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Author Topic: There and back again? (Orbiter / NASSP)  (Read 11504 times)
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on: July 19, 2011, 06:35:42 PM

So, there is this thing called Orbiter which is an amazing simulation engine for all kinds of realistic spaceship stuff.

One of the most interesting addons for this is called NASSP, which simulates the Apollo missions with a mind-boggling amount of detail copied right from the original documentation. And I'm not just talking about the flight characteristics, but a simulation of all major internal systems.

That there is just the life support system. There is also the whole electrical system, complete with multiple power busses, elements that require pre-heating before use and batteries that run out depending on the power draw of activated systems. And did I mention the working replica of the original guidance computer that can emulate the real software?

Depending on what kind of person you are this is either terrifying, the essence of boredom, or the greatest thing ever. Maybe all of those at the same time.

I've done some toying around with it, but now I want to try to run a complete mission, from launch to the safe arrival back on Earth, or until the crew is dead. (All kinds of things can flag your crew as deceased)

So I'll be taking over Apollo 11 ("Neil who?") in the name of the revolution or whatever. I've got a fifty page flight plan printed out for all the gory details, and I'm ready to sit through hours of mind-numbing switch flicking. Let's do this!

To make things more interesting, I'm looking for two more people to round out the crew. If you want to apply to have your internet identity drafted as Lunar Module Pilot or Command Module Pilot (the chump who doesn't get to land on the moon), just post a reply. No need to do any actual work, your job would be to comment in here on our misadventures and share the blame when someone forgets to switch on the oxygen feed and we die before leaving the atmosphere. Any suckers brave heroes around?
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:03:18 PM by cironian »
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Reply #1 on: July 20, 2011, 06:51:03 PM

Here are some ground rules:

 - Reloading only when a messup is the fault of stuff being a simulation (this means stuff like software crashes, problems caused by  time acceleration, some other program stealing focus at a bad moment). When I make a bad call, I continue the game that way.
 - No pausing for things like searching the right switch or studying displays in time-critical moments. (But it's OK for actual breaks or to take screenshots)
 - Keep usage of extra MFDs to a minimum (but as needed for stuff that was done in Houston as well as docking)
 - Simple AGC (Quickstart) mode, but with automatic execution of checklist actions disabled

I'm also playing a beta version, in which the lunar lander is sort of half-finished. I think I got workarounds for most of the major known problems, but if I come across something new that causes me to turn into a shiny new crater, then I take that as a problem with the ship I'm flying. Having unknown problems await me is a likely cause of fun.

That said, let's get started!

On July 16th 1969, the Unincorporated States of America under Chairman Richard Nixon are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Glorious Constitutional Restructuring.

In memory of this event, The People have decided to combine their love for fireworks and danger with a chance of getting rid of troublemakers: Three criminals convicted of transmitting immoral images through the memex telephotography networks will be shot to the moon in an untested rocket, with the promise of a full pardon if they make it back alive with some moon rocks. (It is speculated by the Chairman's advisors that those moon rocks might come in handy for various kinds of scientific testing)

Just before dawn, our heroes enter their new home.

Crap, nothing is on in here. Well, we have three hours to fix that.

Going by the checklist, I almost had my crew die of CO2 poisoning before I could get to the part where I was supposed to turn on the air compressor. I decided that whoever wrote this piece of garbage wasn't sitting here in a closed off suit and just skipped forward to those points concerned with my immediate survival.

In a sudden fit of inspiration I also checked the cabin hatch before launch, which was left wide open. There was nothing on the checklist about the hatch, but it's probably bad style to fly into space like that so I closed that on my own initiative.

And before you know it, we're off.

This part, at least, is fully automated, so there is little to do but enjoy the ride.

This thing is falling apart already!

I can see your house from here! (If you lived in Florida in the late 60s)

Almost there...


Safely in earth orbit, I can now prepare for the little skip over to the moon.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:05:36 PM by cironian »
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Reply #2 on: July 21, 2011, 12:11:44 AM

Going by the checklist, I almost had my crew die of CO2 poisoning before I could get to the part where I was supposed to turn on the air compressor.

CO2 is an asphyxiant, not a poison.  But carry on.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2011, 12:15:33 AM by Sheepherder »
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Error 404: Title not found.

