Kerbal Space Program: Planets Ranked on Difficulty

I’m still on vacation, still bored, still playing a ridiculous amount of Kerbal Space Program, one of my favorite games of all time. My sorta goal is to land, and return, from each body in the Kerbol system. Easier said than done. I have two more planets left by the way: Tylo and Eve. If you’ve played the game before you know the bullshit I’m going to have to deal with.

With all that being said, I thought it’d be a fun and time-consuming project to rank all the planets and moon in this wonderful game in terms of difficulty. Obviously this is all my own personal opinions but since the game is ‘physics based’ my main points should be valid to anyone who’s played the game.

15. Kerbin

All images stolen from the KSP Wiki!

Kerbin is the Earth of Kerbal Space Program. Right away there is no “going to” Kerbin because you’re already there. And getting back down to the ground is easy enough. You go up, then you come back down. Kerbin has a thick atmosphere so plop a heat shield on your ship and a few parachutes and you’ll be fine.

Getting back to Kerbin with a spaceplane or other exotic craft can be a pain, but let’s not even consider that now. If you’re flying SSTOs around the solar system you’re probably well aware of the challenges of landing back on your home world.

14. The Mun

The first place away from Kerbin most players visit. It’s the perfect place to begin your journey exploring the game. It’s close, easy to get to, has a relatively large sphere of influence, and has low gravity. Sure there’s no atmosphere but that makes it easier in a way; you have to land with rocket engines and can’t rely on parachutes/wings/aerobraking to land.

Leaving the moon is literally the opposite of landing. No atmosphere to worry about means you can zip straight into orbit. No biggie.

13. Minmus

Minmus is actually easier to land on than the Mun, but I’m putting it afterwards just because of where it is. It’s a moon of Kerbin, just like the Mun, but it’s pretty far away. It’s also tiny and has a miniscule sphere of influence; getting an encounter is a pain. It’s also in an inclined orbit so newer players might have trouble figuring out how to deal with that.

But Minmus has laughably low surface gravity. It’s one of the few bodies in the game you can EVA jetpack down to the surface on. Yes, really. Park a ship in orbit, get a kerbal out, and fly him/her down. Sure you might get low on fuel or have a rough time getting back to your ship, but this shows how much of a joke landing here is. If you can manually fly down with a jetpack landing a proper lander is obviously going to be easy.

12. Gilly

The joke moon of them all. Gilly.

Gilly is a moon of Eve (and well get to Eve much much later…) and is one of the first places you might go after leaving the Kerbin system. Eve is close and takes little fuel to get to, has a massive gravity well, and takes the shortest amount of in-game time to get to. While Eve itself is a literal hell in KSP, it’s little shitty moon is nothing like its parent planet.

Gilly is sort of hard to get too because it’s little more than a glorified captured asteroid. It’s in a goofy inclined and eccentric orbit around Eve and is so small it’s hard to get an encounter with. But once your there you’re Gucci.

Gilly has no gravity. What applies to Minmus applies here ten-fold. Landing isn’t even a thing other than gently colliding with the large rock. Flying down via an EVA jetpack from an orbiting ship is even easier. Hell, if you accidentally hit the jump button on the surface you’re in for a ten minute suborbital flight kilometers above the ground, rocket or EVA pack not even needed.

11. Duna

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff in KSP. Duna is KSP’s Mars analogue and if you know anything about Mars it’ll probably apply to Duna. Duna, along with Eve, is one of the first places you venture after leaving the Kerbin system. Unlike Eve, you can actually land on Duna relatively easily.

Duna is easy to get to and doesn’t cost a ton of precious fuel. Duna is small. Duna has low gravity. But Duna has one thing that the other planets don’t have thus far; it has an atmosphere.

Like NASA has already realized with Mars, the atmosphere of Duna is thin enough to not be very useful for landing but thick enough that it can’t be ignored either. It either helps or hurts you depending on how you’re trying to land. This give the intrepid Kerbal player options, but options can make your life harder in a way. 

You can aerocapture around Duna saving tons of fuel but you could blow your ship up if you’re too aggressive. Landing is also tricky because the atmosphere will cause you to heat up a bit while also being too thin to make parachutes effective. Parachutes will slow you down a bit, but you can’t rely on them for a safe landing.

And a shout out to spaceplanes here as well. You might be tempted to use an airplane to land but since the atmosphere’s so thin you’ll probably land at a ridiculously high speed and have a high chance of crashing violently into a hill or something. 

The return trip isn’t too bad though. Since the atmosphere is so thin it isn’t much of an issue on ascent. Orbit is easy to achieve with even a small craft. There’s no real heating, no real air drag, and no major loss of engine efficiency.

