Lost In Space? An Idiot’s Guide to Kerbal Space Program

Lost In Space? An Idiot’s Guide to Kerbal Space Program

One of the main problems people have with Kerbal Space Program is getting over the initial learning curve. Navigating the constantly changing, three-dimensional nature of space is a complicated procedure, and it’s one I’m only just beginning to get the hang of.

Recently, I’ve started to hit a few personal goals in this game, so to celebrate my achievements I thought I’d share my findings with other beginners who are keen to follow in my footsteps. It is my hope that this guide will provide a useful reference for anyone struggling to find their way past the steep learning curve of this unique space simulator. I suggest bookmarking this page or having it open on a second monitor while you play for immediate reference.

Design Your Rocket

Key to a successful mission lies in the design of your craft. Kerbal Space Program provides a simple, flexible interface that can overwhelm a beginner with options, so to help you get started, here’s an image of my first vessel.

Feel free to copy aspects of the design to model your own rockets from.

The mk2 was similar, but it came in black.

Through long and complicated bouts of experimentation, I have discovered that the most successful ship designs have the pointy bit at the top, and the rockets pointing downwards. However, Kerbal Space Program is all about experimentation – what works for you may not work for someone else, so feel free to adapt your designs until you find something that works for you.


Having completed your design to a satisfactory level, the next step is to launch into space. Kerbal Space Program helpfully always puts space in the same direction (up), so you don’t need to worry about consulting a minimap.

Launches can be dangerous, so follow these simple steps for a successful launch:

1.)Fire the rockets.

2.)Has the ship exploded? If so, consider aborting the mission. If not, you’re good to go.

3.)Go up.

Having followed these steps, your rocket should now be moving steadily in the right direction. If not, add more rockets and try again, or adjust your orientation until the ship is pointing correctly in the upward direction. As you rise in altitude, try to maintain your facing away from the ground and keep an eye on your altitude. As a rough guide, when your surroundings change from blue to black, that’s when you’ve hit space.

Ultimately, you are aiming to achieve orbit. Douglas Adams has some useful advice that is applicable here.

“The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

Remember that advice and follow it to the letter, and you will soon find yourself in orbit.

Orbit: The art of hurtling.

Orbital Transfers

Now you’ve successfully achieved orbit, it’s time to start thinking about where you’re going. Navigating between worlds is a complicated and mathematical procedure. First of all, it is necessary to calculate the transfer time  it will take to move from one planet’s orbit around the sun to the other planet’s orbit. To discover this, I found this extremely useful equation over on the KSP forums.




Through experimentation, I’m now relatively certain that ‘t’ can be either Earl Grey or Yorkshire without having significant impact on the result, and the π in question is most likely apple. Substituting a meat π in a previous attempt led to disastrous results, so you have been warned.

Next, we calculate the change in velocity needed for the Hohmann transfer:




Looking somewhat similar to the previous equation, (though clearly more positive with the addition of another giant tick of approval) the presence of the newly arrived pyramid at the beginning of it confirms my suspicions that the great pyramid of Giza is clearly connected with space travel.

For the benefit of the reader, I thought it would be useful to attach my workings, so that you can better understand the effort I put into calculating an efficient transfer to Duna, KSP’s Mars equivalent.

Don’t forget to carry the one.

After a great deal of calculations, I estimated the result to be either 1 or 635,000,000,000, give or take the mass of the known universe. Or possibly ‘C’. Even so, with all of this information at hand and your calculations complete, you are ready to depart.

Arriving At Your Destination

As you approach a new world, you will need to maneuver your ship into the small zone that lies somewhere between missing it completely and hurtling off into space, and slamming into its surface at several thousand miles an hour. It may take a couple of attempts and a couple of dozen lives, but you’ll get there in the end.

Once in orbit, you’ll need to think about landing. You’ll want to pick a relatively flat spot, preferably one without pointy rocks, covered by ocean, or surrounded by an army of daleks. As you orbit, feel free to take a look out of the window and take a few scenic pictures for the folks at home.


Landing is much the same as taking off, only the other way round. In fact, you can even use the same checklist, with only one slight alteration:

1.)Fire the rockets.

2.)Has the ship exploded? If not, proceed to step three.

3.)Go DOWN.


What goes down…

Returning Home

Having successfully landed and completed your mission, you will now need to start thinking about coming home. Luckily, coming back is a remarkably simply process – simply reverse the steps you’ve already followed to get this far, and you’ll soon be home again.


I hope this guide has proved useful to anyone attempting to get to grips with this game. If you’re still for some reason struggling to find success, here’s a handy list of further assistance. Happy voyaging!

Kerbal Space Program Wiki – Your first stop for all things Kerbal.

An Interactive Planetary Guide & Calculator – Want to actually hit what you’re aiming for? You’ll need this.

Pebble’s Video Tutorials – An outdated, but still incredibly useful collection of video tutorials.

Kerbal Space Program Forum – The official KSP forums are full of helpful, and in many cases extremely intelligent people, eager to get you into space.

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