KSK

First Flight (Chapter 104 - Shoulders to the Wheel)

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Comments later as I need to head off now but here's the latest part.

New Homes

The Kerm seed lay buried in the gritty soil. The ceremonial sprinkling of water bestowed at its planting was nowhere near enough but the rainfall two days later soaked through the ground, bathing the seed and swelling the fibrous matting that encased it. In response, the fibres unwound, sliding past each other as they snaked through the soil and transforming the seed from a fibre wrapped gourd into the nucleus of an expanding cloud of wispy hairs.

Some of the hairs were the beginnings of roots. They wove around pebble and grit, delving through the coarse soil in search of water. Water was not hard to come by with the nearby spring leaping down from the hills and the roots swiftly found it and channeled it back to the seed.

Other hairs were sense organs. They crept more slowly through the soil, dividing and sub-dividing, searching and tasting. Here they found pockets of mineral salts dissolved in the soil. Here they found the tell tale pheromone trails of insects. Elsewhere they found the distinctive traces of other roots. Of other plants.

Still others lay dormant. These were the effectors and their time had not yet come.

Slowly the seed swelled. The hard casing dissolved, releasing the embryonic Kerm within. A shoot formed, pushing upwards through the ground in search of light and air. The roots thickened where they joined it, anchoring the shoot within the soil. At the junction between them, more fibres spun out, interwoven and tangled, touching at a myriad of invisibly thin tips.

Messages began to flow back along the sense fibres. Of all the many many compounds they had evolved to detect, one group was conspicuously lacking. The soil was rich in minerals, clays and water but held the barest minimum of old vegetation, the remains of past generations locked underground and providing sustenance to their descendants.

This would have to change.

Instinct took over. As the shoot broached the surface and tasted the air, subtle signals rippled upwards. Leaves sprouted and unfurled. Other signals spread through the new leaves, setting off delicate biochemical cascades. Pigment cells within the leaves responded to the cascades as they always had. As dawn broke over the hill, a tiny shoot stood proudly next to the crude wooden post that marked its planting site, its blue dappled leaves turned gladly towards the sun.

-----------------

Gerselle screwed her eyes shut as the early morning sun found its way through a gap in the curtains. Joenie was already awake and chirruped happily as she saw her mother stir. Resignedly Gerselle pushed the covers to one side and swung her feet onto the floor. Yawning, she retrieved Joenie from her sleep pen and dropped her into her pouch.

“Ooof - you're getting too heavy for this my little one."

She pulled on a poncho, deftly working Joenie's head through the slit in the front and ignoring the kerblet's indignant squeaking as the fabric pulled over her ears.

“Yes, yes, I know. Clothes are all just a terrible imposition. Shhh, now, it's all finished."

Patting Joenie's head soothingly, Gerselle made her way out of her hut and crossed the green to the communal sweetmoss pool. Pulling the door shut behind her, she flipped over the privacy sign to 'Occupied' and reluctantly stepped into the chilly pool. Without solar heating for the water, bathing was definitely a task to be endured rather than a pleasure to be lingered over but the cold water did at least wake her up. Joenie dipped one foot into the water and squeaked at the cold. She gave Gerselle a baleful look before crawling as far away from the pool as possible.

After bathing, it was time for the next task of the day. Gerselle retrieved her daughter and walked back to the centre of the green to check the Planting site. Other early risers - mainly those with young children of their own - were just starting to emerge from their huts and they waved to their Keeper as she walked past. Snug in her pouch, Joemie chirped a welcome to the other kerblets. For her part, Gerselle was lost in thought. She wasn't sure how long Kerm seeds took to sprout and made a mental note to visit the Archives later that day to go and find out. So far though, there had been nothing to see.

Then all thoughts of going to the Archives vanished as she saw the new seedling by the marker post, it's leaves already unfurled and facing the sun.