Reply #3 on: July 21, 2011, 08:09:33 AM

Ha, cool!  awesome, for real

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Reply #4 on: July 21, 2011, 11:17:39 PM

Major kudos if you take this through to conclusion, this is the kind of thing I would toss up my hands in frustration over.
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No lie.

Reply #5 on: July 22, 2011, 09:01:34 AM

Yeah, really. This is more my speed. Still, interesting! I like the idea of orbiter but I know that I'd just fail the execution stage and get frustrated.
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Reply #6 on: July 22, 2011, 09:02:31 AM

Yeah, really. This is more my speed. Still, interesting! I like the idea of orbiter but I know that I'd just fail the execution stage and get frustrated.

For realz.

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Reply #7 on: July 22, 2011, 01:19:41 PM

Yeah, really. This is more my speed. Still, interesting! I like the idea of orbiter but I know that I'd just fail the execution stage and get frustrated.

Actually, trying out KSP was what reminded me to check out the new Orbiter version in the first place.

And not all Orbiter scenarios are as hardcore about realism as this one. The most popular default ship is the Delta Glider, which is a high-tech (way beyond currently available technology) spaceplane. In that thing you can just start your flight like a normal airplane, then put the nose towards the sky and apply full thrust to go into orbit. Basically a learner's spaceship, but very fun since it's hard to totally screw it up.
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Reply #8 on: July 22, 2011, 02:21:56 PM

Next up: Trans-lunar injection, in which we depart Earth orbit and fling ourselves out into the unknown.

With the post-launch systems check showing no problems, it's time to calculate the proper timing, direction and duration of the S-IVb rocket firing that will put us on the path of no return. In real life, this was all done by an army of rocket scientist at Ground Control. Here, I use modern computing power and the Interplanetary MFD for the job.

Tweaking all the variables for launch time, trajectory characteristics and arrival time still took some time and effort, especially considering I only half-understand what I am doing here.

My planned course will generally mirror the real one, putting me on a course which will automatically swing me around the moon and back towards Earth if I don't manage to enter lunar orbit for some reason. The left graphic is a rough overview, without taking the moon's gravity into account, the right one shows my actual path around the moon.

I've uploaded the calculated data into another display, which basically loads this into the S-IVb stage for automatic execution. The program then aligns me and prepares the booster for ignition.

During the TLI burn, I am treated to a great sunrise. I wonder if NASA intentionally planned that for this trip.

At engine shutdown, I have a horizontal velocity of over 10km per second and a vertical velocity of almost 2km per second.

Off we go... Earth is really shrinking fast now! (Those 3 pictures were taken within a 13 minute span)

Now that the S-IVb has fulfilled its primary purpose in life, it's time to grab the Lunar Module from it. That means manually turning around and docking with it.

This isn't exactly easy... I have to match rotation and movement in all three axes for a clean match with the docking indicator. Oh, and preferably do this without wasting half my thruster fuel on the way.

Yeah! All those hours playing Elite finally pay off.

Extracting the LM now is easy. Our brave heroes are relieved that all the really difficult parts for today are done.

It's been 4 hours and 24 minutes since launch and we are already 27126 kilometers away from Earth, dropping off further every second. The current trajectory looks mostly like what we wanted, so the upcoming course correction burns shouldn't take too much of our main engine fuel.

So far so good.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 03:45:36 PM by cironian »
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Reply #9 on: July 22, 2011, 02:26:46 PM


This is the exact type of game I avoid playing, but get sucked into watching my buddies play. Kudos...

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Reply #10 on: July 22, 2011, 02:31:34 PM

This is awesome. Keep posting.
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Reply #11 on: July 22, 2011, 09:11:29 PM

I think we're all secretly waiting for, "f13, we have a problem."

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Reply #12 on: July 22, 2011, 10:16:39 PM

I think we're all secretly waiting for, "f13, we have a problem."


I traded in my fun blog for several legal blogs. Or, "blawgs," as the cutesy attorney blawgosphere likes to call 'em.
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Reply #13 on: July 26, 2011, 06:30:45 PM

Booooring. Mostly. With a few seconds of ohshit.

