Orbiter Apollo 11 Tutorial

Orbiter Apollo 11 Tutorial
Orbiter Apollo 11 Tutorial
By now, there are several tutorials available on how to successfully fly an Apollo moon
mission using Orbiter and NASSP. However, none of them specifically addresses some of the
problems I had to deal with when I first tried to get to the moon, so I decided to write my own
one. Since it is the most famous mission probably most aspiring astronauts want to fly, I
chose Apollo 11 to depict here, but you should be able to use the contents of this tutorial for
all Apollo missions. In the table at the end you find the important statistics for all Apollo
missions (if you need more, take a look into “Apollo by the numbers” at NASA’s web page http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4029/Apollo_00a_Cover.htm).
This tutorial requires basic Orbiter skills (basic orbital physics, reading and using the standard
MFDs, etc.). So if you don’t know what a periapsis or inclination is, please go back to the
Orbiter manual.
I used the following files, all downloadable for free:
Orbiter 031217 + Earth hires textures + Moon hires textures
(the base package now also contains Duncan Sharpe’s TransX MFD which is frequently used
throughout this tutorial)
OrbiterSound 2.5
NASSP 5 + fixes
(also contains the Cape Canaveral scenery of the Apollo days like in the screenshot below)
NASSP Enhancement Pack V1.0
(also contains the Lunar Landing MFD and sceneries for all the Apollo landing sites on the
I recommend you to use the quicksave feature (Ctrl-S) intensely throughout your mission –
you can’t hit that key often enough. The current version of Orbiter not only supports one
quicksave scenario but keeps them all, and if you, with the words of Al Shepard, “fuck up” or
just experience a PC crash, you will be able to restore any situation in your recent mission.
1. Launch and Earth Orbit
Let’s start with a quote by Bryan Adams: “... it was the summer of ’69 ...”. Launch the
scenario “AS-506_Apollo 11 Launch” in the “NASSP_5” subfolder. You will be strapped in
the capsule of your Apollo spaceship, right on top of the Saturn V rocket. By the way, during
this mission you will be Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in one person ☺
To make some definitions clear, “CM” (command module) refers to the capsule alone, the
part that parachutes into the ocean at the end of the mission. “SM” (service module) is the part
attached to the CM during most part of the flight which contains the big SPS (service
propulsion system) engine used for manoevres throughout the mission. CM and SM together
are referred to as the CSM (and they will be together until moments before reentry into earth’s
atmosphere). The LM (lunar module) is the famous four-legged moon lander now still hidden
below the CSM inside the S4B stage. The S4B is the third stage of the Saturn V and the only
stage that will make it into earth orbit and, when being restarted, shoot the CSM and LM on
their way to the moon.
Since the scenerio has the AGC (Apollo Guidance Computer) already configured correctly for
the mission, we don’t need to change anything (however, if you like you may run through the
startup and check procedure in the “Flying a Saturn V” tutorial (flyingsaturnv.pdf) that comes
with the NASSP package). Fast-forward to the launch time using sim rate 100, it will
automatically reset to 1 just before the final countdown (Joey Tempest Mode – tadadaaaadaaa
... ☺). The launch time is July 16, 1969, 13:32:00 GMT, or MJD 40418.5639. All times in this
tutorial are given either as “mission time” (use the timer on the NASSP panel, which you can
bring up with F8 by the way) or as MJD (especially the times you need for manoevres with
the TransX MFD). Just sit back and relax during the ascent (if you like to, watch the G meter
and imagine the force pushing you into your seat). In the real mission, the first stage was
separated at 000:02:41 (which NASSP hits quite right) and the second stage at 000:09:08
(here NASSP is usually a bit late). The S4B stage entered orbit at 000:11:49 (here we are a bit
early). If you crash down in the Atlantic instead, please check you have enabled “Limited
Fuel” in the launchpad dialog – unlimited fuel seems nice, but keeps the Saturn V from
staging since that first stage never runs out of fuel. And we don’t want to cheat either. Check
your orbit in the orbit MFD (Shift-O) – it should be almost circular with PeD and ApD about
6.550M to 6.560M (since earth’s radius is 6.370M, this will be 180 to 190 km altitude),
inclination a bit over 9° (by the way, this is not the same way of measuring the inclination as
in the NASA “Apollo by the numbers” document).
Please note that for some seconds after engine cutoff, the S4B will continue to fire the ullage
thrusters until their fuel is depleted. Enjoy your one and a half earth orbit, but please use 100
as your maximum sim rate. When passing over Florida, you can get a look at our launch site
2. Translunar Injection
At about 002:00:00 mission time you should start your preparations for the translunar
injection burn. Since we will use the AGC for a more precise burn, first activate the AGC.
