Not required, but always nice is some MacGuffinite, that is, an economic or political reason motivating a push for a large number of people living and working in space. Because in the real world there does not seem to be any compelling reason. You can leave out the MacGuffinite but be prepared for a few know-it-alls to pop up and ask awkward questions.
This particular MacGuffinte I am about to offer is rather flimsy and far-fetched, but enough to start you brain-storming a MacGuffinte solution that will fit your needs.
At the start of the RocketCat era of space exploration, happening only mumbly-mumble years in the future, the state of Texas had fallen upon hard times. The prime mover of the Texas economy was the petroleum industry, which was not bringing in as much income now that hydraulic fracturing had become more widespread. Texas needed either a new source of income or a new market for its plentiful supply of electricity. Or both.
Texas noted the steady rise in popularity of the idea of colonizing Mars. In practical terms the concept was utter nonsense. But it was an nifty blue-sky concept to whip up political support among the ill-informed voting public.
And in addition to plentiful supplies of electricity, Texas also had some nice real estate quite close to the Equator. The closer to the Equator, the lower the delta V required to launch into a standard zero-inclination equatorial orbit. True, Texas was not as near to the equator as the ESA's Guiana Space Centre, Puerto Rico, or the Kennedy Space Center. But Texas [a] was part of the USA, not Europe, [b] had a surface area much larger than 9,000 square kilometers and [c] was not rapidly turning into a swamp. Texas also has to the east a long stretch of the Atlantic ocean where spent rocket stages and exploding spacecraft debris can ditch without triggering multiple lawsuits.
Texas' solution is a combination of:
Laser Launching is a relatively inexpensive way to boost lots of payload into LEO. It would open up access to space to everybody from megacorporations down to mom & pop asteroid mining businesses. The launch business would have huge numbers of customers due to the "If you build it, they will come" effect. People would look upon the launch site as a public benefactor.
Is this a new source of income for Texas? Check!
Will all those lasers be a new market for Texas' plentiful supply of electricity? Check!
Building a laser launch facillity when there is no real destination worth launching to is really stupid. The "If you build it, they will come" mentality has its limits. This is where Politics comes in.
Consider the US transcontinental railroad which started construction in the 1860s. 1,500 or more miles between the Missouri River and California with virtually no Anglo-American customers. Just like the laser launcher, it was a road to nowhere.
The transcontinental railroad was built for political reasons, not economic ones. If Texas stirs in some "Colonize Mars!" popularism, they can get the federal government to provide some funding and loans. For a project whose true goal is to jump start the Texan economy, not a benefit for the US as a whole.
Much to Texas' surprise, the laser launcher actually did become a long-term profit center, instead of a short term scam.
It gets started because as it turns out Deimos is a moon of Mars. Texas will be pushing the "Colonize Mars!" initiative, so a Deimos base will provide more excitement to the political effort, and also another nice project to boondoggle and to drum up more business for the Texas Laser Launcher.
The history of Cape Fear starts off very modest. Phase 1 is just a waypoint for a NASA Mars expedition. Phase 2 is commercial, when Texas tries to monetize it.
Then the "Close, But No Cigar" asteroid goes whizzing between Terra and Luna, scaring the poo out of everybody on Terra in general and a few trillionaires in particular.
Cape Dread sells subscriptions to trillionaires offering a luxurious bomb shelter suite on Deimos in case an asteroid actually does target Terra. They will offer a safe place to dine on caviar while having a ring-side seat to watch all the great unwashed masses getting eradicated by the next killer asteroid. And there are other benefits, such as being a tax haven and data haven. The data transmission to and from Terra will have a 15 minute lag time, but nothing is perfect.
During the next few years Cape Dread has an economic boom, building and over-building infrastructure. Eventually the economic bubble pops. But the infrastructure remains. Texas abandons the infrastruture for pennies on the dollar. However the old die-hards of Cape Dread are in for the long haul, they stick around. They become the nucleus of the Cape Dread colony, in the orbital propellant depot business.
And orbital propellant depots are the key to accessing the solar system, since they basically cut the delta-V cost in half.
Meanwhile zillions of small Maw-and-Paw Prairie Schooners start spreading across near space.
The unit of currency is not the dollar, euro, or bitcoin. It is the MacGuffinite, abbreviated MG (or Latin small letter "m" with tilde if you want to get fancy: "ᵯ" or Unicode U+1D6F). It is vaguely backed by whatever is the major MacGuffinite, but it is not on the "MacGuffinite Standard", like money based on the gold standard. Tying currency to a standard is just begging for a monetary collapse.
If a science fiction author just wants some window-dressing it is easiest on their readers to assume MC1.00 is approximately equal to $1.00US, €1.00, £1.00, 1.00 or whatever the readers are familiar with. Narrative-wise it is probably not worth the effort and reader confusion to set it to something wildly different.
