Surface and Orbit Authority

SOA Collision Final Report - Incident 20890622-1

SOA Collision Final Report - Incident 20890622-1

Executive Summary

At approximately 17:57 UTC Europa time, the pilot of transport Jailbird collided with refining ship Valefor after disregarding pre-flight checks prior to launch. This resulted in major damage to both vessels, collateral damage to Ixion, and total organic loss of LBC pilot SurprisingEdge.

Incident Details

Note: The data in this report has been constructed from nearby ground and space based sensors, including those above involved ships, where available, as the pilot was the only potential witness present in the surrounding area at the time. As is unsurprising in an incident of this magnitude, total organic loss of the pilot required reconstruction from stored sequences. As such, there are no witness testimonies in this report.

At approximately 17:57 UTC Europa time, it is believed that LBC pilot and engineer SurprisingEdge was drilling for platinum near the Icelandia installation on Europa.

Records show he traveled from the surface (utilizing his jetpack) to two pieces of debris in orbit. The owner of this debris is not conclusively known, as there was no IFF signal broadcast. However, as will be shown in this report, it is believed they belonged to a pirate faction, and resulted from the incapacitation of a pirate vessel by defensive turrets aboard Hayabusa.

SurprisingEdge’s movements then followed a trail of scrap metal towards Valefor and supporting ships parked in orbit above the Icelandia installation. Health-checks and sensor data indicate minimal damage to Valefor at this time, but the nearly complete destruction of Tonberry, with debris scattered over the deck. Hayabusa had taken minor damage, which put a small number of thrusters and turrets out of commission. This damage appears to have been the result of an attack upon the Valefor fleet, by a pirate faction. The defensive armory aboard Hayabusa was able to inflict sufficient damage upon the attacking vessel to protect the rest of the fleet from significant damage.

SurprisingEdge then returned to the larger chunks of debris. It is believed that SurprisingEdge was checking for useful salvage, and likely found thruster components. Due to the in-progress construction of a new vessel, Icelandia had no thruster components at that time, so they would likely have been considered valuable, by the engineer.

After dwelling at the largest debris chunk briefly, SurprisingEdge returned to Icelandia.

It is at this point that Jailbird was launched. As Jailbird was the only orbit-capable vessel in SurprisingEdge’s fleet at that time, it is believed that the intent was to use it to aid in a salvage operation.

Reconstruction of the flight path of Jailbird shows the following events of note:

  1. Jailbird is launched from the surface of Europa under excessively high thrust, with the resulting acceleration propelling Jailbird to hundreds of metres per second in moments.
  2. The pilot cuts thrust, and dampeners immediately begin slowing the ship, however the rate of deceleration is very low.
  3. Jailbird’s course begins to very slightly diverge from its previous course, as would be expected if the pilot pushed the flight yoke to its forward extreme.
  4. Seconds later, Jailbird collides with Valefor.

The collision was of such a magnitude that nearly the entire forward section of Jailbird was instantly vaporized. This section included:

  • Cockpit (occupied by LBC pilot SurprisingEdge)
  • Medical bay
  • Cryo tube
  • Status displays
  • Flight and ancillary computers
  • Tools locker
  • Large cargo containers (storing components, ore, and ingots)
    • Note: 2 of 5 containers remained intact.
  • 300mm turret
  • 2 Vulcan turrets

Preliminary investigation indicates that Jailbird can likely be restored to full operation, though resource investment will be substantial. Given the loss of resources resulting from this incident, LBC may choose not to pursue this course. [ed: LBC representatives have indicated that return to flight is not considered viable.]

Damage to Valefor:

  • 14 refineries (of a total 60)
  • Between 42 and 56 yield modules
  • Various plumbing
  • 2 large cargo containers

Between both ships, hundreds of tons of ice, ore, and ingots were lost. This represents a significant setback to LBC resource stockpiles.

After colliding with Valefor, Jailbird ricocheted off, striking Ixion. This damaged Ixion’s cockpit, leading to the deactivation of dampeners. This left Ixion drifting on an unknown vector.

