Docking is the process of attaching ships or stations together temporarily. There are several ways to do this, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are a variety of reasons for docking.
A smaller ship may be docked to a larger one acting as a carrier to be towed along with it. Similarly a derelict ship can be towed to a station for more convenient repairs or salvaging. Landing gear works well for these purposes, binding the ships temporarily and disengaging easily.
A small craft might be attached to a larger one to act as a command module. Using a pair of merge blocks (one on each ship) will allow one to control the thrusters and access the terminal of the other. Care must be taken in designing the ships' layout if the connection is to be temporary, otherwise the ships may become fused.
Two ships can dock to transfer cargo by using connectors to temporarily unite their conveyor systems. This is especially useful for military ships resupplying ammunition or mining ships offloading their ore, for example.
- Main article: Landing Gear
Landing gear are the blocks in Space Engineers that can be magnetically attached to other objects. Their main use is for docking smaller ships onto bigger ships or stations. They can also latch on to hostile ships for boarding or derelict ships for towing.
The strength of landing gear is that it can be attached to any surface without prior preparation. It can be activated and disengaged at a moment's notice. The drawbacks are that the ship's flight computers will not adjust for center of mass. Trying to tow a large object attached to the side of a ship will make piloting it very difficult or even impossible. Landing gear also doesn't provide physical access to/from connected surfaces.
Landing gear also has an infamous tendency to destroy themselves and damage anything in proximity when used in multi-player due to lag, often sending objects flying at extreme velocities.
- Main article: Connector
Connectors form a link between the power, conveyor and computer systems of two ships. This allows the ships to access terminals of connected ships, transfer cargo through conveyor systems, and sharing of power between the connected ships/station. This requires both ships have a connector block and power, and they must be lined up and locked for the link to be made.
Connectors have a finite break force. However, they have a magnetic effect to ease fine-tuning, which is present even when unlock and has to be eliminated by powering the connector down.
- Main article: Merge Block
Using merge blocks has the benefit of allowing access to the terminal and piloting functions of the attached ship. Additionally, the center of mass is calculated to include both parts, so that piloting them while docked is simple and natural.
The drawback is that merge blocks also have the function of permanently fusing ships, if any other blocks come into contact. This requires careful attention when designing the ships, if they are intended to only attach temporarily.
Rotors can attach and detach stators to them. While docking is unidirectional, once a rotor/stator is attached terminal access is obtained, allowing for undocking from either side of the connection. Unlike connectors, rotors don't have a break force limit. Advanced Rotors also possess conveyor ports on either part.