I currently have a contract where I'm asked to take crew reports at certain spots on Kerbal at an altitude of 18,000m. However, I've failed to build a vehicle to achieve this (without a hundred retries).

Building a rocket to fly vertical seems to be nearly impossible, in the atmosphere they tend to become unstable (or maybe I missed a trick?). I tried building a plane but can't climb higher than about 11,000m (I don't have many plane parts yet, though).

Any advices for building a vehicle for this task?

I'm in career mode and got all groups of the 45-science-cost level, except Flight Control, and additionally have Electrics, Heavy Rocketry and Fuel Systems.

  • 2
    You could try combining the two. Have a plane that ditches its wings and rockets up to 18km once you reach the right point.
    – SaintWacko
    May 5, 2015 at 19:25
  • Most SSTO space planes would be able to accomplish this easily. Unfortunately, most space plane designs are impossible (or at the very least impractical) at your current tech level.
    – MBraedley
    May 5, 2015 at 23:10
  • @SaintWacko's advice is probably the most practical. Here's Mr. Manley using it in his tutorial: youtube.com/watch?v=Je8xBD2Jmss May 5, 2015 at 23:29
  • @Pvt.Grichmann: I think it's at specific locations on Kerbin, not just anywhere above 18km.
    – MBraedley
    May 6, 2015 at 2:06
  • Unfortunately I won't be able to test it today, but @SaintWacko's proposal sounds promising. Will post my results.
    – DarkDust
    May 6, 2015 at 8:00

4 Answers 4


Ideally, you'll want to avoid these contracts until you get the High-Altitude Flight tech node and the improved jet engine that comes with it. But since when do Kerbals wait for ideal conditions? Here's my example of dealing with the situation.

I started by attaching two LV-909 rocket engines to a regular low-atmosphere plane:


In this save, I don't have custom action groups yet, so I'm using the RCS control to toggle between jet and rocket modes. I also set it to enable the cockpit's reaction wheels to improve control at high altitude, and close air intakes to reduce drag. Only the fuel tanks attached to rockets have any oxidiser in them. Strictly speaking this optimisation is unnecessary, but it can win you a bit of range.

Approximately 12km up the main engines stop providing enough thrust to maintain the climb, so it's time to switch to rocket mode. In my case, it brought me to 20km up at a 45-degree angle, but it is probably not optimal. It may take some practice to hit your target area this way, because you'll be picking up additional horizontal speed, and thus it's possible to under or overshoot.


At this point the plane plummets, but as it goes deeper into the atmosphere, it regains pitch authority, and at 10km it's enough to regain control and turn it around for a safe landing.


Of course, this thing has very limited range, speed and acceleration because of the extra weight. Another problem is jet engines stealing fuel from the rockets' tanks - you may want to pump the fuel manually (requires an R&D centre upgrade) or add some pipes between them. Or try using SRBs instead.

  • I followed a similar strategy. One of my planes is small and agile, and can easily enough glide to a safe landing even if the rockets consume all the fuel. Typically, I watch my Apoapsis as I boost to the high altitude, and there's enough momentum to coast to the peak before completely running out of fuel. To avoid running out of fuel altogether, I have a second plane with small tanks (no oxidizer) attached directly to the jet engines, and the rockets attached behind the fuselage, which is entirely oxidized tanks. With the tanks disconnected that way, the rockets don't leach from the jets.
    – Kristján
    May 6, 2015 at 21:42
  • Your answer got me in the right direction, though I ended up with a different design (see my own answer). Thanks.
    – DarkDust
    May 8, 2015 at 20:15

TLDR: You need parts you don't have to make a plane that flies that high. But a rockets can do it.

The most efficient way is, of course, to make a high altitude (or space) plane. But you'll need to unlock:

High Altitude Flight High Altitude Flight

Which cost 300 science. That will unlock:
Whiplast turbojet engine "Whiplash" Turbojet

Which is capable of high altitude, high speed flight. Slap that behind a plane you'll be able to go beyond 20km without any trouble.


You need to do it with what you've got. I recommend using a solid rocket booster (or 2... or 5) to you get you the altitude and then launch a small rocket powered plane. The flight time won't be as long, but you'll be able to fly a "plane" above 18km.


Trying to do something without the right part is long and difficult path. It will be expensive and time consuming. Your decreased flight time means you probably won't make it to your location. You're probably better to get a new contract and abort that one...


So Pvt. Grichman's answer got me in the right direction. I didn't succeed with his design, though; I always ended up having somehow unstable airplanes. Pretty often, the tail "wiggled" and/or the plane became totally unstable when I fired the rocket boosters.

So I took a slightly different approach:

The main body is a fuel tank with a Swivel engine at the end. I start with the normal jet engines (which takes almost the complete runway). Once it's in the air, it's stable and easy to fly and manages to fly at altitudes between 11k – 12k without problems.

Once I'm near or in the target area, I set the throttle to 0 and start the Swivel. Then I increase throttle until about 2/3 or even full, climbing with a high inclination (it can also go straight up). Immediately starting rocket engines at full throttle turned out to make most of my aircrafts totally unstable, turning them up gradually worked way better.

With this thing, I can easily reach 20k.

I also added a parachute and decoupler since I find it too hard to correctly land this thing yet ;-) I managed to land in the water once, though.

My temporary high-altitude aircraft My temporary high-altitude aircraft (behind)

  • Thank you, I was able to reach up to 24km altitude with this design. I was even able to do this with three pairs of Junos instead of the large jet engine pair (I don't have the technology level for that). Nov 12, 2015 at 20:34

Pvt. Grichmann's answer has been the most reliable way I've found to complete these missions. So long as there's only one high-altitude measurement to take, you should be able to complete a whole set of 3-4 in one flight. Either finish the low-altitudes and then spend all your fuel on the high-altitude boost, or do the boost first and save a little fuel or try to hit the rest through unpowered gliding. Watch out for your SAS if you're running batteries without a jet for a long time.

Another approach, which I was managing with some success before I figured out jets, is to build a rocket and catapult yourself towards the measurement point. With some fins to keep you stable and careful aim, you can hit your desired location and altitude and will have 5-10 seconds to collect data before you hurtle past it and pull your chute. Range with this method is pretty short due to drag.

Third, which I haven't given a good try, would be a carefully-timed deorbit maneuver so you come down through your desired location as you fall from space. Maneuver node plans don't take drag into account, so you'll have to overshoot quite a bit to compensate.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .