Do you suck at Kerbal Space Program? Can you not get into orbit around the Mun, much less reach the distant moons of Jool? That’s okay, until I discovered MechJeb neither could I.
One of the best things about KSP is its extensive support for mods. This has allowed re-creation of all sorts of craft including the real-life Apollo craft and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon launchers. Other mods re-create famous sci-fi ships like Star Trek’s USS Enterprise and even some Serious Internet Spaceships. Perhaps the most interesting mods are those that affect or alter the core gameplay. This is the category that MechJeb fits into. MechJeb, short for Mechanical Jeb, provides a slew of automation options as well as critical information about your ship in the construction phase.
Upon installation and while playing in sandbox mode (more about career mode below), MechJeb will appear as a part that can be added to your craft. It will slowly drain electricity, so make sure your ship has a couple of solar panels or enough batteries to avoid running out of power. Before you launch, MechJeb will appear on the right hand side of the screen. It will provide a number of important variables for your ship including its mass, drag, Delta V (of each stage), and other helpful numbers. Immediately upon launch, you’ll see MechJeb’s autopilot modules. These modules are where the magic happens. Using Ascent Guidance will automatically put your ship into orbit; you can specify the altitude and inclination of the orbit, or even select a target planet or moon to launch your ship into a Kerbal orbit which will make your transition more efficient. If AutoWarp is checked, the mod will fast forward to an optimal time for the launch. Once you activate your engines the Ascent Autopilot and the mod will take over. It will launch your ship, conduct a gravity turn, coast to your apogee, and circularize your orbit. To demonstrate the level of complexity of MechJeb, this module is capable of automatically staging when a stage has run out of fuel, preventing your engines from overheating, and even limiting your speed to your terminal velocity (exceeding terminal velocity creates an excessive amount of drag and leads to inefficiencies). Finally, upon reaching your destination, it provides the option of automatically landing your craft for you.
Ascent Guidance is one of the simplest autopilot functions of MechJeb. It can also automatically create and execute maneuvers to change periapsis, inclination, and apoapsis. It is capable of circularizing an orbit as well as doing transfers to other planets and moons (including the aforementioned waiting step to maximize fuel efficiency). It is also incredibly helpful when docking, and can automatically rendezvous with a craft in orbit to dock.
Ultimately one of the best parts of MechJeb is its ability to teach a player how to play. Certainly, you can use it in a fully automated fashion, but eventually that gets boring as the only challenge comes from constructing capable craft. As I used MechJeb more and more, I found myself disabling the feature that automatically executed maneuvers. For example, in Ascent Guidance, rather than having the ship automatically launch and make its gravity turn, the mod will simply give you a reticle on the NavBall you can follow. It will also create the maneuvers for things it does automatically, allowing you to manually execute those maneuvers. When piloting manually, MechJeb continues to offer assistance. This includes throttle control to limit overheating or acceleration, and a warp helper to automatically warp to certain points in your orbit.
MechJeb is well updated and maintained, as exemplified by the fact that it is already integrated into the new career mode’s tech tree. You’ll need to get flight control before you can place the module, but even then you’ll need to collect a bit of science before you can use the all of the mod’s features. For example, you won’t be able to access the maneuver planner until you’ve unlocked advanced flight control, and you will be unable to have ascent guidance until you’ve researched unmanned tech. For more advanced features, including docking, you’ll need to do more research. A complete guide to the tech tree and MechJeb can be found here.
MechJeb is not only a fantastic automation tool, but also serves as a good tutorial to the game. KSP has a fairly steep learning curve, and being able to watch the necessary maneuvers get executed, not to mention seeing the planet transfer methods that can save fuel, is incredibly helpful in learning and understanding the game. With the statistics it provides for vehicles under construction, MechJeb also adds value to even the experienced Kerbal flight commander. The download links, as well as manual and other resources, can be found at the developer’s website.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by FightingMoose.