The exact procedure is described in flyingsaturnv.pdf. If the AGC is in standby mode, click
the PROG key first. Enter verb 37 (program change) and noun 15 (TLI setup). Then calculate
your burn. Most people use the Transfer MFD for this purpose, but I prefer the TransX MFD
for its advantage of being much more precise (for example, we will know our lunar
inclination and rough PeD even before the burn). This can’t be a full TransX tutorial, so I’ll
keep the TransX basics short: You have to create a flight plan divided into stages. In this
flight, we have just two stages, the first earth-centered and the second moon-centered. You
should be in Setup View by default (if not, toggle the views with Shift-W).
1. Open TransX in the left MFD and create a second, moon-centered stage by selecting the
moon as target via keys Shift-"=", Shift-"-" (German keyboards: Shift-“ß”, Shift-“´”) and then
hitting Shift-F.
2. Open TransX in the right MFD and select the second stage by hitting Shift-F. Select
Encounter View (Shift-W to switch through the views). In the left MFD go back to the first
stage (Shift-R).
3. In the left MFD, select Manoevre View.
4. With Shift-">" and Shift-"<" (German keyboards: Shift-“,”, Shift-“.”) you can switch
between the different variables, with Shift-"=" and Shift-"-" (German keyboards: Shift-“ß”,
Shift-“´”) you can change the value of the variables. With Shift-"{" and Shift-"}" (German
keyboards: Shift-“ü”, Shift-“+”) you can change the sensitivity of your adjustments (from
"Coarse" to "Ultra"). First, set Manoevre Mode to "On".
5. Set Man. Date to 40418.6780, for that’s the historical TLI burn start time (002:44:16).
6. Set Prograde Velocity to about 3.150k-3.180k to start with. By the way I’ll clear up a
common misunderstanding here: we don’t want to escape the earth, because if we’d escape
the earth, we’d also escape all of the earth’s satellites including the moon. We just want to
extend our earth orbit so that it bypasses the moon and allow the spacecraft to be swung
retrograde around behind the moon by its gravity.
7. Play with the variables "Prograde velocity" and “Man. Date” and watch how the values
(Focus PeD, Inclination, Pe. MJD ...) in the right MFD change. Fine-tune them to get a
predicted inclination of about 175-180°, a Focus PeD of about 1.700M and a Pe. MJD (that’s
basically the historical time of reaching the moon) of about 40421.72. The inclination is the
most important value, since it’s the most difficult to adjust later on. 175-180° means near
equatorial, but inverted / retrograde (from East to West). We want to pass as closely as
possible above our landing site, Tranquility Base, which is near the lunar equator. Our target
PeD is 1.850M, however it will steadily increase during our translunar coast, so we start with
1.700M (however, if you don’t get it right, a PeD of up to, let’s say, 10-20M is no big
problem, we can correct this during later course corrections more easily than the inclination).
Don’t use the “Outward velocity” and “Ch. plane velocity” values here – they represent the
remaining two dimensions of burn directions, but it doesn’t make any sense to burn anywhere
but prograde in a low orbit – it would be just a waste of fuel.
8. If you are satisfied, choose Target View in the left MFD (Shift-W). You should see a small
green crosshair and a countdown timer (“T. to Mnvre”). When doing a midcourse correction,
we would rotate our spacecraft to place the crosshair in the center. We don’t do this here, we
just want to burn prograde, so we turn on the prograde autopilot. If you haven’t done yet, you
also need to flip the SIVB RCS PITCH and YAW switches since they are off by default.
9. Now finish AGC setup: wait until “T. to Mnvre” in the TransX MFD is at around 1300
seconds, then enter verb 22 and “+00020” for twenty minutes. When the timer hits 1200,
press PROG. Noew enter verb 21 and the required velocity gain (the “Rel. V” from the
TransX MFD, again in the five-digit signed format (e.g. “+03163”), then press PROG again.
The AGC will now perform the burn automatically. Note that it will start about 150 seconds
before TransX manoevre time – the countdown timer should reach 0 halfway during the burn.
10. After the burn, set Manoevre Mode = "Off" - then you'll see the actual encounter values in
the right MFD and so you see if your TLI burn was successful.
3. Docking and extracting the LM
At 003:15:23, the CSM was separated from the S4B stage. Do this with the “SIVB” switch in
the row of jettison switches. On major switches like this you first have to flip back the
protective cover (with the right mouse key) before you can flip the switch (with the left mouse
key). Then begin to slowly pitch up, using just a few seconds of thrust, until you have pitched
around 180° and are pointing to the S4B/LM. Use the docking HUD (H to toggle) and the
docking MFD (Shift-D). You can either use the no panel view (F8) or the docking panel view
(Ctrl-CursorUp). In the docking panel view, you have to activate the docking MFD by first
switching the MFD on (LC1), then selecting docking mode (SEL) and visual acquisition
mode (MNU). With no panel, you activate visual mode with Shift-V. The LM should be
already set as target.
