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While Kerbal Space Program (KSP) is a game, it is a physics-based rocket flight simulator which, in many ways, has done a lot to increase the general population's understanding of space flight. Is it appropriate to use it as a reference to answer Space Exploration questions, assuming it is relevant?

For example, a question on why launch velocity is kept relatively low while in the lower atmosphere could be answered using KSP; when in the lower atmosphere, the drag is much higher, so gaining altitude before gaining velocity helps with fuel efficiency.

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The real question is whether KSP can be cited as an authority.

An authority is published source that defines or explains something. It was often the first or a significant contributor to a field, or is an accepted text in the field, or a secondary high quality work such as an encyclopedia. Peer review is common but not essential. Examples would be NASA reports, the official SpaceX website, published user manuals, standard text books and the like.

A reference is any work we refer to, and is not necessarily an authority. A newspaper article is not an authority. We refer to it as supporting evidence. We could argue whether Wikipedia should be treated as an authority or not, as with Elon Musk's tweets.

So I would argue that KSP is certainly a valid reference. It can be used to support an argument, illustrate a point, or motivate a question. But it's definitely not an authority.

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  • $\begingroup$ A great succinct answer! $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Apr 17 '15 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ Unless it shows it's inner workings (how does it handle tranfer of which two body model it uses, what are the errors in orbital calculations) more concise you can't rely on it ever. $\endgroup$ – paul23 May 11 '15 at 19:35
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All simulations are an abstraction over real physics. Some are more and some less detailed. Even Systems ToolKit, the most widely used commercial six Degrees-of-freedom software package, is an abstraction. To properly model processes taking place during various phases of spaceflight, one needs for instance understand that a rocket is not a solid cylinder: it has propellants that slosh in the tanks, it bends and vibrates etc. etc. At re-entry, heat and aerodynamic loads interact with each other in highly complicated ways.

Using Kerbal Space Program, STK, Orbiter, GMAT or whatnot in answering the question, one has to fully comprehend their limitations and error margins, and the underlying physics. Is the resulting answer sensitive to the degree of fidelity? Do the numbers you get in various simulators essentially match each other (e.g. time-to-MECO or estimated lifetime-in-orbit...)?

In short, simply citing KSP as an authoritative reference won't do. Real engineering considerations should be included into the answer, based on own experience, books, technical reports, or articles. Simulations can make an excellent tool to get visualizations for the answer (diagrams, graphs, orbit tracks), however.

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I don't know, is it? The person using it as a reference should know that and explain its limitations where they apply. It's not a requirement here to be familiar with that game, so if you're going to use it as a reference, please do that in a way that doesn't alienate and make it illegible to anyone that isn't. So, on its own, unless the question specifically asks about it, no. But that doesn't really mean you can't use it as a didactic tool.

E.g., it isn't encouraged to require of the reader to fire up their copy of the game and follow some instructions you provide to achieve demonstration of some discussed concept. But it would probably be fine to use it in a way that manages to demonstrate your point to everyone, including those that don't play this game. Assuming of course it's even a suitable tool to achieve that. Be prepared that some of our members will know a great deal about it.

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My first feeling is that I can't see the difference between discussing things learned by using KSP in flying rockets and that learned on an RT-11 version of Lunar Lander in 1973! It was a very interesting simulation, and flying it helped me understand that Armstrong was a much better LEM pilot that I was, and some of the difficulties in landing with that little fuel in that gravity field. However I don't think I would ever think it made me a space explorer.

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