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Kerbal Space Program Screenshot Gallery

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Kerbal Space Program is a computer game in which the player can build spacecraft, aircraft, and spaceplanes to their own design and use them on missions, both robotic and with crews, to explore the planetary system of the star Kerbol. The space program is conducted on behalf of the Kerbals, inhabitants of planet Kerbin, and the player manages the space program, advancing in technological capability, ambitiousness of missions, and size and skill of the kerbonaut corps.

Unlike many games, there is neither a well-defined path through the game nor a goal at which point the player has “won”. Just as in a real-world space program, it's up to the player to decide whether to focus on robotic exploration, crewed missions, solid or liquid propulsion, rockets or air breathing engines, and expendable or reusuable launch hardware. The game can be played in a “sandbox” mode where all of the technology is available to the player from the start, in an intermediate “science” mode where completing scientific goals unlocks technologies, or in “career” mode where the player undertakes contracts to perform specific research and development tasks, such as testing an engine in flight or returning a surface sample from another world. In career mode the player earns funds, reputation, and science points as goals are achieved, and these can be spent to advance through the game by obtaining access to new technologies, upgrading facilities, and recruiting additional crew.

There is no ultimate goal in the game. When the player has unlocked all of the available technologies, visited every body in the Kerbol system, and collected all of the available science (which will take a long time), there are a multitude of other amusing things that can be done building upon a physics engine which is, within the somewhat odd universe it models, remarkably faithful. You can try building monster rockets for direct ascent missions to distant planets, explore innovative mission modes such as propellant depots, in-situ propellant production, flying probes in bodies with atmospheres, assemble complex space stations or interplanetary vessels with multiple launches, or just about anything that pops into your mind.

One thing which is certain is that after you've spent some time with Kerbal Space Program you will develop an intuition about orbital mechanics which few people, even authors of “hard” science fiction, have. Here is how Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd, described it.

XKCD: Orbital Mechanics

In addition to the base game, there are numerous modification and extension packs available from third parties, almost all free. Some improve the game play and aesthetics of the game, while others add new parts and capabilities. Since these are third party packages, the quality is not uniform, and some may cause the game to malfunction or crash. As long as you stick to widely-used add-ons and read the comments before installing them you'll probably be all right. I am presently using the following add-ons.

Some Kerbal Space Program purists will decry my use of MechJeb (an autopilot), believing that real players do everything manually. Well, they can believe anything they wish, and I couldn't care less what they think of me, but I'd observe that since the dawn of the space age every space mission, unmanned or manned, has used some degree of automation, and that MechJeb provides only a rudimentary level of automation compared to that used routinely for the last several decades in mission planning and operations. Besides, what interests me about the game is mission planning, design of craft, and operations, not trying to find optimal Hohmann transfers by hand, which is something nobody has ever done in any space mission.

I originally began experimenting with the game on an early pre-release version in sandbox mode (which was all that was available at the time). When the 0.90 beta release became available, I started a new career game from scratch and have continued it onto subsequent releases without difficulty, up to the current 1.0.4 as of this writing. I decided to initially concentrate on robotic exploration, and visited every body in the Kerbol system with robotic probes fulfilling contracts, often using excess delta-v to obtain additional science by collecting and transmitting data. I was able to eventually unlock the entire technology tree and completely upgrade all of the facilities of the Kerbal Space Centre from this program, so in a sense I “won”. I then took on rescue missions, which not only allow one to hone one's rendezvous and EVA skills, but also, with every mission, increase the size of the kerbonaut corps and get paid for it (hiring new kerbals is expensive).

It has all been tremendous fun, and while the physics of Kerbal Space Program are not that of the real world, most of what you'll learn about orbital mechanics and rocket design is directly applicable to our universe. If you're interested in such matters, get yourself a copy of Kerbal Space Program (it's available for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows) and dive in yourself. It can be very frustrating getting started, as there is a great deal of “lore” which is not explained by the game itself. The best way to start is to view the career mode tutorials published by Scott Manley on YouTube, and by referring to the Kerbal Space Program Wiki, which you will find yourself consulting frequently while playing the game.

I'm not going to attempt to provide detailed information or play-throughs; others have done that much better than I possibly could. The game allows you to make screen shots. The following is a collection I've accumulated while exploring the Kerbol system. I'll add to these as the adventure continues.

Click images to enlarge.


This document and all images included within it are in the public domain. They may be used in any manner without permission, restriction, attribution, or compensation.

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