TerraGov is the de-facto ruler of Terra, sort of. It is actually a Confederation of the major superpower nations of Terra (science fiction authors reading this get to pick exactly which nations these are).
Having said that, there are plenty of second-string unincorporated nations who are quite angry about this. They are constantly trying to undermine TerraGov, constantly trying to enhance their own power, and constantly helping/hindering other non-incorporated nations according to current expediency. They are a nice rich source of spies, pirates, sabotage, covert support of TerraGov rebels, political intrigue, and other things guaranteed to liven things up. This should start the wheels turning inside the heads of science fiction authors.
Texas Laser Launch Complex
Terra's main surface-to-LEO laser launching site.
Your one-stop shopping for inexpensive prefabricated space habitat kits and furnishings.
Kenya-Free Space Port
A free-economic zone space port located where the equator crosses the coastline of Kenya. It has made the country fabulously wealthy. Many merchant spacecraft use Kenya as a flag of convenience.
They provides tug services for Mom and Pop habitat modules launched from Texas Laser, hauling them to Luna, Mars, and the asteroid belt. The tugs also have emergency services, for a fee of course.
They supplies special ships that fly with Wagon Trains or impromptu convoys taking advantage of Hohmann launch times. The ships contain 7-11 style convenience stores and other services designed to harvest money from travelers.
Assorted short-lived Data and Tax Havens.
An Aldrin Cycler providing Terra-Mars life-support services. You have to supply the delta V for capture and escape, but it has your transit life-support needs already delta Veed up for the trip.
TerraGate (aka "Supra-New York")
Largish space station on the main route between Terra and the rest of the solar system (not the only route). Mainly the largest transport Nexus in the solar system and a huge orbital propellant depot. Sort of like South Louisiana or Houston Texas in space. Lots of passenger traffic as well. They are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-R-Us and are quite angry, though not as much of a down-turn as other sites since they are more than just a propellant depot.
The Principality of Spaceland
A fabulously wealthy and powerful space colony. It is a "tax haven", offshore financial centre (OFC), free economic zone, corporate haven and data haven. They are a more long-term data haven, the smaller ones in LEO do not have a long life-span. Spaceland is also a very convenient place for wealthy people to use for citizenship.
As the cherry on top of the sundae, it is also a pleasure planet.
An assortment of space colonies. See Langrage Point 5 below
An assortment of space station with different functions and space colonies. Some are noble, some are shady, some have degenerated into Mos Eisley Space Station, some are falling apart due to the Three-Generation Rule. And most of them grow bamboo. Use your imagination: no matter how crazy the society you dream up, it is probably there somewhere. Space pilots trying to fly through call the area the Pinball Machine.
Chocolate is a pain to grow on Terra due to picky climate constraints. Chocolate producing regions on Terra are prone to civil wars. Terra cannot produce enough chocolate to meet the global demand. And there are many people who are dangerous to be around when they are undergoing chocolate withdrawal (my wife, for instance).
Hershey is a Gerard O'Neill style L5 space colony optimized as a huge chocolate plantation.
Their orbital factories use precise control gravity, vacuum, radiation, temperature, and energy density to a degree impossible to achieve on Terra. They manufacture exotic substances and nanotechnology.
Sears, Robot & Co.
Sears, Robot & Co. provides the same services that the original Sears did in 1888 for rural dwellers, but to Maw and Paw asteroid habitats. Look through their InterPlaNet catalog website, fill your virtual shopping cart, pay with BitCoins, and Sears will spring into action. The Lunar fulfilment center will package your order in cargo capsules and use their mass driver to lob it at your hab. They even have kit homes, er ah, habitat modules.
And they can even make emergency deliveries of oxygen and other vital supplies. After you have signed away your soul with your signature written in blood. These emergency shipments are usually delivered by Beams-R-Us laser thermal transports.
crazy old coot but he sure makes top-notch spaceships
nobody knows he has undercover agents all over the solar system
nobody knows his spaceship factory is an orbital fortress either
A strange spacecraft manufacturer that specializes in experimental, customized, and extreme designs. It is run by an eccentric recluse, but the spacecraft are considered top-notch. The location is to take advantage of the rich metal deposits and almost unlimited solar energy available at Mercury.
RocketCat is a frequent visitor.
But do not approach the WCAI orbital construction complex without permission. The output of the solar-pumped laser array has been conservatively estimated at 1.3 petawatts. He says they are for laser-thermal rockets, but the array is called the Angel's Pencil from an old Larry Niven story. Dr. Chung does keep a wary eye on the Beams-R-Us laser arrays, in case they have some funny idea about a pre-emptive strike. In which case Beams-R-Us will learn the hard way about casaba howitzers and antimatter weapons as they are flabbergasted at the way their laser harmlessly bounce off muon-iron armor.
