Kerbal Space Program: Conquering the Solar System

Since I last did a post on Kerbal Space Program, my gameplay has generally consisted of visiting any bodies in the game’s solar system that I haven’t yet reached, and fulfilling any new and interesting contracts that popped up.

Dunabase Group

One of these was to land a surface outpost on Duna – and as with my Moonbase, I quickly decided that to get the most out of it, the base should be mobile! (Not that it really matters since I have now unlocked the entire Research and Development tree, so I have no practical use for further science points. With the appropriate Administration contract, I can use science to generate more money, but my space program currently has 20 million credits as it is.) Since the contract did not demand an outpost as large as Moonbase 1, I could also send it off in a single launch, without any fiddly orbital docking.

So another pilot-engineer-scientist team – Jesena, Maxbeth and Cerby Kerman – became the second team of Kerbals to reach Duna. Getting Dunabase 1 through the thin atmosphere was simple; using the engine to slow the descent adequately, I didn’t even see any flames from atmospheric entry. The touchdown, however, required multiple attempts; the terrain of Duna is very uneven, and whichever part of Dunabase 1 hit the ground first tended to explode. I eventually pulled it off by treating the last few metres like a runway landing on a plane. Having to land through an atmosphere makes it more difficult to pull off a pinpoint landing due to the extra speed reduction, so while I had been aiming to land in a new biome for science collection, I had touched down not too far from the first manned mission’s landing site. Thus, the three Kerbals needed to drive to the Midland Sea to collect new science – but Dunabase 1 proved much easier to drive than Moonbase 1: more stable, light enough to proceed using its motors rather than its engine, and able to travel up to 35m/s in relative safety. It certainly never flipped or had a part explode as I drove it.

I was also being offered a new type of contract: voyages. These required me to use a single spacecraft to either fly by, or land on, an assortment of bodies. The first of these was the Eve 6 voyage, which would require encounters with the Mun, Minmus, Eve, Duna, Laythe and Vall (the last two being moons of Jool). Rather than trying to figure out the optimal interplanetary alignments like real NASA scientists have to do, I decided to launch a probe with lots of fuel and hope for the best. I even gave it a parachute on the off-chance that I could bring it back to Kerbin.

Eve 6 Mun 2

Eve 6 Minmus

Eve 6 Eve

Eve 6 Duna Ike

Eve 6 Jool

Eve 6 Vall

This resulted in a very long voyage – nine in-game years – and for every burn to stretch out the orbit to encounter another planet, the fuel cost kept adding up. By the time Eve 6 reached Jool, there was barely any fuel left. I did have a stroke of luck when Eve 6 flew in front of Laythe instead of behind it, reducing its velocity relative to Jool and causing it to enter orbit of the big green planet without touching the engine. It took a few more circuits of Jool before Eve 6 got its final encounter with Vall and fulfilled the contract – but what to do with it then? If left to its own devices, it would probably crash into a moon eventually, but there wasn’t enough fuel to put it into orbit around any of them. I elected to give the brave little probe a similar send-off to Cassini: a Viking funeral in Jool’s atmosphere.

Jool Death 2

During all the time I had been focussing on Eve 6, Jesena, Maxbeth and Cerby had remained in Dunabase 1 – not to mention Halmore Kerman, who had been manning Moonbase 1 for even longer. So, feeling sorry for them, my next order of business was to send ferries to bring them all home.

Gilly Landing

Another contract was to collect scientific data from the surface of Gilly, the moon of Eve, which gave me an excuse to make my first landing there. The tricky bit here was that Gilly is the smallest moon in the game – so small that it has barely any gravity at all. Getting down to the surface is easy; staying on the surface, less so. My probe kept bouncing off and refusing to come to a stop. Eventually, it did, though it took several attempts to deploy the rover I had brought without sending the whole thing flying – and then the rover itself was practically unusable as it would take off from the slightest nudge in any direction.

My latest two missions were basically test flights, sending simple orbital probes to Moho (the Mercury analogue) and Dres (the Ceres analogue, between Duna and Jool). Both of these bodies orbit the Sun at uneven planes compared to Kerbin, Duna or Jool, which meant I had to adjust the plane once the probe had left Kerbin’s gravitational influence and was orbiting the Sun itself. Moho is especially challenging because it is so close to the Sun and the orbital speeds involved are so high, so a great deal of delta-V is needed to catch up with it, and then to slow down and go into orbit. I launched my Moho probe – which I named Daenerys 1 because Sun = fire – on probably my biggest rocket yet, and it still came very close to running out of fuel before it managed to orbit Moho.

MohoDresSo I have now visited – at least via fly-by – every planet or moon in the Kerbol system apart from Eeloo, the Pluto analogue. That would be a long trip – and since two of my current contracts involve landing on and returning from Eve and Laythe, which I’m not entirely sure yet how to do, perhaps I should put Eeloo to one side for the time being.

About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
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