Just a few weeks before Atlantis embarked on the final flight of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, a small Mexican company by the name of Squad quietly released Kerbal Space Program (KSP) onto an unsuspecting world. Until that point the company had only developed websites and multi-media installations. Kerbal wasn’t even an official company initiative, it started as a side project by one of their employees, Felipe Falanghe. The sandbox game allowed players to cobble together rockets from an inventory of modular components and attempt to put them into orbit around the planet Kerbin. It was immediately addictive.
There was no story to follow, or enemies to battle. The closest thing to a score counter was the altimeter that showed how far your craft was above the planet’s surface, and the only way to “win” was to put its little green occupant, the titular Kerbal, back on the ground in one piece. The game’s challenge came not from puzzles or scripted events, but from the game’s accurate (if slightly simplified) application of orbital mechanics and Newtonian dynamics. Building a rocket and getting it into orbit in KSP isn’t difficult because the developers baked some arbitrary limitations into their virtual world; the game is hard for the same reasons putting a rocket into orbit around the Earth is hard.
Over the years official updates added new components for players to build with and planets to explore, and an incredible array of community developed add-ons and modifications expanded the scope of the game even further. KSP would go on to be played by millions, and seeing a valuable opportunity to connect with future engineers, both NASA and the ESA helped develop expansions for the game that allowed players to recreate their real-world vehicles and missions.
But now after a decade of continuous development, with ports to multiple operating systems and game consoles, Squad is bringing this chapter of the KSP adventure to a close. To celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary on June 24th, they released “On Final Approach”, the game’s last official update. Attention will now be focused on the game’s ambitious sequel, which will expand the basic formula with the addition of interstellar travel and planetary colonies, currently slated for release in 2022.
Of course, this isn’t the end. Millions of “classic” KSP players will still be slinging their Kerbals into Hohmann transfer orbits for years to come, and the talented community of mod developers will undoubtedly help keep the game fresh with unofficial updates. But the end of official support is a major turning point, and it seems a perfect time to reminisce on the impact this revolutionary game has had on the engineering and space communities.
Fans of the lusciously voiced space aficionado [Scott Manley] will know he often uses Kerbal Space Program (KSP) in his videos to knock together simple demonstrations of blindingly complex topics such as orbital mechanics. But as revealed in one of his recent videos, YouTube isn’t the only place where his KSP craft can be found these days. It turns out he used his virtual rocket building skills to help the creators of Netflix’s Stowaway develop a realistic portrayal of a crewed spacecraft in a Mars cycler orbit.
The Mars cycler concept was proposed in 1985 by Buzz Aldrin as a way to establish a long-term human presence on the Red Planet. Put simply, it describes an orbit that would allow a vehicle to travel continuously between Earth and Mars while needing only an occasional engine burn for course corrections. The spacecraft couldn’t actually stop at either planet, but while it made a close pass, smaller craft could rendezvous with it to hitch a ride. The concept can be thought of as a sort of interplanetary train: where passengers and cargo are picked up and dropped off at “stations” above Earth and Mars. It’s worth noting that a similar cycler orbit should be possible for Earth-Venus trips, but nobody really wants to go there.
The writers of Stowaway wanted their film to take place on a Mars cycler, and to avoid having to create the illusion of weightlessness, they wanted their fictional craft to also have some kind of artificial gravity. The only problem was, they weren’t sure what that would actually look like. So they reached out to [Scott], who in turn used KSP to throw together a rough idea of how such a ship might work in the real-world.
As you can see in the video below, the CGI spacecraft shown in the film’s recently released trailer ended up bearing a strong resemblance to its KSP prototype. While naturally some artistic license was used, [Scott] is excited by what he’s seen so far. The spinning spacecraft, which uses a spent upper stage to counterbalance its crew module and features a stationery utility node at the center, certainly looks impressive; all the more so with the knowledge that it’s based on sound principles.
Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys talk turkey on the latest hacks. Random numbers, art, and electronic geekery combine into an entropic masterpiece. We saw Bart Dring bring new life to a cool little multi-pen plotter from the Atari age. Researchers at UCSD built a very very very slow soft robot, and a broken retrocomputer got a good dose of the space age. A 555 is sensing earthquakes, there’s an electric motor that wants to drop into any vehicle, and did you know someone used to have to read the current time into the telephone ad nauseam?
Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!
Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!
[MelkorsGreatestHits] had an extra USB MAME board burning a hole in his parts bin, so he turned it into fuel for this far-out Kerbal Space Program controller. Cool your jets — no fully-functioning TI-99/4As were harmed in the making of this baby. Besides, this is a KAL 9000 from Kexas Instruments. See the badges?