Gerselle knelt down and hesitantly brushed her fingertips over the leaves. According to Jonton, the young Kerm would make contact through its leaves but she couldn't feel, or sense anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps, she thought, it's just too young - it's barely more than a sprout after all. The blue spots on the leaves were curious though - she couldn't recall seeing any blue marks on any type of plant before. The leaves looked healthy too, so hopefully the spots weren't a sign of some exotic parasite or fungus that fed on Kerm trees. But now that the seed had sprouted, there was something that she needed to do urgently. Gerselle hurried back to her hut and hunted through the bits and pieces on her shelves. Where was the wretched thing? Oh right - hiding behind this other pile of odds and ends. She scowled. Now that the Archives were finished, it was high time for the woodcrafters to put some proper furniture together so that the villagers could organise things properly. Never mind that for now she told herself - just get back to the seedling.

Gerselle unfolded the wickerwork screen and carefully pegged it out around the seedling Not that anyone in the village would deliberately harm it, but it was rather small and easily overlooked. She brushed her fingers over the leaves again, curiously tracing out the blue marks, which had the same soft, slightly furry texture of the rest of the leaf. She frowned. The marks were clearly a part of the leaf but what were they? She shook her head. Never mind all this wondering Gerselle, she thought to herself, just go and look the wretched things up in the Archives.

--------------

The Archivist smiled. “Certainly Keeper." Gently he took Joenie and snuggled her into his shoulder. “You just stay here with me, little lady, while your mum goes to read the big boring books." Joenie squirmed, trying her best to climb over his shoulder and chirping frantically as Gerselle walked over to the shelves.

“Hey, little wriggly - you don't want to do that. Tell you what." The archivist picked up a booklet of index cards and riffled through them. Joemie stopped squirming and cocked her head towards the strange sound. The frantic chirping was replaced by an inquisitive squeaking as she grabbed the booklet and promptly started chewing on one corner.

Meanwhile, Jerselle was staring at her own book with incredulous delight. Jonton was right after a fashion - the Kerm was speaking to her through it's leaves, although not in the way that he had always talked about. She had found several pages of carefully coloured diagrams, all showing Kerm leaves with different patterns of coloured spots. As she read the annotations alongside each diagram, Jerselle realised that each pattern was a sign evolved to alert the kermol that something was missing. Some of them were obvious - it would have to be a very young or foolish Kermol indeed who failed to recognise a plant in need of water. Others were more obscure. She puzzled over the notes beside the picture of the blue spotted leaf for several long minutes before understanding dawned. Of course! Not as quick as adding compost but much more efficient and better in the long run. She would have to send a carrier back to the Grove to fetch the necessary seeds though.

-----------------------

Now the thin stubble of saplings covering the hilltop was intermingled with a green carpet of hundreds and hundreds of low growing flat leaved clover. The roots and shoots of the little plants were studded with tiny intricately folded nodules, giving them a rather misshapen lumpy appearance. As they grew, gases in the surrounding air diffused into the nodules where they were transformed into nutrients and a myriad of other compounds by the specialised cells just under the surface. Most of the nutrients were absorbed by the growing plants but some were allowed to escape out through the roots into the soil.

As the nutrients spread out through the soil, new messages fired along the growing network of fibres around the Kerm seedling. Dormant effectors came to life, growing rapidly and extending far beyond the reach of the sensory fibres that controlled them. As they raced outwards, they released a cascade of complicated chemical signals into the earth.

The signals spread out from the hilltop, drawing all manner of other creatures to it. Worms wriggled through the dark, blindly following the chemical trails and slowly churning up the soil as they went. Beetles and other insects crawled up the hillside, finding new homes and plentiful food amongst the low growing clover plants covering the hilltop. Other soil dwelling insects burrowed amongst the roots of those same plants. With the insects came a host of bacteria and other single celled organisms that rapidly colonised the surrounding soil, feeding on the nutrients around the plant roots and being fed on in turn by other creatures.

The kermol villagers watched in horror as their green and verdant hillside wilted and began to die under the ecological onslaught. The more observant amongst them noted that all the saplings remained unaffected and told the others not to intefere but to trust in the Kerm and the wisdom of the Keeper. Others noticed that the dying plants released clouds of tiny wispy seeds which dispersed on the wind and settled far and wide over the hillside. And even as the plants died, their substance became bound up in the soil, whether by decomposition or through the bodies - dead or alive - of the creatures that had fed on them.

