I’ve spent the better part of my Sunday building a massive space station in Kerbal Space Program. KSP has had my attention for the better part of half a year. It’s like a really advanced and complicated version of Legos.
The state of the game right now, very much beta, has you in a sandbox mode where you run a space program, much like NASA. Except it is a sandbox mode and you have unlimited funds meaning you can do whatever your imagination and engineering creativity will allow you to do!
I’ve been playing since December and I have been having far fewer rapid unplanned disassemblies of my launch vehicles than I had when I first started playing so I started the idea of building massive and complex spacecraft. The problem is that such a large spacecraft is incapable of being launched from the surface of the home planet and would have to be launched into orbit and assembled there. I am terrible when it comes to orbital rendezvous so that presents a huge hurdle.
My goal is to build a spacecraft that can travel to every single body in the solar system, to include moons, set down, run some fancy science experiments, see the sights, and do whatever else there is to do on each particular rock orbiting the star and then move on to the next. Rinse, repeat, continue until complete. My initial analysis concluded that I’d need a ton of fuel to perform all of the necessary stops. Carrying all of that fuel with me definitely seemed like a huge issue. Luckily I found a nifty mod that allows players to mine a natural resource called Kethane which can then be converted into a type of fuel. That definitely solves my fuel issues.
So now to build the spacecraft core to get started. The core will be the part that doesn’t set down – it houses all of the power houses such as the deep space propulsion, high-gain communications array, large power supply, and massive fuel storage. I looked around at a few designs online and started preliminary build of a hybrid design of a few other designs I saw, however I ran into issues, mostly structural stability. Most of the designs I saw were stations that stayed in orbit – they didn’t leave orbit. High orbital propulsion testing of some of my earlier designs only did two things for me – introduced a ton of new debris into my home’s planet low-to-high orbital system and told me that I had to return to the drawing board.
Most of my problems were with the design of my large fuel tank arrays – their density was small and they had very few and very spread out structure connections. They looked cool but were inefficient from a structural engineering standpoint. I had to come up with something sturdier.
I read a vague description of multiple docking connections between two components and my new design dawned on me! See below!
On the left is my new design. It is actually three separate components that end up docking together with 6 docking couplers on each component. That’s right! Six docking connections between each component instead of only one! The three tank array in the middle of the station is the last remnant of my old design and you can probably see why it was structurally unstable – the sheer inertia of fully loaded fuel tanks was too much for the docking connectors and with even a little bit of realistic acceleration, the docking connections were failing.
The new design, on the left, as you can see is a lot sturdier. They are also easier to launch because due to their increased structural integrity, the launch vehicle can be much lighter and doesn’t need any specialized modular load carrying structure like I needed when I was launching fuel tanks individually.