Pre-launch formalities and preparations

Before you leave, you should do the polite thing, and ask permission to take off from the local friendly flight controllers. Select the Launch/Land MFD, and press control-C to ask permission to take off. Taking off without permission is perfectly possible, but takes away from one's sense of a job well done.

Once these basic formalities are out of the way, it's time to prepare for takeoff. The first thing to do is reconfigure the instruments. One MFD should be set to surface mode, and the other set to orbit mode. The orbit MFD has several different options you can set, and here we need one. Set the projection to ship projection (using the PRJ button). This allows you to see what your orbit looks like relative to the planet. At the moment that's not much use, but it becomes the main instrument later in the ascent. Using the ecliptic projection will distort the picture you need by viewing it at an angle - for now ship projection is much better. It's not a bad thing to have your orbital numbers up either.

As for the surface MFD, there's nothing much to adjust.

In spite of appearances, the deltaglider cannot take off in the way that an aeroplane does. You need to use the hover engines to take off.


Fire the hover engine on full power to take off. Raise the undercarriage (G). Engage the main engine on full, switch off the hover after a few seconds, and fly off Eastbound - that is, with a heading of 90'. The atmosphere is pretty thick near the surface, so the first order of business is getting out of the worst of it. A pitch of 70' or more is therefore in order. A little while after takeoff, your instruments should look something like those below. On my launch, I'm rather low on pitch, and I've drifted 2' to the right. It's best to get it right, but a few degrees wander can be lived with.

Eastbound is always the best way to take off on any planet, as that allows you to build on the speed you already have from the planet's rotation. 

Leaving the atmosphere

In the lower atmosphere, the deltaglider reacts to aerodynamic forces, and tends to maintain its pitch. As you climb higher, the atmosphere thins out, and lift disappears. The nose starts to pitch down of its own accord. At this stage in the flight, I tend to think that there's not much wrong with allowing the nose to drop to about 45'. I then try to maintain a vertical speed (using the surface MFD Vspd) of around 500 metres per second. Here it's 458.

Since the worst of the atmosphere is now below us, the most important thing is now to accelerate Eastbound as quickly as possible. Use pitch to control vertical acceleration, and keep an eye on heading so that it doesn't wander off.


Getting close to orbit

The snapshot below is taken from a little later in my launch. At this point, vertical speed is around 550 metres per second, and Eastbound velocity is 4.2k. At this point, I switched on the autopilot in a prograde direction. Experience tells me that this will result in a pretty good circular orbit.

You'll see that on each of these views of the instruments, your calculated orbit is getting fatter. Three useful figures are the Radius, Periapsis and Apoapsis distances (PeD and ApD). Radius is our current distance from the Earth's centre - 6605 kilometres. Apoapsis is the highest point the spacecraft would reach if I turned the engines off now, and is about 25 kilometres above its present height. My orbit would then take me back down to Earth's surface again. PeD is the lowest height I would reach if Earth were magically much smaller - at this point it's only 1412 kilometres from the centre of the planet - way below the actual surface. Our speed still needs to increase further.


Continued thrust in the prograde (forward) direction continues to bring the orbit up. This is the orbit after an additional 2.6 kilometres per second. It's still not quite there.


Another 400 metres per second does the trick - the orbit is now above the surface everywhere. The thrusters can now safely be turned off. We have reached low earth orbit - the first milestone on our voyage to Mars.



Aligning the orbit