From the Archives, Gerselle knew that the Kerm could push the already rapidly growing clover to flower and die many times over a season. Each cycle of greening and dieback would lock more precious nutrients into the soil but even so it would be at least a year before it had improved enough to be suitable for planting anything other than clover and probably longer still before it would support any useful crop plants. Nevertheless, this was a start.

Meanwhile, out of sight beneath the surface, the Kerm fibres continued to spread. Here they slipped in between the clover roots, sensing the nutrients flowing out around them. There they sniffed out the criss-crossing trails of a vital species of beetle. In still other places they sped through patches of worm cast, quivering under a trickle of displaced soil particles as the worms tunneled blindly past. And now, in their ceaseless wandering, they began to detect self as they encountered the other fibres spinning out from beneath the stems of the nearby Kerm cuttings. Flurries of signals raced up and down the hairlike threads as they met and touched, causing other fibres to grow along the trails marked out by the pioneers. The fibres twisted together forming more robust, almost root like structures.

Slowly but surely, the food webs being spun through the soil by the effectors were matched by a physical web of sensory fibres strung from the seedling to all the thirty six cuttings, then from each cutting to its nearest neighbours and finally from each cutting to every other cutting planted on the hilltop. Gradually the delicate networks at the base of each became more and more interconnected; knitting together into the grand symbiosis of a new Kerm.

 

<< Chapter 14  ::     Chapter 16>>

Edited by KSK

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Fascinating. I wonder how long the symbiosis between Kerm and Kerbal has existed on this world?

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Crikey - where to start!

Patupi - glad you're enjoying it and thank you for the kind words. Having your characters, plot and emotions described as vivid is guaranteed to put a smile on any writer's face I think! And the Kerbal/Kerm symbiosis - watch this space for more on that. Although you may already have spotted that any time one of the kerbals uses any sort of strong language, it usually involves the Kerm - so make of that what you will. :)

ATRM - thank you very much! Those kind of comments on characters, world building and pacing - yeah they're going to make any writer happy too.

Markus A380 - Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for taking the time to comment! Incidentally - not sure if I'm missing anything here but part two of this story got written a while ago :) The whole story (with the exception of the last two parts) is up on my forum blog if you want to read more.

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Oh - and I should have mentioned this in the last post but Patupi - go for it with your story - I look forward to reading it!

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Oh - and I should have mentioned this in the last post but Patupi - go for it with your story - I look forward to reading it!

Right now my computer is acting up. Not sure why. Virus checkers are reporting nothing (or not seeming to work... Bitdefender says it's scanning but I'm getting no report! Windows defender says no threat found), tried C cleaner and nothing comes up. It just pauses every now and then for about 20seconds, then is fine for a little while. Usually happens when I click something.

I'm trying a defrag, but if that doesn't get it smooth I'm not sure what will. Does anyone know a System Mechanic freeware anywhere that's any good? My tablet can't run KSP so no Grand Tour. I suppose I could just write a story, but half the fun is playing it through first and getting surprises :)

Edited by Patupi

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Open the casing and clean the dust out with canned air and lint-free cloth. That's classic symptoms of overheating.

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I don' t think it's over heating... unless the fan heat sensors gone. Since the fan does go up and down in speed I'm assuming it's OK (crosses fingers) but even with it on low speed fan for a long time (low processor usage) it still does this freeze thing. It's rather annoying.

The reason I thought it was a virus at first was that things kept going at some points, running fine in the background, while the cursor had an 'hourglass' (ring thing) and wouldn't click anything and anything you did click took ages to come up. Weird.

(EDIT: I cleaned it out (loads of dust) made sure all the cables weren't banging into anything, cleaned out the heatsinks and fans... and it's still doing it. I don't have any replacement cables so I'll have to hope. I'm going to back it all up and DBan it. Then comes the lovely escapade of re-installing windows! Joy! :( Well, tomorrow. After work. *sigh* Not my week)

Edited by Patupi

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Sorry KSK, I was very tired that evening...