Rotate your ship so that the big cross in the docking MFD (not the plus shaped one, but the X
shaped one) is exactly in the center and the small triangle arrow is exactly on top. This means
you’re aligned with the LM by means of attitude. Then switch thruster mode from rotating to
linear either using the switch on the panel or the / key on the numeric pad. Begin to slowly
apply forward thrust, and correct your horizontal and vertical movement to bring the plus
shaped cross to the center and hold it there. Don’t exceed a closing velocity of about 0.3.
When nearing the target, reduce closing velocity to about 0.05-0.1. You can also use the
visual docking target the LM provides for alignment with the HUD docking indicator or the
targeting aid built into the docking panel view (however this does not have to be in the right
location – it depends on screen resolution, how the panel is scrolled etc.). When docking,
you’ll be rewarded with the typical Apollo thumping sound.
At 004:17:03, the LM with the docked CSM was ejected from the S4B stage. Flip the LM
PWR and then the LM/SLA SEP switch to do this.
4. Mid Course Correction
At 026:44:58, the first and only mid course correction was performed. If your TLI burn went
well, you can also use this time (or maybe you even don’t need it ☺). If you are farther off, I
recommend to make a first mid course correction even earlier, maybe in hour 10 to 15.
Bring up the TransX MFD and basically do the same as for the TLI burn, with some
You do not have to set up the two stages because they are already set up, from the TLI burn.
Man. Date: When turning Manoevre Mode on, you’ll find the current MJD date as Man. Date.
Set sensitivity to Ultra and increase it for about 0.01 to have a few minutes for planning your
Prograde velocity + Outward velocity + Ch. plane velocity: Now we use all three variables to
play with instead of using prograde velocity only. Aim for a Focus PeD of about 1.750M to
1.800M, an inclination of 170 to 180° and an Pe. MJD of 40421.72.
When you are finished, switch to Target View using Shift-W, and now we need to keep the
small green cross centered exactly. If your burn will be hopefully rather small (let’s say you
have a “Rel V” less than 50), you can wait for the countdown timer (“T to Mnvre”) to hit 0. If
it is larger, you should time your burn so that the countdown hits 0 halfway through your
burn. It needs some experience to time this correctly. While waiting for burn time, remember
to flip the SPS DIRECT switch to arm the SM’s SPS engine (the switch must point upward).
Then burn until Rel V is 0. When it is already very small or nears 0, you may want to set sim
rate to 0.1 so you can time the engine shutdown exactly.
After the burn, reset the SPS DIRECT switch so you won’t accidentally fire the engine, and
turn manoevre mode in TransX off. Now you see in encounter view the results of your
hopefully successful course correction burn.
You should also make a later mid course correction at about hour 60 (NASSP even reminds
you of this). At this mid course correction, you should take a look at your passing over the
landing site. Unfortunately we have the problem that we can only have two MFDs on the
screen, but would need three: the TransX display of the “Off Plane Distance” (your closest
distance to the landing site) works only if the Map MFD is active with the landing site set as
target. So bring up the TransX MFD left and the Map MFD right, and set the target (Shift-T)
to Tranquility in the Map MFD. We will now use another handy function of TransX, and
that’s the Shift-X keypress. Move to the second stage (Shift-F), select Encounter View (ShiftW) and now press Shift-X. Now move back to the first stage (Shift-R) and you’ll notice that
you still see the values of the Encounter View. Use Shift-W to toggle to the Manoevre View,
turn Manoevre Mode on and play with the variables as usual. Pay special attention to the “Off
Plane Dist” and keep it as small as possible. Before executing the burn, press Shift-X again to
release this “view lock”. After the burn is finished, the Off Plane Dist will increase again
steadily but this should be no problem – you should be able to make later corrections with
only small linear thruster input. By the way, since Tranquility Base is very near the lunar
equator, it is also the landing site that will give us the least troubles with passing over it,
shifting orbits etc. The farther-off sites like Hadley or Taurus Littrow are much more difficult
to reach.
In late mid course corrections, you may have already lost the first stage in TransX and just
have one moon-centered stage. In this case you don’t need two instances of TransX, but you
have to use the “hypothetical” values (Hyp. PeD, H. Pe. MJD) instead of the Focus PeD and
Pe. MJD values.
5. Translunar coast and Barbecue Mode
During translunar coast, when you are not busy with mid course corrections, you can do
something that had to be done on the real Apollo missions, however in Orbiter you don’t need
to do it (if you like to keep the moving-away earth or the coming-closer moon in the window,
for example). It’s called PTC (passive thermal control) or “Barbecue Roll”. Turn your
spaceship so that the sun is on your side, then use a small rotational thruster impulse to set it
into a slow rolling motion. That was done to avoid excessive one-sided sun warming of the
Also you can take a first look into the LM by pressing F3 and selecting “AS-506-LM”.
Please use sim rate 1000 maximum, 100 on slower computers. 10000 causes problems even
on a Athlon XP machine, it should be reserved for interplanetary flights etc.
