Maxwell Fern

[Beginner] How to dock in 3 easy steps

49 posts in this topic

Hi KSP forums !

I know there are lots of docking tutorials out there, but when I wanted to learn how to do that a couple of weeks ago, I never found one that was clear, simple and methodological. And not in video, because for some reasons I prefer written tutorials. So here's my attempt at a as-concise-as-possible tutorial for docking in three steps.

We'll dock two identical docking-capable small ships. I use a slightly modified version of the stock Kerbal X (with docking port, RCS, ASAS, no landing gears). It is pretty light and maneuverable, has a nice torque and lots of RCS fuel. Here's the craft file.

Both ships are in circular equatorial orbit. One is 100km high, the other, "behind", is 80km high. We'll take control of the latter, and set the first one as target.

OMbjcxxh.png

  1. Get close
    Wait until you are close enough to your target, place a maneuver node. Push prograde until your predicted orbit crosses your target's and 2 intersect points appear. You want those points to be as close to each other as possible.
    Move the maneuver around until you find a place where one of these two intersect nodes has a small separation (1km or less).
    PI1dW0ph.png
    Execute the maneuver.
    By the time you reach the intersect node, your navball has switched to Target Mode. Burn retrograde until you kill the relative velocity.
    Du2zBzih.png
    Congratulations, you are now less than 1km away from your target, on a nearly identical orbit.
  2. Get closer
    Point your ship towards your target (the round pink reticule) and burn to 10 to 20m/s depending on how far you are. Prograde and target reticule are superimposed: you are moving towards the target.
    Move retrograde, and gently kill the speed as you get closer. You're now a stone's throw away.
    Tip: as you burn retrograde to kill your relativy speed, you'll notice your ships reticule tends to "push" the retrograde. Try to always keep it on the opposite target reticule (the pink cross) by rotating your ship to make sure you're going in the target's direction.
    Ykre4sZh.png
  3. Dock
    Two essential things to do before docking:
    - Rotate your ships, one points North, the other points South (use [ and ] to switch between ships). Activate ASAS.
    - Change your camera mode to CHASE (v key). This ensures that the camera position matches the RCS thrusters that we'll use. Don't even try without it. Move your camera over the rear of your ship.
    Now just dock by "straffing" with IJKL and moving forward/backward with H and N. When the target reticule matches your ship's, you're straight in front of it. Don't exceed 0.2m/s for the contact.

7Zm9paQh.png

There you go !

Arguably your first trials will be a little hard, but don't give up ! Docking is the most rewarding thing I've exprienced in KSP, and once you get the hang of it you'll be assembling huge space stations on inclined elliptic orbits with one hand in the back ;)

Common mistakes:

  • Although you can dock a ship on any orbit, circular ones are easier, especially when trying to find the right place for your maneuver node.
  • The more height difference between orbits, the more relative speed you'll have when intersecting.
  • The more you overshoot your target's orbit (distance between intersects), the more relative speed you'll have when intersecting.
  • Try at first with light and maneuverable ships. If your ship can't have RCS and SAS on at the same time without depleting its RCS fuel tanks while wobbling, it is too big and not well balanced, RCS wise.
  • Use your navball. You only need the orbit view to see your target's distance (and to roughly align in the end).
  • Be patient. Moving towards your target at 100m/s is not a good idea. Nor is it fuel efficient, eventually use time warp.

Hope this is helpful, anyway it's my contribution to this great community after weeks of lurking :)

Edited by Maxwell Fern
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Thanks for the quick guide! It helped me very much and I'll follow your tips for every dock I do from now on! Great Job on this guide and thank you so much!

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I'm glad if that could help anyone :)

Don't hesitate totell me if some parts are not clear enough.

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So I have both SAS and ASAS on my new "truck" rocket to build my space station ship, now.. when I activate the ASAS/SAS(T) and then RCS® to activate the KIJL,HN keys.. It uses RCS to stable everything out and I cant use my hotkeys. So I turn of the ASAS/SAS and activate the RCS, I cant use the hotkeys in stage mode. If I go in to Docking mode I cant use (translation keys) W&S for forward and backwards. Is this because I dont have the ASAS activated? Tips? (maybe remove the SAS?)

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Great tutorial! Also on part 3, in the quotation marks did you mean "strafing", as in strafe?

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I was about to make a video regarding about "Docking, made much much easier" to help people around. But anyway, well done. I guess that's what everyone needs to know :D

Great tutorial! Also on part 3, in the quotation marks did you mean "strafing", as in strafe?

Yes. Basically moving up (I), down (K), left (J), or right (L), without changing your heading/orientation.