I really enjoyed the story!!!

I am looking forward to the next chapter!

I really love the way you describe the very beginning of the space program, with all it's pioneers and complications, and of course, our happy-badass Jebediah Kerman.

One question: Where did the Kerbals know from Reentry Heat, Orbits and such and who created the Trashcans and for what purpose if the Kerbal 1 was the first rocket??? There is too much rocket-science which first should be discovered I think... I am thinking of a probe which reentrys and everyone looses it's minds when it starts burning... You know.

Edited by MarkusA380

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Hey no problem - glad you enjoyed it! And those are some good questions about kerbal technology and knowledge - thanks.

The short and honest answer would be 'umm First Flight was going to be a short story, so I kinda skipped over most of that detail. Then I just carried on writing about the events after the flight of the Kerbal 1 and made the next chapter up as I went along.' :)

Thinking about it though, it's not too unrealistic (well once you get past the whole 'build a space program in a shed' idea :) )

On Earth, most of the theory of spaceflight was pretty well understood way before we had the technology to make it practical. Tsiolkovsky for example did a lot of theoretical work, including designs for interplanetary craft. Similarly Goddard worked out the theory of rocketry quite a while before he started building them. Goddard also apparently also came up with the concept of the ablative heat shield (see History section) in 1920, long before they were actually put on a reentry vehicle.

So it's not unreasonable to assume that Jeb and probably most of the other early KIS members had a good grasp of the theory before they came together to build rockets :) As for the Kerbal 1 - it was the first successful crewed rocket but definitely not the first rocket. I did put in a line or two in the original First Flight story about a lot of exploded prototypes before the KIS got everything to work properly and I don't think even Jeb is crazy enough to fly a completely un-tested rocket! Or rather Jeb probably is but no way would he let Bill and Bob come with him.

Your failed probe re-entry is a good idea and I was going to include a bit more on heatshield testing in one chapter. It didn't really fit in the end though - there's already quite a bit of detail in there about the various engines and stuff (some might argue too much) and I didn't want to let the story get too dry by adding yet more technical detail. I did throw in a reference to a test flight before Jeb's orbital mission, which would presumably have been a full-up unmanned orbital flight and a final validation of the thermal protection systems, aerodynamic stability of the capsule at re-entry speeds, parachutes, etc. etc.

As for the Trashcans - I never really say as much but I was kind of assuming these were left over from the early KIS experiments. We know that the kerbals are familiar with fireworks (Rockomax started life as the Speciality Firework Company after all), so it's not too unreasonable to think that Jeb and the gang would have at least tried using really really big fireworks as part of their early launch vehicles.

Like I said - good questions. Cheers!

KSK.

Edited by KSK

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Ok. These are all valid arguments! :)

What about this: Where did the Kerbals get the spacesuits from at the Kerbal 1 mission? Jebediahs company was a junkyard back then, right?

P.S.:

I would love to see a movie of First Flight... That would just be epic.

Love your work, thinking about printing it and making a book out of it for myself when finished. :wink:

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Addition: I have one thing I am a bit sad of in your story:

The part where the pioneer spaceflight is described is a bit short, the space race thing replaced it somehow after the first chapters...

But this seems to happen with every Space Story... I am just thinking about Perry Rhodan Neo.

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Would you mind if a made a movie out of First Flight?

I have a mainly KSP based YT channel, and i think it would be interesting.

You would be an adviser. I would try to recreate all of it.

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Would you mind if a made a movie out of First Flight?

I have a mainly KSP based YT channel, and i think it would be interesting.

You would be an adviser. I would try to recreate all of it.

Well, I thought more about an animated one, not ingame. Ingame wouldn't be good (Everyone wears a spacesuit? No...).

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Not really... ive had that idea for a while, but that just pushed me to do it. Ive also wanted to do another one, cant remember the name, but i havent asked either.

