Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: 7 – Satellites for Fun and Profit

(Current for KSP version 0.90)

To receive contracts for satellites in Career mode, you must unlock nodes containing a probe core (Flight Control) and a permanent source of power (solar panels from Electrics)

I recommend you research Advanced Flight Control for a probe with SAS capability.

Recommended mods:

First off, go to Mission Control, find a mission to launch a satellite and accept it.

Secondly, go to the Tracking Center. You should be able to see a colored orbit representing your goal. If your goal orbit isn’t around Kerbin, you’d need to change focus to that world by double clicking on it. Note also that there are marker orbs moving around that orbit as well; it is important to match that direction, or you won’t get credited for your satellite!

Now, you have to build your launcher. Ready for it?


Well… doesn’t look like much, does it? Trust me though, this is more than enough to get to pretty much any orbit around Kerbin, Mun, or Minmus. This is because the unmanned module is much lighter than the crew pod and scientific equipment we’ve been dragging about before. We also do not have to worry about the return trip.

Anyway, here’s how to build it:

Probodobodyne OKTO serves as the command module. There is an FL-T200 Fuel Tank under it, supplying a Rockomax 48-7S.

All contract satellites need an antenna, so we’ll stick a Communotron 16 onto the tank. They also need a permanent power supply, so six OX-STAT Photovoltaic Panels are placed around the fuel tank. Just like on the Apallo, there are three on top, three on the bottom, and they are angled and staggered to catch light from any direction. There are also three Z-100 Rechargeable Battery Packs to last through any nights or eclipses.

The 48-7S shares stage 0 with a TR-18A Stack Decoupler. (If you have Precision Engineering, this may be substituted with the TR-2V Stack Decoupler, which is cheaper, lighter, and looks better here.)

Below the decoupler is a Small Inline Reaction Wheel; the OKTO’s reaction wheels are weak, and while sufficient for the upper stage, won’t be enough to keep the launch vessel steady. Below it is an RT-10 Solid Fuel Booster. It is thrust-limited to about 31%.

You may download the vessel here.

Oh, and one more important thing. Look at the description of your contract one more time (you can do so from within the VAB by clicking on the clipboard icon near the lower right). Some satellite contracts require you to stick a particular piece of science equipment onto it. 

Most of these equipment (e.g. the thermometer) are small and physically negligible, and thus can be stuck anywhere on the upper stage; however, the Mystery Goo Containment Unit isn’t, and has to be placed carefully on top to keep balance. Remember to keep the Center of Mass and Center of Thrust as aligned as possible. You can make small adjustments using the Offset tool, while Angle Snap is turned off.

Additionally, due to the added mass of the Mystery Goo, you may wish to add another TR-18A decoupler and RT-10 booster to the bottom, increasing the number of stages to three. The bottom booster should be thrust-limited to about 54%.

Or you can download a version of this vessel with the Mystery Goo already balanced on it here.

You might also be asked for a “materials bay”, which refers to the Science Jr. You’d probably also want the extra booster for that version too.

Name and save your vessel. I like saving these under generic names at first so that they can be reused, then renaming them to remind myself of where they’re headed just before launch (e.g. Rockomax Mun Satellite).

Your next step will depend on which world your target orbit is around:

For Kerbin orbits (launching into inclination): Unless the target inclination is pretty low (<5° or so, depending on your skills), you’d probably want to launch into your target orbit’s inclination. It’d take slightly more fuel to get into orbit, but much less than is required to adjust it, and it’ll make the adjustment phase more intuitive.

To do this, you’d want a flag planted at the KSC. (Alternatively, you can place a pod on the pad as a substitute.) Then go to the Tracking Center. Select your flag and click “fly” to “control” it, then go to the map view. Double-click on Kerbin to focus on it. Adjust your view so that the AN/DN flags point to each other. Your target orbit should look like a straight line, and cross right through the center of Kerbin. (You can use the Mun’s orbit, or the orbit of any previously launched equatorial satellites, as a guide too; they should also be straight lines.). You want to wait/time-warp until KSC goes right under the target orbit. Be sure you’re looking at the correct hemisphere; KSC is on the east coast of an Africa-like continent.

(If you have VOID, instead of doing that by eye, you can open the Orbit Information box, and turn on Extended Info. You want the local sidereal longitude of your flag/pod to either match the longitude of ascending node specified in your contract, or be 180º out of phase. If the given LAN is negative, add 360º to it.)

Then, rotate your view a little, and pay attention to the direction that the marker orbs on your target orbit go when it passes over KSC. It could be northward, southward, eastward, westward, or anywhere in between.This is the direction in which you want to launch; instead of turning straight east as usual, turn in that direction. Do note that north and south are reversed in the sky half of the navball. You can make this a little easier by first rolling your craft with Q (counterclockwise) or E (clockwise) so that you only need to turn your craft on one axis (left/right/up/down).

Once you’re in orbit, go to your map view and view your handiwork; it’d likely be a little bit off, but that’s fine. Check your contract via the clipboard icon on your toolbar; ensure that your current vessel has all the parts required by the contract.

For Mun/Minmus orbits: Follow the previous chapters to get an encounter with Mun or Minmus. (Note that with Minmus, you can try launching to its inclination with the instructions above. Minmus has a longitude of ascending node of 78° and inclination of 6°.) Then, with view focused on the target world, create a mid-course correction maneuver. Adjust your ksp-normalnormal/ksp-antinormalantinormal and ksp-radialradial/ksp-antiradialantiradial axes to make sure that you’re entering at the correct side of the world (the escape symbol denotes the exit). Double check the little orbs around the target orbit. Circularize into a stable orbit around that world.

Now that you’re in orbit around the correct world, it is time to transfer from your orbit to the target orbit.

Orbits are basically determined by two things; you need to be in the correct position, and you need to have the correct velocity (speed and direction). To change any orbit into any other orbit, you perform at least two burns; one to get into position, and one to change to the right velocity and therefore orbit. So your first maneuver node should get you into a position somewhere on the target orbit. It’s easiest to do so by matching one of your vessel’s apsides (Ap/Pe) to one of the target orbit’s nodes (AN/DN). Remember, create a maneuver node at the opposite side, then pull ksp-progradeprograde/ksp-retrograderetrograde to raise/lower your orbit.

Keep in mind that space is three-dimensional, so things that appear close on the screen may not actually be that close (one point could be quite some distance “behind” the other). To get a better view of how close you are, create a second, “dummy” maneuver node near the intercept. Then Backspace to focus your view on your vessel, and then Tab until you are focused on the dummy maneuver node. You can then rotate your view around to see how close you are. You’d likely want to adjust both the size and position of the first maneuver to get as close an intercept as possible (Precise Node to the rescue once again, to avoid tedious view-switching while adjusting). The apsis and node should be pointing at the same spot no matter how you rotate.

More experienced players can try using two burns (one to lengthen the orbit and one mid-course plane change) to intercept on any point on the target orbit; for highly elliptical target orbits, intercepting near the target orbit’s apoapsis could save fuel during the next phase. With no flags to indicate your intercept point, this is slightly trickier; what you can do is to create the dummy node as usual, then move it around to mark the position of your intercept. Ensure it intersects the target orbit no matter how you rotate.

Perform your burn; you should be as precise as possible. Then delete the maneuver node.

Return focus to the “dummy” maneuver node. Your apsis might not be exactly on the target orbit; you’d want to move your maneuver node around so that it is as close to the target orbit as possible (ensure it intersects no matter how you rotate).

Now to get into the right velocity. Essentially, you need to manipulate all three axes, and match the target orbit as closely as possible. To do this, it helps to know what each axis does:

ksp-progradePrograde is “forward” relative to your current velocity, and raises your orbit on the opposite side. ksp-retrograde Retrograde is “backward”, and lowers your orbit on the opposite side. Pull retrograde even more, and you can “reverse” your orbit; this is obviously very fuel-expensive. Raising and circularizing orbits with this axis are generally more efficient the closer you are to the parent world / the faster you are going, due to the Oberth effect.

ksp-normalNormal is “leftward”, and ksp-antinormalantinormal is “rightward”. They will adjust your orbital plane counterclockwise and clockwise, respectively. These are generally more efficient the further you are from the parent world; the slower you are going, the easier it is to change your direction.

ksp-radialRadial is “outward”, and ksp-antiradialantiradial is “inward”. These are somewhat unusual; radial will raise your orbit in front of you, and lower your orbit behind you. Antiradial does the opposite. The effect is similar to rotating a hula hoop around a stick. It changes your direction, so it is more efficient the further you are from the parent world; however, it is inefficient compared to a combination of prograde/retrograde burns, and as such is best used for small-ish adjustments.

To ensure your orbital planes are aligned, you’d want to rotate your view such that your intercept point goes directly through the center of your parent world. Both your current orbit and your target orbit should look like straight lines in this view. You can also adjust your other two axes in this view; ksp-progradeprograde/ksp-retrograderetrograde will change the “length” of your orbit, while ksp-radialradial/ksp-antiradialantiradial will “shift” it left or right. In fact, I encourage you to do so, as changing these axes may throw your orbital plane off again.

When the “lines” are as similar as possible, rotate around to check your work. You might want to make some final few adjustments, to get the Ap and Pe flags as close as possible. Hovering over them will tell you their heights; a good rule of thumb is to get the first three digits to match, or be as close as possible.

(Note that if your target orbit is circular or nearly so, it may be extremely difficult to get the Ap and Pe flags to be in the right position. Fortunately in that case, you don’t have to; you just have to make sure they’re the correct height)

Your orbit should very nearly be pixel-perfect at this point. Do one last check on your projected orbit to make sure you’ll be going the right direction (compare your apoapsis and periapsis times). Then all that’s left is to perform the maneuver. Again, get this as precise as possible.

When you are done, view your contracts by clicking the clipboard icon in the toolbar, and scroll to the relevant one. Ensure that “Reach the designated orbit within deviation” is checked. Now all that is left to do is to wait for a while, and that should fulfill the “maintain stability for 10 seconds” requirement, and complete your contract!

