Orbital maneuvers are basically about changing your ship’s velocity to put yourself in a different orbit. Usually one doesn’t use long continuous burns but short and fast ones, so to a first approximation you can think of a burn as instantaneous, consuming an amount of fuel proportional to the desired change in velocity (so-called “delta-v”). You then need to plot a sequence of changes of orbit that put you at your destination.

One basic maneuver is the Hohmann transfer, which lets you raise or lower your orbital altitude. For slingshots check out the gravity assist page. Finally another interesting thing to look at is the so-called Interplanetary Transport Network, which is a system of low-energy (but very slow) paths between various Lagrange points in the solar system.

I don’t know of any software for designing space missions / plotting orbital trajectories, but it seems like it might not be too hard to homebrew something that will work well enough for a game with realistic orbital mechanics.

I’m trying to find some information for how to plot a course and fuel consumption of a space craft traveling from the orbit of one planet to a second one. The space craft might also start out in random space with an initial velocity.

The assumptions are as follows: Planets, moons etc, will be moving in a solar system in elliptical orbits (according to Kepler) and exert gravity. I want a player to know in advance given a start time of T0 where he needs to apply his engines and if he has enough fuel to complete the mission. The ship will then follow a predetermined course according to the calculation. The course might use the slingshot effect of planets to help him on his way. I know NASA does this stuff all time so they must have some software to do it, but I can’t find anything definitive on the web. Anyone know anything about this?