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What got me more than the lack of heat shield testing was there is no current talk of radiation/Van Allen belts (Kan Allen belts?) etc. Is that going to be a surprise when the first probe goes outside Kerbin orbit to the Mun? I know some of that was known before the early space launches but they had to do a lot of testing to find out the strengths of the magnetic fields, the solar wind etc to know what was safe.

(EDIT, and btw I decided to fork out the cash and bought a new hard drive. It seems to have sorted the problem out... though managing to install all my various drivers is a real pain. Probably take me a while to get everything up and running properly again.)

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So it's not unreasonable to assume that Jeb and probably most of the other early KIS members had a good grasp of the theory before they came together to build rockets :) As for the Kerbal 1 - it was the first successful crewed rocket but definitely not the first rocket. I did put in a line or two in the original First Flight story about a lot of exploded prototypes before the KIS got everything to work properly and I don't think even Jeb is crazy enough to fly a completely un-tested rocket! Or rather Jeb probably is but no way would he let Bill and Bob come with him.

Your failed probe re-entry is a good idea and I was going to include a bit more on heatshield testing in one chapter. It didn't really fit in the end though - there's already quite a bit of detail in there about the various engines and stuff (some might argue too much) and I didn't want to let the story get too dry by adding yet more technical detail. I did throw in a reference to a test flight before Jeb's orbital mission, which would presumably have been a full-up unmanned orbital flight and a final validation of the thermal protection systems, aerodynamic stability of the capsule at re-entry speeds, parachutes, etc. etc.

As for the Trashcans - I never really say as much but I was kind of assuming these were left over from the early KIS experiments. We know that the kerbals are familiar with fireworks (Rockomax started life as the Speciality Firework Company after all), so it's not too unreasonable to think that Jeb and the gang would have at least tried using really really big fireworks as part of their early launch vehicles.

Yeah, the testing rockets was one of my favorite parts.

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Hey Bellino,

Drop me a pm about the movie and we'll see what we can sort out. It sounds good in principle but I'd prefer to focus on finishing the story first. I have a couple of other things on at the moment and I know from previous experience with other hobbies that if I get too distracted with other projects then I'll most likely get out of the writing habit - and the longer that goes on for, the harder I'll find to pick up First Flight again!

Speaking of which...

Mun Or Bust?

Danfen shuffled his notes and checked the projector one final time. Everything seemed to be working, his slides were in the right order and the carousel clicked round obediently when he pressed the button on the remote control. He wiped his sweating palms on the back of his trousers, took a hasty swallow of water and did his best to look relaxed and confident as the rest of the management team filed into the room. He waited until everyone had poured themselves a drink and taken their places around the table. Then he began.

“G-good afternoon everybody. As you all know, we've called this meeting today to discuss the um announcement by the Probodyne Foundation and um what we, I mean we the company should do about.. what our response should be."

Hanbal, the chief of propulsion, had deliberately chosen the seat nearest the front. He flashed a quick supportive smile at Danfen and made a surreptitious 'calm down' gesture at him from under the table. Danfen dipped his head by a fraction of a centimetre and picked up the remote control to buy a moment to breathe.

“We don't know who the Probodyne Foundation are but if their, their announcement is anything to go by then they have an interest in Munar exploration." He clicked the remote and brought up his first slide. “This is obvious from their um second challenge where they are offering a substantial prize for the first person, or more likely, team to fly a spacecraft to the Mun and photograph its far side."

Click.

“I believe that their um first challenge confirms this. Again, they are offering a substantial sum of money for the first team to put four kerbals into orbit, in a single contiguous vessel and keep them there for four weeks." He paused. “This would be an excellent um proof of ability to put enough crew and materiel into space for a flight to the Mün."

Danfen glanced across the table. “Which leads us to some obvious questions," he said, “Do we compete for these prizes? And if so, uh which?"

Ademone tapped her pen on the table in front of her. “How much are Probodyne offering?" she asked. Danfen brought up the next slide and gestured at the numbers on the screen. Ademone looked thoughtful. “Clever. Not enough that we're going to make any profit from them. In fact, we could make a substantial loss, depending on how many launches we need. But enough to cover some of the costs and a nice incentive to at least give those missions a try."