6. Lunar Orbit Insertion
When approaching the moon, at some point you’ll lose the earth-centered stage in the TransX
MFD. Also at some point your flight path over the moon’s surface will show up on the Map
MFD, and on the Orbit MFD the moon will grow bigger. Don’t forget to keep an eye on your
PeD (when you come close to the moon, you can use the TransX MFD as well as the Orbit
MFD for this, as they should show more and more the same) and on your Off Plane Distance.
Use linear thruster input to make small corrections. Your PeD should be about 1.850M (that’s
110 km altitude since the moon’s radius is 1.740M). As you come closer, also monitor the
PeT counting down, the time until reaching periapsis. Bring up the Orbit HUD (toggle with
H), make sure the moon is set as reference which should happen automatically (if it’s the sun,
change with Ctrl-Alt-R) and rotate your ship retrograde (that’s the green plus without a
circle). Then engage retrograde autopilot. (You may also just use the autopilot, but it is not
very good at doing large turns and will waste a lot of thruster fuel.) Once again, arm your SPS
engine by flipping the SPS DIRECT switch. Mission time should be near 075:49:50 if the TLI
burn and the course corrections were historically quite accurate. Use the quicksave function
(Ctrl-S) since NASSP tends to crash when the moon is approached and the landing site
sceneries are loaded.
Since the moon has no atmosphere to brake our ship on arrival, without further action we
would just swing around the far side of the moon and then fly back towards the earth. So we
need a rather big lunar orbit insertion burn. Wait for the PeT to hit 150, then fire your engine.
At one point, the hyperbola in the Orbit MFD should change to an ellipse, that’s when you go
below lunar escape velocity and therefore enter orbit. You won’t make a perfectly circular
orbit with this burn. That’s OK, neither did the real Apollo crews. When the PeD starts to
decrease for a few ks, you can continue your burn some time, but if it goes down more
quickly instead of the ApD, shut the engine down. An orbit of, let’s say, PeD 1.850M and
ApD 2.250M is perfect. Circulize your orbit after the first revolution by firing retrograde
again when PeT approaches 0 – that’s exactly what Neil & Co. did. Hopefully our trajectory
brings us well over Tranquility Base too so we don’t have to do any plane change manoevres.
If we do, however, we will need either a change of inclination (that means an orbit-normal or
antinormal burn when crossing the lunar equator) or a shift of the LAN (longitude of
ascending node – that means also an orbit-normal or antinormal burn, but at the farthest point
from the lunar equator). (Another option is to make corrections to the orbital plane during the
lunar orbit insertion burn, by disengaging the retrograde autopilot and pitching up or down for
10° or so.)
So let’s say we are in a near-equatorial circular orbit of 1.850M passing directly over
Tranquility Base. If everything went well so far, we should also have at least 30 % (better 40
or 50 %) of SPS fuel and about 50-60% of thruster fuel in the SM to ensure a safe return trip
to earth.
Undocking of the LM occured at 100:12:00, so we have some lunar orbits left until the really
interesting part. You can use sim rate up to 100.
7. LM Undocking and Descent Orbit Insertion
The LM was undocked at 100:12:00, but you don’t have to follow this strictly – just do it on
the illuminated side of the moon so you can see anything. The CSM/LM stack was rotated so
that the CSM engine pointed towards the moon and the LM engine pointed away from the
moon. Bring up the surface HUD and aim for a pitch of 90°. Then deploy the landing gear
(LLS switch) and undock the LM from the CSM. You can do this either from the LM (SEP2
switch) or the CSM (LM SEP2 switch – NOT LM SEP FINAL!!!). The latter was how it was
done in reality by Mike Collins. However, you have to reset the switch after undocking,
otherwise redocking won’t be possible.
While you are busy in the LM, be sure that the autopilot in the CSM is off (remember, you are
Neil, Buzz and Lonesome Mike in one person ☺). Otherwise you’ll probably return to the
CSM and find it out of thruster fuel.
At 101:36:14 the descent orbit insertion burn was performed - again, do not follow the
historical time to the number – the position relative to the landing site is important, not the
time. The purpose of this is to lower the periapsis of the LM’s orbit so that it passes over the
target site at about only 10 km altitude (of course we can do this only because the moon has
no atmosphere). The burn must be executed when the distance to the landing site (which you
see in the Map MFD with target set to Tranquility Base) is 5.000M and increasing (this
means, when you are still moving away from it). When you reach 4.500M, start to bring your
LM in the appropriate attitude – turn prograde, and from this on, pitch up 90° using the Orbit
HUD as reference so that the engine is pointing in your direction of travelling. You have to do
this because the LM’s engine is a hover engine which is pointed down from your point of
view rather than backwards. Flip the HVR DIRECT switch to arm the engine. When the
distance is 5.000M, fire the engine using the “0” key on the numeric pad until your orbit’s
PeD (Orbit MFD) is reduced to 1.750M (the engine is throttled back with the numeric “.”
