Basic Rockets

The VAB is where you build your rockets.


The VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) is where you’ll build most of your ships. If it launches straight up, the VAB is the place to build it. For now, we’ll skip the details and just get a working rocket. Note that this rocket won’t get very far because it won’t have enough fuel to even reach orbit.

Mk1 Command Pod
Select the Mk1 Command Pod

The first thing you’ll want to do is grab a command pod. Look under the flat-topped cone shape tab. If you click on this part (not click and hold), it will usually put it in your “hand,” but because this is the first part you selected (your “root” part, which is considered the only part of your ship that has to survive in order for your ship to still exist), it will be automatically placed in the VAB. You can then click on it to move the part up or down as needed. If you ever have to move your entire rocket up (which will be common when you’re building big rockets) click this piece to get the whole rocket assembly.

First Rocket
Add the other parts.

Now you’ll add the other parts. I recommend going under the gear tab (utilities) and grabbing a decoupler. The TR-18A should do fine. Place that right below your command pod. Then, also under utilities, grab a small parachute and stick it on top of your command pod. This will let you land without a fiery death. Next, add in a fuel tank from the second to the top tab.

Then stick an engine onto the bottom from the tab just below it. I used the FL-400 tank, and the LV-T45 engine. I didn’t add any (but should have), but you can stick some fins on the bottom as well if you’d like. These will make your rocket flip less (more on that later). Your rocket should look more or less like mine now.

Push the green button.

First Flight

Now that you have a rocket, you’ll want to fly it. You’ll notice a rocket shaped green button in the upper right corner of the screen. Push it.

Launch your first rocket
Launchpad. Press Space to go to space
(Except this rocket won’t get there)

You’ll be taken to the launch pad. Here, all you really have to do to launch is press the space bar. You might also want to max out your throttle though, and turn on SAS (Stability Assist System helps you go straight). To do this, press X, then T, then you’re ready to press Space. You can also use shift and ctrl to raise and lower your throttle. Unlike a gas pedal in your car, throttle sticks wherever you leave it. This rocket is too small to reach space. You’ll need to apply some rocket science (which is actually pretty easy in KSP). I’ll explain that later.

Fly around for a bit
Now you can just fly around with WASD, and Q and E for roll.

Launch time! Play around with this a little, and have some fun blowing up your Kerbals if you’d like. Use WASD, Q, and E to control your craft. Right click and drag to move the camera around. Unless you’re playing in hardcore mode, you can always revert to the Launchpad or the VAB and unkill your Kerbals. When you start trying to actually get places, you’ll usually want to launch straight east (just press “d”). This is towards the 90 degree mark on the nav ball (I’ll explain the nav ball later). You’ll want to be very gentle. The usual flight path is to very slowly tilt all the way up so that you are tilted 45 degrees right around the time you’re at 10,000m elevation (10km as it’s usually referred to). Then, just keep very slowly tilting. This should get you to orbit for a reasonable amount of resources. I’ll explain why I didn’t just say “fuel” in “intermediate rockets”

Aero Forces
Strong crosswinds can flip your rocket. Point into the wind by following your prograde marker.

My Rocket Keeps Flipping, or I can't steer

Flipping rockets can have a few causes, but it all boils down to more force being applied at the top of the rocket than the bottom. Whenever you turn, you angle your craft relative to the wind. This means that the wind will push on the side of your rocket. If the center of mass of your rocket were perfectly in the center, this wouldn’t do much. But, because the center of mass is usually closer to the bottom, you’ll have an issue where your rocket will act like a lever, with the center of mass being the fulcrum. More wind is pushing on the top half of the rocket than the bottom half because there is more surface area above the center of mass than below. There are a few solutions to this:

  1. Find a way to raise the center of mass (and keep it there)
  2. Add lots and lots of reaction wheels to force the rocket to fly straight (very Kerbal, not very realistic or practical)
  3. Add fins at the bottom to increase drag at the bottom (also consider reducing drag at the top by using a protective aero shell)
Add Fins
Adding fins at the bottom of your rocket is the best way to fix issues with stability.

Adding fins is the best solution, and is the most common. Take a look at the center of lift of your vessel, and compare it to the center of mass. If you get the center of lift significantly below the center of mass, then you’ll fly straight. But, you’ll have a hard time steering. Be wary of having too stable of a rocket. Adding the aero shell to the top (the fairing) lets you get to orbit more efficiently, in spite of adding extra needless mass, by letting you split through the atmosphere more easily and by reducing drag. This makes it a good idea in many cases regardless of whether your rocket keeps flipping. Be sure to weigh the benefits versus the loss due to excess mass.

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