Tutorial: Recovering Rocket Stages

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The Space Shuttle and Falcon 9 v1.1 are examples of reusable or partially reusable rockets in the real world. This tutorial will explain how to recover a spent stage so you can get those extra funds!
Recovering the spent stage


  • Length: 30 minutes - 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Skills needed: Getting to Orbit, Orbital Adjustments
  • For Version: Most versions since 0.20, tested in:, 0.90 Beta

The Problem

Many users have attached parachutes to their spent stages in the hope that it will parachute gently back to the planet. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. The game will automatically destroy any spacecraft that moves more than 20 kilometers away from your vehicle in the atmosphere. Thus, without mods, this feat is next to impossible to perform. The secret is to leave the atmosphere before releasing your spent stage so it isn't removed.

(If you are okay with mods, the StageRecovery mod was created for this purpose, it will automate recovery of unloaded stages.)

Ship Design

  • The first stage of your spacecraft will be expendable (not reusable) because it will be separated too low in the atmosphere. I recommend using an RT-10 Solid Fuel Booster as the first stage because it is very cheap.
  • The second stage will be the stage that you recover. It needs to have enough power to leave the atmosphere after being pushed some by the first stage. I recommend using four FL-T400 Fuel Tanks with an LV-T30 Liquid Fuel Engine under it. Remember to add two or more Mk2-R Radial-Mount Parachutes for recovery! A tested solution is to position two symmetrical Mk12-R Radial-Mount Drogue Chutes on your second stage booster, and another two symmetrical Mk2-R Radial-Mount Parachutes in a perpendicular fashion. When planning your stages, have these chutes arm for deployment at the same time you decouple the second stage when outside Kerbin's atmosphere (arm and decouple simultaneously). This will allow for letting the booster descend safely so you can recover it.

Note: In the staging sequence, where the second stage separates from the orbital stage, make sure to also deploy the second stage radial parachutes, because you won't be able to do this on the way back!

Launch Sequence

  1. Launch normally, expending your first stage when it runs out of fuel.
  2. Ignite your second stage. Push your apoapsis as high as desired above 70km. A recommended height is around 160km, as this gives you ample time to switch to monitor the second stage if you wish, before establishing your craft's orbit.
  3. When fuel runs out in the second stage and you are out of Kerbin's atmosphere, separate the orbital stage. If you've followed the above recommendation, this stage's activation should have armed all our parachutes for deployment, so the booster descend safely back to Kerbin.
  4. Switch to the Tracking Station and monitor the second stage as it falls back to Kerbin. If you neglect to do this the stage may get automatically removed, as non-reusable boosters are normally treated.
    1. Right when the second stage touches the water or land, press "Recover Vessel".
    2. Now switch back to your orbital stage to continue your mission.
  5. When you are done with science, deorbit. Try to land near the KSC for extra money!