Danfen nodded in agreement. “Yes," he said, “so I decided to draw up a rough flight profile for each challenge, based on existing Rockomax hardware. The umm Kerbin orbital flight is conceptually simpler so I started there." He clicked the remote.

“The R2 orbital craft is based on our sub-orbital R1 capsule but obviously includes enhanced life support systems and thermal protection for re-entry. Like the R1 it holds two pilots. It's designed to fly with a separate, with a separate service module for power and on orbit maneuvering, although this is jettisoned before re-entry."

Danfen's voice began to grow more confident as the presentation became more technical.

“We also have our current launch vehicle based on a BA-C solid booster with a smaller B1 solid second stage. Finally we have our liquid fueled orbital insertion stage based on our single chamber 48-7D engine."

Hanbal shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. Danfen nodded at him. “I suspect Hanbal - and um probably everyone else - has identified the problem here. The R2 is considerably heavier than our K1 satellite and the BA-C/B1 stack will not be enough to lift it to orbit. I'll come to that in a minute."

“In the meantime, on my next slide, I have an overview flight profile for a Munar mission.There are three parts to the flight; achieving low Kerbin orbit, the transfer orbit to the Mun and the braking burn into Munar orbit.“

“The mission will use our existing K1 satellite, which happily has the necessary cameras and communication equipment. We also have the 48-7D insertion stage, which should be sufficient for the final braking burn. Finally, we already know that the BA-C / B1 stack is sufficient to lift both into low Kerbin orbit. However, what we don't have, is a boost stage for putting the K1 into a Munar transfer orbit. That's probably the most serious problem we would need to overcome, since we would need to design and build the boost stage and also modify the launch vehicle to lift the extra weight."

Danfen took a gulp of water. “To summarise, we do not have the hardware to accomplish either of the Probodyne challenges at present. So the next question is - what new hardware would we need for either mission?" He nodded towards Hanbal. “As everyone will be aware, the propulsion team is developing our first substantial liquid fueled engine. I believe that the current prototype, the SK1-F is currently being tested, although there is some way to go before the SK1 series will be flight ready."

The next slide clicked into place, showing an outline design for a spacecraft and its booster.

“My team have put together some outline designs for a launch vehicle based on the new engines. The main stage - here - is powered by a single SK1 engine, with multiple BA-C solid boosters on lateral mounts to provide additional thrust for liftoff. The upper stage is smaller but again, powered by an SK1 engine. From the preliminary test fire data, I believe this configuration will be powerful enough to launch quite um, quite a substantial payload to low Kerbin orbit."

Danfen tapped the projector screen. “One possibility would be to launch an R2 orbital capsule, together with an expanded service module. As well as providing power and maneuver capabilities it would also provide crew quarters and life support for up to four kerbals. Crucially, the module would also include a docking port at either end."

Nelton snorted. “Docking port? I rather think that we're attempting to fly before we can jump here."

Danfen inclined his head politely. “The R2 capsule would launch in a nose forward configuration Once on orbit, it would be released from the service module, rotate and dock. The two vessels will never be more than a few tens of metres apart, so this should not present a significant challenge. Docking a second, separately launched R2 onto the other end of the module, will of course be a different matter. Once both capsules are attached, we will be in a position to complete the first Probodyne Prize challenge."

Danfen took another drink of water.

“We have also given some thought to the second challenge. This would also require a new launch vehicle but one that I believe that we already have the capacity to build without too much extra effort. Conceptually, the new vehicle would be similar to the SK1 design from my previous slide. The BA-C /B1 booster would be augmented with additional, laterally mounted B1 boosters, allowing it to lift a larger payload to orbit. That payload would consist of the K1, the 48-7D stage and a Kerbin departure stage built around a cluster of four 48-7D engines. As you'll understand from the name, the Kerbin departure stage is the missing part from my previous slide which will boost the K1 into its transfer orbit."

Danfen took a deep breath. “In short, I believe that we can realistically challenge for both of the Probodyne prizes given time. Both are within the capability of our existing hardware or current hardware development plans. The question of which we prioritise, I throw open to the meeting."