Additional tips:

  • If the thrust of your vessel is so powerful that you have trouble finishing your maneuvers precisely (easily happens with these lightweight satellites), you may rightclick on your engine and turn the Thrust Limiter downward in-flight.
  • Stationary orbits (known as such because they are “stationary” relative to the surface) may sometimes require you to overlook a particular point on the surface. For Kerbin, you simply have to place your transfer (first) node approximately a quarter-turn before the point. For other bodies, it can be more complicated; you may want to use the Trajectories mod, turn on “body-fixed” mode, and make sure your apsis is at the correct spot. In any case you have a lot of room for error, since you can overlook almost half of the world from any particular point, so worst case scenario, just wait in your elliptical orbit until your intercept goes over the correct spot.
  • If you just put something into a synchronous or tundra orbit (a tundra orbit is just a synchronous orbit with a specific, high inclination and eccentricity), using the Trajectories mod with body-fixed mode should reveal a closed loop (resembling a figure-eight or a twisted ellipse) called an analemma. An observer on the surface would see the satellite traverse this track every day. Stationary and synchronous orbits have orbital periods matching that of the world’s rotational period.
  • When you have a lot of satellites in orbit, it is easy for them to get in the way of your map view in future missions. If you hover over the top of your screen, you can show/hide vessels by category, and hide all probes this way. This can cause a problem if your own ship is a probe as well as you won’t be able to see its icon; to remedy this, temporarily change your vessel to a different vessel type by rightclicking on the probe core, and clicking Rename Vessel. You can change the type of vessel your ship is classified as this way. You can also rename vessels/change icons at the Tracking Center by clicking on its name in the info box.

Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: 6 – One Tiny Step (Minmus Landing)

(Current for KSP version 0.25)

In this chapter we will look at a rocket that is capable of landing on Minmus, doing some science, and returning to Kerbin safely. Why Minmus? It may be slightly harder to get to, but it is more science-rich (and we’ve also already gotten science from the space around the Mun), and it is much easier to land and take off from, due to its weaker gravity and flat “seas”.

Recommended mods:

You will also learn to:

  • Set and use action groups
  • Use fuel lines to connect fuel tanks

If you’re in Career mode, you should go to Mission Control and accept the “Explore Minmus” contract. Also accept any Minmus science data contracts, as well as “Plant a flag on Minmus”, if you have them. I also recommend you install the Fine Print mod. It makes contracts much more diverse, and the next chapters will cover how to complete some of them. Additionally, its contracts will be incorporated into the next version of KSP, so I suggest you get used to them now.

If you haven’t already, research Flight Control; this should complete column 4 of the tech tree. Then in column 5, research Fuel SystemsElectrics, and Space Exploration. Space Exploration unlocks a new science part, the 2HOT Thermometer; so you can use it on the launchpad and runway for some extra science points.

Here comes the rocket (download):


As usual, you start with a Command Pod Mk1, a Mk16 Parachute on top of it, and a TR-18A Stack Decoupler on the bottom of it, sharing stage 0.

You may notice there are things stuck to the pod. Specifically there are three OX-STAT Photovoltaic Panels; these are placed symmetrically. Before placing, press Shift-S a few times to angle them upward. Then place one facing the north (toward the side with the flag; the door faces east), so that the other two flank your hatch (that faces south by default). This is a long mission, and thus you want solar panels to provide electricity to power your pod’s reaction wheels and rotate your vessel.

There are also seven 2HOT Thermometers on the pod. It doesn’t matter where they are placed on the pod as long as they don’t block the hatch; they are light enough that KSP considers them physically negligible.

Closeup of the pod.

During your flight, trying to right click each of those thermometers to perform scientific experiments would be quite a pain. It is thus easiest to assign them to action groups. Click on the blue hammer-and-spanner icon at the top of the screen. Click Custom01, then one of your thermometers. Add “Log Temperature” to your group actions. Now assign each of the others to Custom02 to Custom07 the same way.

Below the decoupler is an FL-T100, an FL-T200 and an FL-T400 Fuel Tank, supplying an LV-909 Liquid Fuel Engine. There are three SC-9001 Science Jr.s around it. One of them points toward the north. Three LT-1 Landing Struts are placed on the outside edge of the Science Jrs. These should be placed low enough that the LV-909 would be protected when they are extended. Last but not least, there are three more OX-STAT Photovoltaic Panels, stuck over the edge of the LV-909. These should be angled downward (Shift-W a few times), with one of them facing southward. This arrangement ensures that at least one panel will be facing toward the sun no matter where our vessel is pointing (unless the sun is blocked altogether by a planet or moon, but the pod stores enough electricity for that) Place a TR-18A Stack Decoupler under the LV-909. That’s stage 1.

Closeup of the bottom of Stage 1

Below it is a somewhat unusual arrangement. There is an FL-T400 Fuel Tank, stacked on a Small Inline Reaction Wheel, stacked on an FL-T800 Fuel Tank; Two more FL-T800s are placed symmetrically on the north and south sides. The reaction wheel is there because this vessel is somewhat heavy and tall, which makes it very difficult for the command pod’s reaction wheels to keep it steady or turn it. To visualize this, swing a pencil using two fingers about its end, and about its middle; which is easier? Thus, the reaction wheel is placed nearer to the center of mass to help it out. We won’t need it for the upper stage, so it would be dumped along with this stage.

Two LV-T30 Liquid Fuel Engines are placed below the side fuel tanks. Fuel will not automatically flow from the middle tanks to the radially attached (side) tanks however, so you need to connect them with FTX-2 External Fuel Ducts. These work similar to struts. Ensure that 2x symmetry is on, then click on the middle tank first, then the side tank. Place a TR-18A Stack Decoupler beneath the middle tank. That’s stage 2.

Closeup of stage 2.

Place a Rockomax BACC Solid Fuel Booster below the decoupler, then place two more symmetrically, again in a north-south orientation. Set the Thrust Limiter of all of them to 85%, then put them in stage 3. The total cost should be 27,507 funds.

Give the staging a once-over, name the vessel (my name is ‘Minmus Lander “Apallo”’) and save it, and then you’re ready for launch. As usual, wait a few seconds, T for SAS, Z for full throttle, then Spacebar for launch. As usual, launch eastward into a low orbit (~80,000m).

While launching, don’t forget you can use your thermometers. Hit 1 as soon as you launch to use your first thermometer, then click Keep Data. 2nd should be used in the upper atmosphere (>18,000m), 3rd should be used once you’re in low orbit.

Once you’re in orbit, you can extend your gears by pressing G (you probably will have to tap it twice to actually extend them). Locate Minmus (it orbits Kerbin further away than the Mun), then right click on it and Set as Target. Right away you should notice that Minmus has a slight inclination (6 degrees, though since your orbit might not be perfectly equatorial, you may see more or less). You thus have to correct your inclination to give yourself the best chance of intercepting it. As you might have learned from the orbital rescue chapter, you do this by creating a maneuver node at either the ascending node (AN) or descending node (DN), then adjusting the ksp-normalnormal / ksp-antinormalantinormal axis. 

(Optional) Note that your projected orbit might have lengthened slightly; that’s because your maneuver node’s axis is always in reference to your current rather than your projected orbit, so your maneuver gains a slight “prograde” pull in reference to the new plane. If you don’t want this to happen, you must pull the ksp-retrograderetrograde axis some. Note that this will change your plane yet again, so a balancing act must be done. It’s up to you whether you want to do this; keeping a near-circular orbit will make the next task a bit easier.

Once you have matched planes, find an encounter with Minmus, similar to the way you did with the Mun; create a node on the opposite side, pull ksp-progradeprograde till your projected orbit raises slightly above Minmus’s orbital height, then move the maneuver node around until you get an encounter. (If your orbit has lengthened due to your plane change, you now may have to constantly adjust your maneuver to keep your transfer orbit at the correct height.)

(More experienced players can try using two maneuver nodes; one to lengthen the orbit, and a second mid-course correction to plane-change to get an intercept. Plane changes are more efficient the further you are, so this could save some fuel. Or even better; you can try launching right into Minmus’s inclination. Launching into an inclination will be covered in the next chapter about satellites.)

Try to enter on the right side once again, and aim for a Minmus periapsis of about 12,000~25,000m. This can be somewhat difficult, and you might see your orbit jitter quite a bit, since Minmus is so far away it makes accurately targeting it difficult. That’s fine though; you can always correct it mid-course and within Minmus’s SOI.

Thermometers don’t provide any science in deep space. However, once you enter Minmus’s SOI, you can still do a crew report, EVA report (and Take Data to free the crew report space), and open one of the Science Jr / Mystery Goo combos. Do it once again once you’re in low orbit around Minmus, and this time you can use your 4th thermometer.

Now is a good time to quicksave with F5 (alternatively, using Alt-F5 will allow you to quicksave to a specific filename. Alt-F9 quickloads from a chosen file.)

You now want to look around Minmus in the Map View, and pick a landing site. I suggest one of those flat “seas”, on the day side. Create a maneuver node, and pull ksp-retrograderetrograde so that it touches the ground somewhat past your intended landing site. The most efficient place to put your node is on the opposite side of Minmus, but you may have to put it a bit closer to avoid clipping any mountains on the way down.

If you have the Trajectories mod, turn it on with the special button in your toolbar. Turn on “show trajectory” and “body-fixed mode”. This will display your path relative to the surface, thus allowing you to account for Minmus’s rotation. Make sure it doesn’t clip into any mountains, and that the intersect point / “red X” is slightly past your intended landing site.

Once you’re satisfied, perform the maneuver. Delete the node, and check your trajectory once again. If you haven’t extended your lander legs, you should do so now. (Press G; you might have to do it twice)

Now you are on a collision course. Since Minmus has no atmosphere, parachutes are useless; you’ll have to use your engines to slow your landing to a safe speed.

To help do this, create another maneuver node close to the surface. Pull ksp-retrograderetrograde until your trajectory on that point is a straight line downward. If you have Trajectories, you should be able to very accurately pinpoint your landing site. Point to your ksp-maneuver maneuver node in preparation.

(Time warp tip: If it doesn’t let you warp past 1x, you can still use “physical time warp”, the four-arrow kind that you get within Kerbin’s atmosphere. Use Alt+. and Alt+, to increase and decrease physical warp. You will be limited to 4x speed. Do note that high physical warp may sometimes destabilize large vessels.)

As you get close to the maneuver, switch your navball to Surface mode. Now ignore the maneuver node and point to the ksp-retrograde retrograde icon instead; the maneuver node was just to estimate your time to arrival and burn time. Start burning when you get close to your intended landing site. (VOID users: the most accurate time to start burning is still at “1/2 done at node”; you may want to burn a fraction of a second earlier for safety purposes)

When you’re almost at zero the retrograde marker will start to move toward the zenith; press X to kill your engine. As Minmus’s gravity pulls you downward, your vector will turn nearly vertical. You can delete your maneuver node at this point.

The “seas” are very nice and flat, and are only a few meters above “sea level”, so you can use the altimeter to gauge your height.

As you fall, you want to kill off the last of your horizontal velocity; burning offset to the ksp-retrograderetrograde icon will “herd” it away from your level indicator. Easy on the throttle (Shift, not Z); it’s easy to overthrust against Minmus’s low gravity. Get the retrograde icon as close to the zenith as possible. Then point your level indicator to it/the zenith.

If you’ve ever played the old “Lunar Lander” game you’d know that being too cautious / thrust-happy would waste fuel, as gravity has more time to act on your lander. Of course, fail to thrust enough, and you’ll crash. A good rule of thumb is to not exceed 50 m/s at 500 meters, 25 m/s at 250 meters, and 10 m/s at 100 meters; you get the idea. Again, easy on the throttle.

Try to land at less than 9 m/s. Once you touch down, kill your engines with X, and turn SAS off with T. (Leaving SAS on when you’re on the ground may cause it to stay in a leaned position and waste electricity.)

Take a moment to congratulate yourself; you’ve landed! Do a crew report. Open your third and final set of Science Jr and Mystery Goo containers, and use your 5th thermometer.

Do an EVA. Take Data from the pod, then press Spacebar to let go and drop down to the ground. Go for a little moonwalk. Shift+W/A/S/D will have him run. Space will have him jump; look at how high he goes! Minmus has only about 1/20 of Kerbin/Earth’s gravity on the surface.

Don’t forget to take an EVA report and a Surface Sample. Also, plant a flag to commemorate your victory (and complete the contract if you have it). You may want to put the current biome into the title of your flag, to give yourself a reminder that you have visited it.

Now take all the data from the Science Jrs and the Mystery Goo containers. Pressing R will turn on your EVA pack allowing you to maneuver while off the ground. Minmus’s gravity is also weak enough that you can thrust upward with it using Shift. This is also why we didn’t bring a ladder here; it shouldn’t be too difficult to maneuver back to the pod and reenter it.

Press F5 to quicksave again. T to turn on SAS again, then thrust up with Shift to launch. (Full-throttle Z would likely make your craft difficult to control here). You can do your gravity turn almost immediately since there is no atmosphere; just be careful of any mountains around. Once again, turn east (90 degrees heading); but note that your vessel might not be oriented the same way it was on the launchpad, so pay attention to your navball. You only need an apoapsis of about 8,000~10,000m (if you’re not using VOID, you probably should watch the map view almost immediately after launching); then use a maneuver node to circularize it.

Plan a direct return trajectory, similar to what you did with the Mun. You will need to create your maneuver node somewhat further forward than you did on the Mun (10-o’-clock if Minmus’s orbital direction is 12-o’-clock), since you’re further away. Again, pull your ksp-progradeprograde axis until your Kerbin periapsis is about 30,000m.

If you accidentally encounter the Mun, you can avoid it by adjusting your ksp-normalnormal / ksp-antinormalantinormal axis. If you have Trajectories, you can actually see your projected landing spot on Kerbin if you increase “number of conics” high enough.

Press F5 to quicksave again, then perform the maneuver. Reenter and parachute-land as per usual; you can use the 6th thermometer “flying” above your landing site, and the 7th after you touch down. You can also do Crew Reports and EVA Reports, if you still managed to land on a new biome. Then recover your craft. This one mission alone should be worth about 900 science points. Congratulations for yet another successful mission!


Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: 5 – Around the Mun

(Current for KSP version 0.25)

In this chapter, you will learn:

  • To build a vessel that is capable of orbiting the Mun, doing some science experiments there, and returning.
  • Some principles for medium-to-heavy-weight rocket design
  • How to use struts to stabilize your vessel
  • Plan a trajectory across spheres of influence

Recommended mods:

First, if you’re in Career mode, go to Mission Control and accept the “Explore the Mun” mission. If you have it, also accept the “Transmit or recover science data from space around the Mun” mission.

It’s time to spend some of your hard-earned science points. First research Stability. This should complete column 3 of the tech tree. In column 4, research Advanced Rocketry. If you have enough points, also research General Construction.

For this goal, you will need a rocket that’s bigger and better than anything before. It’s going to be a little more complicated too; if you continue stacking solid fuel boosters, you’ll soon find that the craft would become too heavy to even get off the ground. The problem is that you’re not producing enough thrust to counteract Kerbin’s gravity; if you have VOID, you may see a statistic called “T/W Ratio” or “T:W”. This stands for thrust-to-weight ratio, which is basically how much thrust your rocket will produce versus Kerbin’s gravity. If it’s close to 1, your rocket will visibly struggle to get off the ground. If it’s at or below 1, your rocket won’t move at all, or only after it has burned and wasted some of its fuel. Once you’re in space, T:W becomes less important (because you are no longer directly fighting gravity), except as an estimate as to how quickly you can perform your maneuvers.

What you’d need to do at that point is to build outward, so that more than one engine can fire at once. However, you’ll soon run into more problems; another downside of solid fuel is that it is heavy. This makes keeping the craft steady and making the gravity turn more difficult, and exponentially increases the amount of engines and fuel required toward the bottom. This isn’t a problem for the lighter craft previously featured, but here, you would be better served by building a liquid fuel core and engine to lift you to orbital height. Solid fuel boosters are still dirt cheap though, and are thus best used for the first lift stages (to get you to ~10,000m).

So brace yourself; here comes the design specs:

ksp-munar-orbiter ksp-munar-orbiter-b

The top consists of a Command Pod Mk1 with a Mk16 Parachute on its top and a TR-18A Stack Decoupler on its bottom, as usual. The parachute and decoupler should share stage 0. Below the decoupler is an FL-T400 Fuel Tank and an LV-909 Liquid Fuel Engine. Around the fuel tank, turn on Angle Snap (the button is near the bottom left corner, next to the symmetry button), and place three SC-9001 Science Jr.s symmetrically, and then three Mystery Goo Containment Units on their top. Another stack decoupler goes below the LV-909, and these should share stage 1.

Now below it, stack two FL-T800 Fuel Tanks, then an LV-T30 Liquid Fuel Engine. It shares stage 2 with two TT-38K Radial Decouplers, placed symmetrically around the top fuel tank.

On the radial decouplers, attach two RT-10 Solid Fuel Boosters, and thrust limit them to about 75%. Now adjust the position of both the decouplers and the boosters, so that one of the boosters sits straight below one of the Science Jr.s. This is where Angle Snap comes in handy. This is important to maintain bilateral (mirrored) symmetry of the craft as viewed from the top; without it, asymmetric drag will cause the craft to roll uncontrollably like a screw when launched. It is not a fatal error, but it would make aiming your gravity turn difficult.

Pair the RT-10s with two TR-18A Stack Decouplers below them, as stage 3. Then stick two Rockomax BACC Solid Fuel Boosters below the decouplers. These should be stage 4.

This introduces a small problem. Note that the boosters are quite long, and only attached near the top. If you launch the rocket as-is, the boosters will start swinging like pendulums… that weigh 11 tons and will likely ram right into your liquid fuel core!

Thus, you need some form of connection near the bottom, to hold them steady. In the Structural tab, find the EAS-4 Strut Connector. Ensure that symmetry is set to 2x, then click once on the BACC, and once on the bottom FL-T800, to connect them with a strut. Do the same for the other one.

Rotate your view to the other side; check to ensure that there are two more placed automatically (by the symmetry option) on the other side. You are now done! Check your staging once more, and name the craft and save it. I call it the “Munar Orbiter“. You can download the vessel file here.

(If you couldn’t research General Construction, you won’t have the struts; instead, replace the paired stack decouplers with two radial decouplers on the bottom FL-T800, and attach the BACCs to those instead. It would be slightly more expensive, but it will work.)

Go back to the Space Center and save the game. Hit the launch button. You know the drill, wait a few seconds, then hit T for SAS, then Z for full throttle, then Spacebar to fire. Turn toward the east at 10,000m, and launch into an 80,000m equatorial orbit.

Now you want to plan a transfer orbit to the Mun. To do this, first locate the Mun in the map view, right click it, and Set as Target. Secondly, click at the point of your orbit on the opposite side of the Mun, and drag the ksp-prograde prograde axis until your projected apoapsis is slightly beyond the Mun’s orbital height.

You might see intercept markers, but they would be pretty far apart. That’s because the Mun is still orbiting Kerbin; by the time you get there, it would have moved from its current position. As such, drag the center of the maneuver node to move it along your orbit. Drag it counter-clockwise until your orbit breaks, and you see lines indicating your projected path into the Mun’s sphere of influence (SOI). This is where the Mun’s gravity dominates over Kerbin’s gravity, and is where it is possible to orbit the Mun instead of Kerbin. (Though the sphere of influence has a real world counterpart, KSP’s orbital model is somewhat simplified, in that it only considers gravity from one object at a time, using what is known as the “patched conic approximation”.)

Carefully position the maneuver node so that you will enter the Mun from the right (counterclockwise) side, with a periapsis between 12,000m and 55,000m. It can be helpful to rightclick on the Mun and click “Focus View”, to better view your eventual path around it. (If you have Precise Node, you can adjust the position of your node by adjusting the “UT” [Universal Time] value.)

Perform the maneuver. As you get close, hit X to kill your engines. Then, instead of viewing the maneuver node marker, focus view on the Mun instead, and burn ksp-prograde prograde slowly (with Shift/Ctrl) to get your periapsis to the desired height. If it’s too low, turn around and burn ksp-retrograde retrograde a little. Then delete the maneuver node.

If you exit map view now, you’d notice that you are quite visibly moving from Kerbin toward the Mun. Don’t forget that you’re here for science; in fact, an opportunity is coming up shortly. Once you’re above 250,000m, you will be considered “in space high above Kerbin”, and should thus open one of the Science Jrs and the Mystery Goo Container on top of it. Don’t forget to do a Crew Report, and an EVA Report. Also remember to Take Data from your pod, so that you can make more Crew Reports later.

It will be several hours before you enter the Mun’s SOI, so you’d probably want to use time warp. However, be careful; time-warping past SOI changes can result in inaccuracies, potentially giving you a rather different orbital path than is projected. Kerbal Alarm Clock has an option to set a timer to just before the SOI change; for best results, set a timer for 10 minutes before, then set one for 1 minute before, then wait for the SOI change either at normal speed or at 5x (two arrow) speed.

When you enter the Mun’s SOI, your navball will suddenly change, as it switches reference frames from Kerbin’s to the Mun’s. Your orbital path might move slightly, so check the periapsis again. if it’s too low, make a small ksp-radialradial burn to raise it, or if it is too high, make a small ksp-antiradialantiradial burn to lower it.

You will always enter Mun’s SOI on an escape trajectory. To put yourself in a stable orbit, create a maneuver node at the periapsis. Then drag the ksp-retrograde retrograde axis to shrink your orbit. As usual, aim for a circular orbit.

