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Kerbal Space Program: Lost in Space

Posted by on December 7, 2012

Moon shot

It’s a tense day for the Kerbal Space Program. Three intrepid explorers have been strapped into the Super Booster 3, charitably described in the Kerb press as a “flying bomb”.

In actuality, there’s an excellent chance it will explode right on the launch pad, like the regular kind of bomb.

That’s all in the past, though. The mess has been cleared away. Again. The space program has nearly run out of Kerbonauts, though — these are the last three. It is more important than ever, that they not die.

Right away, anyway.

Second stage!

Launch went surprisingly well. Eight solid rocket boosters paired with four mighty liquid fuel engines pushed the bomb spacecraft off the pad and into the clear skies. Twenty five seconds later, the SRBs dropped away while the liquid fuel engines continued. Above the atmosphere, the liquid fuel engines gasped the last of their fuel and were dropped.

Approaching Mun

The last stage took over. Previous models of the spacecraft had this last stage boosting from the start along with all the other engines, but this one saves the last engine for breaking out of orbit and landing on the moon.

You don’t just _fly_ places in Kerbal Space Program. You adjust the orbit so that it intersects the orbit of your destination at the same tangent. You don’t land on Kerbin. You choose a ground-intersecting orbit.

I fired the rockets and used the (M)ap display to help select an orbit that would intersect Mun at about the right altitude to grab the spacecraft and give me a base to circularize the orbit and make a controlled descent onto the moon.

Goodnight, Moon

Unfortunately, the space craft was moving too fast to be captured. Instead of going into orbit around Mun, the moon’s gravity swung the craft into orbit around the sun.

Kepler’s Dilemma

It’s been a very long time since we learned about Kepler’s Laws in high school, but I do remember that inner orbits are faster than outer orbits. This also means that if I can make the orbits match up, then at that particular point, if the tangents at that point are the same, the spacecraft and Kerbin will be moving at the _same orbital velocity_ — and the Kerbals will be saved.

The Kerbonauts have been sitting in their craft for game-years right now, waiting for the one moment when their planet and the spacecraft’s orbits are close enough to use the last of the spacecraft’s fuel to slow sufficiently to be recaptured by Kerbin and come to a final, safe landing.

It’s a game, and the aliens are cute, and if you buy the full version of the game (I am playing the free demo), you’ll have many opportunities to build more capable ships and explore more places and have a little more in-game help with the orbital mechanics.

This game works with the real physics. It IS rocket science. But it’s FUN rocket science! Plus, you get to fly spacecraft that you design, and how much fun is that?

8 Responses to Kerbal Space Program: Lost in Space

  1. pasmith

    I’ve been waiting for this post since you’ve been tantalizing us about this program over on G+.

    Now I must have it!!!

  2. pasmith

    OK tried the demo/free version and wow, I can see this sucking down major hours of my life. I better resist it until I clear my plate a bit or I’ll end up abandoning some other games I’m determined to get farther in!

  3. Tipa

    I know, right? Some part of me has been wanting a game like this for a very long time.

  4. Mike

    I’m getting an error on the +1 button. Could be my end, not sure.
    I was going to share and say that I’m going to check this out. My son is at that age where he loves everything space related. We stream as many rocket launches as we can, and watch things fly over at night. This game sounds like we could have fun together playing!

  5. Oakstout

    I am enjoying the demo enough that I think I will be laying out some cash for the real program. However, is there any simple way, without using rocket science, to get into a stable orbit. I can get into space, but I can’t seem to get the right angle to force my pod to circle the globe. Maybe the arc is too height. Course, once I’m in orbit I’m not sure I know what Iwill do.

    Suggestions here or G+ would be appreciated.

    Oh btw, that monster you built was awesome looking.

  6. Tipa

    @Mike — your son will love this program.

    @Oak — you should see some of the rockets I build with the full game. I can get into *A* orbit easily enough; I start leaning the rocket after the SRBs are jettisoned. The full game lets you set maneuvering points, where you can choose a point in your flight to move to another orbit, and it will give you the burn vector and delta v so all you have to do is point your rocket where it says and burn until the dV gauge hits zero. This gets me into orbit, but usually I don’t have enough fuel at this point to get into the rescue orbit for my marooned Kerbals. My rescue craft, Interceptor 1.4, includes a passenger module so the marooned Kerbals can EVA over to the passenger module, then we can de-orbit and everyone is saved.

    The ability to match orbits and dock is also part of the full game.

  7. Hudson

    The only way those Kerbals are going to be rescued now is a joint effort involving Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck