HISTORY: THE NEW FRONTIEREdit
The second half of the twentieth century was rich in scientific improvements and social revolutions. For the first time in recorded history, Mankind set foot into space. This began with tiny, hesitant steps, which then grew more confident. By the end of the century, low orbit was filled with satellites of all kinds and primitive space stations had been put into space.
In 1977, Gerard K. O'Neill proposed a new design of giant space station that could become a home away from Earth to many thousands of people. Similar designs were later proposed, some of them dispensing with the large "windows" of the O'Neill concept. The open-type space colony, soon named the O'Neill Cylinder because of its designer and shape, lingered in the files of NASA and other space agencies for nearly a complete century as society and technology struggled to catch up with the idea.
In 1982, the first launch of a reusable space shuttle by the United States of America heralded the days when space would be easily accessible to private and national concerns. Even though the shuttle program suffered some terrible setbacks, it opened the way to the TAV (trans-atmospheric vehicles) and SSTO (Single Stage To Orbit) vehicles of the early 21st century.
THE QUEST FOR ENERGYEdit
Pollution became an endemic problem in the closing years of the 20th century, with entire regions condemned because OT industrial accidents. Less polluting alternatives in the fields of power generation and heavy manufacturing were needed to reduce the strain on the environment. In August 1997, a small Japanese corporation, Ohita Electronics, released a second generation solar cell which had ten times the efficiency of any previous design. A mere six months later, NASA officials were proposing the Solar Power Satellite project to Congress, and a test program was approved with political and financial backing to hurry it along.
In December 1999, the Space Shuttle Endeavor placed the first experimental Solar Power Satellite, XSPS 1, in orbit. Early tests were successful, and the SPS project was approved: it would be implemented over the next twenty years. The need for a permanent, self-sufficient space station for the maintenance and construction of the solar arrays soon became apparent - more urgent than originally thought by those who had masterminded the project. Three years later Prometheus Station Module 1 was launched atop an Energya-class rocket and talks about a lunar base began the next year.
While governments talked of the glorious age of space travel, private companies invested in space vehicles of their own. Their efforts would bear fruit in the first decades of the twenty-first century and proved that private interests, not governments, would take Mankind into space.
November 9th, 2007 was the day when a prototype fusion engine managed to sustain a fusion reaction and generate power for six hours. This breakthrough in the field of nuclear fusion came from the combined efforts of teams from the United States, Japan and Canada. Their reactor was based on muon-catalyzed fusion, developed from a line of research first explored by Luis Alvarez and Andrei Sakharov. Subatomic particles are used as a catalyst, to bring atoms much closer together and allow fusion without the need for bulky, power-consuming containment units.
CHARIOTS OF FIREEdit
The main stumbling block of the space project remained the inefficiency of the chemical engines used for spacecrafts. The next generation of engines combining fusion energy and liquid fuel was released by 2007. The trial flight of the Megaloader-class shuttle, the first space cargo vehicle using fusion technology, took place only four years later.
The Megaloader vehicles were developed by a consortium of private enterprises that steadfastly refused any help from the government. These next generation machines could easily hoist nearly twenty tons of payloads into low Earth orbit and return to land near their launching point. The success of the project started several research programs in many of the industrialized nations, and similar cargo ships would be used routinely over the next forty years to deliver ever increasing amounts of material and people into low Earth orbit.
The next development in space technology was to come from an unlikely source. An efficient high energy laser was perfected by six MIT students and presented in March 201 5 for their end of semester project. A mere month later, all 'Project Photon' students were hired by NASA and given a lavish research budget. The first Laser Launch System (LLS) prototype was constructed at Cape Canaveral two years later. Unfortunately, the first test flight - on September 17th, 2017 - was a complete failure. The test rocket was disintegrated by the LLS as it rose from the pad. Despite this early setback, LLS research continued over several years, and the technology was eventually made practical enough to be mounted on many lunar and orbital launch facilities.
Meanwhile, additional researchs into magnetic accelerator devices (in effect, magnetic catapults), based on the earlier NASA, Princeton, M.I.T. and Japanese works were coming to term. Each catapult could push mass with great acceleration (hence the name massdriver), making a new useful tool for both warfare (as a gun), travel (as a reaction engine) and transport (as a means to launch or boost material at low costs).
SPACE TRAFFIC CONTROLEdit
The development of reliable and privately operated launch vehicles led to a rapid increase in orbital traffic during the first decades of the twenty-first century. By 2020, it became evident that some kind of multi-national traffic control service would have to be implemented lest accidents and catastrophic mishaps occur on a routine basis.
