Welcome to what I intend to be a fairly comprehensive one stop guide for beginners to get started with playing KSP. This is going to be a bit of an ongoing project that I will do my best to keep as up-to-date as possible. Please do feel free to provide corrections to things I get wrong, but I would appreciate if the content is left for me to write up, but you can put suggestions or requests in the discussion page if you would like.
Sadly, recent updates have meant that I can no longer run KSP on my Linux machine until I can work out how to configure Wine. Until then, I will not be able to update this with new features. I will still aim to update about features that are present in the version I can run and that seem to still apply to 0.18.
There are a few things you should read first as a good over view.
- Read through the controls and get to grips with them.
- When it comes to flying, you will make very heavy use of your navball, so read up on exactly how to 'read' it.
- It might be easier to follow a lot of the advice if you understand the terminology. I shall explain the words as I use them, as I feel context really helps.
The game's main menu presents you with the options to Start Game, adjust the in-game settings, visit the KSP Community website, visit the SpacePort - a community driven mod site, view the game's credits or quit and return to the desktop. Additionally, you are also able to Check for Updates to your game.
The game's current version is displayed in the bottom right corner.
After clicking Start Game, you are presented with the ability to Resume a previously Saved game, start a New game, play through one of the games Tutorials - recommended for new players - or enjoy a pre-defined scenario.
Basic Vehicle Construction
The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is where you can build your vertical vehicles with radial symmetry, the Space Plane Hanger (SPH) is used to build horizontal vehicles with bilateral symmetry. The basic mechanics of building vehicles is the same for either building and you have the same parts available for both, but due to the orientation you use, they tend towards differing styles of vehicles. If you are reading through this guide with only the demo version, then you will not have the SPH Available to you, nor some of the features they offer.
When building a vehicle, you will first have to select a command pod for the vehicle. Whilst the style of them may suit different vehicles they can all be used for anything you want. There are two primary considerations, do you want a one man crew or a three man crew, and how large do you want the command pod. It is important to think about this carefully, as you can not change the command pod with out restarting from scratch. Most pods taper so that they use a smaller radius connection at the top, though this does not really matter much beyond aesthetics.
This will provide a quick guide on building a basic rocket capable of getting into orbit and back again.
The VAB was introduced to the game first, it is where you will build your more traditional rockets and shuttles. Once you have selected a command pod (I suggest you take the one man command so you can follow along), you can drag it up high. You will want to add a parachute to the top, it's a lot easier to land with one of these rather than trying to land with rockets. Beneath your pod, place a decoupler, this will let you detach the command pod from the rest of your ship.
The next section to build will form the main orbital section, the part that will be used whilst you are drifting around in space. In order to make your ship easier to control, add a small SAS module and an RCS fuel tank. Next place a liquid fuel tank along with a rocket engine. This rocket engine will not need a huge amount of fuel, and as the engine is going to be used mostly in space, the best option currently is the Nuclear engine, very good when in the vacuum of space. Now, remember you placed that RCS fuel tank, well that can only be used if you place some RCS thrusters, so place a set at each end. This is where 'radial symmetry' comes into its own, by select the 'four way' option, you can place four RCS thruster blocks at once, each exactly 90 degrees around the ship. You want to place one set on the tail end of your liquid fuel tank, and the other on the radial decoupler. By placing them as far to ends as possible, you maximize their effect.
Next you need a way to blast this 'orbiter' into space. Start by placing a decoupler ring on the end of the rocket you selected for the top stage, and use a large ASAS module, this could be left out, I will explain why it is added in a bit. Next, I would favor using the larger radius fuel tanks, so place a few of them, followed by the biggest engine in the game! I am sure you can get away with less thrust, but let's not mess around here. Now, assuming you didn't go too mad with the fuel tanks, you could probably launch this, but come on, one rocket? That's no fun. One problem you will surely see though, is that you have a very loose joint between your ascent stage and your orbital stage, so you will need to place some struts to link the two together, I tend to use eight way symmetry, just to make sure it's a rock solid joint, but it can be tricky to get the struts to all connect.
Let's add some additional boosters to get this thing really moving! You could use solid rocket boosters, but I prefer using liquid boosters. You can control the thrust they provide, so you can turn them down a bit if you find the ship hard to control. As a handy tip, build your booster with out symmetry, go ahead and turn it off now. Use a radial decoupler so you can detach the empty tank once done, aim to place the decoupler higher up, so that the tanks peel away cleanly. Place some of the small liquid fuel tanks on the decouplers, two or three should do it. The engine you use is up to you, but you almost certainly want it to have 'vectoring' this will let the ASAS (and maybe SAS) direct them a little bit to help keep the ship under control, that's why we placed one in the previous section. You will again want to use some struts to help keep the tanks steady. You should also place a fuel line from the boosters to the centre tank, this will let you use this main rocket at the same time as the boosters, using the fuel from the booster tanks so that when you detach them, you still have plenty of fuel in the early stage. Finally, you can turn radial symmetry back on, select the radial decoupler (easier said than done I know) and now as you hover (mouse over) the ship, you will be able to place it with the entire unit with radial symmetry. As a finishing touch to the rocket, you will need to place some stands on the side of your rocket, this will hold it upright on the launch pad whilst you give your self a countdown; you may also wish to place some sort of fin on the rocket, to help keep control as well as make it look nicer.
