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.

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