Launching A Custom Kerbal Panel

[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.

What, you don’t have access to a laser cutter? Just build a control panel into an old Heathkit trainer or something.

Orbital Mechanics On A Vintage Kaypro

These days, a good proxy for hacking prowess is getting Doom playable on the oldest piece of hardware imaginable. While we respect and applaud these efforts, perhaps the bar should be set a bit higher. Like orbital mechanics on an early 80s Kaypro, perhaps?

At least that’s the hurdle [Chris Fenton] set for himself as a fun project for his spare time with his Kaypro 2/84, a vintage Z80 clocking in at a screaming 4 MHz and 64-kB of RAM. With its built-in 80×25, 9″ green phosphor CRT monitor and flip-top keyboard, the Kaypro fit into that loveable luggable category of machines and predated IBM’s and Apple’s market dominance by a few years. The CP/M operating system has actually aged pretty well — but well enough to port [Chris]’ Deep Dish Nine, a graphical game written for the Arduboy that uses Kerbal-like orbital mechanics skills to deliver interplanetary pizzas? In the first instance, no — the game, ported to Turbo Pascal, only managed fractional frames per second, rendering it unplayable. But with some very clever coding, [Chris] was able to improve refresh rates 10-fold. The optimization road not taken includes hardware hacks, like overclocking the Z80 or even replacing it with an FPGA and emulator, but that’s hardly keeping with the spirit of the thing.

It’s always great to see vintage machines pushing the envelope. A great place to see them is one of the Vintage Computer Fairs, like the upcoming VCF Southeast in Georgia. We were at the one diagonally across the country a few weeks back, and they’re well worth the trip.

Kerbal Space Program For The Apple II

[Vince Weaver] tried to use his time machine to jump a few years in the future to get a less buggy version of Kerbal Space Program, but as usual with time travel, nothing went right and he ended up heading to 1987. Finding himself in an alternate timeline where KSP had been released for the Apple II, he brought back a copy.

Well, that’s the narrative proposed by [Vince Weaver] on his YouTube channel. The real story, and hack, being that he wrote a version of KSP for the Apple II in Applesoft Basic. He has used the language for the ridiculous before. You can build a rocket, select a pilot, launch, and if you’re lucky (or skilled), reach orbit.

We loaded up his disk image on an Apple II emulator and gave it a try. We managed to murde—lose a few pilots, but that was about it.  It was hard not to get distracted by the graphics and remember to point the rocket the right direction. Either way, it was a neat bit of fun in retro computing. Video after the break.

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Quadrotor Control Systems And Kerbal Harriers

Kerbal Space Program, the game that teaches engineers at JPL and SpaceX the basics of rocket design and orbital mechanics, recently had a giant update. There are now science contracts that require you to fly Kerbals all over their tiny globe, collect data, and transmit it back to the Kerbal Space Center. As would be expected, this is a grind for XP, and the contracts sometimes don’t make sense – you need to collect data from cliff faces and mountain tops. Landing a Kerbal jet at these places is hard.

[Matt Thiffault] wanted to do these science contracts more efficiently. The best way to get to a remote location without a landing strip would be a helicopter, but a harrier jump jet would do just as well. This isn’t supported in the stock game, so [Matt] wrote a complete control system for four engines to control a hovering Kerbal jet.

[Matt]’s work is built on kOS, a scriptable autopilot mod for Kerbal that was originally intended to be something like the Apollo Guidance Computer. People have been using it to make computerized skycranes and automated rendezvous and docking programs, but these are actually relatively simple examples; there’s far more math involved in flying a quadcopter than there is getting into orbit.

To build his automated hovering harrier, [Matt] needed an aircraft. His Kerrier has parts from the Kerbal Aircraft Expansion, B9, and Infernal Robotics mods for KSP, but this is only half the problem. Anyone can put four tilt jets on an airplane, and it takes a real wizard to force a control system to hover. Hover control of the Kerbal harrier is accomplished with a complete control system for a four-engined aircraft, with proper PID control loops and code updating at 20Hz.

With kOS, the proper plane, and the right software running on this emulated guidance computer, [Matt] is able to park his plane in mid-air, have a Kerbal descend the ladder, perform some science, and return to base. It’s an impressive amount of work for a video game. A good thing, too: [Matt] is looking to get into controls engineering professionally. Whether this will go on his resume is another question entirely.

Custom Controllers For Kerbal Space Program

kerbalKerbal Space Program is already a runaway indie video game hit, and if you ask some people, they’ll tell you it is the way to learn all about orbital dynamics, how spaceships actually fly, the challenges of getting to the mün. The controls in KSP are primarily keyboard and mouse, something that really breaks the immersion for a space flight simulator. We’ve seen a few before, but now custom controllers well suited for a Kerbal command pod can be made at home, with all the blinkey LEDs, gauges, and buttons you could want.

[Freshmeat] over on the KSP forums began his space adventures with a keyboard but found the fine control lacking. An old Logitech Dual Shock controller offered better control, but this gamepad doesn’t come with a throttle, and USB throttles for flight sims are expensive. He found a neat plugin for KSP made for interfacing an Arduino, and with a few modifications, turned his controller into a control panel, complete with sliders, pots, gauges, and all the other goodies a proper command pod should have.

[Freshmeat]’s work is not the only custom Kerbal controller. There’s a whole thread of them, with implementations that would look great in everything from a modern spaceplane to kerbalkind’s first steps into the milky abyss of space. There’s even one over on the Hackaday projects site, ready to fly Bill, Bob, and Jeb to the mün or a fiery explosion. Either one works.

Thanks [drago] for the tip.