This led to the formation in 2022 of the International Space Traffic Control Office (ISTCO). The ISTCO was first composed of five large control centers, one for each STC orbital zone. As spacecrafts flew off from the launching pad they were considered to be under the jurisdiction of whatever authority governed the local airspace. In order to facilitate the transition to space, each craft was taken as a charge by the local ISTCO center as soon as they reached an altitude of 100 kilometers. As each spaceship moved in and out of orbital zones, computers and other automated devices ensured that they were taken in charge by the next zone. By the twenty-third century, similar systems were in place over all inhabited worlds.
THE COLONIZATION AGEEdit
The projected construction of the skyhooks, or space stations that could lift light cargo from orbit, raised the enthusiasm of the enthusiasm of the general publish. New projects were proposed almost daily by government agencies and private concerns, all eager to use this new low-cost launching alternative. The need for abundant construction material soared and so in Janurary 2024, the first permanent lunar base was established. Moon Base Alpha was a mining and construction station made up of two domes, one landing pad and crewed by a multi-national team.
The new wave of interest in the conquest of space brought back the half-forgotten project of the exploration and possible colonization of Mars. In particular, the existing space facilities made it easy to launch a single stage Earth to Mars mission. Each Mars Direct mission was composed of paired spaceships, one manned and one unmanned. The unmanned spaceship contained the return vehicle and a miniaturized refinery capable of extracting the required fuel from the martian atmosphere. The manned mission was launched only when it was determined that the return vehicle was fueled and ready.
Using the experience and vehicle technology gained from the lunar base, the first mission to mars left in early 2027. The return vehicle was already in place, having soft landed two years earlier on a pad prepared by robotic drones in the early '20s. By the time the first crew left, four other Mars Direct spacecraft were under construction, ready to spearhead the construction of the first permanent human city on Mars.
HIGHWAY INTO SPACEEdit
Although the development of efficient launch systems significantly reduced the cost of placing material in orbit, the cost per kilogram was still considered too high. The orbital elevator concept, or skyhook, was one of the early options studies as a possible means of reducing launch costs.
The early plans for an orbital elevator consisted of a space station placed in a geostationary orbit. The station was to simultaneously extend tethers down toward the Earth and in the opposite direction, thus keeping its center of mass (and orbit) constant. The lower cable was anchored to the ground and elevator cabs could be used to transfer material up into space. The outer tether also allowed payloads to be released with greater than orbital velocity, launching them into space at no fuel cost.
Preliminary studies soon showed that such a device would be near impossible to build. Each segment of the tether had to hold not only the payload but also the weight of each segment under it. The tether thus got thicker and thicker, and : monstrous taper ratios were calculated. It was proposed that the space station's orbit be lowered and the tether stopped just above the tangible atmosphere, reducing the system's overall length. This made the construction of the skyhook (as the new system was called) possible with present-day technology. Although the base of the tether would be traveling at hypersonic velocity relative to the ground, specialized shuttles could already be built to reach it. Skyhook construction began on the lunar base hangar while the delicate electronics parts were being assembled on Earth.
By 2020, nations were assembling forests of skyhooks in orbit, enabling increasingly heavy cargoes to be lifted at very little cost. Some were put : to work in large "teams," their combined capacity allowing extremely massive payloads to be slowly lifted into orbit - the only limit being the size of the cargo bay of the hypersonic shuttle, and even this caused fewer problems once the fuselage-mounted cargo pods were put in service. SSTO vehicles took up the job of taking people and priority cargo up.
Mankind had built its first highway to the stars.
Exatech Chemicals introduced the first massproduced artificial diamond fiber composites in September 2026. They were produced under zero-gravity conditions aboard Exatech's ground-breaking automated space factory, a comparatively small construct orbiting a few hundred kilometers above the ground. Although costly, the new fibers were much less expensive than diamonds hauled up from the surface of the planet and these new composites were perfect for high stress applications. These fibers could easily be formed into cables, sheets and panels of extreme solidity and low weight. New skyhook designs built using these composites nearly tripled the lift capacity of previous models.
In November 2027, Yokohama-Grubb, a multinational company specialized in pharmaceuticals, announced the first successful human cloning experiment. The baby was an offshoot of the company's organ-regeneration research, and although its birth was not planned (or approved) by the board there was little they could have done once it was born. Public outcry and indignation almost ruined the company, which immediately fired its entire bio-research division. Adam, as the baby was called, was placed in a research institute.
