Of battleships and moonbases in Second Life

Monbase Alpha, March 2022

Sometimes playing pot luck with Second Life’s Destination Guide can result in the most unexpected visits. Recently, for example, I riffled through the DG and ended up dropping into a pair of builds by Mitch Charron; both are located within the same region and both offers their own sense of history, albeit in very different ways.

The first of these is a genuine page from history and takes the form of HMS Iron Duke, the flagship of the British Grand Fleet operating out of Scapa Flow in the Scottish Orkneys during the First World War. Sporting no fewer than 10 13.5-inch guns, Iron Duke and her four sister ships were, for a short time following the outbreak of hostilities, the most powerful warships in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. In 1916, three of them participated in the Battle of Jutland, the only major clash of battleships of that war – and the last major naval engagement fought primarily by capital ships before aircraft became the main offensive weapon in naval warfare.

HMS Iron Duke

Within Second Life, Iron Duke is offered as a WWI role-play environment, the vessel appearing to be moored within Scapa Flow. The landing point in on her main gun deck, close to the aft superstructure that mounts one of the ship’s massive twin turrets of its main armament. This superstructure provides access to the below decks areas where can be found offices, the main mess deck for ratings (complete with hammock rigged over the tables and benches), the officer’s mess with it modest comforts, etc.

Forward of the landing point, past the midships main turret, it is possible to reach the armoured steering house and the flying bridge with its charthouse that rises above the forward superstructure. Other details include the vessel’s casement-mounted secondary guns, her steam tenders and general deck details that match available drawings of the ship for the period 1914-1919, all of which make for an engaging visit.

Moonbase Alpha: Main Mission

Located high above the mists of Scapa Flow, meanwhile, sits another location risen of the history of television. Located within the magnificent desolation of the Moon’s surface over which a (rather large) gibbous Earth hangs, is the grey bulk of Moonbase Alpha, a place made famous  – and most media sci-fi fans will likely know – by the 1970s live-action TV series Space: 1999, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (and the last production in their partnership).

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the series focused on the plight of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, a scientific research centre, after Earth’s Moon is blasted out of its orbit – and out of the solar system – on September 13th, 1999 courtesy of a massive nuclear explosion. While we now may be looking back at 1999 knowing this never happened, at the time it allowed the series to offer the 311 people stranded on the wandering Moon to partake in numerous adventures (some of them very hooky) in deep space.

Moonbase Alpha: Medical Centre

The series drew inspiration from some of the production designs seen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and this is very much in evidence within Mitch’s design, presenting as it does various interior spaces of Moonbase Alpha, all of which are intended to offer a free-form role-play space for those wishing to get involved.

Those familiar with the TV series will instantly recognise what can be found here, from Main Mission, the station’s control centre dominated by the base commander’s large desk, through the plastic-walled corridors to the recreational facilities, the medical centre, the science labs, crew quarters and even a travel tube car. Corridor intersections include the show’s iconic communications posts, while out of the landing pads a (possibly more iconic) Eagle Transporter awaits lift-off.

The interior of an Eagle forms the landing point, with a loading door accessing the travel tube (and thence the rest of the station), while the computer panel to one side of the Eagle’s pod offers teleports to the ground-level sights within the region, which may well be the subject of a future visit. Other teleports will deliver people to some of the outlining facilities around the core of the base.

Moonbase Alpha: Recreation and Dining

From reading the notes (provided via the Communications Posts), I understand the station is to be extended, and custom props are to be developed and supplied to those involved in RP within the setting. The role play itself is apparently set some two years prior to the events of the TV series, meaning the station in not under the command of Martin Landau’s John Koenig, but will progress to that fateful day in September 1999. Anyone who does fancy becoming an Alphan should contact Mitch Charron directly.

I’ve no idea how much actual role-play goes on at either location, but for the historically-minded, Iron Duke makes for an interesting visit. Moonbase Alpha is a very credible reproduction of the environment from the TV series – so much so that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Nick Tate’s Alan Carter had stepped out of the cockpit of the Eagle interior landing point.

Both Moonbase and battleship make for very eclectic visits, but both offer multiple opportunities for photography, (although the battleship could perhaps benefit from the use of materials to help bring the texturing to life, land impact allowing; it also would also perhaps be nice if the ship had an information giver similar to the ones at Moonbase, but this is a minor quibble.

SLurl Details

Andorra is rated Moderate.

Space Sunday: Starship, ExoMars and sundry news

What it might look like: an animation of the first Starship orbital flight. Credit: C-Bass Production / Neopork

Such is the pace of development, the first orbital flight of the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy combination will now not take place as originally planned.