Key). By the way, this manoevre was performed by the whole CSM/LM stack using the
CSM’s SPS engine on all the later missions from Apollo 14 on in order to save LM fuel for
8. LM Descent and Lunar Landing
At 102:33:05 the LM’s descent engine was fired for deorbiting and landing. We will use the
Lunar Landing MFD for this purpose. When you are approaching the landing site and are at
about 1.000M distance, you should start to set up the Lunar Landing MFD and move the LM
into descent attitude. Make sure the HVR DIRECT and HVR GIMBAL switches are on, then
bring up the Lunar Landing MFD with Shift-Esc. In the other MFD you should use the
Surface MFD (Shift-S). In the Lunar Landing MFD, choose Tranquility Base as your target
with Shift-P. Engage Autothrottle with Shift-T. Mode should default to “Horizontal
Guidance”, if not, toggle it with Shift-M (the digital autopilot mode causes more problems
than it solves in my opinion). Once you have done this, you should avoid to switch between
panel and no-panel view with F8, as this will reset the Lunar Landing MFD each time. I
recommend to use the no-panel view for better sight.
Turn prograde, bring up the Surface HUD, roll right 90° (in a heads-up position) and finally
pitch up 90°. Add another 5° to compensate for your orbital ascending momentum. Make sure
your heading is adjusted with your velocity vector well. At 500k distance the Lunar Landing
MFD becomes active, at 470k it fires the descent engine. What follows now takes just
practice, practice, practice.
At first, care about the “Dir” value in the Lunar Landing MFD. If it is positive, roll right, if it
is negative, roll left (as you are using a hover engine, you have to think tilted by 90°, so a roll
movement will actually cause what would be a yaw movement in the CSM). The “Dir” should
move toward 0. Keep it at 0 using the appropriate roll movements. At the same time, watch
the vertical “Delta”. At first it will be positive (that ascending momentum I mentioned), then
it will slowly go down to 0. Once it reaches 0, pitch down successively to keep it at 0. When
the “Time Remaining” is 0, you have reached the point called High Gate, and your pitch will
then be about 60°.
In Orbiter we have it especially easy to recognize the landing site – a highly detailed spot in
the otherwise boring lunar surface. You can use the outside view to see it early or wait until
pitchdown like Neil and Buzz had to do. At High Gate, the Lunar Landing MFD will change
to “Pitchover Mode”. Wait until your horizontal speed has dropped to 50 m/s, then slowly
pitch down to 0°. (If you do it too fast, a bug could cause the LM to go crazy.) You should see
the landing site before you and be approaching with about 40 m/s horizontal speed. The Lunar
Landing MFD mode will change to “Descent Rate (Auto)”. As you approach your landing
spot, reduce horizontal speed further until about 5-10 m/s by pitching up. At about 50 metres
altitude disengage the Lunar Landing MFD Autopilot (Shift-T) and engage Altitude Hold (A).
Be careful to null any horizontal speed, but also any speed you may have gained sideways by
rolling to either side. When you are satisfied with your horizontal speed, make sure to return
to absolutely straight level position. Then disengage Altitude Hold and carefully take back the
throttle to slowly sink to the ground at about 5 m/s. When you are nearing the ground, reduce
vertical speed to about 1 m/s. At touchdown the engine will be cut automatically, and you will
fall “through” the ground. That’s a behavior of Orbiter that comes from sceneries with surface
textures higher than the original surface of that celestial body – you will fall to the original
surface, but then be automatically reset to the scenery’s surface. Turn off the HVR DIRECT
switch so you won’t accidentally restart the engine (if you still have fuel left, that is ☺).
Congratulations – Houston, Tranquility Base, the Eagle has landed. In the real mission,
landing time was 102:45:39, that’s 1969, July 20, 20:17:39 GMT.
Now it's time to descend the ladder and set foot on the lunar surface. If you want to make it
really historically accurate, the LM was decompressed and the hatch opened at 109:07:33
(CAB PRESS DUMP and HATCH switches), and Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon at
109:24:15 (EVA switch). That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. You
can move around on the lunar surface using the keys on the numeric pad. With the V key you
can switch between Neil and Buzz, with F you can plant the flag on the lunar surface. (You
will only see the star spangled banner if you have the NASSP enhancement pack installed.)
The EVA was ended at 111:39:13. You can do this by pressing E and moving back to the foot
of the LM ladder (or alternatively first move back and then press E). Don't forget to close the
hatch and repressurize the LM (it won't do anything in Orbiter if you do not).
By the way, don't forget you also impersonate Lonesome Mike and therefore should take a
look into the CSM from time to time to check your lunar orbit. If you do want to switch
between CSM and LM and do not see the respective ship in the selection list that comes with
F3 (what can happen when they are undocked), just enter the ship's name: the CSM is AS-506
and the LM is AS-506-LM. If your orbital ground track has deviated from the landing site,
you’ll want to do a plane- or LAN shift manoevre before LM ascent and rendezvous.
