readings. Anyway, I’d guess that the scanner is picking up a bunch of resources mixed together with, oh, maybe strontium aluminate for the phosphorescence, and that is confusing the scanner. If you can bring back a sample, I can analyze it for you and tell you what it’s made of.”

You can analyze it,” Scott asked. “I thought your specialty is astronomy.”

“It is,” Adsii confirmed, “but I double-majored in astronomy and geology. I wanted to be a planetary geologist back in the day, but the available positions at KSP were taken so I switched to astronomy.”

“Wait, I thought you studied ancient history along with astronomy,” Scott said, “or at least minored in it.”

“Oh no, ancient history and languages are just hobbies,” Adsii admitted, “though I probably know enough to teach college courses at this point... But yeah, if you can get me a sample, I can analyze it. Discretely, if needed. I have a geology lab in my garage…”


Bringing back a sample of VDP-762’s mystery substance would be a major undertaking. The Beagle used up all its propellant just trying to reach the asteroid. To return a sample, they would need a bigger probe. The company also wanted to use the asteroid as part of their casino, but it was in a cost-prohibitive orbit. Then Frolie suggested that they alter the orbit. “You’d only need around 415 meters per second of delta vee,” he pointed out.

“How,” Scott asked.

“Easy. Land an ISRU rig on the surface- we could buy one from the vonKermans- mine the ore, convert it to rocket fuel, and then nudge the asteroid.”




It was a brilliant idea, but one that would take time to develop, and the company’s cash reserves were running low. So, Skyranger launched into orbit with Scott (CDR), Maxpond (PLT), Steve (ENG, a freshly trained rookie), and the two tourists aboard. More than just a sightseeing trip, Skyranger carried up Node 1 for the Homestead Hotel along with the Mk-33’s airlock. After attaining orbit, Steve deployed Node 1 and docked it to Skyranger’s airlock. A day later, the spacecraft caught up with Homestead 1 and docked to the module via Node 1. The move officially kicked off the construction of Homestead Hotel- given the company’s current financial constraints, the Board decided to repurpose Homestead 1 to become part of the hotel.



Skyranger and her crew enjoyed another day in orbit setting up Homestead 1 before deorbiting and landing.



When they returned home, ground crews were already waiting with the next Homestead module- this one was modified specifically for hotel use. A quick turnaround later, Skyranger launched again, this time with Mabo (CDR), Johnsted (PLT), and Frolie (ENG). Both Maxpond and Johnstead were veterans of KSP’s Shuttle Launch System program and first flew on SLS-8. They had flown together many times throughout their career. Maxpond even commanded a few expeditions to KOS. It took until their third flight together, on SLS-24, for the KSP astronaut corps to finally realize that they were married! Given their long history, each only needed a single qualification flight on the Mk-33 before they were allowed to command a Skyranger flight.



The flight crew deployed the new hotel module, rendezvoused with Homestead Hotel, and added the new addition. A day later, they returned home.



“I understand that you made your first flight on KS-14,” Karbal Kerman, senior reporter for GNN, said.

“That’s right,” Malus Kerman answered. “Kerbal Soar 14, on Ranger. We got to test the first MOLE station prototype.”

“And then you went to the Mϋn,” Karbal prompted.

“Minmus, actually. That was on Mϋnflight 4, with Pioneer. I walked on Minmus with Tesen. We set up some long-term science…”

“And after that you were part of the Skybase 1 mission?”

“Uh, right, Tesen, Jofrey, and I were the first crew aboard Skybase, and the last to fly Pioneer…”

“It says here that you then made four flights on the Shuttle,” Karbal interrupted for a second time.

“Right,” Malus responded, slightly annoyed.

“And you recently concluded a six-month tour aboard Starlab,” Karbal stated. “You’ve had quite a storied career!”

“Yes,” Malus smiled politely, “I’ve been around…”

“So, with you teaching these Space Kampers,” Karbal interrupted. Again. “Does that mean you’re retiring from KSP and going commercial?”

Malus blanched. He looked at his orange suit to hide his disgust. It had seen almost as much as him… “Uh, no I’m not,” he said defiantly. Although the thought had crossed his mind… “I’m on loan from KSP to teach these twelve, uh, citizen astronauts, what it’s like to be a professional astronaut. Space Kamp started with 50 candidates- uh, I’m allowed to say that, right?”

Allock Kerman, the show’s host sitting to Malus’ left, nodded.

“Ok, good,” Malus continued. “Anyway, we started with 50 candidates that went through our training program, and through a process of elimination, we ended up with these twelve…”

“You’ll get to see that when Space Kamp airs later this year,” Allock quickly added. She was beaming. Space Kamp was her idea. The corporate media pirates tried to take it from her, but she outmaneuvered them.

“Right,” Malus sighed and responded. “These guys will get to experience living and working in space…”

“And the top candidates get a chance to join Kerbal Space Program,” Allock interrupted. “The show started with fifty hopeful candidates yearning to reach the stars. Now, only a lucky dozen remain to ride the rocket. Do they have what it takes to be a professional astronaut? Who will make the cut? Find out next fall on: Space Kamp!” Allock looked a bit embarrassed. “Shameless plug, sorry…”

Malus, nodded, clearly annoyed. He was about to say something when Karbal interjected. “Commander Maxpond, will any of the top candidates get to join Orbital Dynamics?”

“That’s not up to me,” Maxpond, the mission commander sitting to Malus’ right, answered.

“I understand that you and your husband, both veterans of the Shuttle Launch System, will be in charge of Space Kamp,” Karbal said quickly.

“I’m responsible for the overall mission and crew safety,” Maxpond corrected. She subconsciously tilted her head to her right. “Johnsted is my second in command. We mind the store while Malus and Allock, who are Mission Specialists, run Space Kamp.”

“Oh, so while you two are ‘minding the store,’ are you planning anything-”

"Orbital maneuvers," Steve, the flight engineer, mumbled and then covered his mouth and coughed to contain his laughter.

“We are professional astronauts,” Maxpond said tersely, briefly giving Steve an icy stare and quickly cutting the reporter off. “Our first priority is to the safety of the crew.”

“Uh, ok,” Karbal said, a bit flustered by the rebuke, “So, Allock, can you give us some more background on Space Kamp…”

I’m looking forward to being done with this interview and getting into space, Malus thought to himself.









Two hours later, after ground crews prepped Skyranger for flight, a record seventeen kerbals boarded the Mk-33 for their trip into orbit. The SSTO launched into space and docked to Homestead Hotel after three hours of matching orbits. They had another forty days on orbit before Space Kamp wrapped up filming and they all returned home…





At Drakken Palast, the station crew packed up the Drakken Kargo with trash before it undocked and conducted its deorbit burn. As it arced to a fiery doom, ground crews prepared Kallisto for its next flight into space. The little space plane launched into orbit without issues and rendezvoused and docked with Drakken Palast a day later. After transferring command of the station to their replacements, the returning crew boarded their Drakken capsule for the trip home.


Moving forward, the Kallisto and her sister ships would take over crewed spaceflights to Drakken Palast, so the departing craft was the last to fly to the station. To commemorate the historic mission, the flight crew left the capsule’s orbital module at the station as a souvenir when it departed. The orbital module also gave the station additional living space and served as an alternative docking port for a Kallisto space plane.





After making a plane change, the capsule initiated a deorbit burn and landed in the Inland Water a few dozen kilometers away from the Darude Launch Complex.






With more than enough time before the transfer window opened, the Ministry of Space began launching their new Duna Science Probe into orbit. Primarily designed to test components for Project Laythe, the DSP was created to fulfill the mcKerman Kingdom’s dream of reaching the rusty planet. The probe’s mission was to conduct a detailed survey of Duna, gather the science, and return it back to Kerbin safely. To accomplish its mission, the DSP needed enough propellant to reach Duna and back. So, after launching the science probe’s core module- complete with a prototype Cherenkov atomic rocket- the Ministry of Space launched a pair of propellium tanks that joined the probe in orbit. All three launches used the new Arrow 5 heavy lift launch vehicle.



With the core components lofted, the Arrow Space Corporation launched an Arrow 4 into orbit. It had a heavily modified Arrow Transfer Vehicle that replaced the cargo cannister with a pair of atmospheric probes. After rendezvousing with the DSP, the atmospheric probes detached and docked with the Duna-bound probe. All they had to do now is wait for the transfer window- which also gave them an opportunity to test the thermal insulation properties of the propellium tanks.



Since Jool lacked a MIDAS constellation, the Ministry of Space developed the Jool Relay Satellite System to provide the needed capability. Built around the MIDAS antenna created by KSP, the JRSS added a propellium tank, thermal radiators, and a pair of Neptune atomic rockets for orbital maneuvers. Duna needed its own MIDAS constellation, but atomic motors were deemed overkill for the rusty planet, so the mcKermans swapped solar arrays for the heat radiators and conventional engines for the atomic rockets.

Dubbed the Duna Relay Satellite System, Drax Aerospace launched DRSS via their modified Shuttle-C.1 booster- the most powerful rocket available. It was an interim solution designed to use up Drax Aerospace's remaining Shuttle-C hardware before they fielded an even more powerful booster. Shuttle-C.1 had a unique addition; back in the Shuttle Launch System days, engineers proposed adding an aft cargo carrier into the space between the boosters to carry oversized payloads. The proposal was rejected, but Drax Aerospace revised the concept by adding additional propellant capacity via an aft carrier-derived tank extension.


Even with the additional propellant, Shuttle-C.1 struggled to attain orbit. It fell into an 89.1 km by 169.6 km orbit after burning nearly all of its propellant. After DRSS deployed its mission antennas and a sustainer solar array, Shuttle-C.1 jettisoned the payload and burned its remaining propellant to push the vehicle into the atmosphere. The propulsion module was technically recoverable, but it landed in a remote and uninhabited area of Kerbin, so recovery was impractical.





Not long after Drax delivered the DRSS into orbit, the Ministry of Space lofted a large inline propellium tank that docked with the DRSS assembly. The inline tank, part of their new Modular Interplanetary Transportation System (MITS), was slated for use on the Nautilus, so flying to Duna provided an opportunity to test it in deep space.


As another test, the MoS fielded the MITS’ propulsion section that, unlike the Duna Science Probe, had a prototype Poseidon atomic motor instead of the DSP’s Cherenkov prototype. Though both the Cherenkov and the Poseidon were rejected for Project Laythe, the Ministry of Space hoped to evaluate each one and decide which to bring into production for other interplanetary missions.