🎶 Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-do
I have a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-dee
If you are wise, you'll listen to me
What do you get when you guzzle d-V?
Burning as much as a fat SUV
You are not getting very high Ace
You're not going in…to…Space.
Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-dar
If you're not greedy, you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-do! 🎶
Supplier of industrial amounts of commercial antimatter. In competition with Callisto Matter & Energy Co. Has a solar cell array that covers pretty much all of the planet's surface (an Asimov Array), harvesting the astronomical amounts of energy (1.3×1021 joules per year) required for the abysmally inefficient antimatter generators (0.001 efficiency). STF's output is about 15 kilograms of antiprotons per year (mixed with an equal amount of matter yields 2.7×1018 joules or about the same as a 645 megaton fusion warhead).
The Antimatter Guard has three permanent bases there, keeping a close watch on everything and supporting the heavily armed antimatter convoys. Because all sorts of evil individuals and organizations would just love to get their lunch-hooks on militarily-significant amounts of antimatter.
Owners of cheap laser thermal rockets need somebody to supply them with laser beams. They can rent laser time from Beams-R-Us. If you have no LT rocket, Beams-R-Us will be more than happy to rent you such a rocket so you can also rent some of their laser time. But pay your bills or BRU will pull the plug and you'll either find yourself stranded or desperately trying to use the thin gruel of natural sunlight to get somewhere before your oxygen runs out.
Please note that all Beams-R-Us laser arrays contain self-destruct devices controlled by the military Laser Guard. Who also have several laser-hardened warships on patrol ready to blow the snot out of Beams-R-Us' assets if they try to use their lasers to destroy military ships or civilian cities. Oh, did I mention that the self-destruct devices are booby trapped?
The beam arrays are solar powered, taking advantage of a solar flux 6.8 times as strong as that around Terra's orbit.
Beams-R-Us have taken a few years to get their arrays operational. Now that they are going on-line, they have graduated to "Disruptive Innovation". They are wrecking severe economic damage on orbital propellant depots and the surrounding boom-towns, turning them into ghost towns. The inhabitants of the now-ghost towns, the owners of the depots, and the LOX/LH2 mongers who supply the depots all are quite angry with Beams-R-Us.
They have laser arrays like Beams-R-Us, but they use them with company owned cargo spacecraft to make the equivalent of railroads in space. They supply shipping services for people, cargo, and Maw-and-Paw habitat modules.
And like Beams-R-Us, the Laser Guard has them on a very short leash.
The name comes from rail-road trains in the Old American West.
Floating city in Venus' atmosphere. Built by a consortium of (now bankrupt) real-estate developers, the city currently does not have much of an economic reason for existing. Put it this way, no legal economic reasons for existing. It is currently a repository for priceless stolen goods, where its terrible vulnerability is seen as an asset. If international law enforcement shows up, the baloon will self-destruct, the priceless stolen goods will be destroyed by the hellish conditions on the planet's surface, and all the owners of the stolen goods will vent their powerful rage on international law enforcement.
Phobos has no manned presence on it. Because it is in the process of breaking up. Which is bad news for the Mars colonies.
There are remote-control mining drones. And there may be a few wildcat human miners who are there illegally, but they find it impossible to obtain any insurance policies. Much like people who insist on building their homes on semi-dormant volcanoes.
The primary source of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the inner solar system's orbital propellant depots (OPD). These (along with the Texas laser launcher complex) are key to opening up access to the solar system, since they basically cut the delta-V cost in half.
This also lead to Cape Dread becoming the orbital High Port paired with the Mars low port spaceport on the Martian surface. Which predictably lead Cape Dread to become a Boomtown. Transport Nexus. Giant traffic control complex to keep the ships from colliding. Ship repair docks. Ship construction factories. Warehouses for merchant cargo in transit along with factors for various merchant corporations. Trans-ship point from the Terra-bound clippers to the reusable Mars shuttles. A place for independent asteroid miners to sell their hard found ore. Deimos ice miners, longshoremen, local 235 ice-miner's union.
There might also be wildcat independent Deimosians setting up shop with their own ice processing gear in smaller internal bubble-caves. Old spacecraft too broken down to make the run back to Terra might be retired to serve as surface facilities. Break off the propellant tanks to melt'em down for metal, bury the habitat modules in regolith for protection, take the reactor and use it as a power generator. Use a Mylar bubble mirror with the dilute Martian sunshine to slowly crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, subsist on a diet of algae. Thusly you'd have a habitat shack for an eccentric outer space mountain man. The Old Rocket Bar might actually be an old rocket, selling shots of space booze.