As he grew up, the child turned into a strong, healthy and intelligent boy. He was plagued by self-doubts, however, and underwent psychiatric therapy several times. On his seventeenth birthday, Adam, the first cloned human, committed suicide.
ISLANDS IN THE SKYEditThe increased level of prosperity on Earth helped slow down the rate of growth somewhat, as families in developed countries required fewer children to ensure their future. The overall human population, however, continued to grow at a quasiexponential rate in the new space colonies and in poorer regions of the globe. New lands were cleared, rain forests destroyed, and soils exhausted by repeated farming with inadequate methods.
The Alpha Base massdriver became operational on August 28th. 2028. It was used to fire large cargo sleds at Earth's Lagrange point (see glossary). The first test sled reached the L-2 point without any problem. There, automated "masscatchers" intercepted and stockpiled the ore packets for later delivery to planned local construction sites. The excellent performance of the lunar massdriver showed that sending large quantities of material to the Lagrange points (or any of the complex, inner Earth orbits) was fairly cheap, and the first permanent orbital settlement projects were seriously proposed. These settlements would house the construction crews required to build the second generation SPS arrays and orbital factories. They were also meant to be huge so as to absorb at least part of the population growth.
After much debate and inflamed discussions, the space island project based on the O'Neill Cylinder design was approved by the American Congress, the European Council and the Russian Space Agency. In November 2030, the construction site of Island One at L-5 was formally declared open after a four-hour ceremony on Earth.
THE SOLAR COLONIESEdit
As the human population in orbit increased, the people of the Earth sphere started looking toward distant planets. The skyhooks allowed probes to be cheaply launched to the into deep space with relative ease. For the better part of the '20s each planet was radar-mapped and examined by numerous probes and robots.
On July 1 st, 2031, the NASNESA exploration ship Galileo I1 was launched. The ship carried both solar arrays and an onboard fusion reactor to power its kilometer-long massdriver. Jettisoning fine rock particles at very high speed to produce thrust, the ship set out on the first leg of its journey to the outer system. On March 14th, 2032, Galileo II arrived in the Jovian system. Robot probes were immediately dispatched to recover the asteroid dust packages left by previous automated missions, refueling the ship for the voyage home. The ship remained in the Jovian system for nearly six months, conducting experiments on gas mining and performing astronomic studies.
Burroughs City, the first permanent Martian settlement, was officially founded in 2033. At the time, the town was little more than a collection of landing modules left by previous missions and housed a mere 85 people.
In 2034, a small mininghcientific mission was sent to Mercury. Funded solely through private efforts, a permanent base was established. Soon its massdrivers started throwing rocks at Venus. The private investors claimed these were solar sail test shots, using mining rejects, and were sent to Venus so as not to fill the space lanes.
Based on the findings of the Galileo II mission, the Jovian Gas Mining Corporation was founded in February 2037. A year later, lronwheel Station was built in Jovian orbit to house the gas miners. It was the first permanent human habitat around Jupiter, and the one most distant from the Sun. The station was completed in a remarkably short time, and by 2040 housed nearly 1000 people, many of them scientists. The formation of the JGMC heralded the age of the space companies, corporations formed to exploit the riches of the solar system.
THE SPS3 AFFAIREdit
The rescue of the SPS3 hostages in 2032 remains in the annals of history as the first use of exo-suits in a tactical space combat. Religious extremists had taken over the SPS3 Powersat and were threatening to use it as a weapon of terror should the world refuse to convert. The crew had managed to take refuge in one of the modules, where they awaited rescue.
Although the power beam made a poor weapon, it was sufficient to severely damage a ship. The rescue thus came as a squad of USASF exo-suits, stealthily closing in. They first disabled the emitter array, and then set to work on flooding the command module with sleeping gas to flush out the terrorists. The latter, however, had outside help in the form of two stolen OTVs, each equipped with a chemical com laser. Before long, the battle raged around the satellite, as each side tried to place itself on a vector that would allows its weapons to lock on the enemy. The two OTVs were eventually disabled, and all terrorists were later found dead from poison tablets.
A POPULATION EXPLOSIONEdit
By the end of the first half of the twenty-first century, the total human population, on Earth and elsewhere, reached nearly 13 billion individuals. The first three Island One stations were completed, each fully inhabited by nearly 140,000 people. The increasing automation of the process and the improved launching capability of the Lunar base (now with three massdrivers) made the construction of a new station a matter of one or two years, prompting a migration to space. Proposal for larger Island Two type stations, with a diameter of two kilometers and four times that length, were put forward.
