Monday, August 12, 2013

Kerbals in Space - The "Oregon Trail" game of spaceflight

If you don't know what Kerbal Space Program is, check out this video from

I spent the weekend unwinding and trying to restore some lost ambitions and projects. One of my hobbies has become Kerbal Space Program. I have been wanting to write a mod for it and want it to interact in the physical world.

Taking a cue from Telemachus, which graphs out flight information to a webpage, I began creating a library that will send data over a serial bus (USB preferred) to an receiver for display. For my test receiver, I have rigged up my Teensy 3.0 with the ST7735 LCD display and am spitting out text. I plan on converting the text  to feed into a set of 15 segment and 7 segment LED displays instead of the LCD after I make sure the Kerbal API->USB->Arduino transfer all works fine. This will make it more like the NASA mission clock or the mission control dashboard.

NASA Mission Clock
Mission Control Dashboard
The project currently looks like this:

Kerbal Mission Clock
It just displays some simple metrics: Mission Time, Time to Next Planned Maneuver, Altitude above the current gravitational object, and Orbital Speed.

Getting ready to build a new rocket
Lain and I did some Kerbaling last weekend as well in an attempt to build a multistage ship to go to Duna (similar to Mars). I hooked my PC to the projector and we worked through launching a Kethane (similar to Methane) searching satellite out to Minmus (imagine a tiny second moon way out past the Earth's moon) to find Kethane deposits. We then launched a reusable automated pod to fetch Kethane and bring it up to orbit. Finally, we designed a "Planet to Moon" fuel hauler to bring large tanks of fuel back to Kerbin. Our next goal is to design a craft to go out to Duna with all that fuel.

Lain recording our landing position so that we can return
While there is a good amount of math and planning you can do in the game, it isn't required. You can easily get to the much closer moon, Mun, by simple trial and error. Lain and I learned that "error" is harsh on projects like this, so he has made a construction, preflight, and mission checklist that we go through on each rocket. There is nothing more irritating than launching a probe out to Minmus, attempting to correct the orbit and find out that you can't because you forgot to open the solar panels and your probe has no power.