Tourist traps, luxury hotels. Not to mention the pawn shops, clip joints, bars and brothels that spring up around any spaceport or space station, in other words "Startown". Perhaps repo men ready to seize ships where the captain/owner has gotten too far behind on the ship's mortgage payment. The Cape Dread Port Authority would of course need a security squad. And there may be Lurkers.
Think of it like a combination of New York City and Hong Kong. In space. All ruled by mayor Elon Musk the Fourth.
Cape Dread want to stay independent from Mars and Terra since free ports can make more money. The situation is similar to that found in the movie Casablanca. Various national governments (both on and off Terra) want to seize control of the lucrative port. Meanwhile Cape Dread is constantly doing all sorts of shenanigans to maintain independence. Science fiction authors take note.
But on one point Terra is non-negotiable. While Cape Dread is independent (due to complicated events), the Mars colonies are still controlled by Terra. Mars would like to declare independence but Terra has grabbed them by the short-and-curlies: Mars is utterly dependent upon Terra for its must-have supplies of Phosphorus.
Terra knows that Mars will rise in revolt the instant it obtains and alternate supply of phosphorus so Terra will do almost anything to prevent that. About the only good supply other than Terra is from type C asteroids. So far the Terran Spaceguard has managed to prevent any large-scale shipments of phosphorus from making the trip from the asteroid belt, thus keeping a lid on dreams of a Martian revolutionary war.
Terra's problem is that Deimos is basically a huge type C asteroid.
So Terra has told Cape Dread "Here's the deal: you don't mine any phosphorus and we don't nuke Deimos into blue glowing gravel"
This totally unstable situation will suggest to science fiction authors oh so many juicy and dramatic plot possibilites.
The Martian Colonies
These are still under control of Terra. They would revolt in a heartbeat, were it not for the unfortunatel fact that Terra has a monopoly on supplies of phosphorus. But the instant that monopoly is broken the fireworks will start.
Martian Terraforming Project
A long term project to terraform Mars, to make it shirt-sleeve habitable. This will take a few hundred years. Patriotic Martian colonist prefer to call this "habitablization" instead of "terraforming" because they chafe under the iron rule of TerraGov.
The project is a big client of Icebox Delivery Inc, because Mars needs the water and the oxygen in gigaton quantities.
A boom-town similar to Cape Dread. A transport nexus, source of water ice for orbital propellant depots, and other space station services. Plus a small but growing colony. It has been slowly been taking away business from Cape Dread supplying LOX and LH2. But they are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-R-Us and are quite angry.
A space station in the same Solar orbit as Ceres, but on the opposite side of Sol. A smaller version of Ceres colony, but without the water ice or the colonists. Contra-Ceres ensures that a belter asteroid miner is never further than about three-quarters the Asteroid Belt diameter from a Ceres (actually (√2)/2 or 0.7), instead of sometimes being a full Belt diameter away.
A provider of services to Maw-and-Paw asteroid miners. Services ranging from renting mobile refineries to purchasing ore. Keep in mind that Maw-and-Paw operations are generally limited to mining volatiles, mining metals is a job for the big corporations with deep pockets.
The largest, roughest, toughest corporation in the asteroid mining business. They do not play hardball, they play granite-ball. They are currently in possession of the motherload at 16 Psyche, planetoid of the meteor swords. Only currently, Galmetals often has battles with other asteroid mining corporations, both with space navies and with hostile corporate takeovers.
This is the asteroid-belt heavy-metal mother-load. It has 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt, and is almost 100% solid nickel-iron. Plus deposits of other valuable metals. Very little of it is worthless rock. It has been captured and recaptured many times by various asteroid mining megacorporations and national governments, and you never know when another space fleet will attack. It is orbited by quite a few refineries, whose ingot shipping mass-drivers can be quickly repurposed as fleet-killing weapons by whoever currently owns the place.
Specializing in orbital propellant depot refills, both of independent depots and their own brand of fill-up stations. Delivery to distressed spacecraft en route available for a fee.
Their corporate logo is a "Y" shaped dowsing rod.
They maintain a fleet of Robot Asteroid Prospectors (called "water witches") to find ice deposits and Kuck Mosquitos to go suck 'em up. They also market a line of low-powered LH2-LOX thrusters and regenerative fuel cells, both of which make more demand for their product. They are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-R-Us and are quite angry.
A series of asteroid colonies that are sparking a new Renaissance. This could be the start of a new space cultural revolution. Keep in mind that their strength is the fact that each colony is kaleidoscopically different from all the others (as different as Athens was from Sparta). Many have societies that can charitably be described as "disconcerting".
- Aster-Amazons: an all female society reproducing by parthenogenesis. They are of the opinion that the only good male is a gelded male, and they are not talking about anything as minor as a bilateral orchiectomy.
