Tutorial: How to Get into Orbit

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Revision as of 16:16, 29 May 2015 by Wcoenen (talk | contribs) (Reworked for 1.0 aerodynamics. Still needs testing.)
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Getting into orbit over Kerbin requires some knowledge and preparation. Space begins at 70,000 meters above the planet Kerbin. Stay above that for an entire flight around the planet and you're in orbit.


  • Length: 15–20 minutes
  • Difficulty: Harder than a suborbital flight, easier than an orbital intercept.
  • Skills needed: Seat of the pants
  • For version: 1.02


Step 0 - Rocket Design

Rocket assembled and ready to launch. TT18-A Launch Stability Enhancers optional. 0.25

A liquid fueled rocket with at least two stages preferably. Anything less will either only get you suborbital or an unwieldy expensive super large fuel tank that's only good for being an orbiting billboard (unless you are bringing heavy payloads to orbit of course).

An example of a simple manned orbiter:

Make sure the staging sequence is correct; see Tutorial:Game_Manual#Rocket_Staging.

Step 1 - Launch Preparation

1. Hit M to go to map view. Tilt the view so that it looks North, which will give a clear view of the trajectory arc towards the East and the Apoapsis label. 2. Set thrust to maximum by hitting Z. 3. Toggle on SAS by hitting T.

Step 2 - Accelerate to 100 m/s

Launch by hitting the space bar and keep the rocket pointed straight up until the vehicle's speed is 100 m/s. Use the Navball to keep the level indicator centered on the blue hemisphere.

Step 3 - Pitch 10 degrees East

When the rocket's speed reaches 100 m/s, start a gravity turn by pressing the D key until the rocket is pitched 10 degrees towards the East. The heading ("HDG") on the Navball should now be 90 degrees.

Step 4 - Get Apoapsis above 70 km

While the rocket accelerates, gravity will bend the trajectory downwards. On the Navball this can be observed as the Prograde marker dropping further down. Follow it by keeping the level indicator within the circle of the prograde marker at all times.

Hit M to switch to map view. If necessary, click the Navball toggle at the bottom of the screen to make it visible again. Continue to watch the Navball and steer the rocket to keep it aligned it with prograde throughout this phase.

Hover the mouse over the "AP" label to monitor the apoapsis height; cut off the engine with X when it reaches more than 80 km (80,000 meters). 70 km is sufficient but 80 km will provide some margin and more time for the next step.

The apoapsis may stop rising at some point if the first stage runs out of fuel. In that case, switch back to normal view with M. Hit space to drop the first stage and activate the second one.

Step 6 - Get periapsis above 70 km

The engine should now be cut off; let the rocket coast towards Apoapsis.

10–30 seconds before reaching Apoapsis, orient the rocket once more to align with the prograde marker and go full throttle with Z. The apoapsis will begin to shift ahead; aim to keep it roughly the same amount of time ahead by throttling up or down with Shift and Control.

The projected trajectory will begin to widen until the periapsis label appears on the other side of the planet. A stable orbit will be reached when both apoapsis and periapsis are above 70 km.

If the first stage had not been dropped yet, it may run out of fuel during this phase. If that happens, switch back to normal view and hit space to drop it and activate the next stage.

Step 7 - De-orbiting

Wait until the craft is at Apoapsis and orient it for a de-orbit burn by aligning the level indicator on the navball with the chartreuse yellow retrograde marker. Now burn until the periapsis is around 30 km. Discard the engine and fuel tank by staging, leaving only the command pod with its heat shield and parachute.

If fuel is scarce, any periapsis below 70 km will eventually result in de-orbiting. However, it may take many passes through the atmosphere before the vehicle finally slows down enough.

Step 8 - Re-entry

During re-entry into the atmosphere, the capsule will heat up and lose speed. Keep the level indicator aligned with the retrograde marker to let the heat shield take the brunt of the heat.

Wait until the capsule's speed drops below 200 m/s, and deploy the parachute.