Don’t time warp to it just yet! There is still more science to do. As long as you’re above 60,000m, you are considered “in space high above the Mun”, and can thus open the second Science Jr and Mystery Goo Container, and perform another Crew Report and EVA Report.

Then perform the circularization maneuver. You are now “in space near the Mun”, thus you can now use the third and final set of science equipment, and yet another crew report and EVA report. During your EVA, collect all the science from all the equipment and store it back in the pod. You should now have 12 stored experiments in the pod.

After a couple of victory laps around the Mun if you so wish (you may be able to wring out some more science points by EVA reporting above different biomes), it is time to return home. You could just exit the Mun’s SOI, then try to lower the periapsis to return, but it is more efficient to plan a direct return path. To do this, locate the Mun’s orbit. The Mun orbits Kerbin counterclockwise (all planets and moons in KSP orbit counterclockwise). Orient your view so that the direction in which the Mun is going (the Mun’s “prograde”) is in the 12-o’clock position. Then create a node slightly in front of it, at the 11-o’-clock position. Pull the ksp-prograde prograde axis until you get an escape trajectory. Continue pulling until your Kerbin periapsis falls to about 30,000m. If you do this right, you should have a Kerbin apoapsis slightly under the Mun’s orbit, and your escape path should be roughly parallel to the Mun’s orbit, but going backward. Essentially, you are speeding up relative to the Mun, and slowing down relative to Kerbin, with the same burn, thus saving fuel and time. The effect is that the Mun will “leave you behind” in its orbit, letting Kerbin’s gravity pull you back toward it.

Return trajectory from the Mun (click to zoom)

Quicksave the game with F5, then perform the maneuver. Again, avoid warping too quickly past the SOI change. (The map view may sometimes glitch out near the SOI change; just wait it out, it will soon switch normally) When warping in Kerbin’s SOI, pay attention to the altimeter, and be careful not to warp too fast when you’re due to reenter Kerbin’s atmosphere (~70,000m), or you might just zoom right past it.

As usual, open parachutes at 10,000m; if you are in a new biome, you can do a crew report and EVA report once after the parachutes fully deploy, and once on the ground. Don’t forget to take a surface sample too. Then recover the vessel. Note that the further you get from Kerbin, the more science you receive! This will give us quite a bit of freedom for future rocket designs.

Tip: turning off SAS after you partially deploy your parachutes will let your pod naturally hang off it, saving electricity. If the ground has a significant slope, turn it on again near the ground and adjust your heading just before touching down.


Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: 4 – A Cask of Brandy (Orbital Rescue)

(Current for KSP version 0.90)

Edit 2015-01-06: Changed the vessel design to be light enough for VAB level 1, and now uses the OKTO for SAS functionality

This chapter is written for Career mode, though it may be useful if you’ve accidentally stranded a ship in orbit in Science and Sandbox and wish to rescue the Kerbal.

In this chapter you will learn:

  • To build a rescue vessel
  • To change your orbital plane
  • To perform an orbital rendezvous

Recommended mods (makes some parts of this task a bit easier, but quite doable without):

Techs this chapter assumes you have researched: Basic Rocketry, Survivability, Science Tech, Flight Control, Advanced Flight Control.

I also recommend that you have upgraded both your Mission Control and Tracking Station to level 2.

I also recommend that you complete the in-game “Orbiting 101” tutorial from the Training menu. Practicing “EVA in Kerbin Orbit” from the Scenario menu is also helpful.

If you’re playing Career mode, you will soon encounter contracts that look like “Rescue Jedmy Kerman from Kerbin”. Accept one, and go to the Tracking Center to find him. There is a Kerbal with a spacesuit stranded somewhere in orbit, and your goal is to get him in a vessel and return him to Kerbin safely. He will always be in a low, nearly-equatorial, prograde (anti-clockwise when viewed from north) Kerbin orbit.

You will need a vessel with at least one empty seat for this. You could send two command pods up, but a Prodobodyne OKTO is much lighter than the Command Pod Mk1 (check the “mass” statistic when you hover over them in the VAB).

Place a Probodobodyne OKTO on top of a Command Pod Mk1. (The Stayputnik Mk1 is usable but not recommended as you will lack SAS capability.) Put three Z-100 Rechargeable Battery Packs around it, then place an Mk16 Parachute on top of it. The parachute shares a stage with a TR-18A Stack Decoupler under it.

Stage 1 is an FL-T400 Fuel Tank powering an LV-909 Liquid Fuel Engine. It shares a stage with a decoupler under it.

Below it are three layers of RT-10 Solid Fuel Boosters and TR-18A Stack Decouplers, staged appropriately. The top is thrust-limited to 53%, and the middle is thrust-limited to 77%.

Your craft should look like this:


Or you can download the vessel file. The cost is 5,887 funds.

Save the vessel (I call it the Kerbin Orbit Rescue “St. Bernard”). Instead of launching, click new, put a pod on the pad, then “launch” that. Hit M to go to your map view.

Right-drag the view from the Tracking Center until you’re viewing downward from the North Pole, and your pod is at the 12-o’-clock position. Wait (using Time Warp if necessary) for the rescuee to reach the 1:00~1:30 position (30~45° clockwise). This ensures that after you launch, you’re slightly in front of the target. Also, take note of the target’s approximate altitude (check his apoapsis and periapsis). Once he’s in position, recover your pod.

Before you launch, save your game, and importantly, go to the VAB, switch to the Crew tab and make sure to remove any crew (looking at you Jebediah) from the command pod. (Alternatively, you can launch from the Launch Pad, which also allows you to check/edit your crew roster before launching). We need to keep that seat free for our rescuee. Then hit the launch button.

Wait a few seconds for loading, then hit T for SAS, then hit Z for full throttle, then Spacebar for launch.

Launch eastward into an equatorial orbit, just like you did in “Halfway to Anywhere”. Try to reach the same orbital altitude as the target. (If you have VOID, you may note that you can see your apoapsis height and time in your HUD, thus enabling you to launch into orbit without using the Map View.)

Locate the stranded Kerbal, click on him, and click “Set as Target”.

Now you’ll have to perform what is known as an “orbital rendezvous”. This means you will have to match orbits and positions as closely as possible to your target. Sounds difficult? Not as long as you know what to do.

Well, first, space is three-dimensional. As such, if you go to the map view and rotate around a bit, you may notice that your orbits have a small angle between them. This will not do; in space, even this slight difference could translate to dozens of kilometers; so you’d need to correct that. How?

Well, note that when you set your target, new flags appear on your orbits, “AN” and “DN”. These stand for “ascending node” and “descending node“. These are the points on your orbit that lie on the imaginary line, the “line of nodes”, where the planes of your orbits intersect. The degree measure shown when you hover over them is the angular difference between the planes. You want this to be as close to zero as possible.

To do this, you will have to perform what is known as a “plane shift”. Click on the point of your orbit with one of the nodes (pick the one that’s next in your orbit), then click Add Maneuver. Now pull or push the ksp-normal normal and ksp-antinormal antinormal axis to adjust your plane. When you get close, the AN/DN flags will tend to “run”. At this point, check them, and continue making fine adjustments to the node (you can use Precise Node, or use the scroll wheel while pointing at the axis symbol). Get this to as close to 0.0° as possible. You may sometimes get “NaN°”; that’s also acceptable.

Point your craft to the ksp-maneuver maneuver vector (if it’s not visible, there will be a blue arrow pointing to it). Then wait till you’re almost at the maneuver node. If you have the Kerbal Alarm Clock mod, click the little alarm clock button on the top right toolbar, and set a timer for it; it defaults to one minute before the node, and can be adjusted. It automatically throttles time warp when it’s about to activate. This is very helpful to avoid accidentally warping past your maneuver node.

You want to do roughly half your burn before the node, and half after, to be as accurate as possible. You can use the “Estimated Burn Time” calculation the game gives you, however it is often inaccurate, and may display “N/A”. You can either press Shift to run your engine at minimum throttle for a few seconds to get an adjustment (then Ctrl to throttle back down to zero), or if you have VOID, its burn time estimate would be much more accurate.

Ensure you’re still aligned to the ksp-maneuver maneuver vector, wait for half your projected burn time before your node (or if you have VOID, you can simply wait for the “half done at node” counter to tick down to zero), then press Z for full throttle. Watch the green bar to the right of your navball deplete as you complete your maneuver, and keep your craft aligned to the maneuver. As soon you’re almost out, or when your maneuver symbol starts to “run”, press X to kill your engines. Then rotate to the maneuver vector, and use Shift and Ctrl to carefully finish your maneuver. You want to be as precise as possible, and get the counter down to 0.1 or 0.0 m/s. Once you’re done, click the checkmark to delete your node.

OK, now you’re in similar orbits, but he’s still some ways behind you. What should you do now?

If you said “slow down”… that’s exactly the wrong answer. You’d get closer at first, but would soon fall victim to the “orbital rendezvous paradox”. You see, slowing down would put you in a lower orbit, which would decrease your orbital period. You would then end up orbiting faster, and speeding away from the target! This is of course ignoring the fact that since you’re in a low orbit, slowing down will likely just deorbit you. Oops.

You do want to be careful though; just pointing to prograde and speeding up would make it difficult to plan your encounter precisely. Instead, make a maneuver node somewhere in front of you (you do want to give yourself a few minutes to make the required adjustments). Pull the ksp-prograde prograde axis some ways until you see the arrows indicating your closest projected encounter approach one another. Soon they’ll point at almost the same spot. Hover over it to see your projected distance.

Now you want to fine tune your maneuver to get your encounter as close as possible. Use either Precise Node or your scroll wheel on both the ksp-prograde prograde/ ksp-retrograde retrograde axis, as well as the ksp-radialradial/ ksp-antiradialantiradial axis, to get as close an encounter as possible. (I do very much recommend using Precise Node, as changes are easier to undo with it, it allows you to edit your node from off-screen, and the scroll wheel is prone to “slipping off” the axis symbol and changing your camera zoom instead.) For best results, alternate between adjusting one axis, then the other, then back to the first one, and so on.

(More experienced players can combine the plane-shift with this adjustment; however, while adjusting these axes it may be necessary to readjust the ksp-normalnormal/ ksp-antinormalantinormal axis to keep the planes aligned)

You want to get your encounter under 1km. If you’re having trouble getting your encounter closer, you can always perform your burn first, then create another node roughly halfway to your intercept point. Rinse and repeat till you’re happy with it. Remember to delete your nodes after you’ve performed them. And remember that you want to be as precise as possible when burning these.

Once you have a good intercept, switch your navball to “Target” mode. Then wait until you’re almost at your intercept point (Kerbal Alarm Clock can set a timer for that too). Press M to exit map view, and locate your target – there should be a small reticle somewhere, and if you hover over it you can see your distance.

Since you set your navball to “Target” mode, your displayed velocity is now relative to your target. You want to zero this out when you’re close to the target. Point your ship to the ksp-retrograde retrograde symbol. Wait until your target is almost at the projected distance, then press Z to fire. As usual, throttle down when you’re almost there. You don’t have to be too precise with this though; leaving 0.1-0.2 m/s is fine here.

You’re now in almost the same orbit as the target. You can switch to the Kerbal as long as you’re less than 2.5 km away, but it is much easier and faster if you bring the ship closer first. Point your ship ksp-target-prograde toward your target (the opposite symbol points ksp-target-retrograde.svg away from the target) . Give yourself a small impulse; not too much, or you’d waste fuel and may miss your target, or worse, not miss him! About 10 m/s is plenty. Turn about to the ksp-retrograde retrograde symbol again, and slow down when you get close. Zero it out when you’re less than 50 meters away.

Then point your ship to the zenith (white dot in the center of the blue half). This is because EVA’d kerbals have a preferred “up” direction, for some strange reason, and have no “roll” controls; aligning your ship to the zenith would make it easier to board.

You can now switch to the Kerbal using the [ or ] keys. Collect an EVA report; if you’re lucky, it’d be considered a new biome, netting you a few more science points. Then press R to activate his EVA pack, and L to activate his headlights. Press V to change your camera mode; change this to Chase mode. Go to the orbital map, and set the rescue vessel as the target. Slowly maneuver your Kerbal toward the pod. Press F when the prompt appears to grab the ladders, then press F again to board.

Hooray! Nothing left to do but quicksave and deorbit. You should know what to do by now. Hopefully you land in a new biome, and thus can do some crew reports and EVAs; once in the air (it’s safest to EVA just after your parachute is fully deployed), and once on the ground (don’t forget to collect a surface sample). Then recover your vessel to complete your contract!


Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: 3 – Halfway to Anywhere (Orbit Kerbin)

(Current for KSP version 0.25)

In this chapter you will learn:

  • To have a vessel orbit Kerbin, then return to the ground safely
  • The difference between liquid-fuel engines and solid-fuel boosters
  • How to “tweak” parts

“If you can get your ship into orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere.” — Robert Heinlein

In this chapter, you will put your first ship into orbit of Kerbin, do some more science, and return safely.

First off, go to the Research & Development Center. Ensure that General RocketrySurvivability, and Science Tech are researched. Science Tech unlocks a new experimental tool, the SC-9001 Science Jr. You know the drill; you can “launch” vessels with nothing but a pod and a Science Jr to get more science points from the Launchpad and Runway.

Getting into orbit will require a vessel that is a little more complicated than the ones you built in the previous chapter. You can either try to recreate it from the picture and description below, or you can download the vessel file. Read this appendix to learn where to put the vessel file.

This is what the vessel looks like:

The top consists of a Command Pod Mk1 with a Mk16 Parachute on top of it, as usual. Below it is a TR-18A Stack Decoupler, then below that is an FL-T100 Fuel Tank, an FL-T200 Fuel Tank and an LV-909 Liquid Fuel Engine. Place three SC-9001 Science Jrs symmetrically around the fuel tank. Below it are two layers of alternating TR-18A Stack Decouplers and RT-10 Solid Fuel Boosters, similar to the K-2. Below that is another TR-18A Stack Decoupler, then a Rockomax BACC Solid Fuel Booster.

Adjust your staging. Ensure the stages are properly ordered from the bottommost booster to the topmost engine, and that they are paired with the decoupler directly below them.

Stage 0 (topmost) should contain the parachute and topmost decoupler.

If you remember the K-2 launch, you may have noticed reentry effects going upward as well as downward. We don’t want that on this craft, as it’s a sign of extremely high drag. We thus have to control our thrust on the upper stages.

Right click the topmost RT-10 Solid Fuel Booster and set the Thrust Limiter to 60%. (Some parts can be “tweaked” this way; you may note that you can also adjust the amount of fuel it has, for example) Likewise, the second-topmost booster should have the Thrust Limiter set to 90%. Solid boosters, unlike liquid engines, cannot be throttled or turned off, so this is the only way to control their thrust.

Name your vessel (from now on, vessel names in this guide will be descriptive, sometimes followed by a “nickname”. I named this one ‘Kerbin Orbiter “Fastok”’. This helps with remembering what each vessel is for when loading). The cost should be 8,037 funds.

You may want to go to the Space Center view, press Esc, and save your game before launching (I generally save to “prelaunch” before launching a mission, and “mission acc” after completing it. Do not rely on Revert Flight always being available; it becomes unavailable after a certain amount of time, and it is possible that the game might crash or you might have to exit the game in the middle of your mission.)

OK, now we can launch the vessel! Go back to the VAB, ensure the Fastok is loaded, and click the Launch button.

Wait a few seconds for it to load, then Press T to engage SAS.

Press Z to set throttle to full. Note that solid fuel boosters cannot be throttled or turned off. However, we want the LV-909 to be activated at full power as soon as the last booster drops.

Press Spacebar to launch!

The bottom solid fuel booster should be activated and propel you upward. Use your first Science Jr. kit to complete the lower atmosphere experiment. Press Spacebar again as soon as each booster runs out to activate the next one.

By the time the first two boosters run out of fuel, you should be at about 10,000m.

We’ll pause here for a bit to talk about what exactly we need to achieve orbit. Orbiting is often described as “falling and missing the ground”, and that is essentially accurate. You can’t achieve orbit just by continuing to propel upward; you’ll eventually either fall back to the ground, or you may escape Kerbin’s gravity altogether and orbit the Sun instead. Orbiting requires two things: horizontal speed (you need to be going sideways fast enough that when you fall toward Kerbin, the ground would have curved away), and height (you need to be above the atmosphere, so that atmospheric drag doesn’t slow you down and cause you to deorbit. On airless bodies, you still want to stay above any mountains, for obvious reasons).

You could just propel yourself toward the desired height, then fire sideways for horizontal speed, but that is rather inefficient. It is more efficient to perform what is known as a gravity turn, where we gradually transition from moving upward to moving sideways.

As such, unpause the game, then turn toward the right, toward the 90° heading mark (east). Why east? Well, remember that you launched from a rotating planet. It rotates from west to east, so you already have some horizontal velocity. Since this is your first attempt to get into orbit, it is thus easiest to have that working for you rather than against you. Do not turn too much; a 45° pitch (midway between the zenith [white dot in the middle of the blue half] and the artificial horizon [line that separates the blue and orange halves of the navball]) should be sufficient for now. Your navball should look something like this:


Now press M to switch to the orbital map view. You will see a small blue curve indicating the projected trajectory of your vessel. What you need to do is find the Ap flag and click it. This displays the height of your apoapsis; it should be increasing rapidly. There is also a T value, which indicates the projected time to the apoapsis if you turned your engines off (we don’t want to do that yet though).

You can view the navball from  within the map view by clicking the arrow at the bottom of the screen. Continue burning until the ksp-prograde prograde marker on your navball moves close to the level indicator in the center. Then, slowly turn the vessel eastward, such that you stay slightly east of the prograde marker. Don’t turn too quickly; ensure that the T value of your apoapsis continues increasing.

You’ll likely run out of fuel soon. Once you do, hit M to exit map view, hit Spacebar to activate your LV-909 stage, then hit M to return to the map view.

You should be almost horizontal by the time your apoapsis reaches past 50,000m. You may also see your prograde marker jump; this is because the navball automatically switched from the surface reference frame to the orbital reference frame. You can switch between them by clicking at the small window on top of the navball. Keep in on “Orbit” for now though. Continue burning until your apoapsis is above 80,000m. As soon as that happens, hit X to turn off your engine. Your apoapsis will start decreasing slightly due to drag, however the atmosphere is so thin at this point that it should easily stay above 70,000m.

You’re now on a course out of the atmosphere. Exit map view, use your second Science Jr. kit to complete the upper atmosphere experiment, and return to the map view. You have a good amount of horizontal velocity, but not quite enough for orbit. You will thus need to make a second burn near the apoapsis.

Go back to the map view. Click on your path at the point of the apoapsis, and click Add Maneuver. Start pulling the ksp-prograde prograde marker outward. Note that you’ll begin to see an orange Pe flag; that indicates your projected periapsis. Continue pulling until the apsides start to “run” around the path; if you hover over them you should note that they are very close; ensure that both are over 70,000m.

Turn your craft slightly past the artificial horizon, at the ksp-maneuver maneuver node marker. Note that you get an “Estimated burn time” value. Wait for your time to apoapsis to be roughly half of that. (you can speed this up a bit by using the time warp control at the top left corner of your screen. Be careful not to go too fast though!). Then press Z to activate your engine again.

As your horizontal speed increases, your trajectory should begin to circularize. After some time, you’ll see the blue Pe flag rising out of the opposite side of Kerbin. Click it, and you’ll see the height of your periapsis. To achieve orbit, you must get this above 70,000m before turning off your engine. Then delete the maneuver node by clicking the cross or checkmark on the bar to the right of your navball.

Congratulations, you have achieved orbit! Exit map view, and use your third Science Jr. kit to complete the “space near Kerbin” experiment. To savor your victory, you may use time warp to run several laps around Kerbin. Sunrises and sunsets are common in low orbit.

You may note that the Science Jr. kits are placed below the decoupler. This is not an accident; keeping them will result in more weight on our parachute, which may endanger the Kerbal. However, it means you will need to get the data out of the Science Jr. kits into the pod to actually get any science points. As such, press F5 to quicksave, then do an EVA. Press to activate your Kerbal’s EVA pack, and carefully maneuver him toward one of the Science Jr. kits. Rightclick on it and click “Collect Data“. You will get a warning message that the kit will be rendered unusable; go ahead and remove the data, since you won’t need them anymore. Repeat with the other two kits, then return to the pod.

Now it’s time to return to Kerbin. Press F5 to quicksave again. Align your vessel to the ksp-retrograde retrograde marker, and press Z to activate your engines. This will cancel some of your hard-earned horizontal speed, so your periapsis will now begin to lower. Press X when it reaches below 30,000m. You don’t need to get it under Kerbin, because once you’re deep enough into the atmosphere, the drag will be sufficient to get you toward the ground.