9. LM ascent and orbit
The LM ascent stage's engine was ignited at 124:22:00. However, as always we use this time
only as a rough reference, because for rendezvous, we want to lift off shortly after the CSM
has passed over our heads. Use either the Map MFD or the Docking MFD with target set to
AS-506 to check the CSM's position. When the CSM passes over the landing site, switch to
the CSM, turn prograde and notice the heading in the Surface MFD - this will be our launch
azimuth. It will be around 270°. Wait another few minutes to have some more distance
between the ships for alignment manoevres. Now it's (Andrea Bocelli Mode) Time to say
Goodbye to Tranquility Base. Make sure that the HVR DIRECT and HVR GIMBAL switches
are on, then open the protective covers of the two STAGING switches and flip them. You will
hear a countdown and then the ascent engine is fired and we lift off from the lunar surface.
Our first step is to yaw the LM to the azimuth noted earlier. Next we want to pitch down
slowly. Our target pitch will be about 60-70°. Aim your pitch during the whole ascent period
to keep a vertical speed of about 50 m/s. When you reach an altitude of about 14 km, pitch
down to 90°.
You should also take a look at your alignment with the CSM's orbit during ascent, this will
save us later plane change manoevres. Bring up the Align Orbit MFD (Shift-A) - sometimes
we really should have more than two MFDs on a screen - and select AS-506 as target. Switch
to linear thruster mode and use the sideways thrusters (1 and 3 on the numeric keypad) to
adjust the relative inclination (RInc) as close to 0 as possible. Don't forget to switch back to
rotational mode afterwards, after all we still want to manoevre the LM into orbit. That's very
much to do at the same time, almost as difficult as the lunar landing, but it's the same matter
of practice, practice, practice. (Maybe we'll also see an ascent autopilot in future NASSP
versions ☺).
Stop the engine when your orbit's ApD (Orbit MFD) reaches 1.800M and the PeD at least
1.750M. When reaching apoapsis (ApT = 0), make another prograde burn (and don't forget
that we still have to think pitched over by 90°) to circulize the orbit at 1.800 M. If your RInc
to the CSM (Align MFD) is greater than 0.5°, we should also make a plane change manoevre
(Orbit-normal or antinormal burn when reaching the ascending or descending node in the
Align MFD). After that, bring up the Synchronize Orbit MFD (Shift-Z) with target AS-506
for our rendezvous.
10. LM/CSM rendezvous
Now how do we find our CSM again in lunar orbit? To summarize our current situation: We
(Neil and Buzz in the LM) are in a circular orbit of 1.800M. Mike in the CSM is in a circular
orbit of 1.850M some distance ahead of us. Since our orbit is lower, our velocity is higher and
so we are slowly catching up. What we have to do now is to gradually raise our orbit to the
CSM's altitude in a way that we will meet in the same spot at the same time. In the
Synchronize MFD we can select a reference point in the orbit at which the rendezvous should
take place using the Shift-M key. Since both LM and CSM should be in circular orbits, it
doesn’t matter where periapsis and apoapsis are, so we just select “Manual Axis” and move
the reference axis (the thick green radial line) around using the Shift-“>” and Shift-“<” keys
(German keyboard: Shift-“,”, Shift-“.”). Move the reference to the point exactly opposite our
current position – that’s where our orbit will change if we make a burn now, and that’s
exactly what we’ll do.
The most important value in the Synchronize MFD is the DTmin value (Delta Time - the time
difference of our and the CSM's arrival at the reference point). If this is already rather small,
we can use only the linear thrusters. If it is bigger, we may need to "cheat" (because the real
Apollo crews didn't have this option - the LM's ascent engine was not able to be throttled) and
use the ascent engine in which we should still have about 5-10 % fuel. Either way, we will
burn prograde to raise our orbit, and when that burn is finished, we'll hopefully have a DTmin
of 0 in orbit 0 or 1 (which means the rendezvous will occur in this orbit, or at least in the next
orbit). If the DTmin is 0 but a later orbit is shown, it may help to continue burning. Our orbit
will be no longer circular, but our ApD should still be somewhere between 1.800M and
1.850M. In this manoevre there are also some influences you just can't describe in a tutorial
and have to "fly by your a**". It just needs some practice and experience.