After donating the usable parts deemed unnecessary for space exploration, [MelkorsGreatestHits] had even more room inside the case for the throng of toggles that make this controller so touchable. We love the two tiers of toggles here — the important ones are separated with 3D-printed Space Shuttle-style switch guards, and the super-important toggles have flip-up covers to protect them from errant flicks of the hand. The vintage embosser labels are an impressive touch, and make us wish we had one that stamps vertically.
[MelkorsGreatestHits] modeled the combo throttle/roll handle and the joystick after the Apollo 11 command module controls. Unfortunately, the MAME board didn’t like his 3-axis analog joystick, so both are 2-axis and give WASD control. Good enough to get to the Mün!
[Matthew Peverill] is a busy PhD student who loves to make time for a little Kerbal Space Program. He was tired of using such pedestrian controls as a keyboard and mouse for such important work, and wanted something a little more like they have down in Houston.
For this project, he’s focusing on the inputs more than anything else. The intent is not to play solely from this control panel, but to strike a balance between fun inputs and accurate control without screwing up favorite game play modes. It’s based on an Arduino Due, and uses some custom I²C multiplexer boards to wrangle all the various inputs.
We love the look of this panel, especially the appropriately Futura-fonted labels and all the toggle switches. Matthew took inspiration and guidance for this project from a couple of sources, so he’s definitely following in the Hackaday spirit of standing on the shoulders of giants. He’s moved through two prototypes and is working out the bugs before making the next one. The final version will be made of backlit transparent acrylic, and you know we can’t wait to see that.
Have you looked up into the night sky recently and seen a bizarre line of luminous dots? Have you noticed an uptick in the number of UFO reports mentioned in the news and social media? If so, you may have already been touched by what many have come to affectionately call Elon Musk’s “Space Train”: a line of tightly grouped Starlink satellites that are making their way around the globe.
Some have wondered what’s so unique about the Starlink satellites that allows them to be visible from the ground by the naked eye, but that’s actually nothing new. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, for both the observer and the spacecraft in question. The trick is having the object in space catch the light from the Sun when it has, from the observer’s point of view, already set. It’s essentially the same reason the Moon shines at night, but on a far smaller scale.
What makes the Starlink satellites unique isn’t that we can see them from the ground, but that there’s so many of them flying in a straight line. The initial launch released 60 satellites in a far tighter formation than we’ve ever seen before; Elon even warned that collisions between the individual Starlink satellites wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. The cumulative effect of these close proximity satellite flares is a bit startling, and understandably has people concerned about what the night sky might look like when all 12,000 Starlink satellites are in orbit.
The good news is, the effect is only temporary. As the satellites spread out and begin individual maneuvers, that long line in the sky will fade away. But before Elon’s “Space Train” departs for good, let’s look at how it was created, and how you can still catch a glimpse of this unique phenomena.
Many people enjoy playing flight simulators or making the occasional orbit in Kerbal Space Program, but most are stuck controlling the onscreen action with nothing more exotic than a keyboard and mouse. A nice compromise for those that don’t have the space (or NASA-sized budget) to build a full simulator cockpit is a USB “button box” that you can plug in whenever you need a couple dozen extra knobs, switches, and lights.
If you’ve been considering building one for yourself, this incredible build by [nexprime] should prove quite inspirational. Now at this point, a box of buttons hooked up to a microcontroller isn’t exactly newsworthy. But there are a few features that [nexprime] packed in which we think make this particular build worth taking a closer look at.
For one, the powder coated 8.5” x 10” enclosure is absolutely gorgeous. The console itself was purchased from a company called Hammond Manufacturing, but of course it still took some work to turn it into the object you’re currently drooling over. A CNC machine was used to accurately cut out all the necessary openings, and the labels were laser etched into the powder coat.
But not all the labels. One of the things we like best about this build is that [nexprime] thought ahead and didn’t just design it for one game. Many of the labels are printed on strips of paper which slide into translucent plastic channels built into the front of the box. Not only does this allow you to change out the overlays for different games, but the paper labels look fantastic when lit with the LED strips placed behind the channels.
Internally, [nexprime] used a SparkFun Pro Micro paired with a SX1509 I/O expander. The electronics are all housed on professionally manufactured PCBs, which gives the final build an incredibly neat look despite packing in 68 separate inputs for your gaming pleasure. On the software side this box appears as a normal USB game controller, albeit one with a crazy number of buttons.