The Arrow 5 launcher struggled to place the propulsion module into a 100km orbit, but it made it.  A day later, the propulsion module reached the DRSS and docked to the growing vessel. A couple of radial tank flights later, the DRSS was ready for its flight to Duna…

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Chapter 15


When creating the Duna Science Probe, the Ministry of Space turned to KSP for help with making a high-resolution terrain mapping RADAR. KSP’s Scientific Committee on Advanced Navigation (SCAN) came up with the SAR-X, a synthetic aperture radar with excellent resolution. It used the movement of the satellite and powerful computers to virtually create a larger dish. It was so good, KSP decided to build a trio of satellites to create high-resolution maps of the terrains of Kerbin, Mϋn, and Minmus. After adapting a commercial satellite bus, KSP contracted with Phoenix Aerospace to launch them.



The first RadarSat launched into Kerbin polar orbit atop an Edna-1F on Huitzil 5, 2000, and settled into a 750km orbit for its mapping adventure.



Three days later, the second satellite headed to the Mϋn, and parked in a 750km orbit after a 3-day journey. Budget restrictions Technical issues kept the third RadarSat on the ground- KSP knew what the problem was, but the parts that they needed to fix the satellite were on back order and several weeks away…



As RadarSat 2 headed to the Mϋn, Orbital Dynamics’ research team studied the Mϋn’s resource report created by their Ikon 1 satellite.

“As you can see,” Neilming Kerman, an analyst at Orbital Dynamics, said. “Overall, the resource abundances aren’t great. There is some blutonium, hexagen, metal ore, minerite, some precious metals, rock- obviously- plenty of oxium, and zeonium. There are negligible amounts of the other elements, which matches what KSP had found years before. And there’s none of that mystery stuff that Beagle found.”

“Buuuut…” Chadly, head researcher at Orbital Dynamics, prompted.


Neilming pulled up an image on her monitor. It showed Ikon’s orbital track along with markers where flags were planted on previous Mϋnflights as well as several navigation waypoints. Both served as reference points. Along the upper and lower edges of the map- where the north and south pole were- there were several patches of purple and blue. “As you can see, our advanced imaging sensors picked up what KSP’s old MϋnSCAN could not…”

“Water,” Chadly interrupted. “We found water! I knew the Mϋn had water! I knew it! KSP was wrong! The mϋns are not resource poor! We just need to know where to look! Show me the other resources!”

Neilming cycled through the other resources. Sure enough, there were higher concentrations than what KSP originally reported. “The boss is going to love this,” she said, beaming. “Forget hauling propellant from Kerbin to the mϋnar fuel depot, we can bring it up from the surface!”

Chadly quickly agreed, then pointed a finger at the monitor. “What are those question marks?”

“We’re still figuring that out,” Neilming answered. “They appear to be distinctly different from the surrounding terrain, but Ikon’s resource camera can’t identify them. It doesn’t have enough resolution. They could also just be data glitches.”

“Huh,” Chadly said. “Well, no matter. We found water! Let’s call a meeting and brief the chiefs. We’re about to disrupt the business plan…”





A couple of days after RadarSat 3 boosted towards Minmus- SCAN finally cleared it for launch based on the performance of its predecessors- Skyranger finally returned home. The professional astronauts- Maxpond, Johnsted, Steve, and Malus- where really ready to return home. As the Mk-33 approached the runway, Johnsted noticed the new propellant refinery built next to the pad- essentially just a facility that distilled water piped in from the ocean, separated it into propellium and oxium, and stored it for future use. With the increasing flight rates, making propellant locally would help keep costs down.

After 40 days of flight and training, Maxpond knew who the top candidates were. Bervis would make a great pilot, while Mitson had an affinity for engineering, and Elke would make a good scientist. They would be given an opportunity to join KSP at the end of the show. Everyone aboard had signed non-disclosure agreements and could not reveal anything until the final episode of Space Kamp aired, but the flight crew was not concerned. They were glad just to be home and were ready for a rest. Skyranger would get a rest too, but only for a few days to ensure that her long exposure to space did not cause any issues.



On Huitzil 10, Orbital Dynamics had their board meeting…

“They’re already talking about filming a second season, can you believe it? This time, they want us to hire the candidates… Anyway, as our only launch vehicle, it was painful to have Skyranger on orbit for so long and unavailable for flights,” Scott said during the board meeting, “but now that we have some more revenue coming in, we can remedy that. Based on the reports, the crew support module that we made for Space Kamp worked, but it was a bit awkward to board, and the passengers weren’t comfortable sitting in a ‘makeshift cabin.’ Moving forward, as we fly more tourists to Homestead Hotel, we’ll need another Mk-33, preferably one dedicated to flying passengers. Fortunately, we’ve got one that's nearly finished. Lyta, how far can we build out Ascension before we have to make a decision about a cargo or passenger variant?”

Lyta Kerman, former CEO of Polecat Spaceworks Division and now executive vice president of Orbital Dynamics, already knew the answer. “The original specs for the Mk-33 called for hot-swappable payload modules,” she began, “and nearly all of the design elements to facilitate that are still in place. So, we can build Ascension right up to the point where we decide to finish her payload section as a cargo ship or as a passenger liner. In fact, with the lessons we learned from making Skyranger, we could convert Ascension to either role with a refit- though that will take time, of course.”

“Nice,” Scott commended. “In that case, let’s keep building out Ascension and finish as much as we can before we complete Homestead Hotel. Sara, will that work?”


“As long as I can make the final decision on the direction based on business needs, yes,” Sara answered enthusiastically.

“Great,” Scott answered. He was nervous about conducting the board meeting, but Sara thought that it would be good practice. “Meanwhile, thanks to the engineering team,” Scott continued, “we have the remaining hotel modules built and ready to go. With Maxpond, Jonsted, and Steve getting a much-deserved rest, Mabo, Frolie, and I will be handling the next four sorties. It’ll be nice to have the band back together for a bit. Let’s see… Uh, Mabo, how goes recruiting?”

“KSP is, uh, less than enthusiastic about us continuing to recruit from their ranks,” Mabo, newly appointed to Orbital Dynamics’ Chief of The Astronauts, admitted, “but they’ve got a bunch of Shuttle astronauts just sitting around and waiting for crew assignments. They get some flight time going to KOS and the occasional trip to Billstown, but word is that they’re getting bored waiting around for a flight. I’m taking advantage of that and trying to convince Shersey, Jeslong, and Jofrey to join us. Shersey and Jeslong started flying on SLS-4 and handled the maiden flight of Opportunity on SLS-13 beautifully. Jofrey was flight engineer for Spirit’s maiden flight on SLS-7. All three would make great additions to the team. I tried to get Dudmon- he would be amazing to get- but he’s holding out for a slot on the mission to Laythe. I have other astronauts in mind, but I haven’t reached out to them yet.”

“Fantastic,” Scott commended, “keep up the good work. Frolie, where are we at with the propellant tank?”

“Right on track,” Frolie answered. “We’ve begun manufacturing the tank for Skyranger’s payload bay. It will be ready by the time we finish construction of the hotel. We’ve designed it with a couple of variants in mind. The first one is an inline variant, and the second is a radially docked variant, both of which can be used for the Astro Tug and for the fuel depot. The best thing is that we gain experience making the Finch fuel tanks as well. In the meantime, the tank will give us enough delta-v to use Skyranger to boost the hotel’s orbit.”

“Great! Our investors are as anxious to finish the hotel as we are,” Scott said. “It sounds like your team has a design for the fuel depot?”

“Yup. The depot and the Astro Tug share the same tank configuration and nearly the same propulsion section, with the only difference being that the depot- well, the one going to the Mϋn- uses a cryogenic engine, and the Astro Tug’s propulsion section uses storable propellants. The propellant tanks are configured accordingly. The whole system is modular; in place of the depot’s refueling section, we have the drills and ISRU for the Astro Tug- and yes, we have the design for the tug ready as well.”

"Why can't we salvage the SLS external tanks that were accidentally left in orbit, and use them for the fuel depot," Mabo asked.

"We- uh- you're evil," Frolie said playfully.

"I know."

"Let me think on that. An ET would have a lot of internal volume."

“Sounds like we can at least begin mission planning for the asteroid maneuvering mission,” Scott said, getting the meeting back on track. “Which reminds me, we’re allowed to move VDP-762, right?”

“Legal assures me that the Prior Appropriation clause in the International Outer Space Accords allows us to lay claim to VDP-762 once we demonstrate that we can extract value from it,” Sara responded. “When the Astro Tug mines and refines the ore into rocket propellant, we’ll have a legal claim. After that, we can do what we want, including moving it. I'm pretty sure that anything considered orbital debris can be salvaged as well, but I'll have Legal check on that as well...”

“That’s good news,” Scott said. “Speaking of refining… water on the Mϋn! My science contact at KSC confirmed our findings. That fact changes our plans for the Mϋnar Depot, or Gateway, or whatever we end up calling it. Instead of shipping propellants from Kerbin, we can ship them up from the Mϋn instead- I’m guessing we won’t be using an equatorial orbit though…”

“You’ll need an inclined orbit for sure,” Frolie interjected.

“Frolie, can your team start working up a design for a mϋnar ISRU system?”

“Oh yeah,” Frolie said excitedly. “I'll also speak with my vonKerman representative and see what they can do for us.”

“Perfect,” Scott answered, “thank you. Out of curiosity, how is the media handling the news?”

“On the whole, people are excited,” Leing Kerman, Chief of Public Relations, answered. “KSP, the Ministry of Space, and the vonKerman Space Agency all congratulated us on our discovery to varying degrees and cited the potential for off-world mining. They basically tied it back to finding resources on laythe and creating technology for a self-sustaining colony.

“Drax Aerospace was quick to claim that in the near-term, given their heavy-lift capability, launching fully fueled tanks from Kerbin would be more efficient than launching empty tanks and setting up an architecture to refuel them with off-world resources. Then they turned around and said that for years, they have had long-term plans to build mining stations on the Mϋn to support ‘missions outside of the tourist industry.’ They also said that they were planning a mϋnar mining technology demonstration mission soon. The Ministry of Space quickly pointed out that they already proved that concept with their first Arrow 5 flight, but Drax Aerospace countered that they mined ore, not water.”

“Sounds like we’ll have competition in the propellant industry,” Scott responded.

“We have had several firsts recently,” Sara said. “The first reusable single stage to orbit spacecraft. The first spacecraft to land on an asteroid. The first commercial space station, and soon, the first space hotel. We literally and figuratively launched the space tourism industry. Drax Aerospace is taking notice of our achievements and is moving to curtail them. They even had one of their affiliates inquire about investing in our company. I’ve seen that move before, it’s a prelude to a hostile takeover.”

“Good luck with that,” Scott quipped, “we’re privately held.”

