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Kerbal: Space Program Beginner's Guide

Kerbal: Space Program Beginner's Guide by Air805Ronin

Table of Contents

Controls 3

Learn which key does which function!

Mission 1: Construct your first 4

Blasting off!
Instrumentation 6

Learn which gauge tells which reading!

Mission 2: Orbit the Planet 9

Learn how to do basic orbiting around our home world, Kerbin.
Game Folder 12

Learn about the innards of KSP.

Mission 3: Probing the 13

Make a satellite!

Mission 4: One big step for Kerbal 19

Touchdown on another celestial body (A.K.A Planet)!

Controls 25

Controls for other things!

Mission Planning 26

Which direction should I go to get from A to B?

Kerbal System 27

What's this round circular greenish white ball called?

Updating the Game 28

New version, new features!

Mission 5: Where to from here? 30

The world is yours!

For More 31 31

Controls 101

Rocket Control:

W, A, S, D, Q and E keys

Control your pitch and yaw! W to pitch down, S to pitch
up, A and D yaw left and right! Q and E spin your rocket round and round!

T key

Toggles on SAS and ASAS modules
, if installed in your rocket. Helps keep
your rocket locked to where it's pointing. Also helps to stop spins.

G key

toggle landing gear, if attached to your rocket

B key

toggles brakes if you have landing gear on a space plane

U key

turns on all ship lights/landing lights/ any lights attached to ship

Throttle Controls:

Left Shift

Increase throttle (MOAR POWER!)

Left Control

Decrease throttle (Less power)

X key

cut all engines (set throttle to 0%)

Time Controls:

Comma and Period Keys
Controls timewarp. If you are within
atmosphere (64,000m and below on Kerbin, may vary on other planets) it can only go to
a 4x physics warp. In space you can warp faster. When traveling through space towards  other planets above certain altitudes you can go as fast as 100,000x! Be careful, you will have no control over the rocket when using this form of time warp.

Stage Controls:

space bar

Next stage


Lock current stage so it can't be separated by accident.

Quickload and Quicksave:


Quicksave, use before a risky thing like landing.


Quickload from quicksave

View Controls:

Mouse wheel
(or + and – keys)

Zoom in and out

V key

Change between preset views

C key

Changes to IVA (Inter
Activity A.K.A Cockpit) view.

[and ] keys

Toggles between ships actively on a mission, within a few kilometers

M key

Map view, zoom works here too. This shows your current position and
predicted flight path, useful for making orbits circular. If you hit the gray arrow at the

it brings up your navigation ball and you can steer from this view as well. I do
most of my flying from this view, in fact.


Switch focus in map view, hits all celestial bodies and actively flying ships

Mission 1: Construct your first rocket
Your first mission, whether you choose to accept it or not, is to build your first flying  craft. For this, I would advise you to choose the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) because rockets are far less finicky than planes. This is where you build rockets. Once it loads up, you have pretty much unlimited choices.

The other buildings you can choose from are the Space Plane hangar (SPH) and the Flight Tracking Station. The first is a place to build space planes out horizontally, and then take them off from the runway. The second tracks all your active ships. You can launch many ships in a row and switch between them. Lets focus on the VAB.

Along the upper left you have tabs for different types of rocket parts. Along the right hand side you have the area where your staging appears. The upper right has buttons for various things like loading ships, saving ships, and starting over on a new ship. The big green one will move to launch and put your current ship on the launch pad. If you double click on the “Untitled Craft” text you can name your ship. This will be the name it gets saved as.

By default you'll begin with a tab called “Pods”. This category shows all your command
modules/Pods. The screen should look similar to the one below.

What you want to grab is the Command Pod Mk1 and drag it into the center. Notice how it is shaped like the Mercury and Apollo modules, that is designed for 1 person. We want to minimize the amount of weight you have to throw into space on your first try. Add a parachute of the proper size to the top of the command module. You can find that in the “Utilities” tab (Mk16 Parachute). You'll then add something called a stack decoupler

(TR-18A Stack Decoupler), located in the “Structual” tab, which will allow you to decouple the command module for its reentry. We'll call this your reentry stage. These should all be on different tabs.

Before we go on, you should know that you should be picking parts that correspond to the size of your command module. This makes it easier and the two size parts aren't designed to play nice via physics. There are 3 types of sizes. The 1.25m, the 2.25m and the 0.55m

Below the stack decoupler you want to add an SAS module from the “Command and Control” tab, a FL
T400 fuel tank from the “Propulsion” tab, and IV
909 rocket engine, also in the same place as the FL
-T400. This completes your orbital stage, so put another stack decoupler (TR
-18A Stack Decoupler) below the engine. It should be looking just about like this picture and the engine will automatically add a fairing to make it look streamlined.