When the crew woke up from the 8 hour rest period, the scheduled system check showed the propellant lines for the main engine overheating. Turns out that having them pointed towards the sun the whole flight adds a little bit of heat. Turned the ship around, which should cool them down a bit.

The problem with this was that with the LM attached, the ship turns slow as hell. And as I wasn't expecting that, I tried to compensate by being kind of generous with firing the attitude thrusters. Now I'm almost down to 75 percent thruster fuel left. Oops. Got to stop doing that or I'll be unable to turn soon. Which would be very bad.

I also did some housekeeping like switching the guidance computer into standby, which saves a bit of power. My fuel cell tanks are dropping a little faster than I'd like, although I hope this is mostly because on this leg of the flight I am also providing power for the lunar module. If that's the reason and the power consumption drops on the return trip, the tanks should be more than enough. Otherwise, it might be uncomfortably close.

In summary, stuff looks good for getting to the moon but I'm not entirely sure I'll have enough of everything to get me back to Earth. Yay!

On a more amusing note, I found the urine dump switch. I can't plant a flag in mid-space, but I can still mark my territory!

Oh, you can barely make out the moon now. Since it's a new moon it was kind of hard to find, but there it is. It's getting bigger all the time, which is a good sign. See if you can spot it.

Then we are coming up on the first midcourse correction. We don't seem to be too far off course with a difference of a mere 25 meters per second, so it's only going to take a 12 second burn of the main engine to get us back on track. While the MFD calculates all the burn data, I now have to manually align the ship and fire the engines with the builtin controls.

This is where things got interesting for the first time in a while. While aligning, I almost turned the ship right through the gimbal lock zone, which is a big red circle on the attitude displays where you lose all useful attitude data from the gyroscopes and are somewhat screwed where navigation is concerned. Oops. Barely avoided it, but I should really remember that one from now on.

Bonus fun: In order to simulate the problems faced by real NASA missions, the MFD gives me velocity figures in meters per second, while the onboard device takes feet per second. Good thing that little issue was mentioned in the checklist, but I still have to drag out the old calculator for the conversion.

Due to all of this, I almost ran out of time before the scheduled burn, but barely made it to hit the button.


After some final corrections with the thrusters, I end up with just 60 centimeters per second of difference left. I think that's close enough.

By now I'm getting better at thruster usage. I also found that turning around the long axis is much, much easier. I'm going to use that for heat balance turns from now on. Should save me a bit of fuel.

Around 32 hours of system checks and minor adjustments later, it's time to get into the lunar module for the first time and run some preliminary checks. Everything seems OK, except for one breaker which was already switched on when it should have been off. If only all problems were so easily fixed.

And after getting back to Columbia, it's already bedtime. It's going to be a busy day tomorrow: Second course correction, lunar orbit insertion, lunar orbit adjustment and LM powerup all await. (Landing would be the day after that)
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:10:03 PM by cironian »
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Reply #14 on: July 27, 2011, 11:56:31 AM

With the crew well rested, it's time for the interesting part.

The second course correction brought a problem: The required burn direction was right in the middle of the gimbal lock zone. This required another approach. I first burned the main engine on the closest angle I could safely get, then did a second, smaller burn, to compensate for the error. This took a little time, but got me on the right course.

A few hours later, we entered the lunar shadow.

Now it was time to set up the lunar orbit insertion burn. This one is really, really important since a small error in burn time could have me crash into the moon. Also, even if done right, this one consumes over half of the SPS fuel, so being too wasteful here means losing your ticket back home.

I had to tweak the real-life Apollo 11 numbers by a minute or so, but still got a good looking solution in the end. Now to execute this.

All aligned for deceleration. Estimated burn time is just over 6 minutes, to slow the ship down by 888 meters per second.

All power to the engines!

Some kind of orbit is starting to take shape as we get captured by the moon's gravity.

Done. 76 hours after launch, we have arrived!

Orbit data looks good for the moment, with a closest approach of 131km, going out to 311km. We have 38.5 percent fuel left, which should be enough to get us home after we lose the lunar module. At least I hope so. We'll still need a bit more fuel to round out our orbit, but that shouldn't be too much.