- Singularians: the entire society is geared to do everything in their power to usher in a Vingian technological singularity aka "the Rapture of the Nerds". This is strictly along the lines of developing a computer artificial intelligence, since genetic tinkering with humans is forbidden under the Rigger Ban.
- Hive Society: all members of society are mere cells in the organism which is the Hive. See Hellstrom's Hive and Macro-life.
- Gestalt Intelligence: the society is attempting to forge a Group Mind, where there are many bodies but only one mentality. Current lines of research are trying to develop a brain-computer interface compatible with the local InterPlaNet and with radio-telepathy. We are Nestor.
- Thelema: also known as A∴A∴, Άστρον Αργυρόν (Astron Argon) and Good Ole 451. The society is into psionics and mysticism in a big way. Disturbingly their magick actually seems to work. Their emblem is an odd six-pointed star called a "unicursal hexagram".
- Wierden: also known as the Well of Forever. A society inspired by an old TV show called "Babylon 5" to make themselves into B5 style "Technomages" (using science to give the appearance of wizardry). They have gotten rather good at it. Their skill with flashy special effects and showmanship is only second to their aptitude at computer hacking, electronic surveillance, microelectronics, advanced technology, exotic weapons, covert operations, disguise, and martial arts. Don't mess with them.
They also are students of various philosophies and schools of mysticism. Which means they are more annoying than Master Po, Mr. Miyagi, and Yoda rolled into one.
- And Many More. Use Your Imagination
Assorted Small Habitat Modules
These will range from the space equivalent of a shack, to a Maw and Paw habitat, to a small mining claim operated by a lone prospector, to a small colony where they have dome raising bees for new arrivals, to small boom-towns.
A large Dyson Tree in the asteroid belt, grown around a chunk of Saturn's ring purchased from Icebox Delivery Inc. Established by a mega-wealthy Tolkien fan, the colony is doing its best to transform themselves into space elves. The Word for World Is Forest.
The atmosphere supports a Saganesque gas-giant ecosystem. None of them are intelligent, but it is so hard to be sure. Given Jupiter's unreasonably high escape velocity and the lack of any obvious valuable resources nobody has invested enough money to settle the matter.
Callisto is more or less outside of Jupiter's radiation belt, unlike the other three Galliean moons. But it still has a huge supply of valuable water ice. They support the Europa and Ganymede Astrobiology Labs. They also control the incredibly lucrative power generators and ion-farms of Io. They are suffering a minor economic down-turn due to Beams-R-Us, but only for the inner solar system export market. Beams-R-Us lasers are not very cost efficient past the asteroid belt.
Callisto Matter & Energy Co.
Io is a nasty volanic moon with an annual radiation dosage of around 69 sieverts per day. The plethora of volcanoes belching molten sulfur does nothing to improve the property value.
But between Io and Jupiter's surface is the potential to generate about 2.0 × 1013 watts (i.e., 20 terawatts or a bit more than the total electricity consumption of the entire planet in 2004). CM&E harvests a bit of this bounty by using electrodynamic tethers. On the drawing board is a scheme to use copper rods with microwave power emitters. These would be launched at Jupiter. As the copper cuts the magnetic lines of force it generates electricity. This is converted into microwaves and beamed back to Io. Of course the rods are destroyed when they enter Jupiter's atmosphere, but that's the price of doing business. This is the "Energy" part of "Callisto Matter & Energy Co."
The intense radiation field of Jupiter can be used for the spallation of elements into needed isotopes on an industrial scale. This is the "Matter" part of "Callisto Matter & Energy Co." Of course it is trivial to make huge amounts of weapons-grade plutonium, but other elements are more lucrative.
The isotopes are a valuable export as is. The large amounts of available power can be used to manufacture energy rich substances for export (like metallic hydrogen, metastable helium, and antimatter). CM&P is always looking for partners to establish plants on Io for power-hungry industrial processes. You supply the factory, Io supplies the power, both of you split the profits.
CM&P is owned by Callisto Colony, and they maintain a small fleet of armed spacecraft to ensure it stays that way. If you have any bright ideas about attacking that fleet, remember that Callisto can afford to arm it with antimatter weapons.
Europa Astrobiology Lab
Europa is deep enough in the deadly Jovian radiation belt that the dosage on the surface is 5.4 Sieverts per day (LD50). But under the 20 kilometer ice layer there is a buried ocean, full of alien life. The moon is a protected wildlife refuge, and the Europa Astrobiology Lab uses submarines to analyze the alien life. None of the Europian life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…
Ganymede Astrobiology Lab
Ganymede is shallow enough in the deadly Jovian radiation belt that the dosage on the surface is only 0.08 Sieverts per day. Nothing to sneeze at but will take a few days to have noticable effect. From a depth of zero to 800 kilometers from the surface is a stack of several ocean layers separated by different phases of ice, with the lowest liquid layer adjacent to the rocky mantle. The moon is also a protected wildlife refuge, and the Ganymede Astrobiology Lab uses submarines to analyze the alien life. None of the Ganymedean life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…
The atmosphere supports a Saganesque gas-giant ecosystem vaguely similar to Jupiter's, but with a much lower population and diversity. None of them appear to be intelligent but there are plenty of apocryphal stories.
