Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal_Space_Program_High_Res_LogoI have been playing Kerbal Space Program for 2 months now, and I’m completely blown away! But to call KSP a game, simply doesn't do it justice. KSP is a space program simulator for the PC/Mac/Linux that allows you to design and build spacecraft and space planes, launch them, get them into orbit, perform space missions (some simple, some VERY complex), land on other worlds, and explore them.

What I learned about orbital mechanics running just the first 2 training missions is incredible! KSP visually teaches you the physics of flight and orbital mechanics; there have been several "lightbulb moments" for me - teachers will appreciate this!

Rocket construction in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Rocket construction in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The developers have collaborated with NASA and made an in-game mission mirroring the real-world NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission; as I was writing this, an Asteroid Day mod was released - including a new infrared space telescope, modeling the real-world asteroid-hunting Sentinel Mission.

Asteroid redirect mission, made in collaboration with NASA.

Asteroid redirect mission, made in collaboration with NASA.

KSP has an enormous user community, and mods have come out that enhance functionality, and add real-world parts and spacecraft. There is also an educational version of KSP called KerbalEDU—which is meant for a classroom environment. The developers are working on an Earth History Campaign—starting with the X15, and progressing through the American/Soviet space race.

I did an astronomy presentation the elementary school in my wife’s school district; I showed my meteorites, talked about the Sun and asteroids... and I had KSP running on a laptop. I was very pleased and surprised to see how many young students knew what the sim was. Some students begged their parents to get it, and after showing it to the parents, they were so impressed, those students now own it. 🙂 I mentioned starting an “After-School Kerbal Rocket Club” at the school, and one young student’s eyes got HUGE! Those plans are now well under-way.

KSP has 3 modes of play: Science mode starts you out with rudimentary rocket parts - you have to build simple rockets, research science, and advance along a tech-tree, to get more and better parts. Career mode is an advanced mode of play where you must complete missions, manage money, and your reputation. Sandbox mode gives you access to ALL the spacecraft parts, and for someone unfamiliar with the sim, this mode can be quite daunting.

In orbit of Kerbin

In orbit of Kerbin - sometimes the scenery can be simply breathtaking.

I'm so impressed with KSP, I'm looking into writing a grant to get 8 beefy PCs to set up a mobile Kerbal-Lab I can take to schools and other venues. I would highly encourage schools, museums, science centers, educational facilities, astronomy clubs and societies investigate KSP, and run similar labs. I *ahem* would be happy to help you with that!

Orbital view

Orbital view

Reducing Δv to land on the Mun.

Reducing Δv to land on the Mun.

Kerbin reentry

Kerbin reentry - these can be very exciting.

Flag planted on the Mun

Flag planted on the Mun - with the Warren Astronomical Society logo.

Rocket going into orbit

Rocket going into orbit

Parachute landing on Kerbin

Parachute landing on Kerbin

 This story is an updated version of one I wrote for the June 2015 issue of the Warren Astronomical Society's WASP newsletter.

Update 25 Sep 2015: Kerbal Space program wins 2 Unity 2015 awards: Best Gameplay, and Community Choice!KSP Unity 2015 Award Winner

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Kerbal Space Program — 6 Comments

  1. Here is a video showing the construction of a large spacecraft, at an orbital space dock, in Kerbal Space Program – set to new age music. I look at this and think – KSP has evolved past game status.

    KSP is one of several packages suggested for use in the ESA’s Moon Challenge. The ESA has quested teams of university students to submit conceptual studies of the architecture of a lunar base, and a simulation illustrating the operational activities on the lunar surface and its vicinity.

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  6. Over a year later, and I’m still advocating for the use of Kerbal Space Program in schools. I’ve lectured about KSP several times, and I’ve gotten a couple hands-on KSP labs set up at conventions.

    In late September, I was a guest on “Astronomy for Everyone” – a TV program produced by members of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club. The topic: Kerbal Space Program!

    My wife and I are running an after-school club at her school, Endeavour Middle School, called the Endeavour Space Academy.

    Each session covers:
    • A topic in Astronomy.
    • A historic mission from the early space age.
    • Current space mission and space news.
    • Info about a noteworthy astronomer or scientist.

    Students split into 2 groups: Space History, and Astronomy:

    The Astronomy group uses various space simulation apps to view the day’s astronomy topic in more detail; last week, Connie took them on an outdoors “Walk the solar system” – it always blows away the students when they see just how far away the outer planets are.

    I take the Space History group and have the students use PCs upgraded to run Kerbal Space Program, and have they recreate the historic mission we discussed at the beginning of the class. A couple students actually got to orbit last week!

    Doing this after-school club has been a HUGE learning experience for me; Connie says I’m learning “valuable lessons” in the “art of teaching.”

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