MechJeb: I’ve Got Rules For That

April 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Kerbal Space Program | Comments Off on MechJeb: I’ve Got Rules For That

If you’re a Kerbal Space Program player and have spent almost any amount of time on the KSP forums you will have at least heard of MechJeb. You will have almost certainly seen at least some of the controversy that has grown up around it’s use.

Suffice it to say that there are those who believe that it’s a bad idea to use it at all. That the best way to do anything is with the default control and navigation features built into the game. Their arguments inevitably end up with statements about MechJeb “doing all the work” or “flying the ship for you“.

However I have found that MechJeb has some very useful features that I choose not to do without. One of these is the ability to create custom windows that display exactly (and only!) the information you want. Yes I know that Kerbal Engineer Redux can display this information however it doesn’t allow for custom window creation.

Another of these is the pun-ishly named “Smart A.S.S.” (Smart Automatic Space Steering). This control features a number of “mini-autopilots” that I consider important navigational tools which any race capable of space flight would include in their spacecraft designs once they get past the “Project Mercury” level of technology. Such as attitude hold during liftoff and atmospheric flight, holding alignment with prograde, retrograde, normal, anti-normal and so on. While I’m at it, let’s not forget the one that aligns the ship with the current maneuver node.

Another one that I use once in a great while (though mostly in test saves) is the maneuver planner & maneuver editor. Sometimes it’s the only way to set up a maneuver node, especially if it’s more than a few hours in advance. (and yes, I have been known to set up maneuvers several in-game months in advance because I tend to take the long view when planning missions, especially once I’ve gotten most of the tech tree unlocked.)

The landing guidance option “show predicted landing site” particularly useful because it shows where my maneuver will likely end up when landing. I do not use the landing autopilot. If “show predicted landing site” was available without the landing guidance, I’d disable that function entirely.

The Docking autopilot and rendezvous autopilot are two functions that I never use. I tired them out once quite a while back and found that they wasted obscene amounts of RCS fuel and in spite of it’s programmer’s best efforts is, in my experience, horribly inefficient. (besides, I enjoy doing docking maneuvers myself, Smart A.S.S., patience, and a ship with reasonably well balanced maneuvering thrusters is all you need for rendezvous and docking)

The “Ascent Guidance” function is used is in an off-camera testing save for troubleshooting new designs because it assures that flight control will be essentially the same for each launch. I might also use if if a ship has so many parts on it (as in thousands) as to make it UN-flyable manually. However I’ve found that 99.99% of the time using the Smart A.S.S to control pitch during liftoff and the ride to orbit is easily equal to the task for even the largest, laggiest, ships.

Simply put, to me Mechjeb is a flight computer that provides functions and information that, in my opinion, should be available in the default game. It is NOT an autopilot. It’s there to provide information and attitude control.

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