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Kerbal Space Program 1.0 is finally out. The big change is re-entry disintegration. It's a problem for me.

My first few flights escaped atmosphere without a heat shield and reentered just fine.

But orbital flights destroyed my ship on re-entry.

What is the rule of thumb regarding heat shields?

Bonus points I used the 2.5m wide Hitchhiker storage container to take up some brave tourists and it survived with a 1.5m heatshield. Can I get away with the smaller heat shield all the time?

  • It's hard for me to give this one, simple answer. It really depends on your individual ship. Don't come into the atmosphere as sharply as you may be used to, and slow down before reentering. – Josh Apr 29 '15 at 13:11
  • I usually find that if my ships re-enter at 1500 m/s or above they usually completely explode. – Ethan Bierlein May 4 '15 at 11:34
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Ok, after further testing it looks like I have an answer which I'm confident enough to share with the community:

There is no one thing that will guarantee that a ship will survive (except going slow or not re-entering, which aren't really options), but there are a combination of steps you can take to minimise the chances of destructive overheating.

Having a heat shield is NOT a cure-all. It won't help you unless it's pointing in the right direction, of if you're going too fast or too steep or too heavy. But the right combination of procedures can save your Kerbal's life.

It's worth noting that most simple up/down sub orbital flights don't need heat shielding because the speeds generated aren't high enough.

Surviving Orbital Re-Entry 101

This is the combination that will help your ship survive orbital re-entry on Kerbin(It will probably also work on Eve, Duna, Laythe and Jool):

1. Have a heat shield

The heat shield is designed to save ships from re-entry from orbit. Engines also work pretty well for heat shields, but don't rely on them.

You can sometimes get away with a 1.25m heat shield on a 2.5m craft, but avoid this unless you like explosions.

2. Point your heat shield at the heat

If your heat shield isn't pointed towards the heat, it won't work. If you have a heat shield on the bottom of your ship (Like a command pod Mk1) and a level 1(or higher) Pilot, use SAS and point Retrograde. If the heat shield is on the top of your ship, point Prograde.

3. Don't enter too steep

When it comes time to re-enter, it's easiest to drop your Periapsis to 0m. Then you know where you're going to hit (factoring planetary rotation) and you can target the VAB for maximum recovery dollars.

But that is a terrible, dangerous way to re-enter. What you want to do it drop your periapsis to around 30,000m (on Kerbin) so you can ease down your speed, rather than trying to lose all your speed at once.

You also want to drop your apoapsis as much as possible too. That will reduce the amount of speed you need to lose at periapsis. You definitely don't want to re-enter hyperbolically!

4. Use parachutes

This one is so obvious. On Kerbin, chutes can open around 22,000m. The drag from partially open chutes can slow you down enough that heating effects dissipate in seconds. However, it's super annoying to have your chutes slowing you down all the way to the ground and removes some of the "realism" to open your chutes at Mach 3.

EDIT: As of KSP 1.0.1, parachutes can be destroyed if you open them going more than 1000m/s. So don't go doing this at 3000m/s and expecting to survive.

5. Keep everything stowed

I used to like to make a nice symetrical ship with mystery goo containers, batteries, solar panels and monoprop tanks on the outside of my ship. You can't do that anymore - store them in the new "Service bay" parts. I've found that you can position 4 solar panels inside the service bay nicely so they open out without clipping into things.

Even OX-STAT, the single solar panel is destroyed on re-entry if you come in too fast.

  • I had a 1.25m ship with a 1.25m heat-shield and radially-mounted OX-STAT panels return directly from Mun at >3000m/s. The panels survived. However, I got in quite flat and opened the parachute as early as possible. The heat-shield didn't even lose ablation material. – Philipp Apr 30 '15 at 13:07
  • Using a service bay for any smaller parts you used to mount radially also has aerodynamical advantages during the launch. When you have them outside, they create quite a lot of drag which costs you vital delta-v. I was able to significantly increase the performance of a rocket by moving radially-mounted batteries and science parts into a service bay. – Philipp Apr 30 '15 at 13:10
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    Speaking of service bays and drag: Good idea: Put radially-mounted parachutes into the service bay. Bad idea: closing the bay after deploying the chutes - it removes the drag of all parts rooted inside of them to 0, which includes deployed parachutes even when they visually appear to be outside. You will be missed, Valentina Kerman. – Philipp Apr 30 '15 at 13:13
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    "drop your Periapsis to 0m. Then you know where you're going to hit (factoring planetary rotation)" You still have to account for the aerobraking itself, which will slow you down further and drop your periaps below 0 (if looking at Kerbal Engineer). Meaning you're probably going to land before the point where your Pe was when it hit 0. – Flater Apr 30 '15 at 14:39
  • @Philipp It made me shiver with joy to be finally talking about aerodynamics and drag in KSP. – Josh May 1 '15 at 1:31
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Something you didn't mention that actually works exceedingly well is wings. If you put wings on your ship and keep them perpendicular to the direction of motion (so as to create as much drag as possible), it is actually quite simple to slow yourself down enough to never see heat from atmospheric entry at all - and all you really need is a set of fins. Make sure your craft has enough SAS strength to manage it, though.

  • Interesting. I'm not far enough into version 1.0.2 to get spaceplanes yet. – Coomie May 14 '15 at 1:32
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No mention if airbrakes here yet I have found that for me they are a must have item for less than deadly re-entry . Fir example a mk2 pod (3 kerbal stock pod) attaching a 2.5 heatshield and 4 airbrakes allows you to re enter at twice as steep an angle , have the airbrake nose (the bit that sticks to ship and pivots from) pointing to the nose and turn the brake utility on as soon as you hit atmosphere and leave them on all the way down just by adding this step a pod survives at a +15-20° from horizontal re entry whereas with just a shield the same pod can only hope to reenter at +5-10° from horizontal I hope this helps ... if not just stick some airbrakes on and have a play and u will understand

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