Devblog #40 - The Expedition Project
Posted on 26th Oct 2018 in Story
As you all know by now, the upcoming Rude Awakening update will bring a ton of improvements and fixes but its main focus will be Hellion’s narrative. With that in mind we had decided to use this chance to refresh some of the lore and history behind Sol, Altcorp, SDS and of course, the Expedition Project. This will be a lengthy post intended for the more “lore hungry” audience. So... sit back, relax and read on.
So lets start of with Hellion itself. This unusual red giant is located 1700 ly away from Sol and is in many ways an atypical red giant. Its radius is considerably smaller than what one would expect from a dying star with a mass comparable to our Sun. The second phenomena that makes Hellion interesting is the strength of its magnetic field which is several times more powerful than would be expected.
So by now some of you may be wondering why would mankind pick such a “problematic” star for a colony? Well, there are two reasons. The first is the abundance of raw resources necessary for setting up orbital infrastructure, most notably He-3 which is used in most Expedition fusion reactors. These resources would significantly cut down time necessary to establish basic orbital infrastructure in Hellion and reduce the overall mass of supplies that would need to be transported from Sol. The second reason are several promising terraforming candidates, Enigma, Eridil and Teiora. And as it turned out, many people prefer having a planet to live on or to visit occasionally, even in the age of orbital habitats.
History of Sol
Venturing into space had always been the dream of mankind, “the final frontier” that inspired countless generations. The space race of the 20th century turned that dream into a reality, but only briefly. For the next 50 years humanity remained grounded on Earth, until reusable launch systems, developed by private enterprises, shifted space exploration from large national agencies towards privately owned companies. This was the beginning of a “new space race”, a period of brutal competition for energy, resources and stock market shares between various rival companies.
Earth’s orbit became home to numerous businesses that dealt in large scale orbital construction, energy production, mining and transportation, as well as smaller enterprises that dealt in research, agriculture, consumer electronics and even entertainment and tourism. As more and more companies ventured into space in search of profit, conflict followed in their footsteps. Distance between celestial bodies became one of the largest obstacles and turned any potentially valuable near Earth object, whether it was a comet or an asteroid, into a priceless commodity that many were willing to fight over. Disputes over Lunar mining rights and safety regulations became common and many companies sought ways to circumvent the painstakingly slow courts of Earth and UN bureaucracy. Various private security companies seized the opportunity and began renting their services to space based businesses and started zero gravity training programs for their personnel. Private Military companies followed soon after and with them large international arms manufacturers and government weapon contractors. The number of incidents involving bribes, scandals, corporate espionage, sabotage and open conflict increased exponentially as more people migrated into orbit.
This situation was largely tolerated due to political instability on Earth. Breakthroughs in fusion technology during the late 21st century and the rapid transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power plants to clean, fusion based, energy sources nearly caused a complete collapse of the Earth’s economic system. Over time Earth’s leading nations became increasingly reliant on the extraterrestrial supply of He-3 for most of their energy needs. This had a severe impact on many of the world’s economies, especially in less developed countries, resulting in increased political instability. As the gap grew exponentially the world witnessed an unprecedented rise in poverty, terrorism and armed conflict. Furthermore these new crisis regions created ample opportunities for “less reputable” companies and PMCs, as well as weapons research.
For the most part, leading governments were content to let corporations have their way beyond Earth’s orbit as long as they provided vitally needed economic support and rare commodities for the elite. This situation changed drastically after the “May 23rd incident”.
May 23rd Incident
On May 23rd 2116 a prototype asteroid mining barge “Atlas” lost control while returning to Earth from its maiden voyage in the asteroid belt. The colossal vessel plummeted towards ground at 12.6km/s and exploded during re-entry. While many of its components burned away or crashed into the Pacific many large fragments had to be intercepted by ground to air batteries. Still, several found their way into populated areas and caused devastation, panic and massive loss of life. The incident prompted the UN Security Council to immediate action.
UN reform and rise to power
Within a year a new international space agency was created and placed under the command of the newly reformed UN Government. A special task-force was assembled and charged with restoring order and policing the orbit to prevent any future incidents. Backed by the collective economic power and resources of Earth’s leading nations the new Space Agency quickly established itself as the dominant political power in orbit and launched investigations into various illegal corporate activities and human rights violations. Multiple smear campaigns and lawsuits were directed at prominent corporate figures in an effort to discredit and reduce their influence. UNs bid for power and trials that followed quickly turned into a witch hunt that ultimately resulted in dissolution and confiscation of property for many space based enterprises, regardless of their actual involvement. In addition, the UN government imposed new restrictions on all companies operating at and beyond Earth’s orbit. These new regulations for space travel, resource shipping and construction operations, were especially hard on smaller companies and soon many smaller enterprises found themselves pushed out of business by companies with large government subventions.
Private military companies and UN takeover
One problem that plagued the new UN government during its takeover was the issue of numerous private military companies and large weapons manufacturers still operating in orbit. During lawsuits, confiscations and scandals that followed UN’s rapid rise to power, the legal system that allowed these companies to operate was completely shattered. The new government used this as leverage holding PMCs responsible for the events that led to the May 23rd disaster. Threats of legal prosecution and several military actions, backed by strong public opinion pushed PMCs into a corner. So when the new UN agency offered amnesty in exchange for information and military service, many companies jumped at the opportunity to legalize their operations and avoid prosecution.
Since the new Agency was assembled in haste and initially lacked training and capable personnel, experienced mercenaries filled the gaps perfectly. In addition UN made similar offers to several major arms manufacturers and government contractors, thus compensating for its lack of reliable space equipment. Most of these companies were simply contracted by the UN government. Only a handful were given permanent positions in the new military hierarchy.
Once the situation was under control the UN administration began dismantling private military providers as it no longer had need of their services. History was repeated when many PMCs once again found themselves facing prosecution for crimes, illegal missions and atrocities. This time, the ones committed during the UN’s lengthy takeover campaign. They still had their ships, weapons, training and manufacturing facilities, but without legal backing they would be little more than outlaws waiting on their sentence.
Several major players refused to take the UN takeover lying down and set in motion a series of events. Ultimately these events would lead to the creation of a force that could rival UN's supremacy. The first two factions to emerge from this turbulent time were: Altair Corporation and Skyline Defense Solutions.
Rise of Altair Corporation
Even during the massive reshuffling of the orbital infrastructure that followed the May 23rd incident, several large companies managed to retain their positions of power and influence by maintaining strong ties with prominent Earth governments and businesses. These companies began strengthening their position by buying out former competitors. Ultimately this ended in a series of corporate mergers that resulted in the birth of Altair Corporation, a massive corporate entity with vast holdings in orbit as well as on Luna and Mars.
Shortly after its founding the company started the first completely independent orbital colonization effort and began construction on a massive orbital habitat designed to house over 60.000 people. The project gradually gained popularity, as the new corporate entity encompassed experts from various fields of science, from agriculture to energy production. The initial station layout was finished in record time and “Hesperide Station” became home for 46.000 company employees and their families. Following the successful completion of their first major endeavor, Altair Corporation started a global recruiting campaign, offering new and exciting opportunities to people of various backgrounds, from scientists and engineers, to restaurant holders and artists.
By the time UN agency finally solidified its position as a political and military power in orbit, a large number of people already lived and worked in space. Altair Corporation was a massive entity that could no longer fit into any existing legal framework. The company owned several large orbital habitats, mining rights across the Solar system, long standing contracts with Earth’s governments and employed over 1.5 million people, of whom 600.000 lived on company stations along with their families. Additionally, AltCorp had contracts with numerous smaller enterprises that provided everything, from security to education and healthcare, to its employees. It had proved that the Earth’s laws and regulations were inadequate for handling an extraterrestrial civilization.
From the standpoint of the reformed UN government Altair Corporation was an anomaly, one that had to be brought into an existing legal frame by any means necessary, but the UN bureaucrats found themselves at a loss. Obvious solution was to give AltCorp special status, but doing so would create a precedent and create countless future problems. After many long debates Security Council finally opted to slowly erode AltCorp’s influence with new treaties that were aimed at gradually diminishing the giant’s power base. Altair Corporation found itself standing at a threshold.
Skyline Defense Solutions and Outer Orbit Treaty
In January 2136 AltCorp’s representatives began negotiations with various independent space companies that were still outside the UN’s sphere of influence. The negotiations were held in preparations for a summit that would discuss the current UN restrictions, legal implications and Earth’s impending monopoly over orbital energy reserves. These efforts did not remain unnoticed and UN began mobilizing its troops to intervene by force should their diplomatic initiative prove insufficient.
On April 14. 2136 remaining PMCs, security companies and arms manufacturers announced a merger and the founding of “Skyline Defense Solutions”. One day later the new security behemoth signed a long term defense contract with Altair Corporation. Birth of SDS was the final piece of a plan Altair Corporation’s founders set in motion eight years ago. According to the terms of its contract SDS was tasked with protecting AltCorp’s interests against any and all foreign threats. But its true purpose was to serve as an armed deterrent against further UN intrusions. The UN Security Council was caught off guard by the treaty and unwilling to act, as in doing so they would be risking an unprecedented war in Earth’s orbit.
The grand summit took place at “Hesperide Station” on May 24th 2136, exactly 20 years and a day after the fateful May 23rd incident. The UN government officially recognized Altair Corporation and Skyline Defense Solutions as sovereign and independent political entities within the Solar System. After several months of negotiations UN, AltCorp and SDS signed the Outer Orbit Treaty, a document detailing mutual responsibilities of all three sides within Sol.
As time went by both AltCorp and SDS changed and evolved into entities that resembled independent states far more than the mega-corporations started from.
First successful warp drive test and colonization of Sol
On September 14th 2148 a small test vessel “Boundless” makes its historical journey from Lunar orbit to Saturn in under an hour, using the newly developed Warp drive, an FTL propulsion technology based on theories from the early 21th century. This breakthrough enables rapid transit throughout the Solar System and the construction of smaller and far less fuel dependent spacecraft. During the following decades mankind spreads across the Solar System, with terraforming projects underway on Mars, Venus, Ganymede and Europa. As part of the Actaeon program multiple unmanned probes are sent to gather information beyond our Solar System.
On September 23rd 2226. deep space listening outposts finally received first survey information from the Actaeon 34, a probe sent to the distant Hellion system.
The Expedition Project
Following a lengthy analysis of survey data collected by more than 100 automated probes, Hellion was finally chosen as the site for colonization due to its abundance of natural resources and multiple terraforming candidates.
The Expedition project was a colossal undertaking that took 64 years to complete and consumed more resources and manpower than any other endeavor in human history. The center of the project was a massive flagship “Daedalus”, a giant vessel over 12 km in length, that used micro-singularity as its power core. Safely stored inside its vast hull was all the equipment the colonists would need to establish orbital infrastructure in an alien system. Everything from science, construction and terraforming gear to self-replicating machinery.
Due to its sheer magnitude the project required extensive collaboration from every part of the Solar System. As the pioneers of space exploration Altar Corporation and SDS contributed most towards the project and came up with a number of solutions and systems that were ultimately incorporated into the fleet’s design.
Colonization effort was broken down into four stages.
Stage 1 would start by waking up mission critical personnel, conducting on site survey to confirm probe data, Actaeon 34 probe retrieval and initial deployment of necessary orbital infrastructure. Towards the end, additional engineering personnel and basic security would be brought out of cryo to establish in system production and make Expedition independent of Daedalus’ supplies.
Stage 2 covers the construction of advanced orbital infrastructure comprised of large scale installations including shipyards, habitats and research facilities.
Stage 3 is the beginning of actual colonization including sequential waking of the colonists by priority, such as scientists, engineers and the remainder of military personnel. These people would be tasked with initiating and overseeing the terraforming of potentially habitable worlds, as well as expanding the orbital infrastructure in order to support additional colonists.
Stage 4 is the final phase and includes deployment of support infrastructure on now habitable worlds and the waking of remaining colonists from cryo-sleep.
On April 11th 2292 Earth standard time, the expedition fleet, carrying almost a million colonists, embarked on its 78 year long journey towards Hellion.
Well this indeed was a long read, but we hope you found it entertaining and informative, but there was also another reason for it. Up until this point we’ve read many user submitted stories on the forums. And one thing that we’ve found was that they always lacked an appropriate frame of reference, a “proper setting” if you would. This wasn’t for lack of imagination or creativity, but rather lack of information. After all, it’s kind of hard to role play a character without any context.
This post was in part aimed at correcting that little problem and now with the complete history of Sol, Expedition and Hellion out in the open, we are certainly looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the mater and of course, reading some new and exciting stories!
Until next time fly safe and watch out for those stray derelicts...
Posted by Zero Gravity team