21st Century life in the Solar System

Created: 2020-06-15 12:40

Last Modified: 2020-06-15 19:51

As I'm continuing work on my Iliad 07 project, I keep stumbling on questions that can only be properly answered by looking at conditions in the Solar System prior to the ship's launch.

To help solve that, I'm composing a short story about a seemingly minor ship, the Philip Conners. She is an ISTO mining vessel on a routine run out to the Scattered Disk when something strange happens. (For what happens, you'll have to read the story, of course.)

Just in the opening few paragraphs I've had to consider the economy of the space colonies, answer questions about culture and the living standards, as well as consider how much of what is installed on the Iliad class ships was simply carried forward from other long range spacecraft. In this case, the Philip Conners is a project Gilgamesh vessel, the forerunner of the project Iliad.

While Project Gilgamesh vessels are designed to support missions of up to a year, their design doesn't have to be nearly as paranoid as that of the Iliads. Vessels can return to port for major service. Crew are regularly transferred on and off. Nobody is permanently marooned on board. If someone has a really dire need to leave, or the ship has a need to take on some sort of specialty repair crew, the vessel is no more than a few weeks travel from a major port.

I am envisioning the vessel being like a whaling ship of the 19th century. It sets out for months at a time, chases and processes its quarry, and then returns when it's tanks are full. The vessel is massive because it is cheaper to lug a refinery out to a comet than vice versa. (Most of a comet is ice and dust, and only a tiny percentage of that are the nuclear isotopes you need for fusion power.)

This has lead to a lifestyle of people who permanently settle on mining ships. The refinery needs a staff of technicians to maintain. Those technicians require a small town to support them. That small town needs a school and a hospital and a theater and a saloon, etc. Throw in few thousand acres of land to grow crops on, a dairy herd, and boom, we have most of the trappings of our project Iliad vessels.

Because the colony is in regular communications with other colonies, we don't need thousands of people to make up the genetic base. People will meet and mate on shore leave. We just need to house the people running the ship and their families in relative comfort.

A mission of a year or less means that the inhabitants can supplement their diet with frozen food and dry stores. Food probably grown in space on settlements that orbit closer to the sun, in order to offset their need for fusion power by using natural sunlight.

Their economy is dominated by 2 commodities: energy and labor. Energy is derived from fusion power. Labor is derived from humans. Labor needs a certain amount of energy to maintain itself. At the same time, a great deal of labor is required to manufacture the means to provide energy.

When finally developed, fusion power will produce and order of more magnetude of energy per unit mass of fuel. But that fuel is still in somewhat finite a quantity. Yes, Deuterium can be extracted from sea water. But it is a very energy intensive process because only 1 atom of hydrogen in 6420 is Deuterium. Comets have been measured at nearly three times that concentration.

The reason why is that objects subjected to Cosmic Rays accumulate exotic isotopes of helium and hydrogen. Objects in the Scattered Disk are some of the oldest objects in the Solar system, and have been battered by cosmic rays for billions of years. Some are quite large, including the planetoid we know as Pluto. All are a veritable gold mine for exotic light isotopes needed for fusion power.

While the scattered disk objects provide nearly limitless energy, it requires a lot of energy to sustain a settlement at the distance. The sunlight that reaches that far is scattered and faint. Inner settlements have ample power from sunlight, but that energy is not very useful for things like propulsion or heavy industry.

There is also the problem of building material. The outer system is largely devoid of metal. The inner system has vast quanties of metal, but they are locked into large planets with equally large escape velocities. (Luna being the notable exception, but more on this later.)

Fortunately in between the inner system and the outer system are the makings of a planet that was ripped apart during the solar system's formation: the asteroid belt. Everything one could want in the form of soil, metal, and other elements are present in small, cheap to exploit planetoids. But, it is too far from the sun for solar power, and the concentrations of exotic light isotopes is too scarce to be economically collected for export.

What emerges is a three way trading system, centered in the asteroid belt. The belt is the center of industry, with massive settlements to refine materials and produce finished goods. These industries require a large population to sustain their operations. Those populations need food. The industries themselves need fuel. In return for food and fuel, the industrial belt builds and maintains the fleets of vessels for both the inner and outer settlements.

It would make sense to have trading hubs where food, fuel, ships, raw material, finished goods, can all be exchanged. It would make sense to colocate these facilties with factories and shipyards so that the skilled tradesmen in those industries could also service the fleets of vessels that dock there. It would also cut down a great deal on carting raw materials and fuel out to a colony to ship back finished goods. Yes, you could build a standalone colony dedicated to manufacturing, but unless you are producing some exotic and specialized product, it's just more economical to set up where the fuel, raw materials, and labor are already naturally concentrated.

In this universe 12 major hubs centered around the minor planets that provide vast caches of resources in economical orbits:

I am also seeing now the economics and forces that would cause the development of different factions within the Solar system.

The first is the Krasnovian Empire. They were the first to get to space, and being Early practitioners of rocket technology, they could only economically reach the Moon. However they were able to assert military control over the Moon. This gave them a leg up on building a massive armed forces, albeit concentrated around Earth. Situating themselves on a planetoid provides some gravity, but also a low escape velocity. As they expand, the end up settling on planetoids with a similar gravity to the Moon. Their outposts beyond the moon are largely placed to allow them to exert naval control over all of the major planets. Those stations to have the ability to produce nuclear fuel and sustain themselves for prolonged periods using artificial sunlight and local materials.

Aesthetically, Krasnovian settlements are brutalist masterpieces. Where simplicity is sufficient, simplicity is the rule. Anything requiring more complexity tends to be engineered tighter than a swiss watch. Given the vast resources of energy, people, and material, the Krasnovian Empire tends to live by the motto "Quantity has a Quality all its own."

Luna Krasnovia yes
  • materials: metal, silicates
  • products: Food/Agriculture, ships, weapons, finished goods
  • comment: Earth's Moon
  • population: 100,000,000
Callisto Krasnovia no
  • population: 100,000
  • food: no
  • comment: Military/Industrial outpost on Jupiter's moon Callisto
Titan Krasnovia no
  • population: 100,000
  • food: no
  • comment: Military/Industrial outpost on Saturn's moon Titan
Triton Krasnovia no
  • population: 5,000
  • food: no
  • comment: Military/Industrial outpost on Neptune's moon Triton
Oberon Krasnovia no
  • population: 500
  • food: no
  • comment: Military/Industrial outpost on Uranus's moon Oberon
Pluto Krasnovia no
  • population: 500
  • food: no
  • comment: Military/Industrial outpost on Pluto
Eris Krasnovia no
  • population: 500
  • food: no
  • comment: Military/Industrial outpost on Eris

The second is the Circle Triad. They are a syndicate of corporations whose business model was to exploit Earth-crossing asteroids. Their M.O. is to launch a modest sized seed ship, which can then use the resources of the minor body to construct the rest of the settlement. The bodies they conquer all reside between 1 AU and 2 AU from the sun, and cross Earth's orbit. This allows for cheap (albeit on a tight schedule) communications between Earth and the colonies. Their holdings are not particularly large or productive, but the ease of communications with Earth and ability to leverage solar energy make them highly profitable. Circle Triad isn't affiliated with any particular Nation State, but they do have strong affiliations with international corporations.

Aesthetically, the Circle Triad tend toward the banana-republic style. They build out their settlements haphazardly and on the cheap. The construction methods vary with local materials, and the soundness of the engineering varies by local expertise. There is a marked division between the owners of the corporation and the labor force. Each of their settlements devolves into a company town. The elites have palaces. The not-so-elites have shanties. The downtrodden have a niche where nobody has installed any equipment recently.

Militarily the Circle Triad employ the tactic of being completely uneconomical to invade. Could a military force conquer any one of their colonies? Easily. Could they sustain their forces given the erratic launch windows? No so easily. Could they weather the worldwide economic boycot that would ensue? Not even Krasnovia.

And yes, Krasnovia has tried.

Alexandria Circle Triad yes
  • materials: none
  • products: Food/Agriculture
  • comment: Station at the L1 Lagrangian point in the Sun/Earth system.
Beijing Circle Triad yes
  • population: 100,000
  • food: yes
  • materials: nickel, iron, cobalt, water, nitrogen, hydrogen, ammonia
  • products: food, finished goods, industrial materials
  • comment:
Cairo Circle Triad yes
  • population: 100,000
  • food: yes
  • comment:
Delhi Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Erbil Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Fes Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Guadalajara Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Havana Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Istanbul Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Jakarta Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes
Karachi Circle Triad yes
  • population: 20,000
  • food: yes

The third is less of a unified faction than a whole lot of little factions in a big faction costume: the International Space Treaty Organizations (ISTO). They are a collective of the also-rans in the space race, who had to wait until fusion propulsion technology evolved to be able to reap the bounties of the Solar System.

What unifies all of ISTO is the military. The entire concept of ISTO was to provide Governments which were not in Krasnovia's sphere of influence access to space and its resources. All ISTO settlements are actually a massive capital ship with a city inside of it. That ship just happens to be in the vicinity of some resource of interest. All of these ships have a similar design lineage, however each tends to be configured and refit in different ways to exploit and develop different regions of the Solar System.

The first ships were assembled on contract by the Circle Triad. After the settlement of 16 Psyche, ISTO has started building its own ships.

Settlements in ISTO tend to be put together like large international projects today. Overly engineered, overly orthogonal, politically correct, and rife with graft.

Aesthetically, ISTO settlements are like an Ikea showroom. Quirky. Strangely practical. Subtly disturbing.

L2 ISTO yes
  • population: 100,000
  • materials: none
  • products: Food/Agriculture
  • comment: Station at the L2 Lagrangian point in the Sun/Earth system.
L3 ISTO no
  • population: 10,000
  • materials: none
  • products: Food/Agriculture
  • comment: Station at the L3 Lagrangian point in the Sun/Earth system.
L4 ISTO no
  • population: 10,000
  • materials: none
  • products: Food/Agriculture
  • comment: Station at the L4 Lagrangian point in the Sun/Earth system.
L5 ISTO no
  • population: 10,000
  • materials: none
  • products: Food/Agriculture
  • comment: Station at the L5 Lagrangian point in the Sun/Earth system.
Nomad ISTO no
  • population: 500
  • products: carbon, silicates
  • comment: An asteroid in orbit around Earth's L4 Lagrangian point.
1 Ceres ISTO no
  • population: 250,000
  • products Food/Agriculture, Fuel, Water, Soil
  • food: yes
4 Vesta ISTO no
  • population: 50,000
  • products Metals, Industrial
  • food: no
2 Pallas ISTO no
  • population: 25,000
  • products Crystals, Granite, Metals, Industrial, Gold, Silver
  • food: no
  • comment: Eccentric orbit, only accessible since the development of fusion propulsion
10 Hygiea ISTO no
  • population: 50,000
  • products: Diamonds, Gems
  • food: no
16 Psyche ISTO no
  • population: 250,000
  • products: Metals, Ships, Platinum, Iridium
  • food: no
  • comment: The iron core of a shattered world. It has become the population center of ISTO owing to the massive shipyard industry.