Historically I've been using a LOT of rockets and a LOT of fuel in order to achieve successful flights -- burning 6-8 BACC "Thumper" Solid Fuel Boosters to lift a payload of 2-4 FL-T800 Fuel Tanks so I can get into a stable orbit, then I burn an entire FL-T800 Fuel Tank just to do a flyby of the moon.
This is a horribly expensive, heavy, and inefficient way to just do a flyby, and it has made getting into orbit around the moon almost impossible. It's also extremely risky on the return trip to Kerbin since I usually can't afford the additional rocket for a controlled descent and instead rely on heat shields and prayer to make it back into the atmosphere, losing out on hours of work when I revert my flight upon catastrophic failure.
To this end, I've been trying to practice gravity turning and burning less fuel in the lower atmosphere to reduce drag forces so that I can get into a stable orbit around Kerbin with far less effort -- but things chronically go wrong. I've read about 20 tutorials on KSP rocket design and orbital mechanics and even tried following the step-by-step guide to get into orbit but it never works for me.
There are three main ways that things fail horribly for me:
- I don't get enough height
Despite following the guides and tutorials precisely and picking my parts according to the specifications, it seems like my rockets are somehow less powerful than theirs. For instance, it says to hold a steady 300 m/s until 10km, then go full-throttle until you run out of fuel. I run out of fuel before I reach 10km.
- I can't turn the rocket
The "how to get into orbit" guide suggests tilting the rocket 10 degrees east once you reach 100 m/s, performing a steady gravity turn. If I so much as look at the D key on my keyboard during a launch, the rocket spins violently out of control and goes careening into a mountain.
- I can't switch stages
When I'm on a perfectly vertical ascent, or already in orbit, I can jettison my first stage rockets and keep flying pretty. However when I'm in the atmosphere with any minor angle and I attempt to jettison my first stage the upper stage immediately starts spinning wildly out of control and the whole flight is lost.
I feel like there's some simple trick I'm missing. Some reason things go so right for everyone else and so wrong for me. What's the magical secret to keeping a rocket under control while in the atmosphere?
For the purpose of this question, I'm trying to control the following rocket:
The details of its construction and staging are here:
I built this rocket exactly according to that tutorial - every piece matches exactly. I didn't swap out for cheaper engines or anything.
I'm experiencing all of the three control issues mentioned above. I run out of fuel before reaching 10km, if I tilt the rocket it spins out of control, and when I jettison the lower stage it spins out of control.
Addendum: I only run out of fuel before 10km if I try to tilt the rocket 10 degrees to the east. If I go straight up, it doesn't run out of fuel until around 19-20km