Some were willing to go even further out to escape the Earth. Industrial-type spacecrafts excavated and outfitted asteroids for prolonged habitation then placed them on circular orbits between the Earth and Mars. These asteroids, called cyclers, could carry thousands of colonists to Mars on every one of their two-year cycles. During the general census of 2070, the Martian population was counted at nearly 2 million inhabitants, almost half of them being immigrants landed in the past thirty years. The first permanent nomad settlement was established on Eros in the Asteroid belt by mining corporations eager to exploit the mineral riches of the new frontier.
The solar system‘s colonization was further advanced by the development of new technologies, such as the Plasma Combustion Chamber (PCC). Experiments to improve the efficiency of the fusion power plant led scientists at the L-5-2 colony to develop the prototype of a new type of space drive. The PCC uses high energy arcs to convert almost any fine matter or gas to a plasma state and jettison it at high velocity to create thrust. Although the initial tests were plagued with technical problems, the PCC proved much more efficient than the massdrivers and chemical rockets in wide use for spaceship propulsion.
PROJECT NEW EARTHEditMeanwhile, the Venusian atmosphere was getting a lot clearer. The reactive metals relentlessly sent from Mercury combined with the atmospheric gases to form carbonated dust falling on the surface. Conditions on Venus improved and the surface became directly observable. In the early months of 2070, ten mysterious rockets were launched from the orbital facilities of Boeing-Mitsubishi, their projected trajectories leading to Venus. Three weeks later, robot OTVs were dispatched from the Belt-based Westmuller Ltd mining station to rendezvous with the newly discovered Stanton II comet approaching the solar system. Corporate officials from both companies declined to comment.
On March 1st, 2072, Project New Earth officially began. The rockets descended in the Venusian atmosphere, releasing their cargo of genetically engineered bacteria and algae. Both immediately started processing the soil and atmosphere do make them compatible with Terran biology. Two years later, the Stanton I1 comet, its orbit modified by the small fleet of tugs attached to its flanks, entered the Venus' orbit. Many thought the comet would disintegrate in the upper atmosphere, ruining the terraforming process. Instead, the comet was placed in a stable, easy to reach orbit around Venus to serve as a refueling point for ships and shuttles bringing people and equipment to the new world.
Immense titanium fins were first installed at the settlements' projected polar locations to cool down the boiling hot ground. Large quantities of aero gel, an isolating polymer/ceramic substance, were manufactured to form the foundations and outer walls of huge arcologies. Within a few years, small settlements dotted the Venusian poles.
By the second half of the twenty-first century, the biosphere of planet Earth was in sorry shape. Widespread droughts and floods were battering the cities. The ozone layer was very much depleted, even though programs limiting the production of ozone-depleting gases had been in place for decades. The development of new nonpolluting energy production alternatives were only slowing down the problems caused by Mankind's insatiable need for power-sources.
Social and environmental pressures caused the collapse of several nations. Civil war, epidemics, and balkanization provoked a major exodus toward space and the colonies. Entire villages pooled their life savings to buy a patch of land on a colony in the solar system in the hope of improving their living conditions.
In early 2081, the provisional Terran government, an evolution of the United Nations council, took refuge in orbit. Several of the more prominent nations of Earth along with the orbital colonies formed this council. To reflect this change, the council officially took on the name of United Space Nations.
The inhabitants of Mars declared their independence in the summer of 2085. Despite their best efforts, there was little the beleaguered Earth nations and corporations could do to stop them. By 2086, all Terran authorities had been removed from the red planet. This did not solve any problem, however, and civil conflicts would rage for many years before a native Martian political structure would evolve.
During this time, the terraforming of Venus was progressing. Financing corporations started establishing bases in the northern polar region by the first quarter of 2086, landing entire prefabricated factory units to help in the construction of future arcologies. Corporate personnel were shuttled in from orbital colonies at a rate of several thousand per month.
In the year 2093, the last vestige of authority fell on Earth and the subsequent loss of their space faring capacity isolated the Earth from the rest of Mankind. The governments of Earth had lost any remaining authority they might have had over the space colonies.
The period from the 2120 to 2180 was often referred to as the "Tough Times." With Earth in disarray, each settlement was more concerned about its immediate survival than politics or trade. The new Venus colony was busy settling down, while there were intermittent civil conflicts on Mars. The Jovian settlements struggled to survive the harsh conditions of their environment. Many of Jupiter's Trojan asteroids were dismantled and used to build new colony cylinders to house the growing Jovian population. Nevertheless, limited living space remained an endemic problem.