“Exactly,” Sara continued. “Anyway, their SLS Block 2 launch contracts are lucrative, so right now it doesn’t make sense for them to move away from their proven architecture, but you can bet that they’re looking for a Shuttle replacement that is cost competitive with our Mk-33. My source says that Drax is about to announce an agreement with KSP to add a commercial station module to the KSC side of Starlab. It’s called the Axis Commercial Orbital Segment. The agreement lets Drax Aerospace fly tourists to Starlab- Axis, access, get it? They also get to produce space-made products while utilizing the station’s existing infrastructure to support Axis. And when Starlab is retired, ACOS becomes the Axis Commercial Space Station with just a few small additions.

“The bottom line is that we won’t have a monopoly on the space tourism market for much longer, and their comments about propellants have cooled the emerging propellant industry too, at least for now,” Sara concluded.




With the board meeting concluded, Skyranger launched into orbit with the first of many Homestead Hotel rooms in its cargo bay. After delivering it to the hotel, Frolie reprogramed the navigation lights, settling on a pattern that lets visiting spacecraft know which way they were oriented relative to the station- things got more complicated when you had multiple docking ports to choose from. The blinking lights told pilots if the station was up or down, but their color now reflected if they were on the port or starboard side. The local docking port’s relative port/starboard lights remained solid.





Skyranger returned home and repeated the process three more times- once with the second station node- before taking a maintenance break.




Mabo, Scott, and Frolie took a much-needed rest and swapped out with Maxpond, Johnsted, and Steve. The crew brought up the remaining three hotel rooms before swapping crews with Mabo, Scott, and Frolie once again.





After the ground crew installed the fuel tank, Skyranger lifted off to rendezvous with Homestead Hotel.

Four hours after reaching orbit, Skyranger docked with the hotel and raised its orbit to the required altitude, ending up in a 430.8 km by 431.46 km orbit.




After verifying the station’s new orbit, Skyranger deorbited and landed once again at Welcome Back Island.

The hotel investment group, chaired by none other than Tito Kerman, was delighted with having the world’s first space hotel, and looked forward to booking rooms. Even though they had to share the profits with Orbital Dynamics, it was well worth the investment- one that they’d recoup with their exorbitant fees…

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Chapter 16




“And liftoff of the space plane Ascension on her maiden voyage, carrying the first guests to Homestead Hotel,” Amanda Kerman, launch commentator for Orbital Dynamics, said. Like her sister ship, Ascension was a Mk-33- the second in the fleet- one that benefited from the lessons learned from building Skyranger. Unlike Skyranger, Ascension- named from the same obscure sci-fi series that also gave Space Shuttle Freedom its name- was configured to carry passengers in its payload section. It also had an auxiliary tank full of propellants. If test flights proved that the tank was unneeded, then Orbital Dynamics would convert it into a resource carrier instead. Additionally, if needed, the company could refit its payload section to carry cargo instead of crew with about two weeks of hangar work.




Ascension, crewed by Maxpond, Johnsted, and Steve- Scott lost the coin toss- launched into orbit flawlessly. Four hours after launch, Ascension made its transfer burn to reach Homestead Hotel, and then rendezvoused and docked 45 minutes later. The guests loved every minute of it.






With just over 40 tonnes of payload, the Shuttle-C lifted off on Chimal 17, 2000, and achieved an 81.4 km by 128.6 km orbit. The propulsion module flopped around and barely held on during ascent, and the payload had to circularize its own orbit, but the launch vehicle successfully completed its mission. After deploying the payload- Drax’s Axis Commercial Space Module- Shuttle-C aimed for Kerbal Space Center and deorbited. It completely missed KSC but it deployed its parachutes right before running out of electricity and landed 40 km offshore of Welcome Back Island.


Meanwhile, Axis docked to the forward node of KOS, where the station crew powered on its systems and turned on the lights. It had to wait for the next Mϋnraker launch for a Drax crew to fully outfit and activate the module, but it was nearly open for business.

Drax Kerman had hoped for a better ending for Shuttle-C, but they did push the vehicle beyond its 34-tonne maximum rated launch capacity. Simply put, payload masses increased, and Shuttle-C couldn’t meet the demand.

But Drax Aerospace had another trick up their sleeve…






After a five-day stay in orbit, Ascension returned to Kerbin, offloaded the hotel guests, turned around, and went back to the pad after a brief hangar stay. Twelve new guests boarded, and the Mk-33 launched into orbit once again. Five days later, Ascension landed, turned around in under a day, and launched another 18 tourists to the hotel. With all the hotel bookings, even with Orbital Dynamics’ portion of the proceeds (which were comfortably lining their coffers), the Homestead Hotel Group was rapidly recouping their investment.


When the group of 18 returned, Space Kamp booked the hotel for a second season and sent another dozen candidates into space along with Malus, Allock, a film crew, and Ascension’s flight crew. Season two had even more hijinks than the first season- which was still in post-production. The new cast loved having four times the room than the previous season, and Ascension’s accommodations made for an even more pleasant flight. Orbital Dynamics paid closer attention to the candidates this time around since the top three would be joining the company.

The flight crew- Maxpond, Johnsted, and Steve- enjoyed having their own hotel suites instead of sleeping in Ascension, and Allock, Malus, and the film crew had their own rooms as well. The only downside was putting up with the trainees for another 40 days…



While the last flight of Shuttle-C proved disappointing, the first flight of the Jool was quite the opposite. The vehicle showed its heritage with its predecessor, but there were changes. Drax Aerospace engineers moved the propulsion module from the side like how the Mϋnraker was normally attached to inline with the external tank. They also added a fourth KS-25B “Rainbird” engine and removed the “Viking” OMS engines. As before, the propulsion module would detach after its work was done, but it would parachute down to an awaiting recovery vessel instead of trying to return to KSC. To accommodate the propulsion module’s new location as well as changes to the stack, Drax bought of the old Sarnus launch platforms and tower and modified it for the Jool.


Additionally, the engineers designed and built a new cryogenic “Kerbin Departure Stage” powered by four new CE-2X “Ulysses” engines. These engines had excellent vacuum performance with comparably poor atmospheric efficiency. The KDS could be refueled on orbit if needed. In fact, Drax Aerospace designed the KDS so that it could evolve into an orbital tug- just like the Arrow 5’s upper stage.


The combined core stage and KDS could in theory place up to 51 metric tons of payload into Kerbin orbit, but the test payload was well below that. The Jool launch vehicle lit its main engines, waited a second, and then lit its solid rocket motors before firing explosive bolts to free the vehicle from its bonds and rapidly retracting the pad’s service arms. The vehicle experienced severe pogo oscillations shortly after clearing the tower and performing its roll maneuver, but the flight control software successfully compensated and brought the vehicle back onto its launch trajectory.




The pogo oscillations continued and threatened to throw the vehicle off its trajectory, but the flight control software continued to fight back. The vehicle wobbled and flexed as it jettisoned its spent boosters and drained its enormous core tank, but once Jool discarded the spent propulsion module and core tank, the oscillations mercifully ceased.


All the wobbling and continual course corrections ate into the Jool’s propellant load, but the KDS managed to attain a 150.5 km by 152.3 km orbit- thanks in part by borrowing some propellant from its test payload. But since Drax Aerospace anticipated this scenario, their second Jool booster was already equipped with a large propellant tank that was designed to refuel the orbiting KDS. All they had to do was figure out what caused the problem, and make any changes needed.

The post-launch analysis team immediately went to work to determine the cause of the oscillations. They quickly surmised that the payload wasn’t properly secured, and that caused the rocket to veer off course. Drax Aerospace decided to take a risk and launch the second booster two days later. They had to since the MIDAS-E launch window was fast approaching.



The second Jool rolled out to Pad B with a few alterations including additional struts on the propellant tank payload, navigation lights on the KDS, and enlarged and repositioned solar panels to power the cooling systems. While it experienced oscillations like the previous booster, Jool-2 had significantly less issues and attained an 88.7 km by 116.2 km orbit. It wasted no time performing its rendezvous maneuvers. The tanker arrived 6 hours later and docked with the awaiting KDS. It emptied its remaining propellants into the KDS before backing away and deorbiting with its RCS jets.




The third and final test booster, Jool-3, added additional batteries to the Kerbin Departure Stage to prevent the probe core from losing power whenever it orbited on the dark side of the planet. It too rendezvoused with the Jool-1 KDS/payload combination, docked, and transferred its propellants.



With KDS-1 fully fueled, the spacecraft headed to the Mϋn with its test payload- an experimental automated mining vessel that Drax Aerospace hastily assembled to mine water on Kerbin’s nearest natural satellite. Three days later, it entered orbit and selected a landing site based on data published by Orbital Dynamics.




After performing the deorbit maneuver and making a small course correction, KDS-1 parted ways with the mining craft. The technology demonstrator successfully landed at the Mϋn’s north pole, but it bounced and broke a solar array. Relieved that it was on the ground, the Drax team immediately conducted a surface analysis- and didn’t find any water!



Determined not to fail, the Drax scientists quickly consulted the Orbital Dynamics data maps and noticed that a nearby crater was still within the areas supposedly holding water. Engineers calculated that they had enough for one short hop, and the miner jumped into the “polar ice crater” picked out by the scientists. Practically on fumes, the miner landed in the crater. Everyone held their breath as the technology demonstrator ran its surface analysis…

The data was correct, the crater had water!

With their findings confirmed, the mining craft deployed its drills to dig up the water. Sensors in the tanks confirmed that they were receiving a trickle of mϋnar water. After extracting 10 units of the substance, they turned on one of the miner’s electrolysis machines. It had no trouble converting the mϋnar water into propellium and oxidizer.

A day later, Drax Aerospace held a press conference and announced that they had become the first commercial venture to successfully extract water from the Mϋn and convert it into usable propellants. They subsequently filed a claim to the crater they landed in, naming it Drax Crater after the company’s founder. The press congratulated Drax Aerospace on their achievement and bombarded them with a host of questions about how they were going to expand their mϋnar mining operations, how much they would charge for the resources extracted, and so on.

To say the least, Orbital Dynamics was not happy that Drax Aerospace used their data and became the first company to successfully mine the Mϋn for water. When they found out that Chadly Kerman published a paper on discovering mϋnar water- with the data to prove it- without authorization on the same day that Orbital Dynamics announced their findings, Sara immediately fired him.


Lessons learned from their three test flights showed areas where Drax Aerospace could improve their Jool Heavy launch vehicle. Engineers fixed part configs removed structural strengtheners that proved unnecessary to remove stowaway liquid fuel lighten the Kerbin Departure Stage and create additional delta-v margin. That proved sufficient to reach the desired 51-tonne payload capacity and have propellant left over for orbital maneuvering- without the need to stretch the KDS further. Engineers modified the first production Jool Heavy with the changes before ground crews mated it with its payload- the MIDAS-E.



MIDAS-E entered a 250 km orbit and kept its KDS attached.


