Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kerbal: Basic Rocket Science

Kerbal Space Program
The Kerbal Space Program is a simulation game where the player builds a rocket, launches it into space, and returns home safely. Should be a piece of cake right.

Unfortunately it is not as simple as it sounds.  Personally I have not made it in to orbit, but my son has done so several times and is working on getting to one of the planet's moons with a lot of help from Youtube.

Game play

The game is set on the fictional planet Kerbin, home of the courageous Kerbin people. The player designs the rocket, acts as ground control, pilot and Logistics planner.   This game is not heavy on Math but if you are planning to explore the Kerbal solar system a little math will go a long way toward reducing trial and error.   If you don't want to do math you can just force your way in with trial and error.     

Step 1 Build your Rocket 
You start with a pod and add engines,fuel tanks, flight contol systems.   There is a decent learning curve to learn the menu system and where all of the parts are located.  The player will also need to determine which combination of parts are appropriate for their objective.   If you just want to get to space it is pretty simple, add a parachute, a fuel tank, and an engine.   However if you want to get into orbit you will need a different combination.    If you are planning on exploring the univers you will need even other combinations.    

Step 2 Launch the Rocket
Once the rocket is complete you move the game to the launch pad, at this point the game changes into a flight simulator.   I have always been bad at flight simulators which is why I have touble getting into space.   I will build the exact same rocket as my son but I usually just wind up flying all over the place and either crash into the ground or run out of fuel before I reach space and then crash into the ground.  

Step 3 get into Orbit
Once you are in space you will need to set your trajectory for an orbit.
As I said I have not personally made it into space but my son has and I have watched the process many times.   At this point the game changes from a flight simulator and into a planning game.  Since you are no longer dealing with an atmosphere steering basically becomes a matter of thrust.  

Get ready to learn the following terms.
  • Periapsis
  • Apoapsis
  • Delta-V
I know basic rocket science, these are household words all across the world.
Once you get into orbit you can stay stable for a while and cruis around the planet.
Here is a sample view of the launch screens.

Step 4 Land Safely
Once you are tired of orbit you have to begin planning your descent back to Kerbin.   Basically you have to change your trajectory to create a controlled fall.    If not done correctyl you can smack into the planet and destroy your ship..

Other Tasks
Once you have mastered the basics you can begin trying to land on any of the other planetary bodies in the Kerbin solar system, or create a space station.   Each planet has it's own challenges and you will need different types of rockets for each.  

KSP is currently in heavy development but bug fixes come out regularly.  That said the game is extremely playable and we have experienced very few issues with the game play. The learning curve may be steep for some but that, I believe, is the point if it were easy it would not be fun.   The game boasts a physics engine that is supposed to let things fly that should fly and those that should not fly will crash.   During the early days of playing you will crash, blow up, or get stranded in space.   One of the necessary skills the player will need is perseverance.  

The game is currently in a sandbox complete stage, meaning there are no set objectives other than what the player sets for themselves.   As stated on the KSP website there is a Tycoon/Career mode for anyone who wants to play with resource restrictions and goals.   I can't comment on this part of the game as I have not yet attempted career mode.   However,  once I have more of the basic skills required by the game I am definitely going to attempt following the rules.

Is this an accurate representation of real space flight?  

Short answer probably not 100% accurate, however what simulation is 100% accurate.  During game play you will learn tons of things that do equate to real space flight and exploration.   This game is definitely worth your time if you have a budding scientist or engineer.   Someday I expect the Kerbin people to come to Earth to recruit the best player like the kid in the "Last Star Fighter".   If that does not happen then they will will be recruited NASA or ther space programs.

Conclusion and references for more information.

In short this game is extremely educational and fun and should be on the list for the Budding scientist/engineer.  Just get ready for your living room to start sounding like NASA ground control.  

Other respouces

There is a large online community of people willing to share and help.   Listed below are a couple of places to look for more information.

The official KSP Forums
The KSP WIKI read this before posting questions
The KSP subReddit - It's Reddit so be careful with the Kid's
Great YouTube Kerbal 101 Video.