As you achieve reentry, you want to ensure your navball is set to Surface mode (it should switch automatically, but just check to be sure), then align and keep your vessel on the ksp-retrograde retrograde marker; this minimizes stress on the parachute when you deploy it. Press Spacebar when you’re about 10,000m up to activate the parachute and jettison everything below your pod (it is likely to “stick” to the pod; twist around a bit to push it away).

As usual, the parachute will automatically fully deploy when you’re close to the ground. You’re likely in a new biome, so you can do a crew report for “flying” above it. Adjust your pod so that it touches down flat on the ground. (If you’re unlucky, you may end up landing in a very hilly region and have a hard time touching down without rolling uncontrollably. In which case, you should press F9 to quickload, and do your deorbiting burn at a different part of your orbit.) Then do an EVA, EVA report (again you may be able to get one for “flying” while on the ladder, in which case store it on the pod, get down, and do another EVA report), Surface Sample, Take Data from the pod, and reenter it. Then do another Crew Report for the ground in that biome. Then recover your vessel.

Congratulations on a successful mission! You should now have a bunch of science points to spend. If you’re playing Career Mode, I suggest you research Flight Control. This unlocks your first unmanned pod, the Stayputnik Mk. 1.  Try completing some of the suborbital and orbital part test contracts from Mission Control; using an unmanned pod means you don’t have to worry about returning safely. You’ll have to design your own vessels for these; however, modifying the K-2 (suborbital) and Fastok (orbital) vessel designs should be quite sufficient as long as your cargo isn’t too heavy.
Tip 1: you can empty solid rocket boosters you wish to test to lighten the load, or “thrust limit” liquid engines to 0% to avoid accelerating your craft; as long as you activate the part via staging at the correct altitude, the test will still be complete.
Tip 2: The Stayputnik Mk. 1 does have some disadvantages: it does not produce as much torque (turning power), and constantly uses electricity. If you have trouble with controlling your vessel, try adding a Small Inline Reaction Wheel under your Stayputnik to increase your torque. If you have trouble with electricity, stick on a Z-100 Rechargeable Battery Pack to extend your lifetime.


apoapsis /ˌæpoʊˈæpsɪs/, pl. apoapsides /ˌæpoʊˈæpsɪdiːz/ n. The point at which an orbiting object is farthest away from the body it is orbiting. According to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, an object is slowest at the apoapsis. In the map view, the apoapsis is indicated by an arrow marked “Ap”. Antonym: periapsis.

apsis /ˈæpsɪs/, pl. apsides /ˈæpsɪdiːz/ n. Refers to either the apoapsis or the periapsis.

periapsis /ˌpɛɹɪˈæpsɪs/, pl. periapsides /ˌpɛɹɪˈæpsɪdiːz/ n. The point at which an orbiting object is closest to the body it is orbiting. According to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, an object is fastest at the periapsis. In the map view, the periapsis is indicated by an arrow marked “Pe”. Antonym: apoapsis.

prograde /ˈpɹoʊˌɡɹeɪd/ adj. In the same direction, “forward”. In Kerbal Space Program, the ksp-prograde prograde marker on your navball indicates the direction in which your vessel is moving, relative to your chosen reference frame. Antonym: retrograde.

retrograde /ˈɹɛtɹɵˌɡɹeɪd/ adj. In the opposite direction, “backward”. In Kerbal Space Program, the ksp-retrograde retrograde marker on your navball indicates the opposite direction to that in which your vessel is moving, relative to your chosen reference frame. Antonym: prograde.

zenith /ˈziːnɨθ/ n. The imaginary point vertically above the observer. On the navball, the zenith is indicated by the white dot in the middle of the sky (blue) half. Antonym: nadir.


Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: Appendix A – Your Root Directory (Mods, Flags, Vessel Files, Saves)

(Current for KSP version 0.25)

Certain tasks in Kerbal Space Program, like installing mods and flags, downloading vessel files from this site or elsewhere, or moving vessel files between your saved games, require access to KSP’s root directory.

If you installed KSP via Steam, you may find the root directory by opening Steam, then going to your Library. Find Kerbal Space Program, rightclick it and choose Properties. Under the Local Files tab, click Browse Local Files. This should open your root directory.

If you had installed KSP manually, the root directory is either KSP-win, KSP_linux, or KSP-osx, located wherever you unzipped the archive to.

You know you’re in the right directory if there is a KSP.exe in it with a rather familiar icon.

Henceforth the root directory will be designated by “%root%”.

To add mods: You need to copy the mod’s folder from the archive into %root%/GameData . Read any readmes or FAQs about the mod for the details. Note: never delete the “Squad” or “NASAmission” folders. It is also a good idea to back up your saves when changing mods, especially if the mod contains vessel parts.

To add flags: Create the folder %root%/GameData/customflags/Flags. Move any .png file here to use it as a flag. For best results, size it to 256 × 160 pixels. You can also view the default flags in %root%/GameData/Squad/Flags .

Manipulating vessel files: Under %root%/saves , there should be a folder for every game profile you have. Within these, your vessel files are found in the Ships folder, in either the VAB (for vessels built in the Vehicle Assembly Building), or SPH (for the Spaceplane Hangar). To use a downloaded vessel, you need to put the downloaded .craft file in the corresponding folder.

Back up/share saves: Easy; just copy the game profile folders to a safe place (you can also put them into a zip file). Note: never delete the “training” or “scenario” folders.


Kerbal Space Program How-to Series: 2 – Maiden Launch

(Current for KSP version 0.25)

In this chapter you will learn:

  • To accept and complete your first contracts (for Career mode)
  • To build a basic rocket that will actually get off the ground
  • To build a suborbital rocket (one that reaches into space for a short while)
  • To manage your vessel’s staging

First, if you’re playing Career Mode, go to the Mission Control building. You will always start with four available contracts: “Launch a new vessel”, “Achieve an altitude of 5000m”, “Escape the Atmosphere”, and “Orbit Kerbin”. Feel free to accept them all; note that these have no expiry date, so you cannot fail them. You will also get “advance” funds, which would be helpful.

Now go to the Vehicle Assembly Building. All vehicles, at least if you hope to do anything with them, need a command module, so pick one from the Pods section. Well actually, currently your only choice is the manned black Command Pod Mk1, so we’ll use that. Next, under Propulsion, find an RT-10 Solid Fuel Booster, and stick it under the pod.

But wait! Your rocket will launch fine now, but what happens when your fuel runs out? Your rocket will fall back to the ground again… hard, along with poor Jeb. You’ll need a parachute. Under Utility, stick a Mk16 Parachute on top of the command pod… it fits just nicely.

We also want to do some science, so go to the Science section, pick the Mystery Goo Containment Unit. We could use two of these… but there’s a problem. If you just plop them anywhere, take a quick look at what happens to the Center of Mass and the Center of Thrust, which can be viewed via the little green buttons near the bottom left corner of the screen. They won’t be aligned properly. This is bad, as your rocket will spin out of control if you try to launch it! (Imagine trying to push a box with a weight stuck on the right side. If you push at the center of the box, the weight’s added inertia will twist the box toward the right.) Fortunately there is a tool we could use to keep balance. There is a button, again on the bottom left, that says Symmetry Mode when you hover over it. If you click on it, the number of fins changes. Click it until it shows two fins (note that you can also cycle through this by pressing X repeatedly; Shift-X will cycle backward). Then place a Mystery Goo Containment Unit on one side of the pod, and another will be automatically placed on its opposite side, simple as that! Do be sure that they don’t block the hatch in front of the command pod though.

But don’t launch just yet! We need to take a look at the Staging. Look at the bottom right. You’d note that both the booster and the parachute are in the same stage, and therefore will fire at the same time. That would be bad. What you want to do is to hover over the stage; you’ll see minus and plus signs. Click the plus sign to add a stage. Then make sure that the booster occupies the bottom (“1”) stage, and the parachute occupies the top (“0”) stage.

When you’re done, the craft should look like this:


Give the craft a name (I call it the “K-1”), and save it (note it costs 2,947 funds). Then click the Launch button.

Now you’re at the launch pad. Note that the staging sequence appears at the bottom left corner of the screen now and can be adjusted if needed. Wait a few seconds for the craft to load, then press to engage SAS (a good habit to develop), then press Space to activate the bottommost stage – that is, the booster.

And off you go!

Don’t forget you’re here to collect more science too. On the upward ascent, open one of the Mystery Goo canisters and Keep Data. You could also do a Crew Report.

You may begin to see an Overheat meter fill up – don’t worry about it though. Engines only explode if the overheat bar gets full, and you’ll run out of fuel long before that happens. If you look closely you may note that the bar slows and stops filling too – the overheat bar only shows how close it is to overheating, but it could easily peak before it gets anywhere near full. If it starts to fill above 80% and shows no sign of stopping, then you can worry.

After a while, the rocket runs out of fuel, but you will still continue coasting upward due to momentum. If you look at the speedometer above your navball, you’ll note that we’re starting to slow down. Shortly the rocket will crest (at about 16,500m, so way above what the contract asked for!), and will start falling back to the ground. You should probably press Spacebar again soon after that to activate the parachutes. Note that they start at partially deployed “drogue” mode, and will only fully deploy once you’re 500m above the ground (the ground, not above sea level as your altimeter indicates)

Even with your parachute, you’ll probably touchdown just a little too hard for your rocket booster to survive; don’t be too shocked by the explosion! Your pod is more resilient and will survive though. You’ll probably land in or near the Kerbal Space Center compound. You can then open your second Mystery Goo canister. Do an EVA, and Take Data from your capsule. Press Space to get off the ladder, and take an EVA Report and a Surface Sample. You can also Plant a Flag if you wish; this can be a useful marker for the approximate location of the Kerbal Space Center (as long as it’s off the Launch Pad or the Runway). Then get back in the pod and do another Crew Report. Then hover above the altimeter and Recover Vessel.

Note that if something went wrong, you can always press escape and click Revert Flight; that is, unless you’re playing on Hard difficulty, in which case you simply have to live with your mistakes.

Alright! We now have a bit more science and funds to work with! If you’re playing career, go back to Mission Control. Note that you begin to see contracts to test various rocket parts for companies. But first you want to accept Set altitude record of 22000m, as that will never expire.

As for the part testing contracts, it can be tricky to know which to accept at first. One thing’s for sure though; the “flight over Kerbin” ones are almost never worth it, unless they’re for parts you’re going to use anyway, like the Mk16 Parachute or the TR-18A Stack Decoupler (more on that later). Even so, it can be tricky to activate them at both the height window and the speed window stipulated. Feel free to take it anyway though; if you fail to complete it with our next craft, you can always cancel it at no penalty except for the advance you were given.