The final thing to sort out, is the staging. This is where you can really make a mess of things. For the most part this will done rather sensibly for you, for instance the parachute will be put as your very final stage. However, things like you launch stage tend to be a bit confused. You will want to ensure all your launch engines are firing at the same time, else you will not be making use of all that thrust when it most counts. You will also probably want to move stands so that they detach after your rockets have fired up, this will let you ensure they are at maximum thrust just before you let it go. As a final run through, work from the top down, thinking how your mission will work in reverse.
- Deploy parachute for a nice soft landing back to Kerbin
- Detach Command pod from orbital stage (after having used the orbital stage to slow you down for re-entry)
- Detach Main launch tank now that you are in, or very nearly in, an orbit that is rather circular
- Detach boosters once they are empty
- Release support stands after a brief...
- Warm up engines at full throttle
There are a few details about staging that are tricky, like how you move parts around, and when certain things will be triggered. This will be covered in a separate location.
So there you go, a basic rocket to get into and then out off orbit. Hopefully, this will not work the first time. I say that because ideally you will have to play around and learn how different things affect how your rocket performs. Perhaps you found you were not able to produce enough thrust to even get off the launch pad, was it a lack of thrust, or were you trying to carry too much fuel? When you detached your ascent stage, did it still have plenty of fuel left, perhaps you could use it for orbit manipulation, but isn't all the mass hard to control... what you needed to add was some RCS thrusters to the end of the ascent stage?
Advanced Vehicle Construction
After you have built a few basic rockets and flung them into space, it is time to start getting serious with it. For an easy reentry (especially when the the atmosphere is updated to start burning up your ships) You should aim to get your pod into a low orbit, and when you about a quarter orbit away from being directly of Kerbal Space Center do a burn to slow your orbit such that it will crash into Kerbin on the other side, as you slow down in the atmosphere you should end up being very close to the space centre. This is something to really play around with, so that you can get a feel for how to land where you want from various altitudes.
As you start to explore the Kerbol System, you will probably consider Mun and Minmus your first stops. These will require more fuel to be carried so you can accelerate to the moons and the slow down to orbit, or even land. This extra fuel will require more thrust at launch, and also even more fuel at launch. Building a lander is a great challenge, and something you can practice with on Kerbin, try making your self an idea of a lander, then use a solid booster to fling it up high, trying to land on Kerbin with your lander is a real challenge; the much higher gravity makes your ship fall harder and faster, and gives you little time to think. Once you have got the hang of it on the planet, build a big old rocket to get it into orbit and to a moon. Hopefully, you remembered to bring fuel and rockets suitable enough to get back home. In future version where docking is introduced, you should be able to use the same stage to get to a moon and back, which will really change designs used for ships.
As you venture yet further into the system, taking on challenges such getting close to Kerbol or visiting the distant Jool you will need to start applying some very precise design to you ship. You will need to start thinking very carefully what it is you want your ship to do, how much fuel it will take to do that, and plan your mission in reverse. You will have to consider the that you ship is capable of at various stages. (read as 'Delta V') is basically the speed your ship is capable of, it is more or less a 'thrust to weight' ratio sort of thing. Basically, to get from the Mun back to Kerbin you will require a certain , this return vehicle with have to balance its fuel load and the power of the engine to provide this. The stage that gets to Mun will require a different , only this time it already has to carry the full mass of the return stage. Before setting out on a mission, you should take the time to work out the you ship requires for each stage of the flight, the each stage provides; you should also consider fuel consumption, can you ship burn the engines long enough to accelerate and decelerate at each critical point of the ships mission. You should try to push your self you have as little spare fuel as possible.
The other tutorials cover a lot of these advanced details, and so you should read through them. There are a few tutorials covering how to reach specific planets or moons, and if you read through them should give you some insight as to what it is you ship requires
Get to know the flight HUD
At this stage, you should be sat on the launch pad, desperate to send some poor Kerbal on a wild mission. Before you go and crash in blaze of fiery glory, I suggest you take a moment to see what is going on. The main feature you will see in the middle bottom of your screen is the Navball, this will be the main way you know what is going on with your ship.
Down the left hand side of the screen you have the staging for your ship, which if done in a sensible way you can more or less ignore, but it is handy to have. And in the lower left hand corner are a few fancy dials, they show you the pitch, yaw, roll and stage for you ship, and again for the most part you can ignore this.