Edited by Flixxbeatz

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So I have both SAS and ASAS on my new "truck" rocket to build my space station ship, now.. when I activate the ASAS/SAS(T) and then RCS® to activate the KIJL,HN keys.. It uses RCS to stable everything out and I cant use my hotkeys. So I turn of the ASAS/SAS and activate the RCS, I cant use the hotkeys in stage mode. If I go in to Docking mode I cant use (translation keys) W&S for forward and backwards. Is this because I dont have the ASAS activated? Tips? (maybe remove the SAS?)

You have a problem with your ship's design. It is probably heavy, with little torque and has badly placed RCS thrusters. Try adding less RCS thrusters (or deactivating some of them), lighten it up, balance it better. You should be able to have RCS and ASAS on at the same time without emptying your RCS fuel.

Or, start small. Dock some pods together until you get the hang of it before trying to dock 400 tons refueling modules. I made that same very mistake and it took me 3 days before I could perform my first succesful docking... With 2 small pods.

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tldr

So I've tried orbital rendevous many many times now and i'm having trouble getting close to my target. I'm able to match the exact orbit though. Any tips? I'm about to quit this game until they make docking more realistic (ie. calculating the time to launch, speed and direction).

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tldr

Here. No wall of texts. No unnecessary formulas. No other stuff. Sped up for your convenience. No frills, 100% docking. Might teach you a thing or two.

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Here. No wall of texts. No unnecessary formulas. No other stuff. Sped up for your convenience. No frills, 100% docking. Might teach you a thing or two.

I haven't gotten to the point where I switch to docking mode, I just can't seem to get close to the other ship and match their orbit.

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you have no idea how helpful this was for me, so many frustrating hours were spent giving in to hyperedit, I never realized that the nav ball switched which makes so much sense now! thankyou again and incredibly helpful

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Simply put, THIS IS THE BEST MOST STRAIGHTFORWARD DOCKING TUTORIAL. I watched tons of videos with no success, read this and docked like a charm! Now I dock all the time without this but I just thought I should come back and pay my respects!

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Something I created for a mate while at work, all from memory didn't have access to ksp so did it in paintbrush.

Thoughts it's not perfect I know

image_zpse51a6fdf.jpg

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I haven't gotten to the point where I switch to docking mode, I just can't seem to get close to the other ship and match their orbit.

You probably did somehting wrong during the approach, and there's no need to voluntarily match their orbits again (it would just eventually happen when you're already inside the 100-meter radius).

Also, why switch to docking mode when you can simultaneously use WASDQE and IJKLHN keys?

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Thank you for this tutorial. I'm currently on my third attempt for my first docking sequence. (Unless you count the two times where I released my solid boosters a second or so too soon and ended up with a remote controlled fireball, which I don't, because it hurts my brain to be reminded of such foolish mistakes.) I made it to step 1 without any major trouble, but ended up futzing around at the intersect and, rather than getting a lovely circular orbit and a healthy approach, ended up giving myself a perfect trajectory for the Mun.

I'm a bit worried that I'm being over ambitious for my first docking procedure, since it's a docking port adaptor. I'm turning the (I assume) standard clustered triple docking port that came as standard with my orbital spacedock into a radially mounted quad port, which is required by the design of the long range, manned ship that I'm planning to launch soon. Assuming I manage this docking procedure, soon Kerbals will be seeing, with their own eyes, that which they have so far only seen (in my imagination) on computer screens! No more shall robots have all the fun!

Anyway, it's looking promising now, so I'm going to stop thanking you for helping me make it work, and make it work. (Thanks!)

-edit-

Sweet monkey god! Apparently my RCS thrusters are very, very slightly misplaced, I'm going to have to look up how to place them perfectly... still, docking achieved! Thanks again. :)

Edited by Athywren

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Hi there !

I wrote in this thread because it dedicated for newbies (like me) hope they will not repeat my stupid mistake. Yesterday I spend 4 (four) hours on low-distance approach trying to my first dock, without success. I did counless attempts to dock, on extremely low speed and with pinpoint precision, they touched but not docked. Runned out of monopropellant and smashed both ships to the ground in angry (unmanned, yes). After this I realise what something must be very, very wrong. :)

Two words about test ship design. Rocket, decoupler, docking port, payload (battery, tanks, probe core), parachute. Experienced designers already understand problem and start to laugh.

DOCKING PORT HAS TWO SIDES, AND LOWER DOES NOT WORK AT ALL ! So if you attach port to the lower side of the craft - rotate it !