(Note for 0.90: contracts will now assess the failure penalty if cancelled, so you should probably avoid the in-flight ones as they are hard to reliably complete.)

Now go back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Load the K-1 craft; we’re going to make a few changes to it to make it bigger and better. First, remove the booster and put it aside. Go to Structural, and take the TR-18A Stack Decoupler. Put it under your pod, then put the booster under it. Now here’s a trick: if you Alt + click (or Option + click if you’re using a Mac) on the decoupler, both the decoupler and the booster gets copied. Place them under the first booster.

There you go! We still have to fix the staging though. Note that the two decouplers and two boosters have the same icon – hovering over them will highlight the affected part, so make sure you put the right parts in the right stages. On stage 0, put the parachute all alone. On stage 1, put the top decoupler. On stage 2, put the top booster and the bottom decoupler. And on stage 3, put the bottom booster.

Your craft should now look like this:


Give it a new name (I call it the K-2, naturally), and save it (it costs 4,072 funds). Then you can launch! But before you do so, care to take a guess as to how high this one would go? The last one went about 16,500m, so maybe this would be roughly double that (33,000m)? More? Less?

So on the launchpad, wait a few seconds for the craft to load again, then press T to engage SAS, then press Spacebar to activate the bottom stage; that is, the bottommost booster. You may notice the vessel is accelerating much slower than the K-1 did; that’s because it’s carrying more weight.

However, once it is out of fuel, we can press Spacebar again to activate Stage 2. This simultaneously jettisons the bottom decoupler along with the empty booster, and activates the second booster. Note that it is now moving much faster than the K-1 did. That’s because the vessel is now fighting less drag from the atmosphere, as it gets thinner the further from sea level you get. We’ve also jettisoned the extra mass, so now it has roughly the same mass as the K-1 was. Indeed, you’ll find that the vessel can clear 33,000m easily. In fact, it isn’t difficult to spend a short time in space; on Kerbin, space starts at 69,078m from sea level (it is easier to remember this as 70,000m).

Don’t forget to do some science while you’re up here though. Open a goo canister, then do a crew report. If you’re brave enough (you should probably press F5 to quicksave; F9 allows you to quickload), do an EVA, grab the data from the pod, do an EVA report, then pop back in. If you get flung away from the pod, press R to activate your EVA pack. From there, you can use WASD to move forward, left, backward, and right, and Shift and Control to move upward and downward. You can do this once in the upper atmosphere (18,000m ~ 69,078m), and once in space (>69,078m).

As you begin to crest and fall, you can press Spacebar again to jettison the second booster. Enjoy the reentry effect; it looks dangerous, but it has no effect on your craft. Press Spacebar again when you’re at about 10,000m to open the parachutes (you may choose to do this earlier or later if you have a contract to test the parachute. Just note that you need both the altitude and the speed to be in the window; to see if you meet the criteria, open the “Contracts” window from the clipboard button on the topright corner. If you miss the altitude window without meeting your speed window, just open the parachute; don’t open it too late). Once again, it deploys partially, then deploys fully when 500m above the ground, dropping the pod gently (Note that there is a bug, where if you try to quicksave while parachutes are deployed, they won’t be properly deployed when you quickload; obviously, this is very bad).

You will likely land some distance away from Kerbal Space Center. You don’t have another Goo canister, but you can still do a Crew Report, an EVA report, and a Surface Sample. Reenter the pod, then recover the vessel.

You now have a bunch more science, and completed both the 22,000m record contract and the contract to escape the atmosphere! You also may have completed a few part test contracts. Go to Mission Control and cancel any “flying” part test contracts that you’ve not managed to complete; as mentioned, it isn’t worth engineering a craft specifically to complete those.

In the next chapter, we’ll construct our first craft that can get us into orbit around Kerbin.


Kerbal Space Program How-to Series : 1 – For Science!

(Current for KSP version 0.25)

So I’ve recently been sucked into this game called Kerbal Space Program. It’s basically a rocket science simulator game; the story is that these little green guys called Kerbals want to explore their solar system. You can view it in all its glory by starting a game and going to the Tracking Center building. You can zoom out and in with your mouse wheel, and rotate your view by right-dragging. You may notice some “Unknown objects” near Kerbin’s solar orbit; ignore those for now. You may notice that their solar system resembles ours quite a bit; there is Kerbin: home, the Earth analog, location of the Kerbal Space Center, and where you’ll start all your missions from. It has a tidally-locked grey rock orbiting it called the Mun, which is often visible in the sky at night. The nearest planets are Eve, a planet with a thick atmosphere much like Venus (but is purple), and Duna, a red desert planet much like Mars. Their solar system is somewhat smaller than ours though; and there are notable differences, like Minmus, Kerbin’s second moon; it is smaller and more distant, and hardly visible from the planet itself.


(click to zoom) Fig 1: Ripe for conquest!

Incidentally when you start a game you’re given the choice of Sandbox, Science, or Career. Basically, Sandbox gives you all the rocket parts available in the game, Science will start you off with only basic parts, and require you to accumulate “science” around the solar system to unlock more parts with. Career is much like Science, but also tracks the Funds and Reputation of your space program. Launching rockets will cost you funds, and reputation is lost if any of your Kerbals gets killed in the line of duty. In Career mode you earn funds and reputation (and some science sometimes) by completing missions, given to you from the Mission Control building. (If you view older material about KSP you may find a “career” mode that only has science; this is because what we know as science mode used to be called career mode, while career mode got new stuff added to it). Science mode is good for a first game; it gives you the freedom to explore and relaunch missions that you’ve already completed to gain more confidence in them. You can also try Sandbox, but you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the sheer number of rocket parts available to you. In career mode, due to funds, you have the pressure to do something with every launch, probably completing at least one contract each time, and wringing out every last science point you can get from that launch (at least in the beginning; later on funds become easier to come by). It does, however, have a nice tycoon-game feel to it, and puts you in certain interesting situations that would take some setup if you wanted to recreate them in Science or Sandbox mode. My personal recommendation is to play all three at once; learn how to construct rockets and do things like getting into orbit etc. in Science, apply what you’ve learned in Career, use Sandbox to test things you haven’t unlocked in Science mode, or to try out the “stock” vessels preloaded in the game (they aren’t too useful at teaching you how to design rockets in Science and Career mode, however, as they use parts from all over the tech tree). This series will be written for both Science and Career mode; if something here only applies or works better in one mode or the other, it’ll be noted.

Anyway, back to “wringing out every last science point”, and the title of this chapter. You’ll find that even in the more-relaxed Science mode, you may be at a loss as to what exactly you need to do to start getting some science points. Well, basically, science points are earned by performing experiments during missions, and either transmitting it, or bringing it home safely. Each experiment may be done in various situations for a new entry in your Research and Development lab. The “Science” tutorial included in the game gives you a starting point, but leaves out important details as to exactly what experiments are available to you and how/when to perform them. (Incidentally the included tutorials kinda have this feel throughout; they’re helpful, but there are gaping holes; they teach you how to build a rocket, how to fly it, then suddenly they’re teaching you how to do orbital maneuvers… what’s glaringly missing is how to construct a spaceworthy vessel and get into orbit in the first place. Later they also teach you how to transfer yourself from a Kerbin orbit to a Mun orbit… but then the next tutorial starts you on the surface of the Mun ready to get back to Kerbin, skipping the entire “landing” thing. This seems to be a conscious design decision to encourage player experimentation, but it can be frustrating. Well, at least it gives me lots of things to write for this series.) You may be able to discover some of them for yourself by mucking about, but the science points required for each tech tree level quickly grow, and you may find yourself in somewhat of a stall, as simply repeating activities in the same situations will give you rapidly diminishing returns, and you may not have enough science points to unlock the parts that may be helpful to get yourself into new situations.

Well… you can actually get quite a number of science points without launching a single rocket! This unlocks more techs to give yourself some freedom when designing your rocket. First off, go to your Vehicle Assembly Building. Then click on a Command Pod Mk1, found under the Pods category. Your screen should look something like this:


(click to zoom) Fig. 2 One little pod

Then click the green launch button near the upper right corner of the screen. Yes… this thing ain’t going anywhere; but there is science to do! First, right click on the pod itself and click “crew report”. Then hover over your little kerbonaut at the bottom right of the screen (get to know Jebediah Kerman; he’s a very enthusiastic kerbonaut, and is typically the first to hop onto any ol’ vessel you build, no matter how dangerous it looks) and click “EVA”. This stands for “extra-vehicular activity”, and will cause him to exit your pod. Then rightclick on him and click “EVA report”. You’ll likely see “EVA report while flying over Kerbin’s Shores”… this is due to an anomaly in the game, where your kerbonaut is considered “flying” because he is just slightly off the ground, hanging onto a ladder. Anyway click on the green “Keep Data” icon with the clipboard on it (there is also a “Transmit” button, but you need an antenna for that), then right click on the pod and click “Store Experiments”. Then hop off the ladder with Space (keys may be rebinded from Settings under main menu; this guide will use the default keys except where noted). Note that you can walk around on the outside using the W, A, S, and D keys. Rightclick on Jeb again, and click EVA report yet again; now that his feet are on the ground, it should say “EVA report on the Launchpad” (note that your kerbonaut can only carry one EVA report with him at a time; if you didn’t “Store Experiments” earlier, you will be asked if you want to overwrite it). Note that you can also “Take Sample”; this takes a dirt sample of the ground when you’re landed. You can also plant a flag if you want, but the launch pad will be cleared every time you use it. Go back to your pod and reenter it with F. Then hover over your altimeter at the top and click “recover vessel”.

Tada; you have earned your first science points! Go back to your Research and Development building. The only tech you can research at the start is Basic Rocketry, so go ahead and research it. Note that three more techs are now available for research. Leave them be for now; it’s time to go back to your Vehicle Assembly Building. Go and add the Mystery Goo Canister to the side of your little pod… then “launch” the thing yet again. Right click on the canister, and click “Observe Goo”, this will give you a “Mystery Goo Observation on the Launch Pad”. You can try a crew report and EVA report, but note that they give no science. Getting another sample of the ground does give you some science though; note that it is much less than the first time round. You see, some experiments (Crew report, EVA report) are only productive the first time you do it, while others (Mystery Goo, Ground Sample) can be repeated but will give rapidly diminishing returns. So go ahead and relaunch this “mission” a second time; you may be able to wring fractions of science points out of the third and fourth time, but you may feel it isn’t worth your time to do so.

