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THE NEW FRONTIER

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 home away from Earth to many thousands of people. The open-type space colony, soon named the O’Neill Cylinder because of its design 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 to 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 setbacks, it opened the way to the trans-atmospheric (TAV) and Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO) vehicles of the early 21st century.

Pollution became an endemic problem in the closing years of the 20th century, with entire regions condemned because of industrial accidents. Less pollution alternatives in the field 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.

ARTIFICIAL SUNS

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 the muon-catalyzed fusion, developed from a line of research first explored by Luis Alvarez and Andrei Sakharov. Sub-atomic 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 FIRE

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 2015 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, the 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 researches into magnetic accelerator devices based on the earlier NASA, Princeton, M.I.T. and Japanese works were coming to term. Each magnetic catapult could push mass with great acceleration (hence the name “mass driver”), making a new useful tool for both warfare and transport.

THE COLONIZATION AGE

The projected construction of the skyhooks, or space stations that could lift light cargo from orbit, raised the enthusiasm of the general public. 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 January 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.

MARS DIRECT

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 SPACE

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 earlier options studied 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 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. The SSTO vehicles took up the job of taking people and priority cargo up.

Mankind had built its first highway to the stars.

ISLANDS IN THE SKY

The 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 quasi-exponential rate in the new space colonies and in poorer regions of the globe. New lands were cleared, rainforests destroyed, and soils exhausted by repeated farming with inadequate methods.

The Alpha Base mass driver became operational on August 28th, 2028. It was used to fire large cargo sleds at Earth’s Lagrange point. The first test sled reached the L-2 point without any problem. There, automated “mass-catchers” intercepted and stockpiled the ore packets for later delivery to planned local construction sites. The excellent performance of the lunar mass driver showed that sending large quantities of material to the Lagrange points 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.

SOLAR COLONIES

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 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 1st, 2041, the NASA/ESA exploration ship Galileo II 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 mining/scientific 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 lines.

Based on the findings of the Galileo II mission, the Jovian Gas Mining Corporation was founded in February 2037. A year later, Ironwheel 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 1,000 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.

POPULATION EXPLOSION

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 capabilities 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.

PROJECT NEW EARTH

Meanwhile, 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 official from bot 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 to make them compatible with Terran biology. Two years later, the Stanton II comet, its orbit modified by the small fleet of tugs attached to its flanks, entered Venus’s 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 aerogel, an isolating polymer/ceramic substance, were manufactured to form the foundations and outer walls of huge acrologies. Within a few years, small settlements dotted the Venusian poles.

COLLAPSE

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 non-polluting energy production alternatives were only slowing down the problems.

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 pool their savings to buy a patch of land on a colony in the solar system in the hopes of improving their living conditions.

This period of civil unrest on Earth eventually degenerated into outright war as regions competed for dwindling resources and long-standing territorial and religious disputes boiled over. Conflict escalated to the global level, and eventually both nuclear weapons and biological warfare entered the scene.

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 Solar Nations. Most high-ranking members of government or wealthy business leaders and other upper-class citizens had already evacuated to the various settlements.

By the year 2093, the last vestiges of authority fell on Earth and the subsequent loss of their space faring capacity isolated the Earth from the rest of Mankind. What governments survived lost any remaining authority they might have had over the space colonies. Earth was abandoned, and fell silent to the solar system.

INDEPENDENCE

In 2085, the inhabitants of Mars declared their independence. 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.

The Jovian settlements, however, were more concerned about their immediate survival than politics or trade. Struggling to survive the harsh conditions, many of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids were dismantled and used to build new colony cylinders to house the growing Jovian population. By 2090 the colonies were essentially independent entities, since the authority from Earth had gradually evaporated.

On September 13th Vanguard Mountain would be the first Jovian power to formally declare its independence as a sovereign state, albeit to deaf ears, since the response from the solar system was silence). It was not long until Olympus and Newhome would do the same. The timeframe was remarkably short, considering that for all the rest of the solar system knew, the Jovian colonies may well be dead and gone. On Christmas Day, 2090, the Coordinating Committee announced the independence of the Olympian colonies. On January 21st, Newhome followed their brethren into independence.

Over a twenty-year period the Confederation was formed, the people of all three Jovian colony states working to strengthen relations with each other and ensure their shared survival. Diplomatic relationships were stepped up, economic contacts encouraged, and cultural ties discovered and produced. On August 30th, 2113, the Jovian Confederation was officially formed in a ceremony performed in the new federal capital of Elysee.

PLOTSHARES INTO SWORDS

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 2050s, technicians of the Jovian Confederation, merging with the engineering tug and the exo-suit, built the famous “giant robot” of science fiction, the exo-armor.

After months of testing, the first prototype exo-armor was ready to be shown the Agora on July 23, 2062. 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.

REUNIFICATION OF EARTH

The period of civil conflicts and unrest on Earth had dealt devastating damage to its population and ecosystem. Before long, a league of small rebel groups and nations banded together under one flag and methodically began taking over as many territories as possible. The Union, as it was called, started mostly in European and North American states, but gradually grew to cover the glob. Their aim was to unify the entire planet under one government, by negotiated alliance or if necessary by force, with the goal of saving the people of Earth who had been abandoned by their leaders so long ago. The Union’s leaders wanted to stop the bloodshed and give people the means to restore the planet and earn a good living from it. The drawn-out conflict which became known as the Unification War came to an end in 2182.

On January 1st, 2184, the Central Earth Government and Administration was founded by the Union. When Earth re-established its communication in 2184, no one expected to see a powerful, unified government with the support of its people. CEGA moved quickly to regain control of the orbital colonies and the Moon, and declared itself as a new superpower in the solar system.

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