Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Jovian Program

The Jovian Program, simply put, was a series of four long range 59 ton nuclear powered spacecraft with a maximum fuel capacity of 8,200 liters (70% of their total mass).  True to their namesake, they were the first vessel designed to travel to Jool and its moons. It sounded impressive on paper and looked even more so on the launchpad, but you know what they say, "the bigger they are..."

Jovian Jammer, first of her class, proved both space-worthy and landing capable by rescuing Bill and Bob Kerman.  Both Kerbonauts had been stranded since Lunar Lion made its (in)famous touchdown nearly three months prior.  After being refueled by three separate tanker vessels while docked to Sky Hydra, this new model of spacecraft was the first to be sent to Jool.  The expedition was perfectly timed.  After one week Jovian Jammer broke free of Kerbin's SOI.  Only three days following that, the burn to Jool began.  A promising beginning, but the journey turned sour at about eight months out.

Badly miscalculating the approach for aerobraking resulted in Jovian Jammer being both the first vessel ever reach Jool, as well as the first to escape from the Kerbol system entirely.  Perhaps her crew of brave Kerbonauts will one day explore the planets and moons around a distant star, but to the folks back home, they are lost.

Jovian II succeeded where her predecessor failed, aerobraking into a perfect encounter with Vall.  In hindsight the maneuver was perhaps a bit too "on target."  Lacking the necessary resources to adjust her trajectory in time, Jovian II slammed into the north pole of Vall at a speed of 400 meters per second.  Incidentally, this was the opposite side of where the mission profile called for a landing to take place.

After the failures of the first two Jovian spacecraft there was a lot of talk among mission designers to scrap the program entirely.  However, Jovian III and IV were already partly constructed so it was eventually decided that the next two spacecraft would be completed, but used to explore closer points of interest.

The first of these was, the as of yet unexplored, Gilly.  This little ball of rock proved to be surprisingly elusive with its eccentric orbit and tiny SOI.  Luckily, Jovian III proved up to the task and made a successful landing near the north polar region.

Encouraged by this accomplishment, Jovian IV was given the slightly more challenging target of Dres.  In order to better improve performance, the spacecraft received modifications to its solar array, mono-propellant tanks and lighting systems.  Much like the previous mission, orbital eccentricity pushed the spacecraft to its limits.  However, the crew were determined and after a lengthy voyage they were able to land near a deep canyon with impressive precision.

Back on Kerbin this second success was hailed as a triumph for Kermans everywhere.  Sadly, both the achievements of Jovian III and IV were tainted by the fact that these spacecraft had been taxed to their uttermost levels of endurance.  Neither vessel had enough fuel to return to Kerbin.  Though both were more than capable of returning to a parking orbit over their respective targets.

Eventually long range refueling missions would have to be planned.  Because of this, and other budgetary concerns, Jovian V was abandoned before the first components rolled off the production line.  The program was ended and all personnel attached to it were either transferred to other projects or else quietly retired.

Sometimes, I (the director of the Jovian Program) wonder if we will ever try to return to the moons of Jool.  If so, I wonder what kind of spacecraft we will use to get there. Regardless , I think it would be best to adopt the name "Terrestrial Program" since it sure seems like a more fortuitous name than the one we went with.

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