Then the Ministry of Space launched a pair of radial tanks from their interplanetary tug design, and attached them to the sides of MIDAS-E. They too kept their transfer stages attached. A third Arrow 5 refueled the KDS. With assembly complete, MIDAS-E just had to wait for its transfer window…

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19 hours ago, RP1IsSuperior said:

when next entry?

I've been very busy modding, and am in the process of updating my game to the latest KSP (for the last time!). Hard to imagine but this save started in KSP 1.8.1, and soon it'll be 1.12.2... Anyway, I have some more screenshots to take before I can post the next chapter. :)

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Chapter 17

This ran a bit long, but then again, it's been awhile...


Frustrated with the information leak that let Drax Aerospace land a water miner on the Mϋn before them, Orbital Dynamics locked down all information regarding Asteroid VDP-762 while engineers worked around the clock to build components for the AstroTug. But Orbital Dynamics had another payload to fly first…




Launching into the orbital plane of asteroid VDP-762 taxed Skyranger’s delta-v and ate into its payload capacity. The crew- Scott (CDR), Jeslong (PLT), and Frolie (ENG) quickly deployed their payload- the Asteroid Sampler. Thirty-three minutes later, Asteroid Sampler made its transfer burn to reach VDP-762, and another nine hours later, it made a course correction burn to end up next to the asteroid. It had another five days until it rendezvoused with the asteroid.



Meanwhile, with little propellant remaining, Skyranger waited on orbit for a couple of days until the space center lined up with its orbit. Given the inclination and the planet's rotation, Scott opted to aim for KSC and, if necessary, land at the space center before refueling before heading back to Welcome Back Island. Unfortunately, their navigation was off, Skyranger missed KSC by 115 km, and Welcome Back Island was 100 km westward. But with the Mk-33’s jet engines, it was a simple matter to fly back to the island and land- though everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Skyranger touched down and taxied into its hangar.




Three days later, on Itzcoatl 22, 2000, Asteroid Sampler “landed” on VDP-762 next to the Beagle Asteroid Probe and deployed its drills. When the Sampler Team attempted to extract ore, a software glitch of some sort prevented that from happening. The engineers tried restarting the game resetting the control software, but that didn’t work either. They began reading through KSP logs the drilling software until they found configs adding resources from CRP that were removed that were causing NREs the line of code causing the drills to break, deleted the CRP configs fixed the error, and then uploaded the patch a day later. Once they verified the upload, the Sampler Team restarted KSP cycled through the drill startup procedure once more.

To their delight, the software patch fixed the issues, and Asteroid Sampler’s ore tank began filling. They let the probe acquire 10 units before shutting off the drills and running the ISRU. Fortunately, the converter had no problems extracting liquid fuel and oxidizer from the ore and filling the probe’s tanks. Two more test cycles definitively proved that Asteroid Sampler could extract useful resources from VDP-762. As a result of their accomplishment, Sara personally congratulated the team on a job well done.

That afternoon, Orbital Dynamics filed a mining claim for asteroid VDP-762, citing the Prior Appropriation clause of the International Outer Space Accords, just like Drax Aerospace did with Drax Crater...




With VDP-762 legally in their possession, Orbital Dynamics needed to turn on Asteroid Sampler’s ISRU periodically to demonstrate useful resource extraction- or pay a claimant fee by no later than Ahuit 1 to retain possession of the asteroid. But the next launch would begin securing their hold on the asteroid.




Skyranger launched into an inclined orbit with one of the most complicated payloads that the company had designed: AstroTug. Taking up nearly all of the Mk-33’s cargo bay and almost all its fuel to launch, AstroTug was a large, self-contained, automated drilling platform, complete with holding tanks for ore and ISRU converters that transformed the ore into usable propellants. It couldn’t fly to Asteroid VDP-762 on its own, however.


Skyranger waited another nine hours for its orbit to line up with Welcome Back Island- or as close as it could considering their dangerously low delta-v and orbital mechanics. After burning all but a scant few units of its propellant, Skyranger deorbited and landed back at the island.






The next series of flights brought up modular propellant tanks for AstroTug, but due to the propellant densities of liquid fuel and oxidizer, and Skyranger’s maximum payload capacity of 20.5 tonnes- more like 10 with safety margins to the inclined orbit- they could only be partially filled. While the central core tank flew without issues, the first side-tank had several problems as Skyranger struggled to achieve the correct launch trajectory and once more had precious little delta-v with which to deorbit and land. The crew waited 2 days in orbit to get a reasonable landing corridor, and even then, they had a long flight to return home.





Playing it safe, the next side tank delivery flight carried no propellant to give Skyranger extra margin. It helped. Skyranger needed 730m/sec of delta-v to make the required plane change due to navigation errors during liftoff, but she rendezvoused with AstroTug successfully and delivered the second side tank without incident. Forty-five minutes later, the Mk-33 deorbited and returned home safely.


The last flight brought up the tug’s propulsion module, which sported a single KR-84 Ocelot motor. The Mk-33 skid across the sky as the crew struggled to get onto the right orbital path. They made orbit, but Mabo had a 475 m/sec plane change maneuver to make afterward. Thankfully, the rendezvous burns were slight by comparison. The delta-v margins were dangerously low, so the crew took their time approaching AstroTug, and locked out Skyranger's mid tanks for emergency margins.







Skyranger rotated the module out of its payload bay and handled the docking. After a 3-day wait, the Mk-33 deorbited and landed home safely. Everyone breathed a bit easier.

The tug was fully assembled at last, but it needed some help getting to its target…







After waiting for several weeks, MIDAS-E finally embarked on its voyage to the outer solar system. The Kerbin Departure Stage burned first and dropped away, followed by the Arrow 5 Upper Stages. While the twin Arrow 5 Upper Stages headed out of Kerbin’s Sphere of Influence, the Kerbin Departure Stage was stuck in high orbit- but its reserve propellant was enough to deorbit it. It fell back to Kerbin two hours later and burned up. The prototype and the AUS did their jobs well; MIDAS-E had more than enough propellant to circularize its orbit between Jool and Lindor in another four years…



The Ministry of Space had been launching tanker craft since just after the very first landing on the Mϋn. Their Arrow 3B delivered the first Arrow Transfer Vehicle into orbit to refuel a Duna 1B upper stage that became the Duna Minmus Tanker, which in turn refueled the first Mϋnflight to Minmus. Arrow Transfer Vehicles and their derivatives continued flying throughout the Mϋnflight era to refuel mϋn-bound spacecraft and into the Shuttle era to resupply Starlab. They continue to fly in the present day, delivering propellant, important cargo, and scientific payloads into orbit. So, when Orbital Dynamics quietly approached the Ministry of Space about delivering propellant to AstroTug, they were absolutely delighted.

In building their new tankers, the Ministry of Space took the opportunity to upgrade their Arrow 5 launch vehicle. They replaced the S2-33 Clydesdale solid rocket motors with karbon filament-wound SRB-5 Photon solid rocket boosters. Originally created by the vonKerman Space Agency for their Photon heavy lift launch vehicle- which was going to be their answer to the Kerman States’ Shuttle Launch System- the project was cancelled due to budget issues. The Photon SRBs were the only product to survive the budget cuts. But with no launch vehicle slated to use them, the empty casings languished in a storage hangar for years. With the Arrow 5 upgrades, they had a new purpose.

In addition to the lighter and more powerful solids, the mcKermans replaced the second stage’s pair of venerable RE-I5 Skippers with a single KR-84 Ocelot and replaced the third stage’s RE-L10 Poodle engine with a single RE-10J Wolfhound. For the tanker configuration, engineers simply removed the fairing and added a conical fuel tank topped by a shielded docking port. The changes ensured that the Arrow 5 Tanker entered orbit with most of its propellant- even with the inclined orbit.







After waiting for AstroTug’s orbital plane to rotate under the launch site, the Arrow 5B lifted off the pad and rocketed into the sky. The Photon solids jettisoned right on time, as did the propulsion module- though the parachutes failed to deploy, and the module crashed. The new Oscelot motor worked as expected, and the new Wolfhound finished orbital insertion of the tanker. Five and a half hours later, the tanker arrived at AstroTug. Despite the high orbit inclination, the tanker arrived with nearly three-quarters of its propellant load- enough to fuel up the center tank.

Since Orbital Dynamics bought two Arrow 5B tanker flights, and the first one worked, the second flight launched a couple of days later and nearly topped off AstroTug’s fuel tanks. That gave it more than enough delta-v to rendezvous with and latch onto VDP-762.


Forty-five minutes later, AstroTug made a 1,530 m/sec burn- half its propellant- into a transfer orbit towards VDP-762. A day later, it made a small correction burn, but it still had another 4 days to rendezvous with the asteroid…






After 40 days in space, Season 2 of Space Kamp wrapped up in orbit and the cast and crew piled back into Ascension for the trip home. With almost two dozen Mk-33 flights under their belt, Ascension’s return was uneventful. Though they were sworn to secrecy, Kendos (PLT), Willorf (ENG), and Maxbret (SCI) eagerly accepted their offer to join Orbital Dynamics. Mabo immediately started them on the company’s astronaut orientation.

The cast and crew deplaned to allow the next flight crew- and a whopping thirty-three tourists to board the SSTO after the ground crew prepped the ship for its next mission.

A day later, Ascension lifted off the pad once more and headed to Homestead Hotel…



Bill looked out beyond the confines of the crew access arm at the Ministry of Space’s launchpad, then gazed at the sky. He looked around again and sighed. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but deep down, he just knew. He motioned to Jeb to switch to the private channel. “The sky is… different,” Bill said.


Jeb turned and looked at his old friend. “Huh?”

“The sky is different,” Bill repeated. “It’s… not sure how to describe it… more vivid. And this launch pad. It’s not like it used to be. The design is different. It’s like what I said about Starlab. The KSP modules used to be off-white. Then they were gray.”

Jeb reached up to scratch his receding hairline, and then stopped himself when he remembered that he had his helmet on. “You’re kidding, right? The modules have always been gray,” Jeb said. “This is the same pad design as when Phoenix Aerospace first created it. And the sky? Same as always.”

Bill shook his head. “No, it isn’t-“

“Buddy, you keep talking like that, and the doctors will ground you,” Jeb warned. “You want to go to Laythe? Then keep quiet about that mulch. You want to end up like Gerrim?”

“Gerrim injured her arm, Jeb, not her mind. And I’m fine. I’m just saying that the SAVE looks different. It feels different, somehow. Like it’s been- I don’t know- upgraded with new features, like, a… native alarm clock app...”

"A what?"

“If you two want to go sightseeing, all you have to do is ride that rocket next to you,” Gene broke into the private channel and chided.

Bill froze. Did Gene hear their conversation?

“You heard the General,” Jeb said, breaking the silence. “Let’s go upstairs.”




Phoenix Aerospace’s Crew Demo flight was originally scheduled for two months later, but the medical emergency couldn’t be resolved in orbit with the current technology. It was a good learning experience as KSC tried to improvise, but it was time to bring Gerrim home.