Earthrise. We will now circle around the moon for a bit while Houston gets our orbit correction data worked out.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:11:50 PM by cironian »
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Reply #15 on: July 27, 2011, 02:26:16 PM

Love Letters

I'm very mysterious when I'm inside you.
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Reply #16 on: July 28, 2011, 01:14:17 PM

This is amazing. I had never really appreciated how much fine control was needed over the lunar missions.

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Reply #17 on: July 29, 2011, 05:36:49 AM

I had never really appreciated how much fine control was needed over the lunar missions.

And they had to do that with 60s tech and insanely low mass constraints on every system, on a platform slapped together in about 8 years. There's a reason they called the guys who came up with all this rocket scientists. DRILLING AND MANLINESS
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Reply #18 on: July 29, 2011, 03:05:33 PM

The orbit correction went well. I did a small burn at Apoapsis and then another larger one at Periapsis, to match the historical profile as closely as possible. I'm now swinging around between 99 and 124 kilometers from the surface. Fuel usage was OK, I'm now at 35.9 percent left.

Fun fact: The sextant on the command module has excellent magnification. Ah, to lie on some nice beach in the carribean now.

The LM powerup went by guesswork. Basically I closed a group of breakers and checked whether any useful instruments came on. The checklist here is basically completely worthless, as it is for a much older version of the LM. Oh, well. I got most of the lights up sooner or later. Now it's going to be interesting whether I switched on too many systems, which might drain the batteries before their time. I have to check the remaining voltage before heading out tomorrow.

Note to self for the first steps of LM powerup: (bug workaround)

Looks like the voltage on the batteries is still good. In that case, here goes nothing.

We undock from the CSM. The Eagle is on its way.

The actual landing is done by the lunar module computer, which can handle any adjustments as long as our original orbit is close enough to the landing site. There are some adjustments possible, but with how little I know about the LM controls I just let it run its course.

Here, the fact that the LM is just a very simple simulation so far is to my benefit, as the real Apollo 11 landing had a whole bunch of problems with the landing software, which required some manual overrides.

Almost close enough to touch. For the last 10 minutes, the sim plays the original radio chatter from the mission, so that's interesting even on autopilot.

Almost... Almost...

Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed!

Lunar contact light is on and we have 11 percent fuel left in the descent stage. Looks like our starting orbit was fine.

Yay, pictures!

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Lots of work to do...

Posing next to my ride.

But what's that?

While exploring the surroundings, the greatest scientific find in history awaits us. A small, completely black artifact that's labeled "some kind of moon turd" by the crew. Clearly, the mysterious moon turd is an artifact left by an advanced alien species. I collect it and go to store it in the LM.

While I am carrying it, I can feel bits and pieces of its message of cosmic understanding flowing into my mind. It hums how the aliens are going to tell us how they are feeling, and how they got to make us understand. It is confusing, and I quickly lock this thing away in an airtight box. What remains is an inexplicable urge that I must share this with all of humanity.

(it seems like an artifact of a different kind caused by the shadow algorithm, but it sure was a fun surprise)

With the artifact secured, it's time for official business. I name this land: Moontana!

I sure hope Buzz isn't going to fly off now. I doubt any cab is going to pick me up from way out here.

This is as far as we go. There sure is a lot of grey out here.

And then, after loading up a bunch of moon rocks, it's time to head back inside and get some beauty sleep.

So much for this leg of the journey. Next up: "There and back again? IV: The Voyage Home"

« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:17:16 PM by cironian »
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Reply #19 on: July 30, 2011, 08:21:04 PM

OK, that was ACK!

It should have been an easy launch, with the guidance computer bringing the LM to orbit just as easy as the landing. What happened instead was... interesting.

Blastoff! The ascent engine performed nicely and put me into a parking orbit. From there, a series of programs using the ascent stage attitude thrusters were supposed to take care of putting me close to the command module, so I could dock and extract all my astronauts.

However, it turns out the thrusters have a tiny little bug: Enabling all of them draws too much power from the 2 ascent batteries (the descent stage had 4 and could handle the load), causing a magnificent light show of flickering cockpit lights, dancing indicator needles and an uncoordinated stutter of the thrusters themselves. The computer, oblivious to the problem, just kept on firing the damn things and putting me on a crash course with the surface. For extra flavor it also put the LM into a wild spin.

