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On one mission to put Bob Kerman in orbit of Mun and bring him back, his rocket ran out of liquid fuel on the return trip. However, the orbit Bob ended up in was around Kerbin with a periapsis of less than 70 km. So, I figured the atmosphere should gradually slow him down until eventually he'd end up ready to land on his own. Thus, I went on about my business with launching other missions and would just occasionally check in on Bob to see when it would be time for him to come home.

90 in-game days later, he's still not home and his orbit really hasn't dropped all that much. I've tried accelerating the process with Time Warp from the Tracking Station, but his orbit doesn't change at all there. It only appears to get adjusted for aerobraking when I'm actually focused on Bob's craft. Then, the Time Warp is very tedious since it automatically adjusts down as altitude drops and won't go faster than 4x when in the atmosphere.

Is this just a limitation of the physics engine in KSP - that certain factors such as aerobraking aren't taken into account for objects that aren't explicitly focused upon? Or is there something else that might be preventing Bob from coming home without me having to watch him all the way?

The orbit Bob is in currently has the following stats:

  • Periapsis: 61,993m
  • Apoapsis: 1,751,570m
  • Inclination: about 20 degrees
  • Period: approximately 1h 43min

P.S.: Sending someone to retrieve him is not an option at this point in my game.

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Is this just a limitation of the physics engine in KSP - that certain factors such as aerobraking aren't taken into account for objects that aren't explicitly focused upon?

Hit the nail on the head right there, objects that aren't the active vessel or within close range of the vessel are considered to be "on rails" by the game engine and there orbits will not be changed. This is to save on processing time, an assumption in the game mechanics is that, when the vessel is not within the active zone (500m around the active ship AFAIK), it is incredibly unlikely that they will interact with anything that will change their trajectory or velocity in anyway, so recalculating the orbit is unnecessary.

Easiest way to fix this is just to make the capsule the active vessel for awhile and use time acceleration to speed this up.

You can use physical time acceleration inside atmosphere by pressing Alt + .

  • The thing that sucks about the time acceleration bit is that it's constantly throttling down as I approach periapsis, physical time acceleration is limited to 4x, and you have to completely reset the acceleration to bump it back up when going in & out of the atmosphere. Really tedious, probably takes a full minute or two per orbit in the end, and I'm looking at somewhere around 400-600 orbits before landing. Thanks for the insights into the simulator though. – Iszi Jun 30 '14 at 13:41
  • I'm guessing you've got no way of legitimately lowering your Pe? – CyanAngel Jun 30 '14 at 13:43
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    Kerbals have quite alot of thrust and fuel in their EVA packs, getting out and pushing is valid approach here. At Ap, align your ship, top pointing retro grade, go on EVA, move to the back of the pod, push against it until your Pe is about 35k, remember to save yourself enough fuel to get back into the pod though – CyanAngel Jun 30 '14 at 13:47
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    wiki.kerbalspaceprogram.com/wiki/… you have to "turn on" the EVA pack – CyanAngel Jun 30 '14 at 13:51
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    The game is ridiculously fun, if you've got the patience and tolerance to learn it, first few hours are very "trial and error" if your not reading/watching a tutorial/walkthrough – CyanAngel Jun 30 '14 at 14:27

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