Given the difficulties with Phoenix Aerospace's automation systems, KSP insisted on having one of their own pilots fly the mission, and Jeb was the best they had.


“Feels like old times,” Jeb yelled over the thundering rockets as the modernized Edna booster launched Firebird, a modernized derivative of the K-24 Kerbal Return Vehicle- itself derived from the K-20 KerbalSoar- that Bill and Jeb had flown many times.




The launch went flawlessly, with the Edna Jettisoning its side boosters on time for a landing on their barges, dropping off the core stage for a fiery reentry, and finally, separating its upper stage from Firebird so that the space plane could finish circularizing its orbit. The launch ended up in a 116.6 km by 128.9 km orbit.



The crew took several minutes to run through their post-launch checklists. A few minutes later, they were orbiting the night side of Kerbin. Bill took a quick look out the window before returning to the work on his laptop.

“I was out at the Boneyard the other day,” Jeb said, referring to the retirement home for old spacecraft. “It was sad seeing all the K-20s and shuttles lined up. I miss the days of blasting off to the mϋns, not sure if we’d make it there and back. Now all we do is go spinning around Kerbin. I tell you, Laythe can’t happen soon enough… You ever miss the old days?”


Bill felt a moment of vertigo as his senses adjusted to the microgravity. To steady himself, he looked out the window. Then he gasped. What he saw wasn’t there a moment ago. My Squad, Bill thought to himself, it’s full of stars! “There are so many now,” he muttered.


“Uh, so, uh, so many, uh, retired spacecraft,” Bill stammered. “The Shuttles were uh, retired before their time. Sure, they were showing signs of aging- Freedom especially since she was the first- but they still had a lot of life left in them. We should’ve kept flying them instead of retiring them and handing Shuttle flights over to Drax. That reminds me, is your ‘source still saying that Drax wants to fly six Mϋnrakers? That sounds like something that a secret agent’s evil genius villain would do.”

“Manuela? No, she says that that Mk-33 from those Orbital Dynamics guys has them rethinking their whole strategy. They didn’t expect that SSTO to work, let alone so well. It’s making them look bad. That Mk-33 looks like a fun ride, though Mabo says it’s almost boring to fly. Anyway, I think they’re looking into a runway to orbit design.”

“Ah. So, uh, are you two still dating?”

Jeb sighed. “What? Oh. Uh, no... Manuela is great but uh, we don’t have a lot in common. We’re still friends, but I realized that I’m looking for someone…”

“Closer to your age?”

“…Yeah...” Jeb fell silent for a bit before continuing. He sighed. “I’m feeling old, Bill. I’m getting more tired these days. Some of the luster of flying has faded- though I think that’s more to do with spending a decade spinning around Kerbin. But after Laythe, I might take a desk job or retire…”






Ninety minutes after launch, Firebird arrived at Starlab. A few hours later, after the crew exchanged pleasantries and Gerrim briefed Bill on Starlab’s current condition, she said her tearful goodbyes to the crew and took her place in Firebird’s crew cabin. Not long after, Firebird departed, deorbited, and landed back at KSC.

“I didn’t even need to use the jets,” Jeb remarked.



“AstroTug has arrived at VDP-762,” Neilming said at Orbital Dynamics Mission Control as he read the telemetry data. “AT is 84 meters from the target. Grappling claw has armed. AT is awaiting capture confirmation.”

Seanlock Kerman gave the go ahead, and AstroTug aimed at the asteroid. Seanlock replaced Chadly as Resource Mission Manager after his predecessor leaked proprietary information about the Mϋn’s water content without permission. The research paper that Chadly published resulted in Drax Aerospace beating Orbital Dynamics to the Mϋn and becoming the first commercial space agency to extract water.

“AT has targeted VDP-762’s center of mass,” Neilming continued. “Seventy meters and closing, AT is still targeting CoM… Relative velocity is 1.1 meters per second, crossing fifty meters… Thirty meters… Twenty… Claw has buried itself into the regolith… Capture! AT has captured VDP-762 on Moc 17, 2000 at 10:23:10 Universal Time. Current altitude is 3,903.3 kilometers.”


Everyone in ODMC cheered. “Alright, settle down everybody,” Frobert Kerman, Flight Director for ODMC shouted after a couple of minutes. “We still have work to do.”

The AstroTug team ran and verified the tug’s post-capture routines including shutting down the main engine, setting the reaction wheels to neutral, and turning off the RCS thrusters. With the checklist completed, the tug activated Stability Assist for station keeping, and the team watched the readouts for any excessive wobbling.

“Smart Assist is causing excessive vibrations through the vehicle,” Neilming declared upon reading the telemetry. “AT switched to standard SAS. Star Tracker has acquired the Mun, and the onboard computer has computed Ascending and Descending Nodes. VDP-762 is an hour away from DN, but of course the vehicle’s tanks are showing 5 meters-per-second of delta-v currently available.

“Vehicle is now attempting to orient the asteroid to the maneuvering orientation for a simulated engine burn. AT is successfully reorienting VDP-762… Asteroid has been successfully reoriented. Center of Thrust is in line with Center of Mass and the maneuver node within the acceptable error of margin.”

More cheers went up in the ODMC, followed by Frobert calling for order.

“Had we had sufficient propellant, we could make an engine burn. Very nice,” Seanlock praised. “Deploy the drills.”

A few seconds later, Neilming confirmed the order. “AT confirms drills have deployed,” he said.

“Excellent,” Seanlock said. “Go ahead with the converter startup sequence.”

Neilming sent the commands to AstroTug, and it happily complied. First, it started its fuel cell and confirmed the expected positive flow of electric charge. Then it started both drills and reported a positive Ore flow rate of 0.1 units per second. Next, it started the Convert-O-Tron 125, and reported a 0.01 unit per second conversion rate.

“Those numbers look low,” Scott said.

“Not to worry,” Neilming responded, “we can increase output on the drills through a ModuleManager patch.”

Scott thought for a few moments. “Sara, we just got a big payment for those tourists, can you spare some change for some tanker flights?”

“Let me think on that,” Sara responded. “In the meantime, great job, team!”

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 18


Space fans had several missions to watch and celebrate over the course of a month. First, Orbital Dynamics’ record number of tourists traveling into orbit inspired even more tourists to visit Homestead Hotel. Ascension broke her own record by flying forty-six kerbals into orbit on the same flight- 43 tourists and a flight crew of 3. The tourists enjoyed 3 days of microgravity before Ascension returned home and picked up 19 more tourists for their turn at the hotel. All those paying customers filled Orbital Dynamics’ bank account with Funds- more than enough to move to the next phase of operations once they moved their asteroid into place.



With so many tourists flying to Homestead Hotel, the vonKerman Space Agency couldn’t help but fly a couple of their own tourists to Drakken Palast to see if they could entice others to visit their old space station. Kallisto 2 launched into orbit with Sophia vonKerman (PLT), Karl vonKerman (ENG), and two tourists. The flight was uneventful, but when they arrived at Drakken Palast, things got much worse.


When the space plane tried to dock, its docking magnets wouldn’t engage! Worse, when Kallisto 1 tried to undock so that Kallisto 2 could use their port, they couldn’t undock! Their deteriorating situation immediately caught the attention of media outlets around the world. Their space news coverage quickly soared; they hadn’t seen such public interest in space since the final flight of Space Shuttle Freedom.




As Kallisto 2 floated nearby, the vonKerman Space Agency immediately responded by launching a Drakken Kargo ship to the space station. Within hours, the cargo ship arrived at Drakken Palast. It too could not dock at any of the available ports! But the vonKermans anticipated this situation and equipped the cargo ship with a mini grabbing unit. After arming the grabber, the Drakken Kargo ship latched onto the station.


Finally, their wait was over- or so they thought. Kallisto 2 approached the cargo ship’s forward docking port- part of a spacer that Drakken Kargo brough to make it easier for Kallisto shuttles to dock- and still couldn’t dock! By then, the vonKermans knew that something was seriously wrong. But they had one more trick up their sleeve.



The cargo ship opened its payload bay to reveal the Notfallgreifer- Emergency Grabber in Kerman. The Notfallgreifer exited the payload bay and latched onto Kallisto 2. Then the shuttle used Notfallgreifer’s second grabber to latch onto Drakken Palast. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. A short spacewalk later, everyone was aboard the station- except for Karl.





The engineer stepped outside and replaced critical components on the open docking ports to get them working again. After a few hours, Sophia and the tourists returned to Kallisto 2, which detached from the station, deorbited, and returned to Darude successfully.

Later, after the Drakken Kargo ship moved to the repaired ventral port, Karl stepped outside again to manually free Kallisto 1, the mini shuttle used the Notfallgreifer to reposition, Karl got to work once more...



He disassembled the spacer unit brought by the cargo ship, welded it to the orbital module, and then re-attached its docking port. After re-pressurizing the orbital module and verifying the welds, he took the docking hardware over to the broken dorsal port. As before, Karl pulled the broken port and installed the new one, repressurized the module, and verified that the seals were intact. Finally, he packed up the Drakken Kargo with the trash before returning inside.

Around the world, the public cheered at their triumph. Despite their limited budget, the vonKermans demonstrated that they were still able to innovate and could respond to potentially disastrous situations in space with creative solutions. And Karl’s work cemented the vonKermans’ place in history as the pioneers of orbital construction.



Improvements to the drill outputs enabled AstroTug to switch on two more of its ISRU converters and receive a five-fold increase in propellant production. They could activate a third ISRU, but only for a limited time as the drills wouldn’t be able to keep up. The tug chewed up VDP-762’s innards and extracted the liquid fuel and oxidizer from the ore that it needed.

Orbital Dynamics’ science team still didn’t know what the gold veins were, and the probes that they sent simply didn’t have the technology to fully analyze it. If they wanted answers, they’d have to send a sample return mission- or better yet, a crewed mission with an advanced laboratory. But that would have to wait until they re-positioned the asteroid.

At their current rate of processing, engineers calculated that AstroTug should fill its tanks within 2-3 days depending upon yield rates. That gave plenty of time to prepare for the first reposition maneuver that was currently scheduled when the craft reached the descending node in 32 days. But the company wanted to aim for a maneuver on the ascending node if possible, giving them two burns per orbit. Even though an ascending node burn was less efficient, it enabled them to reposition the asteroid sooner, and that would appease the eagerly awaiting tourists. Seanlock assured the Board that so long as it was safe to do so, they would try for the ascending node…

A couple of days later, ODMC verified that AstroTug had indeed filled its tanks full- but it slipped past the ascending node and was out of position to conduct a burn. The company had to wait another 30 days before making its next move.