We’re still not done yet though. Note that most of these (except the “flying” one) mentions the Launch Pad. This is one of the many “biomes” around Kerbin (“shores” is another); doing an experiment in a new biome is considered a whole new experiment, and earns you more science points! We’re not going to walk around though; Kerbin isn’t quite as big as the real Earth, but it is plenty big nonetheless, and traversing it by foot will take you ages. Instead, go to the Spaceplane Hangar. We’re not going to actually construct a plane for quite a while; they’re harder to design, control, and land safely than rockets, not to mention you don’t have suitable parts unlocked; but you can use the same immobile Command Pod trick. Except that you may note that it is placed in the sideways position!… that’s because it thinks you’re going to build a plane. To fix it, click on the pod and tap W to rotate it. You can now attach the Mystery Goo Canister to it and perform your experiments. Note that the Runway is considered a whole new biome to experiment in. Well, except the “flying over Kerbin’s Shores” bit; the parts of the space center each are considered their own biomes, but they uniquely do not apply to the “flying” sphere. Let us also perform an experiment of our own; it won’t gain us any science points, but it demonstrates something that would be useful later on. If you do a “Crew Report” and keep it, and then try to do a Crew Report again, note that it asks us if we want to overwrite it. Go and do an EVA again, right click on the pod and click “Take Data”. Now reenter the pod. If you try to do a Crew Report again, note that it will let you without overwriting your previous one! There is no benefit to having two identical Crew Reports, but what this means is that on your travels to the atmosphere, space, and beyond, if you encounter a new situation, you can do a Crew Report, then do an EVA, then take an EVA Report (and Sample if you happen to be landed), then Take Data before reentering. This will then allow you to do it all over again if your ship gets into a new situation.

This technique works in both Science and Career mode. You may think that “launching” these missions will waste precious starting money in Career mode better spent fulfilling contracts… but it isn’t so. You see, when you recover a vessel, you get funds back based on the surviving parts, and how far from the Kerbal Space Center you are. Well… all your parts are still right there on the launch pad or runway, so you get back 100% of your cost, so this science is essentially absolutely free! (Well if you’re playing on moderate or hard difficulty, you needed to pay to unlock the Mystery Goo Canister… but that is something you’d eventually have done anyway.)

A good tech to spend your science points on is Survivability. This unlocks the LV-909 Liquid Fuel Engine, a small but efficient engine that would be very useful when we start building orbital rockets, and also leads to the Science Tech node, which unlocks a new science part.

On the next part of the series, we will actually launch some rockets, and do some more science! If you’re on Career mode, we’ll also complete our first contracts and earn some funds.


Puzzle Pirates – Advanced Kraken Hunt mechanics

It is recommended that you read the basic kraken hunt guide first.

This post will detail the more advanced concepts of the Puzzle Pirates kraken hunt. It will be most useful if you want to learn to wield the Powder Kit (colloquially known as being a “bomber”), but even those who don’t may find these concepts useful, especially if their route requires them to go near the kraken head area.

Tentacles: Tentacles come in four sizes. The largest ones are called “defendacles”, and hang around near the head. Larger tentacles cause more damage when bumped into, or when they “slap”, a special move they use to attack a square next to them. Tentacles move the same way ships and rowboats do, and may move up to three times a turn (similar to bumper boats), but you can’t tell which direction they’re pointed at unless you have observed their previous moves. The one exception is that defendacles can do a special move, where they turn-in-place then move forward; this makes them more unpredictable.

If you find a tentacle right in front of you and you don’t know which direction it’s pointing, or you know for a fact it’s not pointing at you, pause on the first phase. There is a good chance it stays put on the first phase, then moves away on the second phase; since moves happen simultaneously, it is possible to get away unharmed. Disregard this if you know that it is pointing at you though; just turn and ram and hope for the best, as you won’t be able to get away without a ram.

Kraken head: When someone with a powder kit drops a bomb on the kraken head, it will sink. There will be some bubbles visible where the head used to be (note that due to a bug, sometimes the bubbles aren’t visible). Refer to the following diagram:

(click on the image to zoom)
Wind, whirlpool, and rock patterns may differ each time you enter; the position of the outlined zones are relative to the bubbles.
Red: Whelm zone, White: Kraken head footprint, Yellow: Defendacle spawn zones

If the turn the kraken sinks is turn one, there would be no tentacles on the board on turns two and three. Tentacles will appear on the end of turn four, and two defendacles will appear on the end of turn five, one in each defendacle spawn zone (2×8 rectangles outlined in yellow). On turn six, the kraken will reemerge on the footprint (irregular shape outlined in white), and all rowboats that started the turn in the whelm zone (8×8 square outlined in red) will automatically sink (it is safe to enter the whelm zone during turn six though). What this all means is that:

  • If the kraken is down and the tentacles just came up, do not enter the whelm zone. If you’re in the whelm zone, get out of there now. To know where the whelm zone is from within the game, count three spaces away from the corners of the squares with bubbles.
  • If the defendacles just came up and you’re in the whelm zone… well, I hear the safe zone is nice this time of year. You will sink no matter what you do, even if the bomber manages to blow up the head that turn, as the tidal wave exists even if the head doesn’t visibily reemerge.
  • If the defendacles come up and you’re the bomber, you should start from outside the whelm zone, then enter that turn to put a bomb onto the footprint (white), to blow up the head the very turn it reemerges.
  • Be aware of the gaps in the north and east corners of the footprint. Placing bombs there won’t do anything to the kraken!
  • As the bomber, try to camp outside the northwest or southeast edges of the whelm zone (if possible; not all layouts offer this luxury), as this reduces the chance of the defendacles blocking your way (note, however, that while they spawn in the yellow zones, they are free to move out of them). Ideal camp spots should also allow you to bomb the head in as few movement phases as possible; the fewer phases, the safer your compatriots will be, and the less chance there is for the tentacles to ram you while you’re trying to bomb the head.
  • Note that bombs take two turns to reload. Place bombs around you on turns three and four (before the tentacles reemerge) to protect your camp from wandering tentacles; pay special attention to wind streams and whirlpools that point toward your camp spot. Do be careful to avoid obstructing key routes to and from the treasures, and to not obstruct your own route toward bombing the kraken head and back to your camp spot.
  • If you aren’t a bomber, note that bombing requires precise timing and movements; thus, avoid bumping bombers out of position unless they give you permission to do so.
  • Be careful of ink spots; they may hide winds.
  • If you’re the bomber, it may be useful to know that you can ram into the kraken head like a rock before bombing it, saving valuable turns if you get caught in a weird position. This will take approximately 1/6 of your health.
  • Once you have gained some skill in moving efficiently and avoiding rocks and tentacles, you may want to try using the Speed Kit instead of the Bumper Kit (it’s useful to have a Bumper on standby however, as some layouts may be difficult or impossible to get an egg on a speed kit). If so, the approximate times to get the treasures are 2, 4, 6, and 8 minutes respectively (again, this may vary with layout). Note the speed kit is even more fragile than the regular rowboat; three rock hits will sink it, and so will any damage from tentacles.

If you want to meet me in the game, I am Rhoaleper in the Meridian Ocean.


Puzzle Pirates – Kraken Hunt basics

Puzzle Pirates has recently released a new activity; kraken hunting. This is a type of “sea monster hunt”. To enter one or apply for a job on one, you would need a bravery badge on a doubloon ocean; on a subscriber ocean, you’d need to be subscribed. Bravery badges can be bought from the Palace Shoppe (located either in the palace, or through Ye → your pirate name → Palace Shoppe) for 5 doubloons. Doubloons can either be purchased from the developer through the Ye → Get doubloons! with real money, or from other players with PoE through the Doubloon Exchange, which can be found in the Bank.

You’d also find it helpful to have a rowboat kit from your local furnisher. Note that you could shop around on other islands in your home archipelago through the “ferry” to see if there is a cheaper or faster store. A great kit to buy for your first hunt is the Bumper Kit. This rowboat can take a lot of damage before sinking. Rowboat kits are equipped in your Booty screen.

Lastly, you’d need to find a crew to hunt with. This can be quite difficult, as the kraken hunt is a new activity and its supplies are quite limited and expensive. Most hunts have some requirement of Battle Navigation standing or trophies acquired by fetching kraken eggs, which of course leads to a catch-22 situation. Your best bet is probably to find and join a crew that does them regularly and is willing to let you tag along.

You can also try to run them yourself if you have more experience with the game and a lot of resources; you’d need a ship (only sloops, cutters, dhows, fanchuans, junks, and baghlahs can be used), a kraken hunt map, and lifeboats, a commodity that can be ordered from a shipyard. (You use 1 per pirate per entry. Sinking does not use additional lifeboats.) You’d also need some rum for the sailing back and forth from the kraken hunting zone. You’d also need to be in a crew as an officer or higher.

Anyway, after all that, when you enter the kraken hunt, you’ll find yourself in a special sea battle board. Instead of the vessel you were on, each pirate has their own rowboat, and must navigate it to a treasure, and back to the light-blue zone where you came from (known as the “safe zone”). Each entry lasts 30 minutes.

There are four types of treasures:

kraken chest 1 Cuttle boxes are the least valuable,

kraken chest 2 Tentacle lockers are next,

kraken chest 3 Cephalo pods are more valuable,

kraken chest 4 Kraken eggs are the most valuable.

You can only carry one treasure at a time; if you go over a more valuable treasure while carrying another, you’ll automatically throw the less valuable treasure overboard.

Less valuable treasures tend to be in the front, while more valuable ones tend to be toward the back and take more time to get. If you are new to kraken hunts, go for the less valuable ones until you get used to how things work. Even if you’re more experienced, take note of the timer to the top left corner of the screen. You may not have time to get to a more valuable treasure and back. It takes approximately 3 minutes to get a cuttle box, 5-6 minutes to get a tentacle locker, 8 minutes to get a cephalo pod, and 10-11 minutes to get a kraken egg. These times may vary depending on the layout and your skill in moving efficiently.

Keep an eye on the chat, and try to communicate with your teammates so that you don’t crash into each other and confuse your moves. Also, if you see any red barrels in the water, avoid them. Those are bombs laid down by a player with the powder kit. Tentacles that run over them would sink, but they would do the same thing to you.

Also avoid the area where the kraken head appears, especially if it is submerged; at least, until you learn the more advanced mechanics described in the advanced guide.

If you somehow accidentally enter with the wrong rowboat, you can change the “next boat” you enter with a set of radio buttons found to the right of your navigation controls, and then turn back into the safe zone to respawn.

Avoid bumping players in red boats with barrels (powder kits / “bombers”) out of position unless they give you permission to do so.

For more advanced tips and mechanics, see the advanced kraken hunt guide.

If you want to meet me in the game, I am Rhoaleper in the Meridian Ocean.