This manual is intended to be a somewhat comprehensive one-stop guide to playing Kerbal Space Program. It will include a basic overview of topics and have links to other relevant pages on this wiki that provide more detailed information on each subject. This manual is NOT a walkthrough, but it will provide the fundamentals needed to play in an order that follows a player's advancement in skills and abilities.
There are a few other articles that may aid understanding of this manual.
- Read through the controls- these will be linked to for every new aspect of gameplay.
- The FAQ can answer technical problems (including installing the game) that may not be covered in this manual.
- Complex terms will be defined within this article for context and understanding, however the terminology page contains more details.
- If you simply want to launch something, do this "walkthrough to launching your first rocket", and then come back to this manual.
The game's main menu presents you with the options to Start Game, adjust the in-game settings, visit the Community website, visit Curseforge- a community driven mod site (replaces SpacePort), 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, or enjoy a pre-defined scenario.
- Career- complete contracts to earn funds and reputation, and collect science to unlock parts.
- Science- collect science to unlock parts, without the financial restrictions of career mode.
- Sandbox- build freely with no restrictions and no need to unlock parts.
Basic Vehicle Construction
The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is where you can build vertical vehicles using radial symmetry, and the Space Plane Hanger (SPH) is used to build horizontal vehicles using bilateral symmetry. The basic mechanics of building vehicles are the same for each building, and you have the same parts available for both; but due to the orientation you use, they tend towards differing styles of vehicles (VAB for Rockets, SPH for Spaceplanes). If you are reading through this guide with only the demo version, you will not have the SPH available to you, nor many other features offered within the game.
When building any vehicle, you will first have to select a root part (note that not all parts are allowed to be root parts). This part cannot be changed without rebuilding the craft from scratch, so choose wisely. Generally this part is a command module in order to provide "control" for the craft- control is only given by command modules, and without it you cannot make the craft do anything (it ignores your commands and continues doing exactly what it was doing previously). There are two primary considerations when choosing a command module: 1) do you want a one man crew, a three man crew, or a probe core, and 2) how large (diameter will generally be referred to as the "size" of a part) do you want the module to be. It should be noted that only a part's displayed mass and lift properties (you can right click on a part to see more information) affect aerodynamic performance, therefore how "streamlined" the craft is tends to be irrelevant.
Using the VAB/SPH Controls
The first part is placed simply by clicking on it in the left side panel, but each later part must be manually placed by selecting it from the side panel, then moving it to where you want to place it and clicking again. You can drag any part by clicking, releasing, moving the mouse, then clicking and releasing again (all parts attached to a part will move with it). All interactions are done via a single click- there is NEVER any reason to hold ANY mouse button down, except to move the camera. If you have a part selected, you can rotate it with the QWEASD keys, or delete it with the delete key or by clicking anywhere in the parts list. Most parts connect to the top or bottom of your rocket (or front or back in SPH) via nodes. These nodes appear as green balls when you have a part selected, and their size indicates their connection strength. It takes two and only two nodes to create a connection, and selected parts with nodes will snap to a nearby node if it is available. Additionally, some parts can be mounted radially on the sides of your rocket (without using nodes) in addition to being stack-mountable using nodes. This is where symmetry controls and angle snap come into play (as explained in Tutorial:Basic Rocket Design). Some parts can only be surface mounted/ radially attached, such as parachutes. If a part you have selected is glowing green, it is ok to place it there. If it is glowing red, you cannot place it there, because either there is no node to attach it to (if it requires nodes), or it is currently "clipping" (colliding) with a previously placed part. If symmetry is on, one un-placeable part will prevent the placement of all of the parts you are trying to pattern.
This will provide a fundamental guide for building any rocket.
- For instructions on how to use the VAB placement assists, and a tutorial on basic rocket design- Tutorial:Basic Rocket Design.
- For a walkthrough on building and flying your first rocket- Tutorial: Walkthrough for Ye Compleat Beginner.
- Also review the VAB/SPH controls and the VAB page, as their information is necessary to build a rocket.
The VAB is where you will generally build the traditional vertically launched rockets and shuttles. For most rockets, you should start with a command module. To make space for the rest of the rocket, you can drag the part up high. You will want to add sufficient parachutes to the top or sides, as this is the preferred method of landing on possessing atmospheres (with the partial exception of Duna). Commonly, a docking port is placed on the top of the command module to facilitate docking, causing radial parachutes to be necessary. A decoupler is usually placed beneath the pod, as this allows you to detach the command module from the rest of the orbital section during/prior to re-entry, therefore reducing the amount of parachutes needed for a safe landing.
The next section to build is the Orbital Section. This will typically fill the role of a service module, and many end up looking like an Apollo CSM. This section will have a fuel tank paired with a high ISP ("fuel efficiency") engine. It will also commonly have batteries to store electric charge, and solar panels or RTG's to generate electric charge. RCS (reaction control systems), including thrusters and monopropellant tanks, is sometimes added to this section to facilitate docking. Command modules typically contain small amounts of electric charge and monopropellant. Lights are typically only added if planning to land on the dark side of a (or dock in a shadow), since space has enough ambient light to be able to see the status of your craft otherwise. The ideal arrangements of these components will be covered in Advanced Vehicle Construction.
Building a Launcher
Next you need a way to blast this 'orbiter' into space- this will be known as the Launcher. When you develop a reliable launcher, you should save it as a Sub-Assembly in order to be able to easily use it again. Start by placing a decoupler beneath the engine of the orbital section. Now you need to decide how many stages you want your launcher to have. Generally, a 2-stage launcher is the most efficient way to place your payload (orbital section + command module) into orbit. Having more than 3 stages in your launcher makes it very fuel-inefficient, and results in a much larger rocket than necessary- this creates more opportunities for things to go wrong (explosions), and in career mode makes the rocket prohibitively expensive. Also, the heavier a rocket is, the more fuel is needed to lift it- that fuel is heavy too, producing a loop of diminishing returns. These problems combine to explain why 'moar boosters' is not a good thing (though it is amusing, and this is a game after all), and why smaller, well designed rockets can fly much further and faster. WIP
Generally known as "planes", these are usually constructed in the SPH. WIP
Things that stay in the atmosphere. WIP
Things that (should) leave the atmosphere at some point. WIP
What Can I Do?
Make $$$ (funds)! WIP
Go places for the science! WIP
Don't press spacebar. WIP
Go places because its awesome! WIP
User written step by step 'missions' on this wiki! WIP
Advanced Vehicle Construction
Things to consider when building something. WIP
How To Fly Your Rocket
All things after construction. This will be mostly links to other pages and tutorials. WIP
What your rocket is trying to tell you... WIP
The big show. WIP
Going sideways. WIP
Were lost, aren't we... WIP
The things you want to see. WIP
Into the frying pan. WIP
What you can learn from the navball. WIP
How to get to SPACE. WIP
Landing without lithobraking. WIP
Surviving the fire. WIP
All things that are not space. WIP
How to make use maneuver nodes to plan burns. WIP
Best ways to change your orbit. WIP
Advanced Orbital Maneuvers
Other interesting things to move your ship. WIP
Much impress, wow. WIP
We need to slow down first! WIP
Advanced Vehicle Construction (old)
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 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. Since docking was 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 (old)
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 3 m/s to -1 m/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 (old)
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. There 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 100 km 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 (old)
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 in a future version, if you are docked, 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. While you can dock ships, you are still unable to transfer the crew through the docking port. 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.
Finishing words (old)
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.