Sunday, August 25, 2019

Wish list for space video games.

Please support my efforts. I just finished a conic sections and orbital mechanics coloring book. I need help with printing costs. Through this Kickstarter you can pre-order a signed coloring book. I look at conic sections, Kepler's laws, Hohmann transfer orbits, the Oberth effect, space tethers, Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation and lots of other space stuff. The coloring book is $5 plus $5 shipping and handling ($10 shipping and handling if you're outside the U.S.).

Kickstarter for this coloring book ends 4:30 a.m. April 13, 2020.

Kerbal Space Program

The Kerbal Space Program has demonstrated video games can be a very effective teaching tool.

It used to be very frustrating trying to talk about orbital mechanics. Use a word like "perigee" and eyes would glaze over as the audience tunes out.

But now there are many KSP players who are comfortable with terms like The Oberth Benefit, Bi Elliptic Transfers and other what use to be arcane, esoteric notions.

I'm hoping for more scientifically accurate games to make their way into pop culture.

Wish Number 1: Shotgun N-body simulations

Readers of this blog may know I'm a little obsessed with EML2 (Earth Moon Lagrange 2).

Many of my delta V numbers from EML2 assume dropping from EML2 using the Farquhar route and then insertion to a transfer orbit when moving ~11 km/s at perigee.

The Farquhar Route

However Farquhar's well done graphic is a simplification. A ship departing from from the EML2 region would not depart from a point. Rather it would drop from a halo or lissajous orbit about EML2. There are a multitude of possible orbits in this region.

Dropping from different parts of a halo orbit will result in different longitudes and latitudes for a perigee. And if you're doing a perigee burn for injection to a Mars transfer orbit, you want to be at a specific location and heading a specific direction when making your burn. 

Years ago Tom Powell helped me build a shotgun Java n-body sim from Bob Jenkins' code. blast many pellets in the general direction of your target. See which pellets pass closest and then narrow the shotgun blast.

Above is an attempt to show the shotgun concept. A fellow going by the handle "Impaler" was annoying me in a space forum. First I blast the varmint with broad scattering of buckshot. Then I more thoroughly pepper his backside by narrowing the blast between pellets 5 and 7.

By successively narrowing buck shot from earth to EML2 I found this route 3.1 km/s route from LEO to EML2:

The sim included earth, moon and sun. A lunar swing by boosts apogee on the way out. And then sun's tidal influence serves to raise perigee to EML2 altitude.

There are some serious limitations to my shot gun sim. There are only a few very limited scenarios that Tom Powell and I set up, very specific times and places. I would like to be able to have the user get location and velocity of a body at any time. I under stand there's software called SPICE that does this but I don't know how to use it.

Also JAVA seems obsolete. It's very difficult for me to use my own pages any more.

And my sims cans only specify the initial burns. Once you have a transfer path to a location it'd be nice to be able to do burns to park at that location.

I would use such a tool to learn how to move between different loosely bound lunar orbits.

Perhaps dropping from one EML2 halo orbit during a launch window wouldn't put the perigee in the right place for an injection burn. How much delta V would it take to move to a more favorable halo orbit?

Supposedly there are heteroclinic paths between halo orbits EML1 and EML2. A shotgun sim might help a player find these paths.

Halo orbits about EML1 and EML2 are part of a family of orbits that also include Near Rectilinear Halo Orbits (NHROs). If a lunar gateway is placed in an NHRO, it'd be fun and useful to explore different lunar orbits you could enter from an NHRO.

Wish Number 2: Tunneling on small bodies

For planets and large moons we are limited to exploiting only the thin outer shell of a body. Heat and pressure prohibit us from tunneling deeply.

But the entire volume is accessible for a small body.

If we could exploit the entire volume of Ceres, the dwarf planet could make Trantor look like Dogpatch.

I am hoping some planetary scientists and geologists could build tools to guesstimate how deeply we could tunnel given a body's surface temperature, radius and mass.

Wish Number 3: Tensile towers on small bodies

Also known as space elevators.

I'd be so happy to see a world building game use something like Wolfe's spreadsheet to examine effort and materials needed for various elevators. The user could input tensile strength, planet's angular velocity and body mass to examine various scenarios.

For example given Ceres' high angular velocity and shallow gravity well, Ceres synchronous orbit is only 706 kilometers above Ceres' surface. Materials needed for a Ceres or Vesta elevator are only a tiny fraction of what a Clarke Tower from earth or Mars would need.

Besides elevators from synchronous orbits it would also be good to enable users to build from planet-moon L1 and L2 points. 

The Mars Phobos and Mars Deimos are the moon elevators I like most. But elevators from L2 or L2 are usable in any family of tide locked moons.

Various tethers enabling ZRVTOs between Saturn's moons.

A gas giant's family of moons with tethers could be a rich setting for dramatic stories.

Hohmann trip times and launch windows between moons are on the order of days and weeks so it'd be possible to have a fast paced story without resorting to implausible engineering.

Dramatic situations might include missing a tether catch and being trapped in an orbit that won't rendezvous with a  tether catcher until the passengers have died from using up air, food or water. Or terrorists could sever a tether. There are many possibilities.

Wish Number 4: Compressive towers on small bodies.

Given lower gravity it's possible to build taller structures even given constraints imposed by a material's compressive strength. Likewise, sky scrapers are less plausible if a body has greater surface gravity.

I'd like the user to be able to specify a material's compressive strength and body gravity to get maximum plausible height for structures.

This would be especially useful for elevators between mutually tidally locked bodies like Pluto and Charon. Compressive towers built from the surfaces of Pluto and Charon could extend a fair distance towards Pluto-Charon-L1 and the also the Pluto Charon barycenter. This would considerably reduce the stress on the elevator and thus reducing the mass of the materials needed.

Wish Number 5: Thermal management.

This section dded on 9-8-19 on the suggestion of Winchell Chung and other thoughtful readers. There's three thermal management subjects I'd love to see a game address.

Limits to population growth

Earlier I mentioned a fully exploited Ceres volume could be a megapolis that makes Trantor look like Dogpatch. In the comments below Jim Baerg noted big populations generate heat. How would a growing population dump heat?

A good world building sim would take thermal management into account as a barrier to population growth.


Infra red signature could make military craft visible. A topic Chung talks about in his Atomic Rockets page.

Rocket propulsion.

Nuclear power electricity generation for ion propelled rockets would generate considerable waste heat. Dumping waste heat requires big radiators which make for a poorer power source alpha. There are other heat sources that need radiators to dump waste heat. These should be counted when calculating mass requirements for a space ship.

Any other ideas?

Well made multi user games could be a way to educate as well as stimulate interest in space exploration. If a reader has any other suggestions please comment. I screen comments for spam but I eventually post what I believe are worthwhile comments. It's unlikely an actual video game developer will ever read these but there's no harm in day dreaming.