Hee Three for Thee LTDee
This company harvests Helium-3 from Saturn's atmosphere to sell to users of D-3He fusion reactors as fuel. There is Helium-3 in Jupiter's atmosphere as well, but the escape velocity is too high to make harvesting profitable. H3FT LTD wants to make Saturn the "Persian Gulf" of the solar system.
Alas, the demand for Helium-3 is not as large as hoped for, so the company is struggling. Their main competitor is Caribbean Sugar Islands LTD.
Floating city in Saturn's atmosphere. It was established by Hee Three for Thee LTD to be a luxurious city for the 3He cartels. Sadly the latter failed to materialize, so it is now mostly an industrial base for 3He harvesting operations. There is some tourist trade, whose main attraction is the spectactular ring system in the sky and day trips to observe the huge Saturnian wildlife.
Icebox Delivery Inc.
Based in Saturn's Rings, this company harvests large chunks of ice and gives them enough of a push to send them spiraling in to paying clients in the inner solar system. Since Saturn is so far from Sol, the delta V cost is quite modest. The ice takes a while to arrive, of course. A big client is the Mars Terraforming Project. They are suffering a minor economic down-turn due to Beams-R-Us, but only for the inner solar system export market. Beams-R-Us lasers are not very cost efficient past the asteroid belt. In any event most of their clients want bulk water for space colony ecologies and the Mars Terraforming project, not LOX/LH2 fuel.
Obviously Spaceguard watches all Icebox icesteroid moving operations like a hawk. Predictably boomtowns, camp-follower groups, and settlements have sprung up around the Spaceguard bases to meet the soldier's needs for gambling, whiskey, and prostitutes.
Saturn Ring and Moon System
Travel among the moons of Saturn requires remarkably low delta-V which lower the bar to the point where even teenagers can construct junkyard space taxis capable of traveling all over the ring system (or moon colonies who want their very own pocket space fleet). Kerosene fuel will do. Transit times vary from eight hours to 21 days, and synodic periods are mostly a few days.
Most of the moons and many of the larger chunks of ring material contain colonies of varying degrees of size and sanity.
There are a lot of mysterious things around Saturn, which science fiction authors can use as the basis for all sorts of diabolical MacGuffins and plot complications.
Titanic Polymers Inc. (a subsidiary of ReiherCo)
If you are building spacecraft, space stations, or planetary bases; you gotta have some kind of plastic.
If you need something fancier than polyethylene made from agricultural waste, you have two choices. Pay through the nose for fancy plastic imported from Terra with an outrageous shipping charge (ugly 9 km/s delta V) or come to the friendly plastic brokers of Titanic Polymers, on the shores of Titan's seas of petroleum.
They also provide lubricants of all sorts for industrial and domestic use. "If you have two things rubbing together, TitanLube can make it a frictionless action!"
It takes a long time to do Hohmann shipping from Saturn, but since these products have such universal demand there will always be stockpiles available at your local transport nexus.
Titan Astrobiology Lab
The methane lakes of Titan contain microorganisms. Unlike the other astrobiology sites, the entire moon is not a protected wildlife reserve because Titanic Polymers Inc. managed to buy enough politicians. Only the small lakes near the Astrobiology lab are protected. None of the Titanian life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…
This is the largest of all the colonies in the Saturn system, because weird as it is, Titan is the most Terra-like place in the entire solar system. They use a lot of D3He fusion reactors because the fuel source is right next door. They have a pretty substantial military fleet, second only to the local Spaceguard flotilla.
Enceladus Astrobiology Lab
Enceladus has cryovolcanoes erupting from its south pole, this is the source of Saturn's E ring. The surface is the top of an ice shelf 35 kilometers deep, underneath is an ocean with an average depth of 28 kilometers. The moon is yet another a protected wildlife refuge, and the Enceladus Astrobiology Lab uses submarines to analyze the alien life. None of the Enceladean life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…
TerraCo Military Isolation Lab
Secrets Man was not meant to know we search for anyway
Trespassers will be shot on sight. Period.
Most heavily guarded place in the entire Solar system
This is an area where the military develops technologies with hazard ratings approaching Existential Threat level. That is, things that if they escaped control could make the human race extinct. The military's justification for meddling with such insanely dangerous toys is that they don't want to fall behind research done by The Enemy, but the true reason appears to be virtual genital amplification by packing a larger gun.
Broadcasts announce that unauthorized spacecraft breaching the security line will be fired upon with no warning, and they are not kidding.