Now we have to get this rocket into space. Throw on 2 FL-T800 fuel tanks and an LV
-T30 engine. This stage is what’s going to get you above the atmosphere, known as the “Orbital Insertion Stage”. It won't do the job on its own though.

So next you need to look in the bottom left corner. There are two shapes. One is a circle
with a dot in the center, and the other is a hexagon with a dot in its middle as well. The
one with the hexagon controls whether the pieces snap on at angles. The one with just a dot is your symmetry control. If you click on it, it can control symmetry of 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 sides. When you have symmetry on it will place a piece in however many places as this setting.

Click on the symmetry icon until it places on 4 sides. Find and add a radial decoupler
38K Radial Decoupler) from the “Structual” tab. This piece lets you add additional
stuff on the sides of your craft. Place them midway up your ship. Next grab an X200
32 fuel
tank from the “Propulsion” tab and put it on top of the decoupler. Place this one
low and then another on top of it. Add a Rockomax "Mainsail" Liquid Engine from the
“Propulsion” tab and you've made a huge rocket booster.

Instrumentation 101

To fly t
he ship you just built well, you need to know how the instrumentation works. Lets cover your
two different instrument panels. First, the top of the screen. Then the bottom.

The Altimeter.

This measures your distance from sea level on the body you ar
e orbiting. The gauge
will switch between meters, kilometers, and Megameters. I have never payed attention to see if it hits
Gigameters. I usually only look at that meter when landing or taking off. A word of caution, the meter
reads sea level and won'
t tell you if you're coming crashing down on something a bit higher than that.

Atmospheric Pressure Gauge.

This measures the amount of air pressure around your capsule, and
can indicate when you've left the atmosphere of a planet or moon.

Vertical Speed


This measures how quickly you will come crashing into the planet or moon
you are orbiting. I generally don't have a need for it.

The three buttons along the right side of the panel turn on or off lights, landing gear, and brakes.

Speed Indicator.

Depending on the setting, it will tell you how fast you're going relative to either the
surface of what you're orbiting or the speed you are going in your orbit.


Self Explanatory. Using more throttle makes you go through

fuel faster, but you achieve you goal more quickly.

Force Indicator:

s the G forces you are putting your green men through.

High G forces for
a long time can result in breaking up of the rocket or total destruction of the command pod.

Heading readout:
Shows the degree heading you are pointing in.

Level indicator:
As shown show you the direction you are point with the dot.

Prograde marker:
If you burn fuel while pointed at this marker, your orbit will increase on the opposite side.

Retrograde marker:
If you burn fuel wile pointed at this marker, your orbit will decrease on the opposite side

Target markers:
Point towards and away from a selected target. Burning towards it may be counterproductive. Select target by clicking on it on the map and selecting “set as target.”

Mission 2: Orbit the Planet Kerbin
Now that you've finished your rocket, its time to learn how to fly it. Before we get there you need to understand something about the Kerbals. They have 2 primary rules when it comes to spaceflight: “More Boosters!” and “Explosions Happen!” We could have used unmanned bodies for this initial rocket but I wanted you to get the pure experience of seeing their facial expressions as they hurtle to their fate. Or success. It's up to you.

Go ahead and hit the green “Launch” button in the VAB. It will transition to the launch pad, and take a few seconds to start up the physics simulation, depending on your computer's speed. Once you have control over your thrust, hit Left Shift to increase throttle until the indicator reaches the top, then you're ready to take off.

I didn't have you do anything special with your staging so your first stage should be those boosters. Once you hit spacebar you will begin hurtling towards the heavens, powered by the Rockomax Mainsail Engines. The ride should also be fairly steady if you used struts wisely. Boosters have a tendency to bounce on their own and send you into a wild spin, depending on how they are built. Your job is to keep going straight up to about 10,000 meters. This is where the navball comes in, see the picture below.

This navball shows you how to navigate. The blue portion shows you the direction away from your gravity well (in this case Kerbin). Straight up is the white dot in the center of the blue. That's what you're seeing. It has 360 degrees around its edge. The brown side does the opposite and points back into the gravity well. The line around the equator is your fake horizon. You can use this tool to fly around the planet like an F16, or to climb up into space and navigate there.