There was a polite patter of applause as Danfen stepped down from the podium and joined the rest of the management team around the table.

Nelton was the first to speak. “It seems quite obvious to me. Mün first, with existing hardware then we focus our attention on the Kerbin orbital mission. We need a new booster for the R2 in any case, so we may as well get someone to pay some of the development costs."

Joebal tapped the table. “With respect, I disagree. We may have the engines to possibly get to the Mün but I can tell you for a fact that we don't have the rest of the systems in place. No - I say we leave the Mün for now and focus on Kerbin orbit operations. If we aim at both prizes together we risk walking away with neither."

“And I say that if we focus on an overly complicated Kerbin orbit mission, then we also run the risk of walking away with nothing. Nelton rolled her eyes. “Docking looks lovely on a presentation slide but have you any idea how difficult it will be practice? My mission control team are only just getting to grips with the details of orbital flight with a single capsule."

Ademone cut across the rapidly developing argument. “Danfen, Hanbal. What are your opinions of the current KIS systems?" Nelton and Joebal fell silent.

Hanbal cleared his throat. “More suited for the Mün challenge than the Kerbin orbit challenge Ademone. We already know that their booster can put a capsule into orbit and like us, they already have a suitable satellite. They also have the advantage of excellent guidance systems and a better selection of engines for the different phases of the flight. I would say that they already have all the elements of a Munar mission in place."

Danfen nodded. “I agree. On the other hand, their current systems aren't remotely powerful enough to lift anything much heavier than their single kerbal capsule into orbit. They would be extremely hard pressed to complete the Kerbin orbit challenge with their Moho hardware, not least because it would involve docking four capsules to a common vehicle." Beside him he could hear Nelton snort in agreement.

“Thank you," said Ademone quietly, “Do we have any indications of their likely future plans?"

“No," said Danfen frankly, “although we can make some guesses from that KBS documentary. From what I could see of their assembly facilities, they appeared to be building two more of their capsules. That suggests they plan to run at least two more single pilot flights, which I suspect will tie up their available resources for quite a while. Even if they decide to focus on a Munar flight afterwards, we may have still have enough time to put our own mission together."

“Thank you. Joebal - do you agree with Hanbal's assessment of the KIS guidance systems?"

“Unfortunately I do Ademone," said Joebal reluctantly. “We know from the KBS documentary that their thrust vector control is based on gimballed engines. We don't have any details of their actual guidance systems of course but we've analysed all their launch footage as best we can and that, coupled with our tracking data, tells us that they're impressively accurate. We also have no idea how they're managing their roll control but it certainly seems to work."

Ademone drummed her fingers on the table. “What about our guidance systems. They may not be as good as the KIS versions but would they get us to the Mün?"

Joebal grimaced. “Possibly. As you know, our current guidance control relies on vernier engines in the 48-7D module and liquid injection for vectoring the thrust from the solid boosters. Liquid injection is not an ideal system - which is why we try to aim our boosters off the pad as far as possible. We could probably add verniers to Danfen's clustered 48-7D stage too but I wouldn't want to make any promises about attitude control for the whole transfer orbit burn. Monitoring and compensating for off axis or uneven thrust over the whole duration would be a cast iron... umm it would be challenging."

Joebal rubbed his eyes. “Plus, the guidance control unit is quite large. Fitting it to the 48-7D cluster would be interesting."

“I have a question," said Nelton, “Why not just go with a single 48-7D? Wouldn't that get rid of the uneven thrust."

“Probably," Joebal acknowledged, “but then we'd need a much longer burn to compensate for the reduced thrust, which just moves the problem around."

“Hmmm," said Ademone, “I presume that it would take too long to develop a gimballed 48-7D ourselves?"

“Yes," said Hanbal, “it would. Or at least it would be one more thing for us to do and one more thing that the KIS don't have to do. Not to mention the fact that Joebal's team would need to completely re-work the control logic. We tried gimbals on the B1 boosters - they're not easy."

