Amy Parent

Hi, I’m Amy Parent! By day, I study cloud evolution in brown dwarfs at Abertay University. By night, I get bruises skating with Dundee Roller Derby and make video games.

Adventures in Language Design

Apparently, my brain isn’t satisfied with having to manage fourth year and my honours project, so I needed (yet another) side project. I’m making my own programming language, probably called Orbit (or OrbitVM).

The (far-away) end goal would be to use the language for scripting in the upcoming rewrite of my game engine (look ma, another side project!). For the time being though, I’ll be happy if I can run simple scripts with the basics of any language: a type system, functions, flow control, possibly some lightweight object system.

I don’t particularly fancy going all the way down to machine code, so it’ll be VM-based, very much like Java: a compiler that compiles each script file to a bytecode file, and a VM that loads those files and runs the main() function.

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Automating Rocket Launches

A few months ago, I published a video of a completely automatic launch to orbit in KSP. I’ve gotten a few questions about it in the comments, so I’ll try to answer them here in bulk.

Basic Tech

The software runs on kOS, a KSP plugin and scripting language that gives you access to the spaceship and most of the KSP world. My KSP save runs at twice the scale of the stock game, making it a bit more expensive to get to orbit, but makes single-burn to orbit launches closer to real-life launches.

A launch is made of five main phases.

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New Shepard Flight 4

New Shepard Flight 4 Landing
New Shepard lands for the fourth time (image © Blue Origin)

Very nice to see Blue Origin join the club with a very nice live webcast of the fourth flight of the same New Shepard rocket and capsule. The combination of the double sonic boom and the incredible speed at which the booster comes down always impresses me. This flight also proved that the capsule could land safely if one parachute fails to open, as planned — Blue Origin seems to be advancing steadily towards human qualification for its rocket and capsule.

I find it amazing that we live in a time where not one, but (at least) two companies are now actively working on landing rockets after their missions. And even though New Shepard’s flight profile is much easier on the rocket than Falcon 9’s, it’s pretty great to see the same hardware fly four times!

YouTube video: EI-tGVFg7PU

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Work & Passion

For the past three years I’ve found myself incredibly lucky: for the first time, I’m happy to go to classes because what I’m learning, what I do for coursework is a passion of mine. I like programming, I love learning about computer architecture, I enjoy cryptography (nerd).

I’ve always thought that it could be the best thing to happen to anyone. Not worrying about going to work everyday, because you know you’re going to love it. Of course, it can only a blessing, right?

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SpaceX Wallpapers

SpaceX ASDS - Of Course I Still Love You

A simple wallpaper set I made from the design painted on the decks of SpaceX’s Autonous Spaceport Droneships. I made a version for each of the ships, Of Course I Still Love You (used for launches out of Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center) and Just Read The Instructions (used for launches out of Vandenberg).

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Rocket, Meet Boat

Falcon 9 coming in Images in public domain, by SpaceX

I was crossing all ten fingers yesterday night when the first stage of Falcon 9 came into view. By the time it touched down and the engine turned off, I was jumping on the spot (and maybe crying a little). I’d missed their first landing in December, and that tall, skinny stage aiming for an autonomous barge just looks straight out of Science Fiction. I think what’s most impressive about this launch and landing is that SpaceX made it look effort-less, which it definitely can’t have been. Congratulations to every person that spent months making it work!

Falcon 9, on a boat

According to Elon Musk during the press conference after the launch (and landing), this stage will be test-fired around ten times. If that goes well, then it’ll go through qualification to hopefully fly on a new orbital mission in June. Reusability is not a done deal yet, but yesterday’s landing felt like a historic moment.

Watch the replay of the launch, and the landing in 4K resolution

Atlas/OA-6 Launch Was A Close Call

Had the RD-180 engine shut one second earlier than it did, Centaur would not have been able to compensate and Cygnus would have ended up in a lower orbit. With Shutdown another 1.3 seconds earlier, there would not have been a mission for Cygnus as perigee would have remained within the atmosphere, even when using all of Centaur’s performance.

Spaceflight 101

SpaceFlight101 breaks down Atlas’s launch from last week in amazing detail. It shows how little margin you get when you hurl things towards space. Tip of the hat to Centaur, which did an admirable job saving the mission, and good luck to ULA’s teams for the next step — figuring out what went wrong and fixing it and make Atlas V even more reliable.

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See you around, 2015

2015 has been pretty crazy. I’ve stalled a bit lately when it comes to creative stuff, so I thought it would be a good idea to look back on things I’ve done and seen this past year (the idea came from Susan Lin’s very similar post).

This is a bit less formal than I usually post here, but that’s one thing I really want to do in 2016: use this blog more often, without having to (badly) write long pieces every time: I want to be able to use it more as a log than a place to post nice writing — which I won’t stop posting when I feel like it. Happy New Year!

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