Essential Kerbal Space Program Mods

By Alexander Williams 15 Aug 2019 0

Kerbal Space Program (KSP) is a game about going to space today, where you plan, design, and fly the bold explorers, scientists, and engineers of Planet Kerbin up into their atmosphere, Kerbin orbit, their Mun, and eventually land on and explore all the worlds of their solar systems -- building their scientific knowledge and mechanical ingenuity along the way. You assemble their craft and machines, you plan the missions, and you do the piloting while pushing ever further into the unknown. Realistic physics, particularly when it comes to issues of real rocket science like transfer orbits, thrust/weight ratios -- all of them are going to become your close friends.

Originally released to early access in March 2013 and out of beta on April 2015, KSP is available on PS4, Xbox One, macOS, Linux, and Windows. Two expansions have been released. Making History adds a tonne of historically-inspired parts as a full mission-builder. Breaking Ground expands the amount of ground-based science shenanigans you can get into by adding more parts, more surface features, and a more comprehensive take on robotics and automation.

The last few patches and updates have added a number of things previously only available through mods and outdated several more. While not all mods have been ported to the latest release, all of the mods recommended here work with v1.7.3 and both expansions.

How To Mod

From the beginning, KSP had an active modding community. Easy-to-access models, a simplified aesthetic, and a community already inclined to be interested in building and making saw it kicked into high gear almost immediately. At first, distributing and finding those mods was quite the challenge but tools have grown up to make things simpler.

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The Steam Workshop

While not the first stop for the old-timers, the Steam Workshop was one of the most welcome additions from integration with the Steam sales platform. Through it you can download other peoples' vessels, bases, rovers, and stations to be added to your own libraries. Unfortunately, Steam doesn't distribute more mechanically-aggressive modded content. If you're looking for designs, the Workshop is exactly the place to look, but if you want more game-changing mods, hang in there.

CurseForge

Curse is probably better known as one of the biggest World of Warcraft and Minecraft mod managers out there, but their management of KSP mods is quite nicely done, and there's a good chance you already have the desktop client installed already, integrated into the desktop Twitch app. The system works well and the library is generally up to date, so it's a good call. Curse is the official mod hosting service associated with KSP.

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CKAN

If you're not on Windows or want to avoid the Twitch desktop, you can go with the most old-school of the bunch: CKAN. It's also quite up to date (due to integration with Spacedock), has its own stand-alone GUI, and works on all the non-console platforms.

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Essential Mods

Not all mods are created equal. A good thing, too; how would we ever decide between them all? A few are absolutely essential, some are just nice to have, and some are odd-ball enough to excite and confuse. Not all mods are cross-compatible but there's been a lot of pressure for frameworks to share common hooks so it's good more often than it's not. One of the advantages of a mature modding scene is that a lot of these kinks have been worked out along the way.

We'll start with the "must haves" - Not everyone agrees on what they need to have, but some mods in KSP are deeply liked and respected by large chunks of the community.

MechJeb

There are older mods that, when introduced, created quite a furor in the community. MechJeb is certainly one of those. In-game, it's a mechanical copy of our hero, Jebidiah Kerman's, neural patterns -- such as they are. In practice, it's a massless device which opens up an entire suite of monitors and controls, from better staging analysis for delta-V and TWR in the construction buildings to the eventually unlockable ability to effectively pilot a ship to orbit entirely by itself from launch.

The catch is that these wonderous abilities aren't unlocked at the start; you need to unlock them along the way by way of investing Science in the R&D facility. As you grow, MJ takes over more of the mundane tasks and lets you focus on the bits you haven't done a thousand times.

(Curse is the best place to pull MJ from right now.)

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kOS

If you're looking for something that gives you a bit more control, kOS is waiting for you. Like MJ, kOS is an autopilot control system, but unlike MJ, you must write the control code for anything you want to happen in kerboscript, a language with a suspicious similarity to a number of others used in the early days of flight system design. If the idea of determining the dot product of multiple vectors to compose the direction to steer the ship is a little bit exciting, this may be an absolute must-have. If it scares you a little, it's still a must-have because you can do amazing things without getting into the deep math and maybe you'll accidentally stumble into an astrophysics degree along the way.

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Kerbal Engineer Redux

If you think MJ is just a little too much help, but still want the analytics and analysis, there's Kerbal Engineer Redux. Tonnes of feedback and delta-V calculations you want to make getting up in the air less harrowing. Slightly. Being able to add entire custom sections to your HUD can have a serious impact on your situational awareness.

