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The free demo should provide enough material for basic classroom use, but students who get hooked will want the full version. Given Kerbal Space Program's accurate modeling of rocket construction and the underlying calculus, Newtonian physics, and trial-and-error processes that ground rocket science, it could easily integrate into math, physics, or engineering classrooms. For instance, teachers could supplement a physics lesson on forces and angular momentum with homework in Kerbal Space Program, asking students to achieve orbit and record the stats of their rockets for comparison.
Teachers should be aware, however, that it's a tough and demanding game. Easily frustrated students will benefit from additional help and could be directed to the thriving online community supporting the game. There are tons of tutorial videos and forum posts that will help students through just about any challenge.Continue reading Show less
Kerbal Space Program is somewhat like a NASA simulator except it's set in a fictional star system on the planet Kerbin. Players purchase various rocket parts, put them together, and then see if they can get their ship into orbit, to one of Kerbin’s two moons, or even to another planet. The star system closely resembles our own, but the planet is populated with cute green characters reminiscent of the minions in the movie Despicable Me.
The game has three modes: Career, Science, and Sandbox. In Career mode, players manage and expand their own space center, researching new technologies and going on missions. The Sandbox mode is open-ended; students can learn to fly without restrictions. Science mode lies somewhere between the other two modes in terms of freedom. Some other activities include managing a budget, going on expeditions outside the ship, docking spacecrafts, and discovering new worlds. What emerges from all these features is a series of unique, self-designed experiences that highlight the trials and tribulations of space flight.
In Kerbal Space Program, students set goals, build rockets, evaluate mission results, change designs, and try again. It offers a solid simulation of astrodynamics and physics, and students who take the time to observe flight readouts and toy with the ship’s trajectory will learn fundamentals of rocket science and realistic, modern-day space flight.
Since it's tough, students will also need to help each other or watch player-created video tutorials and read forums for tips. In short order, students will be able to say, “Well, actually, it is rocket science,” just before explaining that it's most efficient to adjust a ship’s trajectory at the apoapsis or periapsis of its elliptical orbit. Students learn that small differences like this mean greater fuel efficiency and the difference between reaching mission goals or crashing and burning.
Key Standards Supported
Earth’s Place in the Universe
Use mathematical or computational representations to predict the motion of orbiting objects in the solar system.
Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system.
Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative position of particles (objects).
Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.
Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.
Use mathematical representations to support the claim that the total momentum of a system of objects is conserved when there is no net force on the system.
Use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects.
Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object.
Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects.
Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact.