Try Next-Gen Space Technology in ‘Kerbal Space Program’


Most games lose relevance after a few years, but the indie game for race construction Kerbal Space Program it’s a little different. It’s an unfortunate, 10-year-old game with a cult following of programmers, engineers, astronaut candidates, and your typical secular explosion enthusiasts, and has a unique and active community of modders who have fixed bugs, adding new features, and generally keeping the game fresh for almost a decade.

In the game, you are the omniscient director of a space program composed of literal green men (and beloved little green woman Valentina Kerman — you see trailblazer) who you send to heaven in spaceships of your own design. You often hear those old blurry videos of races launching just to get right back into an explosion of fiery schadenfreude: You feel a little scared, a little sadistic, and you really want to try again.

Art imitates life

One of the most prolific Kerbal modders is Chris Adderley, Nertea in the game, who is an engineer in the Canadian space company MDA by day, designing terrestrial systems that retrieve data from spacecraft. But in his pause time, Adderley enters himself into the pilot’s seat. He started playing Kerbal Space Program soon after its release, and in 2013 began building its first mod for the game – a spare parts package, including a xenon fuel tank and a dynamic magnetoplasmic propeller (just try to say that three times as fast ).

He has since devised dozens of additional mods, including a Space Mark IV and add-on to space stations such as centrifuges and inflatable housings.

“Building things that I would love to see as a kind of building in the future,” says Adderley.

Recently, Addlerley decided to take some of the most plausible theoretical race engine concepts into the future and build on the game — introducing a way for gamers to try out these sci-fi games. concepts in a simulated environment that can teach us how they could really work, on a more practical level, in the future.

Adderley published dozens of scientific papers describing theoretical schemes for these ultra-advanced propulsion systems, looking for those that were the most realistic.

“Everyone is trying to sell their project as a propulsion system for the future,” says Adderley. “You need to think a little bit critically about what people have waved their hands at.”


He crunched the numbers, considered how much power a specific engine would need, how to deal with the heat produced, and how to harness the energy to further power the virtual races. “It was super funny, which might be a super nerdy statement, but you know.”

In the end, he built 13 different engine concepts, including fusion-like engines A StesaThe Epstein unit is theorized to be – fission engines, and antimatter engines.

Although we don’t even have the technology to implement these specific impulse demons, there is some real-world value in being able to simulate advanced engines in a low-stakes environment. In fact, it’s a great sandbox that SpaceX and Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers used Kerbal graphics in their presentations. In 2018, NASA has released Open MCT, a telemetry data visualization software designed to operate spacecraft, to the public on Github. It is costly and time consuming to test these systems on real spacecraft, so some participants have managed their programs through Kerbal instead.

For Sumontro Sinha, an aerospace engineer and fusion researcher at the University of Alabama’s Propulsion Research Laboratory in Huntsville, Kerbal aims to test new ideas and train new engineers.

“Instead of Powerpoint slides and equation pages, you just have to make the ship and see how it works,” he says. “If he works in Kerbal, then he has a good chance of working in real life.”

Power Donut

U spherical fusion engine tokamak is based on the fictitious spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey, without Dave the AI ​​assassin. Adderley found the real science behind this a NASA study, in which the paper’s lead author, Craig Williams, says NASA has funded a series of projects focused on the development of advanced propulsion systems. Williams ’team designed an engine that uses the energy produced by a fusion reaction to generate thrust. Fusion occurs naturally inside stars like our sun, where light atoms are superheated to the point where their electrons and neutrons separate and neutrons, normally repelling each other. otherwise, they melt and produce massive amounts of energy. One of the biggest challenges in producing this energy on Earth is that you need a way to confine the resulting plasma and harness its power.

One way to do this is with a tokamak, a device that generates a donut-shaped magnetic field that holds the superheated plasma in place. In the Williams engine prototype, this tokamak would be almost spherical — more like a donut hole. The landslide will push the vehicle to more than 166,000 mph, bringing passengers to Jupiter in just under 4 months. To put this in perspective, the Voyager deep space probe travels far from our solar system at 35,000 mph.

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