Kerbal space program flight planning
In its ongoing mission to tag the solar system with flags like a bunch of billion-dollar badboys, NASA plans to rocket off to an asteroid then drag it back over to Earth so we can have a good poke around. It’ll be years before that happens though, so for now we’ll have to settle for recreating the mission in the world’s most realistic space simulator. In collaboration with NASA, Kerbal Space Program has launched an update with missions to capture asteroids and oodles of new spaceship bits to help achieve that.
I’m very happy to announce that the Asteroid Redirect Mission patch for KSP is now officially released!
This is a very special update in many ways, not least of course is that it was made in collaboration with NASA, to make sure our Kerbal version of the Mission was not only true to its real-life counterpart, but that it was also fun, educational, and in keeping with KSP’s style, free to be performed in any way you can think of. Want to re-enact the exact mission profile NASA is planning? Go for it. Want to send up enough rocket fuel to lift an office building and slam on the retrograde brakes? That’s also an option. Want to not do any of those things and just use the Advanced Grabbing Unit to choose which Kerbals go and which stay? Erm. sure.
This has been, without question, the largest update we’ve ever done, not just in terms of development time, but most importantly in terms of the scope of the changes made. No other update has had so many different areas improved on at the same time. We usually focus on a single area to work on, but this time, we really felt the need to make a noticeable improvement in the overall playing experience, especially around flight planning and advanced deep-space missions.
So, Here are the highlights for this update:
Kerbin is no longer alone in its orbit. Nearby are countless objects that buzz in and out of its sphere of influence, some flying by harmlessly, others on impact trajectories. Ranging in size from just a few meters through 5 size classes up to gigantic objects weighing thousands of tons, these new objects should provide a new challenge for both new and veteran players. Each asteroid is procedurally generated, so no two are the same. Also, asteroids can have samples taken from them by EVAs, providing a constant source of valuable science data, right on the edge of Kerbin’s SOI.
* Object Discovery and Tracking:
Before you set out after an asteroid, you first need to identify and track them using the Tracking and Discovery features on the Tracking Station Facility. Select one of the unknown objects spotted near Kerbin, and start tracking it actively to reveal more information about it. Also mind that untracked objects can be lost if they’re left unobserved for too long.
* The Advanced Grabbing Unit (aka “The Claw”)
As the name probably implies, this new part is the means by which asteroids can be captured to be redirected. Just arm the device, approach the target carefully, and the claw will do the rest. It’s like a docking node, but without the need for a mate node on the other side. Better still, the AGU can be used to grab on to much more than just asteroids. In fact, it can pick up just about anything, even Kerbals.
* New SLS-inspired Size 3 parts:
We’ve added a host of new parts, featuring the largest engines and fuel tanks ever seen in KSP. These new parts were designed based on NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System, and they pack a huge amount of rocket power.
* Completely Overhauled Part Joints:
We have completely re-done the way parts attach to one another, to allow for much greater flexibility and control over each joint. Joints are also more accurate and stable, as both jointed sides are now anchored at the attachment node (this wasn’t possible before the Unity 4.3 update).
There’s more. This update also features a host of small, and some not-so-small tweaks and improvements to usability, giving many features added a good while ago a much needed refurbishing, and adding a lot of the little things we never got a chance to add when we first implemented them.
* The ARM Patch (0.23.5) should not break backward-compatibility with previous saves. That said, however, do mind that we cannot account for mods, so don’t expect them all to work perfectly. If you experience any problems, make sure you try a clean install of the game without any mods, and a new clean save as well.
* The ARM Patch is available just as any other update. You should be auto-updated next time you run the game. Just make sure you haven’t disabled Steam’s auto-update system for KSP.
Happy Launchings, and have fun!!
Confession: I m playing imaginary NASA every time I play Kerbal Space Program. The brilliant space exploration sim can be customized with any flag, so I could be playing as the Federation of Planets, the Empire or Rebel Alliance, or as an independent Browncoat. But no. I fly my toy rockets under the NASA flag, and I don t care who knows it.