There are two large task forces in the area. One has all their weapons aimed outward at incoming unauthorized ships, be they spy ships or be they enemy battle fleets trying to grab some goodies.
The other task force has all their weapons aimed inward. In case any of the experiments tries to ... escape.
There are a series of orbital labs. Each is separated from the control complex and all other labs by a healthy distance. There have been a few incidents over the last 75 years or so, but the details are ultra-top-secret.
- Two instances of labs being obliterated by nuclear explosions, apparently from the internal self-destruct system. Whatever they were developing was seconds away from escaping but had not managed to neutralize the fail-deadly system.
- One instance where the lab was nudged into a Sol collision trajectory by a huge remote controlled military fusion tug. During the five year long fall, the lab was escorted by a large task force carefully making sure the lab did not deviate from the planned course. Presumably the available fleet firepower was not enough to ensure destruction of whatever-it-was, but the lab had managed to prevent it from penetrating the hull and escaping. After the lab fell into Sol and was presumably consumed, the task force invested Sol in a patrol orbit for another three months. Just in case the lab suddenly reappeared and tried to claw its way out of Sol.
- One instance where the lab apparently vanished into an artificial wormhole, leaving only an abruptly cut-off radio message containing a long scream instead of "My God, It's Full Of Stars..." The wormhole vanished a few minutes later.
- One instance where the lab started to fractally dissolve and change into a new shape. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is either gray goo nanotechnology or rogue Von Neumann machines trying to construct something and using the lab's atoms as raw material. The entire task force frantically bombarded the lab until it exploded, which took a remarkably long time because the blown-up bits stubbornly kept repairing themselves by growing back together.
- One instance where half the guard task force abruptly started attacking the other half. The outer task force destroyed all the guard task force ships and the lab. The outer task force then had all their crews transfer into rescue ships, stark naked through vacuum. The outer task force was then self-destructed. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that a badly programmed superintelligent AI software tried to escape by taking over guard spacecraft via network firewall penetration and uploading itself into the ship's processing cores like an intelligent computer virus. After that incident the air-gap protocols were drastically upgraded.
- One instance where the guard task force crew behaved in a strange manner, suggesting that they were under attack by a Langford Visual Hack.
- One instance where a lab exploded with the force of a chemical explosion. High speed Paparazzi video analysis suggests that a second almost-but-not-quite identical lab materialized out of nowhere. The twin lab overlapped the first lab, causing the explosion due to the fact that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that the lab inadvertently dragged its sister lab sideways in time from an alternative history or parallel time-line.
- One instance where the lab moved away at high velocity from a Paparazzi satellite. Trouble is, there were about a hundred such satellites englobing the Isolation Lab area, and the lab moved away from all of them simultaneously. Which is impossible, if you move away from a given satellite you necessarily have to move towards a satellite located on the opposite side. But the lab managed to do this anyway. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that the lab fell into the fourth spacial dimension, which is about the only plausible explanation.
These are observatories stationed at a distance of 550 astronomical units away from the Sun, allowing them to use Sol as a gravitational lens. In theory this would allow a seeing object that were ten kilometers in diameter on the surface of a planet 100 light years distant.
Each can only observe galactic objects that are on the exact opposite side of Sol with respect to the observatory, so most are positioned to watch a particular extrasolar system. These are systems that are either close to Sol or that have a high probability of containing habitable planets. An observatory can be repositioned to watch a new star system, but this takes decades.
Detecting life on an extrasolar planet would be facinating. But getting an early warning of an invading alien starfleet is priceless.
Spent Nuclear Stages
There were quite a few bat-poop insane Mars missions that used staging, more precisely Nuclear staging. This means when the stage runs dry of propellant it is jettisoned into an eccentric solar orbit, nuclear reactor glowing blue with radiation an all. Examples include the Aeronutronic EMPIRE, Austin Mars Mission, Boeing IMIS, Douglas Mars, and the MSFC NTR Mars Mission
First off, these things will be mildly radioactive for thousands of years, and will provide rude surprises for careless space explorers who do not pay attention to the radiation gauges or their spaceflight history. It is possible that the exact orbit of these spent stages has been perturbed enough that nobody really knows where they are anymore.
But secondly the fuel rods in the reactor will probably have only burnt 15% of the uranium. It will still contain 85% of its original valuable fissionable uranium, all it needs is for the fuel rods to be reprocessed. This allows a rock-rat down on their luck to make some quick money. It also allows some criminal or terrorist organization to lay their hands on some weapons-grade fissionables without the Nuke Guard finding out. Just discovering one of these spent stages and determining the orbit is valuable, the orbital elements could fetch some good money from an underworld buyer.