Ademone nodded to herself. “Thank you everyone. In which case we will continue our piloted program as planned and devote most of our efforts to completing the SK1 and developing a launch vehicle for the R2. We will then consider how best to use the R2 to win the first Probodyne prize."

Ademone smiled faintly, “However, I'm still enough of a Mün watcher, that I don't want to abandon the second Probodyne prize altogether. And in the long term our satellite business will benefit from a cheap, mostly solid fueled booster capable of lifting payloads beyond low Kerbin orbit. Therefore I will release funding for two of Danfen's modified BA-C / B1 boosters. Please make them count."

--------------

“Three, two, one and shutdown!"

Outside, the roar of the engine died away and was replaced by blessed silence. The last wisps of fire chased themselves around the edges of the flame pit and were quickly extinguished by the torrents of water still spraying out of the sound suppression system. Then the spray jets switched off as well and all that could be heard around test stand 1a was the faint gurgle of water swirling away down the drains and the plinking of cooling metal.

In the control room, Hanbal turned to the propulsion team. “Nice work people. I think we can call that a success." He made a note in the test log; SK1-G - full duration test completed. “Next up - is everything ready on stand two?"

One of the engineers stepped forward. “All set up and good to go Hanbal."

Every kerbal in the room gathered round the control console for test stand two. On the monitor they could see the BA-C booster securely suspended above the flame pit. Stray drops of water splattered across the camera lens as the sound suppression system started up.The counter ticked down to zero and light flared across the monitor as the BA-C ignited. The noise was still fairly impressive despite the sound suppression system and the thick control room walls and even at this distance everyone could feel the vibration. There was a clattering in the background as an empty paper coffee cup fell off the edge of a table and rolled across the floor.

Hanbal braced himself. Any second now.

The muted roar increased to a full throated bellow. Flames licked over the top of the pit and twin clouds of smoke billowed out on either side of the test stand. In the control room the windows started to rattle and for a moment Hanbal feared that the booster was burning out of control. Much to his relief, the vibrations didn't get any worse although he kept a wary eye on the console telltales. For several long minutes the propulsion team watched the monitor tensely.

Right on cue, the twenty second light on the console glowed orange. There was no real reason for a countdown, as every kerbal in the room was perfectly capable of keeping time themselves but some things were just traditional. Hanbal forced a note of nonchalance into his voice.

“Burnout in three, two, one... and shutdown."

Everything went quiet. The smoke from the booster gradually dissipated in the breeze. The sound suppression system switched off.

Hanbal leaned forward to inspect the chart paper. Slowly he turned the dial on the console, scrolling the chart back to the start point. After his initial panic, the readouts during the test seemed to have been fine, but the chart was better than he had dared to hope. Steady thrust at 25% rated power, a smooth ramp-up and then a good controlled burn at 100%.

“OK, seems that the new propellant configuration is a keeper. Looks like Danfen's crazy lateral boosters might work after all."

His casual tone did nothing to fool the rest of the team and the control room rapidly filled with exuberant chatter. Hanbal stood back and let everyone celebrate. A small triumph but a very welcome one, he thought to himself, particularly after the news of Camrie Kerman's successful flight aboard the Moho 2. A few more milestones like this and maybe, just maybe, Rockomax would be first to the Mün.

 

<< Chapter 15  ::     Chapter 17>>

Edited by KSK

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Very cool! Nice interlude with the competition. I have to admit, it would be... interesting if Rockomax did get ahead at first. Historical perspective from BOAC springs to mind. The first to develop new tech is not always the leader afterwards. BOAC got the first jet airliners going up to high altitude, but with the numerous problems (that they solved) they fell behind, then other companies picked up what BOAC had learned and made successful transatlantic airliners. Shame, but it's the way things go sometimes.

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Great chapter, as always!

Am I the only one who sees it coming that the KIS will be turned into an agency which will be the only one allowed to launch rockets and will get parts by Rockomax?

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Well, maybe sort of. I was thinking they were going to hire people from there to the KSC after. Heck, otherwise Jeb would be in charge of KSC! :)

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