It also has useful markings. There are two yellow markings. They are prograde andretrograde for your current orbit. If you burn into the open circle it will expand your orbit. If you burn into the X it will decrease your orbit. The other pink markings can show you a way to your target (you can set other ships and even planets as your target, but a direct burn isn't always best. In fact it’s almost never best) With another tool we'll cover later you can even see a blue marking that shows the direction you need to burn to follow a planned burn.

In this case you need to burn straight up, as I said earlier, until you hit 10,000 meters. Hit “Capslock” to toggle precision control if needed, and use WASDQE to keep your rocket flying straight. Once you hit roughly that distance you need to do what’s called a gravity turn. This puts more of your energy into building an orbit around the planet than up into space. Once you hit that distance turn towards any degree marking you want. 0 degrees is easy to see because it is yellow and it puts you in a polar orbit. 90 degrees is to the right, and gives you the added bonus of having gravity and Kerbin's spin on your side. It'll look like this picture.

At this point your booster engines will probably quit. Hit “space” to discard them, and hit “space” to engage your second stage engine. I usually switch to the map at this point and bring up the navball there. If you right click on the map and spin it you can get a good view of your progress. You can also use the arrow keys to look around. The blue line is your current trajectory. It should be a parabola. As you turn it should get wider. You'll see a marker. This is called your Apoapsis, the highes point of your “Orbit”. It's mate, the Periapsis, is hidden inside the planet. If you ride out this trajectory now you'll go straight for a landing on the far side of the planet.

Instead you keep burning towards the horizon (don't go past that!!!) until your apoapsis extends to about 130,000 meters. If you hover over it you can see it extend in real time. You'll also see a time, which is when you'll hit it. During this you will probably discard the rest of your ascent stage. Drop out of map mode to drop it when you hear them cut out. Take a few seconds to rotate your view (right mouse button) and see the planet you're above. Glance at the stars. Check out whether you can see anything.

Get back into map mode and make sure your apoapsis is where it needs to be then cut your engines. You need to wait to do your next burn until you're about 15 seconds from apoapsis. When the time is right, point your rocket Prograde and throttle up to the max! Burn your engines when you get there as hard as you can and you'll see the other side of the orbit rise above the surface of Kerbin, when it does this lower your thrust a bit to control the speed. Your goal is to hit 130,000 meters on that side as well. See below:

You may be asking yourself a question, whats with

130,000? A stable, safe low orbit is 70,000 and I want you to have a little more space. If it isn't perfectly circular it doesn't matter. It won't degrade. You could leave the computer and go for a walk for a day or two and come back and that little green dude would still be circling the planet.

When you're ready to come in for landing just burn towards the yellow X, which is the
Retrograde marker. Notice your speed dropping. If you drop the far side of the orbit to
30,000 meters you can utilize the atmosphere to brake your speed. This is known as
Aerobraking. At this point you can safely speed up time. It will bring you back to
normal time under a certain elevation. Once your orbit hits the planet you should hit space until you just have a command module and a parachute. Hit the final stage to prep the parachute.

When you hit this point you can drop out of map mode and watch as you dive towards
the planet. Feel free to separate your orbit stage and hit space once more to activate
your parachute.

Now you just ride it down to the ground and celebrate your

Game Folder 101
To continue on in this guide you're going to need to know a few things about the folder the
game is housed in. Mainly because I'm not going to do any more ship
building missions. That's the
fun of the game, building your own ships! Instead I'll supply some premade ships that can do the
missions I provide you.

Plugins Folder:
This game has a good “mod”
community who add things before the developer, and sometimes just add wacky things. They will produce special code to handle things the game doesn't provide like mapping functions for satellites. The “mods” will come with instructions telling you where to put their files. This is where the code plugins go.

Parts Folder:
You generally won't touch this folder unless you find a modification that comes with
specialty parts. Those “mods” will come with instructions to put the parts into this folder.

Saves Folder:
This folder is where your games are saved. It will create a new folder inside every time
you create a new save. It will contain a ships folder, a persistence file, and a quicksave file. The
persistence file keeps track of every mission you have in progress. Quicksave takes a quick snapshot of where everything is. The ships folder holds the ship plans you've designed. This is where you'll put my demo ships I give you for the next few missions.

Go into the Ships folder here and you'll see two more folders. VAB and SPH. The VAB corresponds to ships made in the VAB, and vice versa for the SPH. All the designs on the thumb drive go into the
VAB folder.