Root Cause Analysis

This report concludes that due to the lack of documentation and length of time since conducting flight operations with Jailbird, numerous preflight steps were skipped:

  1. The thrusters activated were incorrect for the planned operation.
  2. The auto-levelling program, intended for use during landing, was not deactivated.
  3. Further to item 2, gyros controlled by the auto-levelling program were left in override mode.

The combination of the above points, as well as design characteristics of Jailbird, resulted in at least three undesirable flight characteristics that led directly to the incident:

  1. Insufficient rotational control, approaching zero, about all 3 axis.
  2. Insufficient thrust levels in reverse and all lateral directions.
  3. Excess thrust levels in the forward direction.

These flight characteristics produced a flight path that was, more or less, completely out of the control of the pilot once launch was commenced.

Post Crash Activities

Pilot SurprisingEdge, upon reconstruction, located Jailbird drifting towards Earf, and regained control. This involved partially disassembling some mechanisms in order to construct a cockpit, as the only control station had been destroyed in the collision.

Ixion’s uncontrolled drift required time on the deep space network to locate. Pilot Derspiny recovered Ixion in a similar fashion, and returned it to Europa orbit for repairs.

Valefor, Hayabusa, and Ixion were all repaired by Derspiny.

Jailbird was returned to the landing pad on Europa, pending LBC decisions on repair.

Recommendations

The following recommendations are being issued:

  • Engineers should document controls in a fashion visible from the primary control seat/cockpit, prior to first-flight.
  • Engineers should ensure that documented pre-flight steps place the ship in a flight-safe configuration.
  • Engineers should ensure that documented post-flight steps return any uncommon flight configurations to a default that is appropriate for the pre-flight steps.
  • Engineers should ensure any vertical-launch landing pads are not positioned directly below known parking orbits.
  • Pilots should thoroughly review all controls, prior to any flight after more than 7 days since the last one in that vessel.
  • Pilots should avoid parking directly above vertical-launch landing pads.
  • Owners of permanent installations should define and document safe arrival and departure lanes and speed limits.

Thanks for writing this up! It was definitely a bit of a surprise to wake up to this on the weekend. I took the opportunity to remove part of Valefor that I wasn’t actually using (a bit of cargo routing intended to force ingots back into the ingot containers, but which actually just caused CPU-intensive inventory churn because it contained a sorter loop).

I’m grimly impressed at my parking job - I use a two-bookmark technique when trying to line up directly over a site, and I wasn’t sure how much error it had. Apparently “nearly none” - at least at 3 kilometres, which is the gravity threshold for Europa. I’ve got a GPS bookmark in place and have parked back in the same spot, because I clearly do not learn from my mistakes, but at some point it might be worth parking a buoy there.

Which brings me to my next thought:

Owners of permanent installations should define and document safe arrival and departure lanes and speed limits.

Defining these is all well and good, but they’re meaningless unless pilots know about them. GPS bookmarks don’t really help with that, either, as there’s no easy way to get a set of GPS bookmarks describing the approach and departure corridors from a site you haven’t been to, or whose corridors have changed. With that in mind, when I move Valefor off, I think I’ll leave a small grid satellite behind with solar panels, a battery, a beacon, and some lights, to act as a buoy and advertise the corridor/advise ships to stay clear. Thoughts?

Engineers should document controls in a fashion visible from the primary control seat/cockpit, prior to first-flight.

This one is surprisingly hard to implement. The game doesn’t provide a lot of good ways to include a “flight manual” (or even a hotkey summary) that’s visible, complete, and pleasant to use. Any thoughts towards implementation would be very welcome.

I had some thoughts on this. On planet/moon surfaces, I thought of building tall thin towers with arrows on LCDs and maybe some form of shorthand for indicating lanes roughly.

In space, I thought a very small large-grid (so it can be converted to station, so as to not require thrusters) “satellite” with similar signage.

Never underestimate the power of projections. They’re cheap to operate and can be as large as you like (more or less).

I actually had a close call at the Erf moon similar to this. That was a really fun read.