At the top is a fancy gubin that shows 'height' related details. The altitude gauge is vital when it comes time to land; the only thing you need to keep in mind is that it is the height above sea level that your command pod is, so if you have a ship that is 10m tall and it is currently reading 11m you better hope you are ready for a nice soft touchdown. The circular dial is for your vertical velocity; you should keep in mind that this has 'zero' vertical velocity in the 9 o'clock position and that it is not linear. The fact that it is not linear means it can show you rather precisely as you transition from 3m/s to -1m/s but when you reach higher velocities it becomes rather vague, showing your speed in ever large increments. The last detail to look at on this panel is the atmosphere. This shows you a rough guide of how thick the air is; the thicker the air, the faster you slow down, and the less you can time warp.
The last detail to mention about the HUD is that in the lower right hand corner, you have a live feed of your kerbal crew, usually either screaming in delight or terror. As far as I can tell, their reaction has no relation to the peril they may really be in, though they always seem to welcome a gentle approach to the surface.
Basic Orbit Control
First, let's define an Orbit; simply put, it's falling around another body in space, ideally never colliding with it. The idea of 'always falling' is odd I will grant you, but either accept it, or better yet, go read up on it.
As you leave the launch pad, and start to turn to side, your orbit will start to form. The point at which you would crash back to Kerbin (or what ever body you are taking off from) if you cut the engines will slowly start to move further and further around, until eventually you will no longer fall all the way back to the surface. You have now successfully managed to get into orbit! Though chances are, you will have a very erratic orbit; basically egg shaped. Their are two keys points on your orbit, the Periapsis and Apoapsis; the Periapsis is the closest to the body you are orbiting, the Apoapsis the furthest. When you are at these two key points, your vertical velocity is zero. Note that you are still travelling very fast, just your altitude is not changing (for the very brief moment at least). The difference between the Apsides (that being the plural of Apsis, that being what these two points are called collectively) determines how eccentric your orbit is considered, though for basic game play, this is not really a concern.
When manipulating your orbit, there are two key things you want to do, change its height and change the 'plane' at which it sits. Changing the height is very easy to do, aim to adjust the height of one Apsis whilst you are sat at the other Apsis. If you try to change the height at the point you are, you will have to 'burn' a huge amount of fuel to stop your orbit, let your self fall back or burn to push out, then burn to get back in orbit. All told, a whole lot of burning fuel, it is far more efficient to just burn at the opposite Apsis. If you want to raise an Apsis, point into the direction of travel and accelerate, to lower the opposite Apsis, point you ship backwards and fire the rocket so that slows you down. If you use the Map view you should see the Apsis change, don't forget that you can hit 'X' (by default) to turn off your engines. If you are very low on fuel, remember that the most efficient time to burn is that split second when you have zero vertical speed, so you are going to want to do a lot a very small burns.
The other important manipulation you will want to want to do, is rotating the plane at which your orbit sits. This basically relies on Gyroscopes, which are frankly a mess to try to explain how they work, so it easy to simply say, "If you want to push a point in your orbit in a certain direction, do it 90 degrees before the point you want to move". Feel free to go read up on Gyroscopes and how they work and all that jazz, but trust me, "90 degrees" is a lot easier to remember. It will also be easier for you to manipulate the plane the smaller and more circular your orbit is, so getting the nice orbit is worth practising, and will come into play when moving to the next section.
The final thing to mention about orbits, is transition orbits, moving from one body to another. You should try to get your orbital plane in-line with your target body, this way you can allow your self a bit more freedom with exactly where you meet the target body. You should also try to get your orbit as circular as possible, this will make it easier when you are ready to burn to get out to your target. The last detail is hard to provide a generic guide for, as it basically depends on what you are currently orbiting and what you want to move to. As a starting guide, I will say that go from orbiting Kerbin to orbiting Mun you want to be orbiting towards the east, at around 100km altitude, as you see Mun rise on the horizon from behind Kerbin, start your burn until your orbit starts to interact with Mun. You know your orbit is interacting as the 'flight computer' will show an arc for part of the orbit that is around Mun. Once you are set up, time warp until you are just about to enter Mun orbit and prepare to burn to get your orbit to be stable.
IVA and EVA
IVAs (Intra-Vehicular Activities) are where you get to see a first person view of the inside of your ship. You can still make use of all your normal ship controls, but now you get the delight of seeing the dials spin and the throttle move up and down. Frankly, there are not enough blinky lights to keep me happy, but still, it looks pleasing enough. I imagine that eventually, once docking has been added, you might be able to float around inside your ship.
EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities) are where you let one of your buddy astronauts float around in space. This can be a potentially serious risk to your guys, as they (currently) have no tether to prevent the drifting off into deep space. In theory, when you little guy first gets out of the ship, he will hold onto the ladder of the capsule, but there can be cases where they decide to just float away from your craft. As long as you are able to keep control your guy, you can use his jet pack to float around the ship. Whilst you cannot yet dock ships, you should be able to send transfer a guy from one ship to another via an EVA, just as long as he has a free seat in the ship he wants to board.
Hopefully (and I know not yet based on the current state of this) you will have a good understand of the basic mechanics of the game. From here I suggest you play around for a bit, maybe set your self a few missions. It might also be wise to read up on how orbital mechanics works, as a better understanding of the maths and physics will really help out.