10. Ike

What is there to say about Ike? Nothing really. Ike is Duna’s only moon and its basically a copy of the Mun. It’s a bit smaller and has all the features you’d expect from this. Lower surface gravity, lower orbital velocity, etc.

Ike is a joke to land on and I only put it here because it’s so far away. You have to fly across the solar system to get there. But once you’re there, landing/departing is easy. There’s been times I’ve landed on Duna, taken off, and had enough fuel (and boredom) to go land on Ike just for the hell of it.

9. Dres 

I didn’t have much to say about Ike and I have almost less to say about Dres. (Even one of the loading screen ‘tips’ mentions totally forgetting about Dres.) But it is it’s own “planet” so whatever.

Dres is modeled after the IRL asteroid/dwarf planet Ceres/Vesta. It hangs out between Duna and Jool (KSP’s Mars and Jupiter) so takes a bit more fuel to get to than Eve and Duna. It’s orbit, that of a typical asteroid, is goofy. It’s inclined much more than any of the other planets and is small making an encounter with Dres a nightmare. Dres also has no atmosphere so getting captured into orbit is a fucking pain. There’s no way around hauling a ton of fuel with you just to obtain an orbit before you even attempt landing.

Actually landing/departing is similar to any other mid-sized rocky atmosphereless body (like the Mun) in KSP. Use rocket engines and just land.

I hate Dres just because it’s a pain to get to and is pretty damn boring. Sure, it has the largest canyon in the game, but whatever. It’s the whole “fly across the solar system to land on the moon” thing again. There’s simply better places to travel to.

8. Eeloo

Eeloo is like Dres, but farther away. Same bullshit inclination, same bullshit eccentricity, but more enjoyable to look at and land on than Dres. When you land on Eeloo you get to say you’ve been to the farthest planet from the sun (modeled after Pluto and other Kuiper Belt dwarf planets). It takes a lot of fuel to get to, and quite a bit to return from, but landing is straight forward and you can pull it off just fine if you budget enough fuel.

The Jool System…

Jool, the largest planet in the Kerbol system, is like its own little solar system. There’s five moon, each varied, for you to land on and explore, and luckily getting to the Joolian system in the first place is such a unique and challenging endeavor that I’ll rank all five moons together. Some are easy to land on, some are hard, but all are prefixed by pulling off a Jool orbit which is its own moderate challenge.

7/6. Pol/Bop

I’m ranking these in the same category because they’re similar enough. They’re both small moons/asteroids that are a joke to land on like Gilly. Gilly has much lower gravity than these two but they’re each small enough to be basically similar.

Pol is inclined roughly with the rest of the Joolian moons making an encounter a bit easier than Bop with its wonky inclination. But at this point in the game, making it to Jool and all, you’ve probably worked out how to deal with inclined orbits; inclination is no big deal. They both have tiny spheres of gravitational influence making an encounter a bit challenging but as before, you’re exploring the moons of Jool so you’re probably fine by this point.

5. Vall

Vall is a mid-sized moon with no atmosphere. The lessons you’ve learned with Mun landings apply here, only magnified a little. No atmosphere, the gravity is stronger, the delta-v requirements are a bit more, but it’s not a huge challenge. 

Vall is also located between the other two large Joolian moons of Laythe and Tylo making an encounter a slight pain in the ass. It’s difficult to avoid the other two zipping around as you attempt to plot a course to Vall without being yeeted all over the place and pissing away fuel fixing your orbit.

4. Laythe

Laythe is the paradise moon of Jool System, and a second home to Kerbalkind. The moon is warm, has water, has a breathable atmosphere, and has the wonderful view of Jool in the sky. It’s a friendly place, a welcomed sight amongst all the other dead and hostile moons/planets in Kerbal Space Program.

Landing on Lathe is easy enough. The atmosphere means you can aerocapture. The atmosphere means you can fly airplanes around and regular jet engines work; no need to mess around with rockets and their inefficiencies.

As with Duna, this is a tradeoff. There’s more to consider when landing and when taking off. Plus, departing Laythe means you have a long way to travel back home; you might need to pack a ton of fuel or rendezvous with a ship in orbit.

Lathe is a decent challenge but one that is totally worth it. Seeing oceans and blue skies that far away from the sun — and from your home of Kerbin — is a wonderful thing indeed. You can almost see the Kerbals’ excitement as they remove their helmets after a long four year journey through space.

3. Tylo

Tylo is one of the worst places to land and return from. It’s in the outer solar system, far away from home, and you need to bring a ton of fuel to even land, let alone get your ass back home.

Tylo is about the same size/mass as Kerbin but there is no atmosphere. All your orbital velocity needs to be pissed away using rocket engines, and the same is true departing the moon. There is no atmospheric work-around to landing, no cheating with parachutes or aerobraking, it’s all “bring a big rocket with a lot of fuel and thrust and brute force it.”

