Astronomy at home
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Kerbal Space Program – The Dark Horse of education in a space game.

Something of a late addition to this part of the site, in this post I tell you why you should have bought everyone’s favourite space rocket simulator-come-game yesterday.

A lot of people ask me day-to-day what my favourite game is and Kerbal Space Program is it. If you’ve never heard of KSP before, its a game made by Squad, where you create rockets to send people from the fictional planet Kerbin into space and to the other planets of the Kerbol system. Its in an extended Beta period where Sandbox rules apply and you can use all the best equipment straight off the bat – the final version will include a campaign where you have to work up to the best stuff.

In the meantime though, KSP is obscenely good fun where failures to get to orbit are just as entertaining as a successful mission. While novice players start out with simply achieving orbit as a goal, advancing players will inevitably land on Kerbin’s moons before turning their sights on landing on other planets in the Kerbol system  like the Mars analog, Duna. Space stations can be set up and placed in orbit for smaller craft to dock to and mods for the game even allow you to survey planets and mine for minerals to make into fuel.

I cannot adequately explain just how much hilarious fun Kerbal Space Program is in text, but I believe that this fan made trailer (did I mention the huge community following?) does a good job of demonstrating the kind of thing you can get up to.

KSP Build Fly Dream Trailer from Shaun Esau on Vimeo.

This is all well and good, but what exactly is KSP doing in this part of the site?

Well, I started the “Astronomy at Home” category to put things from around the internet that are either educational about space or ways of how the public can contribute to scientific programs.

As a game you might be thinking that KSP doesnt fit either of these things – but it actually teaches a lot about space travel and physics by stealth, particularly when it comes to orbital mechanics and motion of bodies in space.

As an example,  new players might take a while to realise that while launching straight up is what rockets appear to do, they will quickly find their rockets returning to earth very quickly because while they’ve added velocity going *away* from Kerbin, they havent added velocity going *around* Kerbin, quickly introducing them to the idea of vectors and why they are important; and all without having to lumber through the traditional school approach of introducing mechanics and calculus and ending up with answers that are just numbers on a page.  You dont *need* all of that stuff if you have an example in front of you that you can poke and twist and experiment with – wondering exactly what happens if you do this now and that a bit later.

The physics engine in KSP is detailed and allows a lot of this education-by-stealth to be achieved, accurately depicting orbital slingshot maneuvers, intercepting orbits of planets and lots more. It even allows you to save fuel when travelling to another planet by slowing down using that planets atmosphere ( Aerobraking). For myself, I found it of incredible value to understand exactly how difficult it is to achieve a rendezvous in space (like when ships dock to the International Space Station) or the aforementioned gravity slingshots, used to great effect to save fuel on one of my probes to the game’s Jupiter-esque gas giant’s moons.

Even considered solely as a game in space, KSP is pretty damn fun; but since it is massively educational even on a subliminal level it is definitely a must-have for Spaceflight fans. Its quite possibly the best £15 I have ever spent.

Kerbal Space Program is available either from the KSP website  or on Steam for around $23.

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About The Author
My name's Chris Pounds. I started Astronomy Aggregator in 2012 as a hobby site for my interests in spaceflight and astronomy. I'm finishing up an MSc. in Aerospace Engineering. My undergraduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering with a final year dissertation focussed on performance characteristics of aerospike rocket nozzles.

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