It had been thought that the flight, which has been repeatedly delayed for a number of factors, including slippages in the Federal Aviation Administration being able to publish the final version of its study into the impact of SpaceX’s operations in Boca Chica on the surrounding environment, would be made by Starship No. 20 (“Ship 20”), and Super Heavy booster No 4 (Booster 4), both of which have been going through a wide range of cryogenic and static fire tests since mid-2021, the most recent of the cryogenic tests occurring just over a week and a half ago, with both vehicles stacked together on the launch platform.

However, on Saturday, March 22nd, Starship 20 was “destacked” from Booster 4 and removed from the orbital launch facilities, and 24 hours later, Booster 4 was also removed, with Elon Musk Tweeting that neither would now play a role in the first orbital flight attempt. The reason for this is simple: work on developing and enhancing the design of both the Starship vehicle and the Super Heavy booster now means that Booster 4 and Ship 20 are essentially obsolete.

March 22nd, 2022: Mechazilla on the orbital support tower lowers Starship 20 following its disconnect from Booster 4. Credit: NASA Spaceflight

The major cause for this is that – despite a scary e-mail from Musk at the end of 2021 stating SpaceX could go bankrupt if issues with the powerful Raptor 2 engine were not quickly sorted out and production ramped – the company is now solely focused on boosters and ships built to mount the much more compact Raptor 2 motors, the sea level versions of which (primarily used to power Super Heavy, but three are also used in each Starship) are considerably smaller and less complicated than their Raptor 1 cousins, and generate far more thrust (from 230 to 250 tonnes per Raptor 2 compared to a maximum 185 tonnes for a Raptor 1).

Left: a sea-level Raptor 2 engine compared to its much larger Raptor 1 equivalent. Credit: Nic Ansuni / NASA Spaceflight

The more compact size of the Raptor 2 makes it possible for SpaceX to increase the total compliment of engines on a Super Heavy from 29 to the planned 33. The reduction in their complexity also makes all of the plumbing required  to feed them propellants and the electronics needed to control them  a lot easier to manage. For starship vehicles, the smaller Raptor 2 motors should make it easier to increase the number of engines from 6 to the planned 9 (3 sea-level and 6 vacuum engines with their much large exhaust bells).

Booster 7 and Ship 24 are also the first of each design to incorporate other critical design changes. Some of these are to easy the fabrication and assembly process, others are to help improve performance or meet the demands of having more engines, and still other to improve aerodynamics.

In the case of the Super Heavy booster, one of the cleverest – and most visible – changes is in the number and positioning of the Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessels (COPVs).

COPV are tanks of hydrogen used in the ignition process for the outer ring of Raptor motors on a Super Heavy. With Booster 4, four pairs of COPVs were placed equidistantly around the base of the booster, covered by steel aeroshells.

However, with the increased number of Raptor engines, Booster 7 and those that follow it require 10 COPVs each. Were the extra two COPV to be paired at the base of the rocket, they would work with the other four pairs to disrupt airflow over the tail of the booster during ascent, generating both drag and potential buffeting / vibration.

To prevent this, Booster 7 is the first Super Heavy to have the COPV stacked vertically along its sides in two sets of five. Not only does this remove the risk of additional drag / buffeting during ascent, it also simplifies the overall plumbing to supply hydrogen to the Raptors, as each set of 5 can use common feedlines down the the engines. However, what is particularly clever is that offsetting each stack of COPVs slightly from the rocket’s centreline, their aerodynamic covers can actually help generate a degree of lift around the base of the rocket during its descent back through the atmosphere, helping to both slow it and provide a greater degree of control during the descent.

The COPV changes: left, as they were on Booster 4, and as they are on Booster 7. Credit: Brendan Lewis / ChameleonCir

As it is the closest to completion, Starship 24 would appear to be the primary candidate for joining booster 7 on the orbital flight attempt (work on ships 21 through 23 having been abandoned / bypassed) – but this far from certain. Recent work on the vehicle has seen it installed with a small prototype payload bay door, suggesting it has been earmarked for a payload bay test flight, something yet to be scheduled. As such, it is possible that Ship 25, also being assembled at Boca Chica, might be selected for the first orbital attempt.

Although the switch to using more recent versions of Super Heavy and Starship means that the first orbital flight attempt is now unlikely to occur before late May 2022, when it does happen, it will allow SpaceX to gather more relevant data on vehicle performance, which should help benefit the programme overall. It also means that by the time the booster / ship combination is ready to go, the FAA’s report on its environmental review of the Boca Chica site should have been published (the release date was recently pushed back again from the end of March to the end of April), and SpaceX should be in a position to know whether or not they are to be granted a licence for their orbital launches from the site.

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