On paper, it looked great. The Sunraker- Drax Aerospace’s answer to Orbital Dynamics’ Mk-33 SSTO- looked like a majestic space whale that could deliver up to 34 tonnes into low orbit using advanced rocket-based combined cycle engines that could switch from jet engine mode to rocket mode. In reality though, things didn’t work out so well. Engineers couldn’t achieve the performance required for orbital flight using the RBCC engines. Worse, the conventionally powered prototype crashed spectacularly, and Drax Aerospace had to pay for damages to KSC.


Forced to redesign Sunraker, Drax engineers went through several design iterations including adding a crew module and trying various tank configurations and engine combinations- including at one point, an atomic rocket. Unfortunately, KSC outright rejected that design.


Frustrated with their progress, Drax Kerman personally “encouraged” his engineers to come up with a workable solution that could deliver 34 tonnes into low orbit from the runway. After many panic-stricken nights, they finally settled upon a design that utilized six revolutionary J-61 “Starwasher” combined cycle scramjet engines to propel Sunraker from the runway to about Mach 5, four uprated KS-25B “Rainbird” engines that were pushed to their design limits for the dash to orbit, and a single T-1C “Snow Dart” cryogenic aerospike for orbital maneuvering.

Despite pushing current technology to its limits and introducing the scramjets, Sunraker could only deliver 26.5 tonnes to orbit and still have delta-v to maneuver and deorbit, and it only had room for six kerbals. Drax was disappointed, but the engineers pointed out that their SSTO delivered 6 tonnes more than the Mk-33, it had 80% more internal cargo volume, it could operate from a conventional runway, and it only required 1 pilot to fly, so it effectively delivered as many passengers as the Mϋnraker. That satisfied Drax enough to let the Sunraker engineering team keep their jobs- as long as they could turn their paper rocket into a reality.

Now they just had to work with Kerbodyne’s OPT Propulsion Science Division to create those scramjets. They looked good on paper, but they needed Kerbodyne to actually build them…







Developing Sunraker would not happen overnight- they had to unlock expensive tech tree nodes research new technologies- so Drax Aerospace had to rely on Mϋnraker 1 for the time being. But for what they had in mind the orbiter was perfect for the job. The former KSC orbiter- what would have become Curiosity (OV-205) had KSP not cancelled it- rocketed into a 300.18 km by 300.06 km orbit without incident. As with nearly every Shuttle Launch System flight, Mϋnraker 1 retained its external tank until just after its orbital insertion burn. Unlike previous flights though, this external tank lacked a deorbit kit. Instead, it had a tank extension containing special hardware. The flight crew jettisoned the tank’s aft aeroshell to unveil its large docking port, and then deployed the orbiter’s payload as ordered by Drax Mission Control. Not long after deployment, DMC realized that the payload lacked half of its RCS thrusters!




Without waiting for DMC, Manuela- the shuttle commander- calmly warmed up Mϋnraker 1’s RCS thrusters. With the external tank still attached, she delicately maneuvered the orbiter and docked with the payload, and everyone at DMC sighed with relief. After performing several checks, Manuela separated the orbiter from the tank and maneuvered away from it. DMC directed the complex to deploy its solar arrays, which had no trouble soaking in the sun’s light. Satisfied with the results, Drax Mission Control publicly declared the Drax Fuel Depot- the world’s first commercial fuel depot- open for business.


Mϋnraker 1 reentered an orbit later- and found itself 400km away from KSC when it went subsonic- but it had enough jet fuel for the trek home. Clearly, the shuttle crews needed additional training and practice…




Given the international space community’s switch from Duna to Laythe and their largely supportive role in Project Laythe, the mcKerman Kindom’s public voted overwhelmingly to fund missions to Duna, a planet that the nation was practically obsessed with. With the Duna launch window nearly open, the Ministry of Space intended to test as many technologies as possible before sending a kermanned expedition on the next transfer window. To that end, they launched a prototype space station and a prototype lander into orbit. Both spacecraft used conventional propulsion; their relay satellites and science probe still needed to evaluate their respective atomic rocket designs before the Ministry of Space committed to one of them…






As their orbiting fleet proverbially set sail over the course of two days, the public cheered as each vessel performed its Trans-Duna Injection Burn. Then 3 days later, the nation practically ground to a halt during the evening as the last vessel in the fleet, Duna Basecamp, left Kerbin’s gravitational Sphere of Influence. The fervor died down shortly thereafter; nobody really cared about the fleet traversing the void save for MoS Mission Control and a few dedicated enthusiasts.



 “Two minutes,” Frobert Kerman said calmly. In reality, he, like many at Orbital Dynamics Mission Control, were feeling tense. The minutes passed by agonizingly slow. “And we have ignition. Good burn, stable thrust vector…” ODMC’s personnel cheered. With stable burns, it was a matter of time before they could align the asteroid’s orbital plane.


“…And shutdown. 318 meters per second to go. Onboard computer has plotted the next maneuver burn in… 7 hours, 10 minutes…”


Seven hours only partially filled the tug’s fuel tanks, and the ascending node maneuver was significantly costlier in delta-v, so the tug only performed a small maneuver. But in another 26 days, AstroTug only needed to make a 300 m/sec burn…

Three months later, AstroTug completed its orbital plane change maneuvers. The onboard computer had to adjust its thrust level a few times to compensate for an unexplained a shift in the center of mass, but at last, VDP-762 orbited in the same plane as the Mϋn.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Chapter 19



As the mcKerman Kingdom’s Duna fleet performed their mid-course correction burns and AstroTug lowered VDP-762’s orbit to avoid any chance of colliding with the Mϋn, Drax Aerospace launched Mϋnraker 1 into orbit once again. This time, the shuttle headed straight for Starlab with two pilots, a crew of 2 Glesby mcKerman (SCI), and Sammal mcKerman (SCI), and 3 tourists. Mϋnraker 1 docked to Starlab without incident a half-day later.



As the tourists entered Drax’s Axis module, the station crew unloaded the shuttle’s supplies. Glesby relieved Sara vonKerman, and Sara entered the prototype Deep Freeze module for her routine check on its occupants. Unlike previous times, however, instead of just checking their status, she thawed both Hanse vonKerman and Jebman Kerman. The two looked tired and hungry, and reported some vivid dreams, but despite being frozen for a year, they looked none the worse for wear. Still, Sara and Sammal examined the thawed kerbals for another two days before the vonKerman Space Agency cleared them for landing.


After saying their goodbyes, Hanse and Jebman boarded Mϋnraker 1 for their trip home. Originally, they were supposed to return in the Drakken capsule, but given the newness of the hibernation technology, researchers insisted that they return in Mϋnraker 1 due to its gentler reentry profile. After the shuttle departed Starlab and landed, Hanse and Jebman had even more medical examinations to look forward to…







Finally, Sara vonKerman and Sammal mcKerman boarded the Drakken capsule- the last of its kind- for their trip home. In service since the Mϋnshot era, the Drakken enjoyed a long and illustrious career, with only one fatality in its entire career. The vehicle earned considerable respect among the astronaut corps of several nations for its unparalleled reliability. There were many who were sad to see it go, but technological advances gave rise to the Kallisto spaceplane and made it obsolete.

The capsule landed 30 km away from the Darude Launch Complex- easy distance for the recovery helicopter. When it arrived, Sara vonKerman and Sammal mcKerman hopped in and were whisked back to the complex.




Orbital Dynamics sacrificed 30% of the asteroid’s mass to move its orbital plane, and sadly, that included some of the precious metals and whatever that strange resource was that made the asteroid glitter. AstroTug simply lacked storage space for the other resources when it extracted the ore and converted it to rocket propellant. It simply couldn’t be helped. Fortunately, VDP-762 still had 5,230.6 tonnes of usable resources remaining.

With the asteroid’s inclination finally aligned with the Mϋn, Orbital Dynamics set out to circularize its orbit. But with their coffers practically overflowing, rather than further consuming the asteroid’s ore, they hired the Ministry of Space to fly more tankers to refuel AstroTug. Two Arrow 5 Tanker flights cost about 300,000 Funds to launch, but they filled the craft’s propellant tanks about three-quarters full. Each cycle of refueling and orbit lowering reduced the delta-v needed to reach the asteroid, which in turn increased the propellant that an Arrow 5 Tanker could deliver. 1.5 million Funds and three months later, Arrow Space, the company that makes the Arrow 5, ran out of commercially available vehicles in their inventory except for one launch vehicle. But for their efforts, VDP-762 settled into a 1687.2 km by 4,910.1 km orbit around Kerbin, ready at last to accept tourists.





Scott, Maxpond, Frolie, and five tourists boarded Skyranger after the ground teams loaded the Mk-33 with its next payload and rolled the spaceplane out to the pad. As it has done several dozen times before, Skyranger rotated vertical and launched into orbit. She had a 632 m/sec delta-v burn to reach VDP-762, but due to its rather light payload, the Mk-33 had enough propellant to reach the asteroid- but not match velocities with it! After the initial transfer burn, the crew realized the problem and made an emergency divert to Homestead Hotel. She had almost no propellant aboard when she docked.

“I made a bad judgement call,” Scott said to his passengers and crew, “I underestimated Skyranger’s ability to reach the asteroid. I thought we had enough delta…”

“We’re safe, boss,” Maxpond responded. “We’re parked at the hotel, we have plenty of supplies, and ODMC already has Ascension prepping for launch. Between her auxiliary tank and her own reserves, she’ll refuel us and bring up a load of hotel guests. Our asteroid customers will just need to wait a bit longer…”




A day later, Ascension made a spectacular night launch and docked with Homestead Hotel a few hours later. For the first time, two Mk-33s were on orbit at the same time and docked to the same station. Ascension transferred her auxiliary tank’s propellants to Skyranger along with a bit of her own while the hotel guests made themselves comfortable. To lighten the load a bit further, Frolie went on EVA- he had to use Ascension’s cockpit as a temporary airlock- and moved the Asteroid Docking Pier to the nearest available port at Homestead Hotel.

With that completed, Skyranger and her crew and passengers thanked the Ascension crew for the rescue and headed back home, landing on Cuitla 6, 2000. Though disappointed at the outcome, the tourists knew that there were risks associated with spaceflight, and that they’d get to try again in the future. Plus, they got an overnight stay at Homestead Hotel for free.



“And liftoff of the Bumblebee Eve Flyer, on a mission to explore the purple planet,” Diller Kerman, commentator for KSP, said. Launched atop an Arrow 5+ launch vehicle, the Bumblebee roared into a parking orbit around Kerbin. Once it verified its systems, the probe plotted a course to Eve and waited for the launch window to open.



As it waited for 240 days, even though the transfer app says the launch window opens in 33 days…, Drax Aerospace launched the Eve Relay Satellite Constellation (ERSC) into orbit. Identical to their Duna counterparts, the ERSC was designed to provide telecommunications to probes exploring Eve as well as extending KSC’s Deep Space Network. A second Jool Heavy launched a few days later to deliver the ERSC’s propulsion section, and a third topped off its fuel tanks.