If you delete a save, you lose all the ships contained inside it. If you really love a ship, you should copy it somewhere for safekeeping.

Ships Folder (in the base folder):

This contains all the prebuilt ships from the developer, which will
be labeled as “STOCK” in the load menu within the game.

Mission 3: Probing the Mun

Today you'll be heading to the Mun. Before we go in for a landing, first

we'll learn how to orbit it. The
Apollo missions did that too, but they had people flying along. Luckily those little green men recently
figured out how to fly unmanned probes. We're going to send up a long range communications satellite up there.

ake the “Mun Probe I” ship from the “Guide” folder and drop it into your game at

Take it off and get it into a stable orbit about 75 kilometers just like you did in the last mission, but
make sure you head for 90 degrees on the way up. This ship will not turn easily while you wait to hit your apoapsis, so you may need to give it a little burn to get your turns going.

Congrats! The orbit is the hard part. You should still have a small rocket with a probe on the end. Get
back to your view of the probe. On the probe you'll see 4 big solar panel arrays. Go ahead and right
click on them, at the bottom of the information panel is “extend array” and a button. Click the button
and the panel will extend and begin supplying solar

power. Do it for all 4. You will look like the
picture on the next page.

Your next step is to keep an eye on your ship and the planet, looking at the horizon. Press > a few
times to speed up time. I recommend 3 or 4 presses. Watch for what we call M
un-rise. It looks like the picture on the next page. When you see the Mun come up over the horizon, hit < until you're back at normal time.

Turn towards 90 degrees again where you prograde marker is. If you burn towards this it extends your orbit. With Munrise, burning towards 90 degrees will extend your orbit to the Mun so that you can be pulled in by its gravity. Burn your engine until you his about 2900 m/s and you'll see the orbit in the next picture. The purple orbit is your real orbit around Kerbin. The blue is the path you'll be taking to reach that orbit, and the yellow bit shows a gravity capture by the Mun. Now you ride, hopefully in fast forward until you hit the yellow bit.

When you do, the yellow bit turns blue like the picture below. You'll ride it to within about 30 seconds of the marker. This is the Mun Apoapsis, or closest approach. If you do nothing right now you'll carry out a slingshot out of the Kerbin gravity and go to your first Star orbit. Instead we need to point your rocket towards the Retrograde direction, which should be on the 270 degree horizon. Burn your engines and kill your orbital velocity.

When you hit the right amount of velocity you'll have a circular orbit around the mun and it will look
like the next picture. At this point separate down to your final stage which is the probe with its Ion
engines. Ion engines are extremely efficient, but extremely slow. We're talking horribly, horribly
slow. For this reason you usually won't use them for anything but probes, and you'll want to make sure you get your probes into a decent orbit before you use the ion engine to go elsewhere. Then expect to burn a long time if you're going to another planet.

They use electricity to excite xenon gas, which is why you have the solar panels. Without solar panels you would quickly run out of electricity stored in the batteries and be a floating lump of metal in space. You have batteries to make up for the times when your panels can't see the sun.

Normal engines (and a nuclear engine) use rocket fuel and oxidizer, both of which are store in proper
amounts within the correct fuel tanks.

There are also jet engines, which require liquid fuel and air scavenged through intakes. If you try to
make a plane and don't put intakes on it, it won't go anywhere. That's a mini lesson within a mission. You're welcome.

From here you'll burn the ion engines and watch your apoapsis and periapsis slowly turn around the
planet. Your periapsis will settle across the Mun from you, and you'll want to bring it down to about
150k. Then advance time until you are near it, and repeat for the apoapsis. It will look like the next

Go back out to where you can see your probe. On the front there is what looks like a spike. It is a folded up communications antenna. Right click and toggle the switch to permanently unfold it. Watch
your probe circle the Mun, maybe watching for Kerbin to rise over the horizon. Think about how the
Apollo astronauts must have felt as they watched a similar sight. You just accomplished it by flying without a complicated flight plan, just seat of the pants technique. Enjoy the view.

Mission 4: One big step for Kerbal kind.
Your new mission is to land a kerbal on the Mun. You already have a communications probe circling
Kerbin's closest moon. Now just redo the steps from the last mission to get in orbit around the Mun.

Your first stage will get you to the gravity turn. Your second will get you into your transfer orbit to the  Mun. You' ll be left with the rocket below.

Just like the last mission, build your orbit around the Mun. You can see the gray orbit of the probe still  circling it. You'll wind up with an orbit like the one below.

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