Idea Proposal

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My capstone project will explore the way in which multiple physics concepts apply to space travel. Units that we have discussed in class that are relevant to the project may or may not include: Kinematics, Statics & Dynamics, Energy, Momentum; and Oscillations, Gravity, & Waves. (Most- if not all- of the relevant equations fall under the Newtonian Mechanics section of the AP equations sheet.) To do this, I will use a space flight simulator called Kerbal Space Program.

Kerbal Space Program is a realistic space simulator that allows players to plan, build, launch, pilot, and experiment with their own spacecraft. The game contains multiple celestial bodies and closely (almost exactly) resembles our own solar system. While these celestial bodies are meant to resemble planets and moons we know, they are slightly different. However, all of their masses, volumes, gravitational forces, etc., are provided or calculable. Important information on the vessels in use (such as its mass, fuel levels, velocity, and even the specific impulse of its engines) are also readily available or calculable. KSP incorporates Newtonian physics in a realistic manner with few inconsistencies and will provide a realistic simulation of real, natural physics (the game does include advanced concepts, such as the Oberth effect). Many employees of NASA are actually aware of this game and enjoy it very much!

For my project, I will plan "missions" that include orbiting the home planet (called "Kerbin" in-game, it is a representation of Earth), Moon landings (the Moon's name in-game is "Mun"), and, hopefully, inter-planetary travel. With these, I can incorporate many concepts we have discussed in class. Random and relevant equations and concepts include: the equation for kinetic energy, potential energy, the universal law of gravitation, and Kepler's laws. The list could go on.

One of the obstacles I will face is the fact that many of the concepts relevant to space travel have not been covered in class (e.g., the Oberth effect or air resistance). Various readings and tutorials can help overcome this problem, but it's entirely possible that I will ask for help with specific things. There is also an important inconsistency within the physics engine of the game that should be pointed out: "the game engine's inability to solve the n-body problem only allows gravity from one celestial body at a time to be modeled, with gravity 'switching' at a definite point. This prevents the simulation of Lagrangian points..." While this is not insignificant, it should not severely affect the project in a negative way.

Useful links:

Kerbal Space Program (the main website)

Wikipedia Article on KSP

KSP Wiki Page

KSP Promo Video

KSP Gameplay

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