The post-mission report of Skyranger attributed the lack of propellant to reach VDP-762 as pilot error combined with a lack of understanding of the Mk-33’s capabilities. In short, overconfidence from flying high inclination orbits to reach VDP-762 lead to an erroneous belief that the Mk-33 could reach the asteroid’s high orbital altitude. Technically, it could, but it couldn’t handle circularization, deorbiting, and landing. As it was, Skyranger got lucky and was able to reach Homestead Hotel.

The experience accelerated the company’s plans to build their Finch Multipurpose Space Vehicle[1], a modular design based on KSP’s Magellan Mϋnar Shuttle Module. But before that could happen, the company needed to add an airlock to Homestead Hotel. Originally the company didn’t want an airlock at the hotel out of fear that a guest would accidentally space themselves- or worse, demand to go on EVA- but they needed a way to go on EVA without depressurizing a Mk-33’s cockpit, and upgrades to security protocols guaranteed that only staff members could open hatches. So, Orbital Dynamics commissioned Sean’s Cannery to build them a Quantum Leap airlock module comparable to Starlab’s airlock. Then they hired the STEADLER Engineering Corps to design and build a small Payload Maneuvering Vehicle- a remotely piloted drone capable of moving payloads around in place of a mechanical arm.



After arriving at Homestead Hotel, Skyranger’s crew immediately got to work. They deployed the PMV, grabbed the airlock module and plucked it from the Mk-33’s cargo bay. “The control orientation is all messed up, but I think I can manage,” Frolie said as he groaned and tried to maneuver the drone. After some careful piloting, it docked the module to Node 1’s dorsal port. Frolie then flew the drone over to the S12 Docking Adapter mounted on Skyranger’s aft payload bay port, latched onto it, and released the port. The PMV then flew it over to Homestead Hotel’s forward port and docked it.


With their primary mission completed, Frolie took the opportunity to test fly the PMV and figure out the issue. After some orientation and translation burns, he realized that the drone’s probe core had its control point reversed. A simple flip of the switch and some procedure updates fixed that issue. After deploying its solar arrays and radio antennae, Frolie docked the PMV to the airlock module. Finally, he took a brief EVA to activate the airlock and remove payload cable attachments from the Asteroid Docking Pier.



The intensity of the plasma outside grew as Skyranger plunged into the atmosphere on her way home.

“The design is more modular than the Magellan,” Frolie reiterated. “Once we lift the sleeper cabin up to the hotel, the Finch separates from its OTV service section and docks with the cab. We also have two propulsion options. First, the design team created a cyrogenic propulsion section that doubles as a fuel depot. FYI, Drax recently showed that you’d need specially designed shuttle external tanks to use them as a depot, and the ones stuck in orbit would need extensive modifications. Anyway, once we realized that we’ve got one more Arrow tanker flight and an asteroid with tonnes of ore to process, we came up with option two: use the tanker as a tug. That knocked our assembly flights from ten to two.”

“That’s brilliant, Frolie,” Scott said. “So, we don’t need to mine the Mϋn for water.”

“Actually, we still do,” Frolie countered. “We have tonnes of ore, but it won’t last- especially if we continue to lower the asteroid’s orbit. Plus, the Mϋn’s ore concentration is scarce, but the poles have water, so we’ll need cryo to refuel the Finch Transporter. And thanks to Drax, the orbital propellant industry is going cryo. So, if we don’t get our own infrastructure in place relatively soon, we risk losing the market. But going LFO now will let us reach the asteroid sooner and free up flights we'll need to get a depot around the Mϋn sooner as well- hopefully before Drax can.”

“I see,” Scott responded. “And we’ll make those tourists happy. They’ve been pestering me about when they can go again- gah! I overshot again… We’re 50 clicks out, firing up the jets.”

“Pay up, Frolie,” Maxpond smiled and said…




A few days later, Skyranger took to the skies once more, this time carrying the new Finch Multipurpose Space Vehicle. The Mk-33 approached the hotel but didn’t dock. Instead, the crew released the Finch and remotely piloted it to dock with the station. Skyranger then immediately turned around and headed back home.


Next, the Arrow Space Corporation launched the last available Arrow 5 Tanker and aimed it towards Homestead Hotel. Once docked, they handed flight control over to Orbital Dynamics. With both the Arrow Space Corporation and Drax Aerospace focusing on Project Laythe, Orbital Dynamics was on its own again. The tanker  went into hibernation while it waited for its next phase of operation.








A few days later, Scott, Maxpond, Frolie, and the 5 tourists once again launched into orbit. This time, Skyranger carried Finch’s sleeper cab and docked to Homestead Hotel. The tourists had quite a show watching Finch get reconfigured for high orbit flight. Since they’d be among the first kerbals to see an asteroid up close, and they got to watch the assembly process while having the entire hotel to themselves, this time, they didn’t mind the wait.

“She looks more like a swordfish than a Finch with that thing up front,” Munlie, one of the tourists said.

“That’s our Asteroid Docking Pier,” Frolie responded. “It will enable future missions to dock with the asteroid instead of spearing it like we’re going to do.”






Once fully assembled and fueled and crewed, Scott casted off from Homestead Hotel. An hour and a half later, he made their first transfer burn maneuver. Twenty-five minutes after that, Finch decelerated within a kilometer of VDP-762, and then made another 12.5 m/sec rendezvous burn to get in close. After slowing once more, Scott aimed straight for the asteroid’s center of mass and gave a brief burn of the engine. Less than ten second later, Finch skewered VDP-762 and latched on. Loose bits of dust and gravel escaped the asteroid’s feeble gravity.

“Contact,” Scott said triumphantly. “We have a solid capture! Congratulations everyone! We’re the first kerbals in history to visit an asteroid. Welcome to VDP-762!”

Everyone cheered in Orbital Dynamics Mission Control as well when the received the news. “Congratulations to the crew and passengers of Finch on a job well done,” Frobert Kerman, ODMC’s Flight Director radioed.

“Thank you, Flight,” Scott radioed back. “We couldn’t have done it without the hard work and dedication of everyone at Orbital Dynamics and our friends from the Arrow Space Corporation. Looking out the cockpit window, I can see the veins of gold running through the surface. The material glows in the dark.”

“What is it,” Elimund Kerman, one of the tourists, asked.

“Our experts say it’s a mineral containing strontium aluminate,” Frolie responded. “That’s the stuff that makes exit signs glow in the dark.” The truth is, they didn’t know what the glowing gold veins was made of, so calling it strontium aluminate was a good enough cover story- one that could very well be true. Part of their mission involved taking a sample of the stuff for analysis- hence the boxy science instrument and sample container mounted to Finch’s chin.

“Let’s do some science,” Frobert called out.


This is so much fun,” Doald Kerman, one of the tourists, shouted with glee. As the tourists took pictures of themselves and the asteroid, Scott ran the science box’s experiments. The Surface Hydrogen Scan detected trace amounts of propellium on the asteroid’s surface, and the Materials Study Experiment didn’t find any hazardous chemicals. Some of its exposed materials would get additional analysis after they landed. Further, the Laser Surface Scan detected silicates, nickel, and iron in the asteroid’s metal ore.

“That ore could be useful for orbital construction one day,” Frolie mentioned.

After verifying that the science box collected all the data and that its materials bay was securely closed, Scott handed off the controls to Maxpond and went aft to suit up. He stepped out on his first ever EVA, something he’d waited to do for a long time.


“Wow,” he said simply as he let go of the airlock ladder and activated his jetpack. He tried not to think of the insurance cost he had to pay for his spacewalk- company CEOs normally didn’t do such things, but once again, Scott proved that he wasn’t a typical CEO.

“Ok, boss, just like we practiced,” Maxpond said from Finch’s cockpit.



“Copy that. I’m pulling the outer gloves from the glovebox- er science box,” Scott responded. “Gloves secured. Heading to Site A4… I have a handful of the strontium mineral… It glows even in my hand…

“I grab this sample, the first ever from an asteroid, for all kerbalkin in the name of science,” Scott said. He almost forgot to give his speech.

“It’s like a magic boulder,” Elimund Kerman, the fifth tourist, blurted out.

“Twenty funds says Eli’s comment is the one that kerbals remember,” Doald added.

Scott carefully made his way back to the science box, removed the outer gloves, and sealed them back in their storage alcove. Then he returned to the airlock- derived from the vonKerman’s Drakken Orbital Module- cycled the air several times, removed his suit and sealed it in a biohazard containment bag. After wiping himself down and grabbing a fresh flight suit, he rejoined the crew.



Scott shared a celebratory meal with the passengers and crew before resuming his duties in Finch’s cockpit. Afterwards, Frolie suited up and stepped outside for his part in the flight.




“I’m at AstroTug and- mulch,” he cursed. “Look at how bent it is! No wonder her engine had to reduce thrust. The spaceframe is completely torqued! The drills are still intact, and so are the ISRUs, so that’s something, at least.”

“So much for reusing it on another asteroid,” Scott lamented. “Can we still enact your special project?”


“Yeah, looks like it,” Frolie said and continued his flight. “I found Asteroid Sampler, it’s nearly buried in the regolith. And Beagle is almost completely buried. There’s no way we can recover them.”


He flew back to Finch and hopped into the Kerbal Maneuvering Unit- he needed it for the next phase of his EVA. After flying back to AstroTug and making some modifications to it, he made a few more trips back and forth between the wrecked tug and Finch to transfer cannisters.

“The Not Quite Mystery Goo is in place,” he said finally as he returned to Finch. He docked the KMU to the pier, saddened that he had to leave it behind when Finch departed. But they had to, they needed to make sure that the asteroid’s “strontium aluminate” wasn’t toxic to kerbals, and the KMU was now covered in the stuff.

“What’s it for,” Elimund asked.

“It’s a sealant,” Frolie explained. “As AstroTug drills into the asteroid, it creates a cavity when it extracts the resources. The goo seals up the cavity so that it can store resources. The more we drill, the bigger the cavity, and the more that we can store.”

“It turns it into a giant storage tank,” Doald said. “You could’ve just said that.”


Frolie ignored the jab. “Exactly. Now we have a place to put all the resources that AstroTug extracts instead of just pulling ore and dumping the rest.” Frolie had one more task to complete at the asteroid before his work was done. He grabbed a pair of Asteroid Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmitters (ASERT) and buried them in the regolith. Well, he tried to- the transmitters needed more solid footing, so he mounted one to the end of the pier and another onto AstroTug. Then he went back into Finch and performed an extensive decontamination procedure.