I can’t even comment anymore on Tylo because I haven’t landed there yet. I’ve tried, but no success as of this writing.

2. Moho

One of the many things people don’t understand about spaceflight is the difficulty of going to the sun. Like it’s easier to send a probe out of the solar system than it is to get close to the sun. This is why I laugh anytime someone suggests flying out trash or nuclear waste into the sun. We can’t, we physically can’t. We can yeet the trash to the nearest star system, but we can’t reach our own star.

The same is true in Kerbal Space Program where one of the hardest planets to land on is the one closest to the sun: Moho. Like Mercury, the planet it’s based on, it’s deep in the sun’s gravity well. Any close encounter to the planet means you’ll be moving at ridiculously fast speeds and this speed has to be burned off to enter orbit around the planet. This is the main issue in getting to Moho, not even acknowledging the inclined/eccentric orbit, which are also pain-in-the-asses to deal with. (Inclination burns are strongly tied to orbital velocity/how close you are to the parent body. The closer you are, the more expensive the burns. Moho, being so damn close to the sun, forces any inclination changes to cost literal tons of fuel. Sometimes a rocket that has enough fuel, ideally, to land on Moho can’t after a suboptimal inclination during transfer and after the inevitable correction burn.)

Landing on Moho isn’t really hard, it’s like landing on a bigger Mun, but the initial orbital injection burn requires like 2-3 km/s delta-v And since you’re moving so fast you have to pull this burn off in about twenty minutes at most — no ion engines for you buddy! This burn is also required to leave Moho and get back to Kerbin. We’re talking like 4-6 km/s of delta-v just to get there and back, not even counting the ~2 km/s to land and takeoff.

1. Eve…

Fuck this place…

Eve is basically the final boss of Kerbal Space Program. Getting to Eve is easy, landing on Eve is a bit harder, but returning back home from Eve? Nearly impossible.

Eve is the Venus analog of our real solar system in Kerbal Space Program. It’s the second planet from the sun, roughly the same size as Earth (Kerbin in this case), and has a stupidly thick and dangerous atmosphere. What’s fun is Eve’s atmosphere is actually a bit tamer than Venus’; it’s less dense and not nearly as hot. Despite this, the Venus of Kerbal Space Program lives up to inspiration.

Eve, unlike Venus, is denser than Kerbin so has both a higher surface gravity and orbital velocity. While its thick atmosphere makes landing a bit easier (because you can rely on parachutes) the high entry speed coupled with the thick atmosphere means entries are hot and dangerous. Sure the parachutes work fine once you’re low and slow enough, but getting low and slow means ripping through the atmosphere at three to four kilometers per second and hoping your ship doesn’t blow up. This is easy and straightforward for simple one-way landers and bases, but we’re trying to get back to Kerbin as well…

Like Tylo, you need to bring a Big Fucking Rocket™ with you to Eve. On ascent you need over 4 km/s of delta-v just to make orbit because of the atmosphere, the gravity, and the high speed required for orbit. But unlike Tylo your Big Fucking Rocket™ also has to deal with the atmosphere on reentry and be able to land, meaning it needs heat shields galore and also has to be stable enough to not flip around and blow up on entry. Literally land a full-sized rocket through a fiery atmosphere on a planet with high gravity, no big deal, right?

A huge chunk of the planet is covered in an ocean as well. So good luck landing your rocket precisely on land after the totally reckless entry. You can land on the ocean but you’d have to design your rocket to do that initially. It’s also the same problem; what if you land your water-landable rocket on land? You also can land on a mountain to lessen the fuel required to reach orbit, but once again you’re landing on a mountain, precisely, after a fiery and reckless entry.

As for one final “fuck you” from Eve: the atmosphere doesn’t have any oxygen. Given the thick air on Eve, you’d think a fancy spaceplane would be the perfect descent/ascent vehicle but no, because jet engines don’t work. Sure you can take a spaceplane to Eve, but it has to be massive because you’re using rocket propulsion the entire way back to orbit. There is no easy way to cheese an Eve landing/return making it by far the worst planet in the game.

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2 responses to “Kerbal Space Program: Planets Ranked on Difficulty”

  1. ceponatia Avatar

    Great read since I haven’t played Kerbal since “mars” and the moon were the only places you could go lol. Seems like it’s a lot more intricate. Can you build on these planets now or is it just a test to see if you can get there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TheBlackhairedGuy Avatar

      The latest (and final) PC update added a “ground anchor” part that you can attach stuff too. This makes base building a bit more “real” instead of just flying a big ship there and calling it a base. But this is about all you can do still and there’s no building from the ground up on other planets. It’s still quite a challenge to set up a nice looking base though.

      Liked by 1 person

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