Now let's say we have done everything perfect so far, our DTmin is 0 or near 0 and we will
rendezvous in orbit 0 or 1. The next step is tuning our approach to the CSM. You will
probably have noticed that your orbit is still lower than the CSM’s orbit. We have to raise it
gradually in a way that we will intercept the CSM. Bring up the docking HUD, and we will
have a green square titled "AS-506" indicating the CSM's position (if not, use Ctrl-Shift-R
and enter AS-506 as target). Keep your eye on this square. There are also two velocity
vectors, one is a plus sign in a circle, the other one a plus sign without a circle (like the
prograde/retrograde vectors in the Orbit HUD). If we have done everything right so far, half
to a quarter of an orbit before rendezvous the plus sign without a circle should move
somewhere near the CSM target square. This plus sign is the velocity vector indicating the
CSM moving toward us, or us moving toward the CSM. Now we rotate around to place the
docking target indicator exactly inside the square, and use linear thruster input to center the
plus sign also exactly inside the square - this means we're moving exactly toward the CSM. If
linear thrusters aren't enough, you can also "cheat" with the ascent engine again. You will
have to apply these corrections until actual rendezvous. You will notice that the DTmin in the
Synchronize MFD increases again during those corrections. It doesn’t matter, we don’t need
the Synchronize MFD anymore – we now solely rely on the Docking HUD and Docking
I have found out that if one has some practice with this manoevre, one can use sim rate 10
without any problems to speed things up. While doing all this, you should keep a watch on
two things: your closing velocity (CVEL) to the CSM in the docking MFD (which should also
default to the CSM as target – if not, set AS-506), and your orbit in the Orbit MFD. As a
guideline, don't let the closing velocity go above the double CSM-LM distance (so you will
always have enough time to "brake" and don't crash into the CSM), but if it gets too low, you
can also speed things up a little. Use the 6 and 9 keys on the numeric pad to control the
CVEL. Your PeD and ApD values will be constantly changed by your thruster input. Your
PeD may temporarily get lower (but please not below 1.750M), your ApD may temporarily
get higher, but while doing the final corrections, the values should gradually match the CSM's
orbit (which hopefully still is near circular at 1.850M) more and more. At some point the
CSM will come in sight, and when we have managed that it is silently floating in front of our
window, we have successfully completed lunar orbit rendezvous. Check the time: the real
rendezvous time was 128:03:00.
Docking is performed by Mike in the CSM, and basically the same as the first docking
manoevre during translunar coast. However we should pay some attention to the lighting
conditions. Of course the docking should take place on the illuminated side of the moon, but
it's also important that Mike has the sun from behind to see his target. When you are in the
LM and have the CSM in front of you, of course you have to pitch down 90° to provide the
docking target for the CSM. If you can't dock and just bounce off the LM, you have probably
neglected my hint from earlier and not reset the LM SEP2 switch. Otherwise you'll be once
again rewarded with the docking sound, and Neil and Buzz may come back into the ship that
will bring them all home (and don't forget those moon rocks).
The LM was jettisoned at 130:09:31. Turn the CSM/LM stack into the 90° undocking position
once again, and this time use the LM SEP FINAL switch. Switch to the LM for one last time
and lower its orbit a bit using linear thrusters so it won't get in our way anymore (this was
done remotely on the real mission). Now let's see how we get back to our nice home planet.
11. Trans Earth Injection
The Trans earth injection (TEI) burn was performed at 135:23:42. However, as always we
will use this only as a rough guide since the optimal time for this strongly depends on our
current lunar orbit. What navigational aid we will be using for planning this important
manoevre? You will never guess it - it's the TransX MFD once again ☺
Bring the TransX MFD up both left and right. Select Target "Escape" and create a second,
earth-centered stage. You will notice that the Encounter View is missing in the second stage –
TransX in standard mode only displays it if it thinks you might be going elsewhere after the
encounter, which is obviously not the case in a moon-to-earth transfer. There is, however, a
solution – set the variable “Advanced” in Setup View to “On”, then you’ll find another bunch
of variables, one of which is named “Plan Type”. Set this to “Through Point”. After you have
done this, press Shift-W and you will find an Encounter View.
Bring up the Manoevre View in the first stage. Once again, turn on Manoevre mode, and once
again use only the Prograde Velocity and Man. Date values to play with. Start with setting the
Man. Date to 40424.2053, the historical time of TEI, and the Prograde Velocity to something
between 800k and 1000k. It may take some time and practice to set up a proper TEI. We are
aiming for a earth PeD of about 5.500M (in fact, we are aiming for 6.412M, but this value
will increase during trans earth coast).The exact inclination is not as important as the one for
lunar encounter, however we’ll want to keep it as near-equatorial as possible, and prograde.
This means, simply as small / close to zero as possible (it will often turn out to be 30-40°,
which is also OK). What is very important for this manoevre, much more important than for
the TLI burn, is the predicted Pe. MJD, the time we will arrive at the earth. Why is this so
important? Because we want to splash down in the Pacific Ocean, that is. Many complex
methods of determining the splashdown site are around the Apollo tutorials, but I think the
best thing is to just follow the historical timeline. After all, NASA has already done all the
calculating work for us. So we should adjust the Prograde Velocity and Man. Date in the left
MFD so that we get a Focus PeD of about 5.500M, a Pe. MJD of 40426.69 and an Inc. < 40°
in the right MFD. (We will probably hit the arrival time rather roughly, but the Pacific is big
enough to compensate this "roughness"). If you don’t get it perfect, don’t be too desperate –
just let it be the exact Pe. MJD and an usable inclination – as with the TLI, you can correct a
lot during later mid course corrections, especially as far as the PeD is concerned.