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Kerbal Interstellar Extended

Breaking Ground adds a lot of fun, deployable science-tools to the cargo bays but KSP Interstellar Extended (KSPIE) pushes that up to 11 without necessarily going all full-bore Star Trek on things. To start. KSPIE almost doubles the size of the tech tree, expanding your options while adding complicated production chains of materials which are needed to leverage the newest technologies. If you're looking for that long-term, extended sense of pushing the boundaries of science all the way from sounding rockets right up to FTL (and who isn't?), this is an absolute must-have.

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Quality of Life Mods

Not everything has to go straight into your pocket. Some things are just nice to have -- for beauty, convenience, or simple understanding. Many things have been brought into the core game itself over the last several versions, making some of the older QoL mods less important.

Kerbal Attachment System

Not quite something you always need in the toolbox, the Kerbal Attachment System (KAS) adds a certain dynamicism to building things, especially in orbit. Want to have a Kerbal jump out and lash ships together with spit, baling wire, and rigid struts? Go ahead! Building a refueling base on a planet and just need a hose to pull fuel out of the fuel miner? It's right here! While not essential, it's ridiculously handy.

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Kerbal Alarm Clock

One of the things that makes KSP such a fun model of space exploration is the fact that you can, and will, have multiple missions under way at once -- because it takes a long, long time to go places in space. Unmanned probes to other planets can take years just to get there, and once they do you can have minutes to execute the mission. How do you track all this? Kerbal Alarm Clock (KAC)! Set your maneuver, pop KAC, and when the time rolls around, you'll know and can do what needs to be done to keep from burning up in the atmosphere or awkwardly lithobrake.

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Docking Port Alignment Indicator

Once you're up there in the black, there'll come a time that you want to do the dance of mating. That is, put two docking ports really, really close together having started hundreds of kilometres apart hurtling toward one another at thousands of klicks an hour. The Docking Port Alignment Indicator (DPAI) is what you'll need. Rather than roughly eyeballing it based on mounted lights you can use a tool that'll save you untold suffering.

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Environmental Visual Enhancements

The stock visuals from KSP are stunning, especially for a 7 year old game, modders have been tweaking how it looks since day one. While there are a lot of visual mods for the game, Environmental Visual Enhancements (EVE) gets my vote as the one that really kicks things up another notch. Adding volumetric clouds for the planets, city light clusters for Kerbin, and generally tweaking things just pumps up the immersion. Combine with things like Scatterer and you'll be eye-popping, but nothing comes without a cost. If you don't have the graphical grunt to push the polys, you'll find that the physics simulation suffers.

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The Outer Dark

Not everything fits into the 'must have' or 'it'd be nice' categories. Some of the mods for KSP are just really, really out there.

B9 Aerospece

While the bulk of KSP is dedicated to a focus on rockets and the like, spaceplanes are definitely supported in the core game. They just don't have a lot of bits and bobs specific to them. Enter B9 Aerospace, adding entirely new parts for engines, cockpits, fuselages, and all number of mad things. So mad that they're deliberately interoperable with the Procedural Wings mod, just so you can shape your own in shape and lift. This is serious juju for those serious about their spaceplanes.

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Telemachus

Sometimes it's just not enough to run your own flight center, build your own rockets, and drive your own space program. You want to bring your friends over, set up a bunch of computer screens, and have your own mission control display sprawling across multiple web-browsers. That's what Telemachus does, brings the whole mission control experience to your living room. Throw in Houston and I guarantee you a party experience no one else has ever provided. Go to space today -- with your friends!

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Soviet Spacecraft

Some people have a straight-up love affair with old school Soviet spacecraft, and why not? Rugged, hard-working, and a real deep part of the actual history of space exploration. You can capture some of that lightning in a bottle with whole collections of models and parts in Soviet Parts and Rockets. Do you need it? Do you want it, just a little, to recreate the first Proton missions? Maybe.

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BD Armory

Some people just can't enjoy a gentle, relaxing (if nail-biting) game about exploration and science without some things that blow up real good intentionally. For them we have BD Armory, a fine selection of Grade-A boom-boom, from MLRS artillery to autocannons, to full-bore turrets. Want to not only explore the fringes of space but orbit-drop tanks to dominate the surface? Here's your hammer, slammer.

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If I've overlooked your favourite mod, let us know! In a world of ten-thousand cool things, there's always room for more.

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