An hour later, he checked his handiwork. “Solid connection,” Frolie said. “I hope it works… Hey, look at that, a 100% scan! There’s little variation in the asteroid’s structure. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. That’s something that Seanlock and his team will have to sort out… Anyway, the ESU has the data.”

“Great job everybody,” Scott said triumphantly. “We’re the first kerbals to visit an asteroid, we gathered a lot of science, we set up the asteroid so AstroTug won’t waste any resources that it extracts, and our guests had fun- you did have fun, right?”

“Absolutely,” Doald responded immediately. “Funds well spent!”

“Fantastic! Ok crew,” Scott answered, “tomorrow we’ll say goodbye to VDP-762 and head back to the hotel. You know the drill, we quarantine there for a couple of weeks, then head back home…”

[1] First described in Chapter 11

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Chapter 20


“Now I see why Sara was willing to pay Arrow Space so many funds for their fleet of tankers,” Frolie said as he checked his handiwork. “VDP-762 is a floating goldmine! If I’ve calculated this correctly, the gold that we’ve already extracted easily covers our expenses- and that doesn’t account for the gemstones and precious metals that we’re digging up as well. We can easily afford to add a couple more Mk-33s to the fleet. We also have a steady influx of blutonium- we definitely want to keep quiet about that and hand it off to a government agency. And with all these valuable metals, if we’re not careful, we’ll crash the RaKE market.”

“Rake, what’s that,” Munlie asked.

“It stands for Rare Kerbin Elements,” Doald explained. “It’s the market for gold, precious metals, gemstones, and other things like hexagen and zeonium. This "magic boulder" is the most valuable piece of real estate right now…”

“Just remember your NDA agreements,” Maxpond reminded the tourists.

“My lips are sealed,” Doald responded. “But if you’re not careful though, you’ll start a gold rush.”





As Finch departed from VDP-762 and headed back to Homestead Hotel for the crew’s two-week quarantine, the Ministry of Space kicked off Project Laythe’s first launch campaign with their Galileo Laythe Ascent/Descent Vehicle. Devoid of any crew, Galileo launched into orbit atop a striped down and modified Arrow 5 Plus launch vehicle. The liftoff went smoothly; the Kickback boosters dropped away without problems, but the Photon boosters collided with the Arrow 5’s guidance fins and sheered one off. Luckily, the vehicle quickly recovered, and it was high enough that the loss didn’t adversely affect its launch trajectory.


After dropping off the first stage propulsion module and tanks, the second stage ignited twin KR-84 Ocelot motors (the normal Arrow 5 had a single motor) and continued climbing and gaining velocity. Galileo discarded the second stage, ignited its modified upper stage- stripped of all equipment needed for autonomous orbital operations- and kept going. Twenty-five minutes after launch, the LADV entered a 400.7 km by 400.8 km orbit around Kerbin.


A couple of days later, the mcKermans launched a stretched Arrow 5 Tanker carrying half of Galileo’s propellant. As before, the liftoff went smoothly, and the Kickbacks dropped away. But when the Photon solids decoupled, they struck the first stage’s Orca engines and exploded. The tanker went tumbling into the sea…





With the Arrow 5 Tanker launch failure under investigation, Drax Aerospace rolled out their Jool Heavy with the first Laythe Habitat Module in its fairing. The vehicle had no trouble lifting its payload into a 351.9 km by 353.1 km orbit from Pad B. It even had propellant left over to rendezvous and dock with the Drax Fuel Depot (DFP) and deposit the excess.


A day later, a second Jool Heavy launched another Laythe Habitat Module, this time from Pad C. After delivering it to the first module, the KDS donated its excess propellant to the DFP before deorbiting.



Two more Jool Heavy vehicles brought up the Laythe Science Module and Laythe Greenhouse Module, respectively. None of the modules had their propulsion units yet- KSP wanted the mission vehicles in place and their courses plotted before installing their tanks and engines.




The Accident Investigation Board concluded that the Arrow 5’s Photon SRBs lacked sufficient thrust to pull away from the launch vehicle before they struck the engine bells. To correct the problem, Arrow Space Corporation added additional separatron motors to the sides of the SRBs and tried again.

The modifications worked perfectly. The Photon boosters rocketed away from the core stage before they could collide and damage the launch vehicle. The new tanker partly filled Galileo’s propellant tanks before deorbiting.



The next batch of Project Laythe vehicles took to the skies as Jool Heavies launched the Laythe Support Module and Laythe Workshop Module, and then donated their excess propellants. By the time they were done, the Drax Fuel Depot was nearly full.




As the next Project Laythe vehicles prepared to launch, Drax rolled out the Moho, a new, low-cost, medium lift launch vehicle that Drax Aerospace designed as a competitor to the Edna 1F and Arrow 4. The vehicle used a single KD75K “Monsoon” solid rocket booster- SLS and the Jool Heavy used two of them- as well as an upper stage powered by a single CE-2X “Ulysses” cyrogenic engine. Moho also had a kick stage powered by a single LV-909 “Terrier” to handle orbit circularization and transfers.

For the inaugural launch, Moho carried a set of extenders for the Drax Fuel Depot. The extenders enabled Drax to park Kerbin Departure Stages at the Depot to serve as additional tankage and/or reusable tugs for orbital payloads. The liftoff went well-though the SRB proved to be a bit overpowered for the launch and would need tuning. Still, it boosted the stack up to 200 km on its own. A software glitch fired all the separatrons as well and caused issues with stage separation. Additionally, the kick stage’s RCS thrusters fired to orient the booster when they shouldn’t have. But the kick stage otherwise performed well and delivered the payload into a 177.6 km by 241.5 km orbit with plenty of delta-v remaining to complete its mission. So, despite the issues, the launch proved successful.


Eight hours after launch, Moho delivered the extenders to the Drax Fuel Depot and promptly deorbited…

And over the next three days, Drax Aerospace launched the Icebreaker and Icetanker.



After their two-week quarantine at Homestead Hotel, the tourists were ready to return home. Nobody showed any ill effects from visiting the asteroid, so they were cleared to return to Kerbin. After the flight crew and passengers disembarked, the ground crews immediately got to work unloading the science module from Skyranger and installing the Probodobodyne-built Power Bus. A new satellite design, the Power Bus utilized modular components that provide a variety of different functions including propellant tanks, equipment carriers, engine mounts, and the like. For Orbital Dynamics, Probodobodyne configured the Power Bus with three battery modules and one monopropellant module. They also gave it a pair of RA-0-8 relay antennas and a set of deployable solar arrays.




The launch went well- except for the failure of Skyranger’s fuel cell, which generated electricity for the vehicle. Worse, Skyranger lacked the repair kits needed to effect repairs. Luckily, because the Power Bus had ample batteries, and the links between Mk-33 and payload flow back and forth, the aging Mk-33 had more than enough power to reach Homestead Hotel (seriously, I got lucky). After arriving, Jofery grabbed some kits from Finch and took a walk outside to repair Skyranger’s broken fuel cell. And Orbital Dynamics Mission Control made a note to include repair kits on every vehicle and station going forward…



Using Homestead Hotel as a construction site wasn’t ideal due to part count disturbing the guest’s tranquility, but until Orbital Dynamics could set up shop at VDP-762, the hotel had to make do. At any rate, with Skyranger repaired, the crew got to work undocking the Power Bus and repositioning it on the forward-starboard docking port. Satisfied with their work, Skyranger’s crew boarded the Mk-33 and headed back home.






While Jool Heavies launched the Jool Relay Sat constellation and Joolian Mapper satellites, the Ministry of Space lifted the Laythe Rovers- fitted to the habitats and greenhouse vehicles- and sent a pair of Bumblebee atmospheric flyers to the Laythe Support Module. The latest launches completed all the mission support hardware for the First Laythe Fleet. But they weren’t done yet.




With all the mission support hardware finally in orbit, Drax Aerospace continued working around the clock to build and launch all the fuel tankage needed to boost the vehicles to Jool. Each craft needed an inline tank and two radial tanks. Once in place, the Ministry of Space delivered their propulsion modules to complete the spacecraft. One Jool KDS stayed behind at each spacecraft to provide pre-launch support and propellant top-off.


Each set of tanks and engines cost 1.4 million Funds to build and fly. With seven mission support vehicles needing propulsion, that amounted to 9.8 million Funds. Add in the cost of the mission support hardware, and Project Laythe cost the taxpayers across three countries a staggering 14.1 million Funds! The high price tag caused many to question the cost of searching for life on Laythe. Leaders in the Kerman States, mcKerman Kingdom, and the vonKerman Republic countered by pointing out the unprecedented international cooperation, technological advancements, and most importantly, the jobs created by Project Laythe. Still, the public wanted results sooner, so the three space agencies reexamined their plans and made changes.

Originally, Project Laythe intended to send the First Laythe Fleet out to Jool to scout out a suitable landing site and land the base components and rovers. Nautilus (DSEV-1) would then head to Jool on the next transfer window with the Second Laythe Fleet. That fleet would serve as a backup in case anything went wrong. But if things went right, then the Second Fleet would establish the next exploration site. Given the public’s impatience, the Project leaders decided to build Nautilus now and send her along with the First Fleet. Should anything go wrong, the crew could reenter cryosleep and await rescue. It wasn’t ideal, but it beat a higher risk of the Project getting canceled if they waited to send Nautilus during the next Jool launch window.









All three space agencies launched the components for Nautilus into orbit. It took seventeen flights to assemble, with the Ministry of Space launching the majority of DSEV-01’s components. But at last, after a grueling launch campaign, the First Laythe Fleet was ready to fly.




“Here, Jeb, let me show you something,” Bill said. He sent an image to Jeb’s new K-Pad tablet computer. Officially, they were testing the new tablet and new wireless connection between KSC and Starlab- both a commercial byproduct of Project Laythe. Unofficially, they were catching up.


On Jeb’s tablet, he saw a picture of Phoenix Aerospace’s Firebird.

“It’s the Firebird. What of it?”

Bill sent another image to his old friend. “Now, look at this one.”


Jeb looked and rolled his eyes. “Again, it's the Firebird.”

“Notice anything different?”

“No. Well, except for the angle of the camera…”

“Look closer,” Bill suggested. “Look at the launch towers.”

Jeb looked at the image once more. His eyes widened. “Now that you mention it… Yes! I see it! There’s nothing different!

“Seriously, Jeb? Really,” Bill asked.

“Yeah. Really. There is no difference between the two images other than the angle they were taken at.”

“You can’t see that the first image has one tower, while the second one has two?”

“Nope. They both have two towers. One crew, one service. As they’ve always had.”

“W- What about the color,” Bill asked exasperated.

“Same color.”

No, they’re not! The first image’s tower is darker than the second’s,” Bill countered.

“Buddy, you’re seriously losing it,” Jeb answered. “I warned you to drop it. I hate to do this, but for the sake of the mission, I have to file a report…”

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