After fixing error I docked in 40 minutes of game time, in 3 or 4 attempts. You really does not need pinpoint precision to dock, on low distances ports "attracted" to each other, just approach from right angle and speed.

Hope it helps.

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Here. No wall of texts. No unnecessary formulas. No other stuff. Sped up for your convenience. No frills, 100% docking. Might teach you a thing or two.

I would have liked to learn a thing or two, but the video was pretty useless since nothing is explained. Showing someone a video of open heart surgery and then handing them a scalpel doesn't teach them how to perform the operation any more than does showing someone a video of a docking procedure and then handing them a docking clamp. It would have been really useful if you had explained:

* The approach

* The symbols

* The keys pressed

* The decisions made

etc, etc, etc

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I would have liked to learn a thing or two, but the video was pretty useless since nothing is explained. Showing someone a video of open heart surgery and then handing them a scalpel doesn't teach them how to perform the operation any more than does showing someone a video of a docking procedure and then handing them a docking clamp. It would have been really useful if you had explained:

* The approach

* The symbols

* The keys pressed

* The decisions made

etc, etc, etc

Thank you LethalDose. Nicely put! Couldn't have stated it more precisely.

Flixxbeatz: Thank You for contributing content! Unfortunately, from a complete newbie standpoint, watching the sped up video without knowing what I was looking for gave me no reference on the things to watch. It was very confusing and frankly caused a bit of nausea ("space sickness" LOL). Maxwell Fern's "text wall" (quote) gives me a solid place to start and then move on to the next point in my own time. Astrophysics (even Kerbalized) are extremely difficult for me. Perhaps after I've docked a few ships the video will make more sense.

Finally, Maxwell Fern: Thank you for the tutorial. I'm going to try it right now!

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I also use this method. Get close, stop relative, point the two ships docking ports at each other then use a small amount of thrust to move closer, dock. No RCS use.

I figured this out when I was docking before I knew about RCS. I just thought docking was hardcore...

After docking with no RCS for a month (including stations) when I finally figured out RCS existed docking was easy...

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I am still unable to even get to the docking portion to save my life. I can't get an intercept. I can get a CPA of 40 meters, with a nearly identical orbit, but that is it. As soon as I try to close the gap by burning towards the target, the CPA skyrockets and my orbits just gets completely out of whack. It's feeling like if you do not have IDENTICAL orbits, down to a few meters, with the docking ship in front of the target, you can not get an intercept...at least that is how I feel.

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I would have liked to learn a thing or two, but the video was pretty useless since nothing is explained. Showing someone a video of open heart surgery and then handing them a scalpel doesn't teach them how to perform the operation any more than does showing someone a video of a docking procedure and then handing them a docking clamp. It would have been really useful if you had explained:

* The approach

* The symbols

* The keys pressed

* The decisions made

etc, etc, etc

sure thing. will try to do an improved one once I get everything back again.

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I am still unable to even get to the docking portion to save my life. I can't get an intercept. I can get a CPA of 40 meters, with a nearly identical orbit, but that is it. As soon as I try to close the gap by burning towards the target, the CPA skyrockets and my orbits just gets completely out of whack. It's feeling like if you do not have IDENTICAL orbits, down to a few meters, with the docking ship in front of the target, you can not get an intercept...at least that is how I feel.

jedensuscg, I confess, docking is the number one issue I've had with this game. If it weren't for MechJeb I would have given up trying to dock anything and been left with only destinations that I could reach with the amount of fuel I could pack into unrealistic vehicle concepts. Using v.23 has forced me to gain/learn skills far beyond my expectations but docking still eludes me. All the vids I see on YouTube seem like magic. My recommendation is to get the MechJeb plugin so you can play the game and by association learn/watch how MechJeb accomplishes the docking maneuver. This has helped me understand MORE about docking but I'm not sure I could ever do it manually. :confused:

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jedensuscg, I confess, docking is the number one issue I've had with this game. If it weren't for MechJeb I would have given up trying to dock anything and been left with only destinations that I could reach with the amount of fuel I could pack into unrealistic vehicle concepts. Using v.23 has forced me to gain/learn skills far beyond my expectations but docking still eludes me. All the vids I see on YouTube seem like magic. My recommendation is to get the MechJeb plugin so you can play the game and by association learn/watch how MechJeb accomplishes the docking maneuver. This has helped me understand MORE about docking but I'm not sure I could ever do it manually. :confused:

I have mechjeb, but All I have unlocked in career is the module that does basic stuff, like point me in different directions, etc. I do not have the full autopilot capabilities yet for docking. Guess I will have to ignore this aspect of the game until I get more science done. Time to start looking past minimus before I look closer to Kerbal.

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