[caption id="" align="alignright" width="510"] Kerbin Air Density and Pressure at Altitude[/caption]
Virgin Galactic unveiled one of their new kerosene powered rocket engines, named Newton, to the world yesterday. However, the craft that caught my attention (again) was the SpaceShipTwo during its third successful rocket powered trip into space two weeks ago. And it's not the ship itself that intrigued me this time, though it is an outstanding achievement. No, what got me thinking this time was it's assistant airplane, WhiteKnightTwo. It's a very clever, fuel saving practice to move one's launch pad well above the center of one's gravity well. And since air density, and thus resistance, declines as one gains altitude, it's a win-win for any rocket trying to get into orbit - they require less Delta v to get into orbit and experience less resistance in doing so.
That got me wondering. Could I do something similar in Kerbal Space Program? As you can see by the graph, there is virtually no atmosphere remaining at 15,000 meters above Kerbin. Could I launch from 15,000 meters using jet engines to lift my launch platform to that altitude? I was a little hesitant. I've not had much luck building space planes for the Kerbals. I think that part of the research needs a little love - or I do. However, all the plane parts are available in the rocket hanger. Why couldn't I just use them there? So I did.
My specific intent was to build a low cost method for putting a telecommunications satellite into Kerbisynchronous Equatorial Orbit. What I built was a reinforced, square platform in the shape of an 'H' with a jet engine at each corner. Heavy landing pads support the entire structure. The rocket sits on a pedestal, for lack of a better term, in the middle of the 'H.' It consists of an 800 series and a 400 series 2-meter fuel tank with a T45 engine attached. Attached to that rocket by radial decouplers are two large solid rocket boosters. Atop it all is the communications payload - a satellite with it's own small rocket, solar panels, a battery and an antenna.
After a few test flights, and some collaboration with he who is responsible for my KSP addiction, my friend Shatteredhip Fajardo, I moved a final version of my launch system onto the pad to see if it could indeed place my first Kerbisynchronous telecommunications satellite into orbit. Here's how it went.