PLOWSHARES INTO SWORDSEdit
As time went by, the general level of technology improved and with it the science of war. Exo-Suits became larger and more powerful, carrying advanced ECM and stealth systems to disguise their increasing size. In the 2150s, technicians of the Jovian Confederation, merging the engineering tug and the exo-suit, built the famous "giant robot" of science fiction.
After months of testing, the first prototype Exo-Armor was ready to be shown to the Agora on July 23, 2162. It still lacked several important systems, but it could walk and fly. The representatives were extremely impressed by the performance of the machine, and approved a plan to equip the fledgling JAF with sixty Exo-Armors within the next five years.
The resolution of the troubles on Earth signaled the end of a dark period for the solar system. Contacts were slowly re-established between Earth and other settlements. Once again, spaceships started making regular runs between planets, exchanging high technology products and specialized items that could not be produced locally. Even tourism saw a renaissance of sort, though the high cost of space travel restricted it to the wealthy or those ready to save for the trip of a lifetime. It was the beginning of a new age of peace and prosperity.
REUNIFICATION OF EARTHEdit
The period of civil conflicts and unrest on Earth had degenerated into outright war in many regions as diverse groups competed for the same dwindling resources. Before long, a league of small nations banded together under one flag and was methodically taking over as many territories as possible. The Union, as it was called, consisted mostly of European and North American states. Their aim was to unify the entire planet under one government, by negotiated alliance or, if necessary, by force. Its leaders wanted to stop the bloodshed and give people the means to restore the planet and earn a good living from it. The Unification War, as the drawn-out conflict came to be known, ended in 2182.
On January 1st, 2184, the Central Earth Government and Administration was founded by the victors of the Unification War. Although they did not control the entire planet, CEGA did administer North America, Europe and large parts of Africa and Asia.
Titan was first explored during the 21st century. Once it became clear that the moon was studded with organic liquids, and contained oxygen and nitrogen, it was suspected life could be found at the bottoms of the deeper ethane seas.
In the decades prior to the Fall, there was a wide basis of Terran pro-Green sentiment, as living conditions had started to deteriorate on the home planet. The major Earth nations (and the reluctant space borne corporations) met in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2062 and signed a treaty agreeing to ban industry from the Titanian surface. The Treaty was to be ratified anew by the participants every fifty years. It did not prohibit human habitation of the surface, but with the exception of IGS' Alcott research station, no one wanted to live there.
The Treaty left open the option of exploiting Titan's upper atmosphere, which contains a significant amount of methane. By the early 22nd century, with the Jovian Confederation's population growing (and cut off from Earth's supply of organics), this was an attractive possibility. Consequently, stratospheric gas mining robot equipment was set up as early as 2128, and some small launch platforms were set up in Titanian orbit to send the products to Jupiter.
This continued for a long time, with the Reykjavik Treaty receiving its second (in absentia) re-ratification by the Orbitals, Selenians, Martians and Jovians in 2162. But in the 2180s, Bernard Chandrasekhar's new gas-mining company THC changed the rules, claiming that the Reykjavik Treaty permitted exploitation of the surface as long as the industry was based in orbit. Building a pair of large refinery stations, he began to use huge shuttles to ferry the liquid methane to orbit, for bulk conversion into complex hydrocarbons. Within a few decades, THC achieved a monopoly on Titanian commerce and became a major player in interplanetary economics.
THE MARTIAN ELEVATOREdit
Although the skyhooks used on Earth proved to be the limits of the technology available at the time, the dream of a space elevator reaching to planet surface was not dead. Mars, in particular, was interested in the concept. The lower Martian gravity, combined with the smaller radius of the planet and the advances in the material field, would theoretically make such a device possible.
Several corporations were intrigued by the idea. The Martian natural resources, when combined with the elevator, would make it economically feasible to build certain delicate spaceship components on the ground and send them into orbiting shipyards. After years of studies, the Venusian backers authorized the construction of the prototype on June 1st, 2189. The Martian orbital elevator opened officially seven years later.
The twenty-third century dawned upon a solar system at peace.
THE ODYSSEY (PRESENT)Edit
The resolution of the troubles on Earth signaled the end of a dark period for all. Contact between settlements slowly resumed. It was thought to be the beginning of a new age of peace and prosperity - the events of 2210 would shatter that illusion.