If you have planned the manoevre to your satisfaction, switch to Target View; when
approaching manoevre time, turn prograde, engage the prograde autopilot and make sure the
SPS DIRECT switch is active. Unfortunately we have no AGC for an automatic burn this
time (maybe we will have in some future version of NASSP). The timer should hit 0 halfway
during your burn. For most TEI burns it's appropriate to start when the timer is between 75
and 100 depending on the prograde velocity (now Rel V.) you need. Burn until Rel V is at 0
or near 0 (sometimes it happens that it doesn't reach 0 completely, but starts to increase again
before that - in this case, shutdown the engine immediately - it has never caused me real
problems later on). Turn Manoevre Mode off to see your actual trajectory in the TransX
The real Apollo crews had to enter Barbecue Mode again during trans earth coast, so if you
like to, feel free to bring your CSM into slow rotation (not heavy rotation, this is at MTV ☺)
once again.
A mid course correction was performed at 150:29:57. If you only need very small corrections,
you may just do them with the linear thrusters “by a**” without doing any big calculations. If
you need a bigger one, use the TransX manoevre mode (you can also decide if you use rather
the SPS or thrusters depending on where you have more fuel left ☺). Try to correct both the
Hyp. PeD and H. Pe. MJD (since we will have only one stage at this point, we will have those
separate “hypothetical” values). Also keep an eye on the inclination – I have done everything
I can so far to bring you down in the Pacific, but I maybe will have problems doing so from a
polar orbit ☺
12. Reentry and Splashdown
As you are approaching the earth, make some final corrections to the PeD (which you now
already have in the Orbit MFD) of 6.412M. That's our reentry angle. When the Orbit MFD
shows a PeT of 1.000k, rotate to a 45° position from Earth (this was done so that the SM has a
steeper reentry angle than the CM - it doesn't really matter in Orbiter), open the protective
covers of the two SM SEP switches and flip them. At the real mission, this was done at
194:49:12. That's it, no more SPS engine, no more linear thrusters to make any corrections the only thing remaining is praying ☺
Engage retrograde autopilot - after all, we want to enter with the heat shield first. Notice your
position in the Map MFD - if we are somewhere over Australia, everything went well and
we'll indeed come down in the Pacific. Watch the altitude in the Surface MFD, it is now
decreasing quickly. At about 150 km, disengage the autopilot and rotate in the upright or
heads-down position (I think it was done heads down, as was the ascent to earth orbit,
however it doesn't really matter). Keep your pitch at 0°. The reentry interface is at 120 km,
however we will experience the real hard effects at about 90 km. Enjoy the flames in the
outside view or watch the G forces and imagine them really happening to you, even worse
than during the Saturn V's ascent. The G will climb to about 12 or so. (In reality 6 was
maximum, this has something to do with atmospheric modelling in Orbiter, so let's say you
just don't burn up ☺) At 20-30 km, the G force will reduce and the flames will disappear.
Now you can slowly pitch to 90°, in the proper position for deploying the parachutes. This
will happen automatically - drogue chutes at about 10 km, main chutes at about 3 km. Let's
hope you really have water below you - splashdown! Welcome home, take a look at your
position in the Map MFD and on the clock - real splashdown time was 195:18:35 – July 24,
16:50:35 GMT. If you made the time, it will still be dark – it was on the real mission too. If
you like, do some time fast-forward on sim rate 100 until the sun rises and the daylight comes,
then flip the CAB PRESS DUMP, HATCH and EVA switches, and you'll see Neil, Buzz and
Mike floating in their recovery raft in the outside view. Congratulations, you've done it.
Statistics for all Apollo moon missions *
Apollo 8
Apollo 10
Apollo 11
Apollo 12
Apollo 13
Apollo 14
Apollo 15
Apollo 16
Apollo 17
Fra Mauro
Taurus Littrow
* Keep in mind that the Man. Dates are only a rough guide, while the Pe. MJDs should be
kept as exactly as possible (especially the TEI Pe. MJD to ensure splashdown in the Pacific).
The inclination at Apollo 8 doesn’t really matter since we don’t have to pass over a certain
landing site. At Apollo 13 there was no real TEI since it never entered lunar orbit – what is
referenced here as TEI was a manoevre to speed up the return to earth and determine the
splashdown site to be in the Pacific.
Another very good Apollo tutorial is John Dunn’s Apollo 14 tutorial
(http://www.jdkbph.com/ALMT/). However, this tutorial uses an earlier version of TransX
MFD which differs in handling from the current version I use in my tutorial. So if you have
tried John’s tutorial before and now have problems with following my instructions as far as
TransX is concerned, check if you have a recent version of TransX installed (as mentioned,
the Orbiter release Orbiter 031217 does contain it).
Matthias Holzer (Orbiter Forum name: SaturnV)
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