So it was with immense pleasure that I checked out the upcoming update for KSP, which has grown from goofy experiment to one of Steam’s most popular Early Access games. Produced in collaboration with NASA, the Asteroid Redirect Mission adds asteroids to the Kerbal universe. The rocket part inventory has swelled to over 180, including several new super-heavy lifters and enormous fuel tanks. The NASA logo is now officially included in the default flag roster, and the new rockets have NASA emblems painted on. It makes a nerd heart flutter.
The main event for this update, though, is the opportunity to capture an asteroid. To find these new objects in the deep black, I bring up the satellite tracking station and zoom way, way out. Asteroids of various sizes classed A (tiny) through E (huge) pop up as unconfirmed sightings across the local area. Clicking an asteroid gives me the option to track it, which assign it a unique name and adds it to my map as an orbiting body. I m on the look-out for an easy target, as Squad s PR manager, Miguel Pi a, warned me that Catching an asteroid is probably one of the hardest things to do in KSP now. I would strongly recommend you go for a class B or lower, as larger ones are truly hard to move around.
A slow arc near the orbit of the Mun makes FNW-501 relatively easy to reach.
I dismiss a few potential targets hurtling through the local system too fast. Most of the asteroids I see are too big, and a few are on a collision course for Kerbin. I skip those as well; Jebediah Kerman is a good pilot, but he s no Bruce Willis. Finally, I spot Ast. FNW-501, a class A asteroid on a slow, lazy arc through the Kerbin neighborhood. Perfect.
The business end of the asteroid capture mission is the new mechanical grappling claw. The claw is an ungainly nose attachment that, when deployed, treats the surface of an asteroid as a docking port and latches on.
Let s pause and reflect here. I m building a colossal rocket to fly to a lonely piece of space rock and, once there, my plan is to. headbutt it. It s ridiculous. And actually based on a real-life, future NASA mission.
My space rock
Jeb takes a break from piloting to pose with his new ship and on-board NASA logos.
When I spoke to lead designer Felipe Falanghe in December, he mentioned that the team was close to solving the wiggle problem, where larger rockets and space stations tend to flex at the joints, sometimes catastrophically. They ve done it in the newest build. With the help of the new NASA rocket parts and the super-solid rocket connections, I built the largest rocket I ve ever made in KSP and flew it to orbit without reinforcing every joint with struts. The added stability makes flying much more fun.
Arranging an accurate flight plan for a small target was beyond tricky.
Flying out to meet FNW-501, the somewhat fiddly maneuver node controls become a problem. The slightest adjustment means missing the asteroid by hundreds of kilometers, even while using my mouse s scroll wheel to fine-tune the trajectory. I spent too long trying to make tiny changes to the flight plan; in the end, I just got a plan that was kind of close, then made a series of short burns to correct my flight path.
The orbital control plan is already a little tricky when you re aiming at a planet; trying to hit a rock five meters wide was a bit frustrating. I d love a new control scheme here or possibly a mod from the prolific fan community.
The mechanical grappling claw extended, Jeb closes in for contact.
When all was said and done, meeting FNW-501 for my billion-dollar headbutt was a lot like docking with a space station in low Kerbin orbit. Once the claw engaged, I slowly turned the huge rock around, then lit my engines until our orbit brought us home. It flew like a brick, and I m once again thankful that I tried my hand at a relatively small asteroid. FNW-501 is now in orbit, ready to be tested, mined, or deorbited and flung at Buenos Aires.
Players who have been in Kerbal Space Program for a while will find new things to do, new rocket parts, and a new rigid-body rocket system that will make it easier to build truly monstrous spaceships. Personally, capturing FNW-501 was the most white-knuckle piece of KSP piloting I ve had to do since I landed on the moon the first time and I got the same rush of accomplishment afterward.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission is currently going through bug fixing, so Squad isn t willing to give a firm release date just yet. Expect to hear a date announced sometime in the next few weeks.