I remember frantically finding and punching the abort program code into the keyboard, then doing a quick manual burn to stablize the orbit and prevent an immediate crash. But even with instant death out of the picture I still had a problem: How would I manage a docking with the LM stuck on some oddball orbit and no computer assistance?

The only way was to have the command module come and pick up our unlucky moonwalkers. Unfortunately, there was no autopilot for this. So I had to give myself a crash course on orbital rendezvous maneuvers. This involved a series of burns to first match the LM orbital inclination, then adjust my orbital period and distance to create a rough meeting somewhere within the next hours and then perform the actual docking with the LM that's passing by somewhere within 50 kilometers or so. Oh, and do all that without running out of fuel. I was really tempted to just strand them here...

And as if too taunt me, the rendezvous point happened to be on the dark side of the moon, so I couldn't even see the damn thing for half the docking. Fortunately, the sun rose in time for the final approach.

Well, after just about seven in-game hours I finally managed to dock and get everyone back into the CM. However, this little adventure took nearly all of my thruster fuel, which is down to 20 percent. Not a whole lot of room there. Main engine fuel is down to 32.2 percent, which is also a little worrying as I hear that while 35 percent is cool, 30 percent is often not quite enough to get back. I wonder where that leaves me...

Dumping the garbage... You caused enough trouble around here!

We're running low on everything. Let's get home before the next thing goes wrong.

« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:18:54 PM by cironian »
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Reply #20 on: July 30, 2011, 09:54:54 PM

Thanks for this, it's quite cool.

And I hope you make it.   Oh ho ho ho. Reallllly?

"There are many things of which a wise man might wish to remain ignorant." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Reply #21 on: July 31, 2011, 01:27:02 PM

Good thing we got rid of all that dead weight.

While this burn has to generate 1 kilometer per second of delta-V, even more than the lunar orbit insert, the fact that we don't carry the LM anymore and also got lighter simply by having burned up most of our fuel reserves allows the engine to rack up that speed in just over 2 minutes.

When the burn is done, we still have a comfortable 7.2 percent fuel left. I suppose that is because the Apollo 11 landing site is very much on the lunar equator, so our orbit contributes to the required speed. The other missions might have it harder there.

The big problem with the return trajectory is that I was completely unable to hit historical figures. While I got the reentry angle looking about right after a correction burn, I am scheduled to arrive 2 hours earlier than the real mission, even though I left the moon at about the same time. That might mean I'm coming in faster and the reentry will be harder on the crew. How much harder, I will have to see.

On the way, there is little to do but run the regular checks and make sure to top up the batteries for reentry. Thanks to generous use of time acceleration, I am soon coming up on the big moment.

There are a lot of switches to toggle all through the descent. At least the computer can handle the alignment, so the heat shield keeps facing the proper way the whole time. Doing that while working through the checklist would have been a bit too much.

Good bye, Service Module! For the rest of the trip we have to rely on internal batteries and supplies.

Wow, they have air here! The atmosphere greets you suddenly and violently if you are travelling at over 36000 feet per second.

The first phase of braking is the hardest on the crew and the ship. Fortunately, the deceleration tops out at around 7 G. Quite survivable.

We're through the worst. Now there's just a measly 2 G pushing on the crew.

The chutes deploy right on schedule.

Dumping excess fuel.

Splashdown! We're home!

After powering down the CM, 194 hours after launch our astronauts finally get to breathe fresh air again. Hooray!

Hope you had fun. I sure did!

And a bonus picture:

A reminder of what is possible...
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 01:22:18 PM by cironian »
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Reply #22 on: July 31, 2011, 01:45:31 PM

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Reply #23 on: July 31, 2011, 01:54:28 PM

 Heartbreak you actually made it.

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Reply #24 on: July 31, 2011, 01:58:49 PM

That was fun!
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No lie.

Reply #25 on: August 01, 2011, 08:11:58 AM

Yay! You did it!
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Reply #26 on: August 01, 2011, 10:01:59 AM

Please tell me you didn't leave the moon poop on the lander...

Does any one know where the love of God goes...When the waves turn the minutes to hours? -G. Lightfoot
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