L4 and L5 Trojan Points
All the planet-Sol and planet-moon L4 and L5 Trojan points will tend to gather space dust, and maybe larger objects. In PROTECTOR by Larry Niven the belter protagonist discovers a priceless historical artifact in Uranus's trailing Trojan point: a stage from the (fictitious) Mariner XX Pluto fly-by. Science fiction authors can put all sort of interesting things at a Trojan point: a Lost Spaceship, a dead body, an interesting meteor, an alien artifact, a mummified alien, etc.
These are useful locations and institutions for RocketCat's Universe that come from copyrighted works of science fiction. You can use them if you are making a roleplaying game background for personal use only. But you will be breaking the law if you used them in your novel or other commercial project without permission from the original author.
In the year mumbly-mumble some brilliant but misguided scientists were trying to decrease the cost for humans to access space by reducing human's life support costs. Perhaps inspired by Planets in Peril by Edmond Hamilton, they genetically engineer human beings who can live in the vacuum of space with no protection. The new race, called "Riggers" (from "rigor mortis"), bear a passing resemblance to a skeletal human, abet with some body parts seemingly composed of gristle. In other words, the Dem Bones trope.
You can see where all this is heading.
The misguided scientists are predictably hoisted by their own petard as the Riggers figure there is not enough room in the Solar System for two intelligent races. The Riggers embark on a brutal campaign of human genocide but are defeated since human beings are even nastier.
A hand full of surviving Riggers lurk in obscure areas of the Solar System, occasionally pirating human cargo ships and smelting down the hapless human crews for their component H2O and phosphorus. Or at least the random bits of the crew which remained after the Riggers had feasted on their still-living bodies.
To help track down the remaining Riggers the TerraCo Military Isolation Lab (Saturn-Sol Lagrange Point 4) created the Beast Master program. This was not very successful, since it is very hard for non-sentient animals to operate effectively when wearing tiny four-legged space suits.
The following program hit pay dirt. The Combat-Critter Program genetically uplifted predator animals who had at least a vague friendship with humans. They would hunt down and terminate Riggers.
The most successful is the new species Spatia Catus, and the meanest of them all is RocketCat.
Of course the scientists engineered a genetic kill-switch in all the uplifted animals. Just in case. But when I mention this to RocketCat, he just ... smiles.
RocketCat stands about average human height, has digitgrade legs and a tail (which is kept along the spine inside a space suit and protrudes out a silly hole in civilian pants). Mass is around 70 kilograms. Catnip has little or no effect, to deny Riggers an easy weapon (but they can smell it a mile away).
The hands are modified to be close to human in order to allow operation of standard human equipment and controls (not to mention weapons). Fangs and teeth, on the other hand, are pretty much standard cat (well, standard for a cat the size of a human at any rate).
The hands have retractable claws which RocketCat occasionally inlays with monoedge blades capable of slicing flesh to the bone and (eventually) cutting through most armor. Since like all felines the claws are shed, RocketCat only inlays for special occasions (wearing fingerless gloves to expose the blades).
RocketCat is fond of using his monoedge claws to engrave rune-graffiti into metal space-station walls. Runes because the Elder Futhark have no curved lines in their letters. Runes were orginally carved on slats of wood with a knife, which made it difficult to create a curved line. The same holds true for monoedged claws on metal hulls. Runes also have no horizontal lines because that would cut the wood along the grain, which RocketCat does not give a rat's heinie about because metal hulls have no grain.
His fur color is jet black, as black as the Boötes void.
Spatia Catus' metabolism has been genetically tweaked so it can produce arginine and taurine, unlike conventional cats who need those in their diet. Like ordinary cats Spatia Catus favor a high-protein diet (obligate carnivore), which makes it a challenge to use closed ecological life support systems (they can't live on algae). This makes their feces malodorous, hence the aphorism "mean as cat-poop." I'm sure they get real tired of eating compressed bug bars, and at space stations tend to spend more than they should for restaurant meals of real meat. There is also a remarkable absence of rats around any place a Spatia Catus is bunking. The rats that are too stupid to flee at the merest whiff of cat scent will quickly become a midnight snack.
Spatia Catus is hypersensitive to spoiled and rotted food. They can detect the odor long before it becomes strong enough to be smelled by a human. This gives them a reputation for being finicky eaters.
As with standard cats, they have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level required for humans. And poor color vision, they have difficulty distinguishing between red and green (which can make it difficult to use some spacecraft controls and computer user interfaces). They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans, detecting frequencies from 55 Hz to 79,000 Hz, a range of 10.5 octaves. This includes ultrasound. The hearing is very sensitive being most acute in the range of 500 Hz to 32 kHz. The mobile ears enhance the ability to detect a sound's location. They also have a sense of smell about twice as sensitive as human. Sense of taste is poor, fewer taste buds and they cannot taste sweet things at all.
As with standard cats, they are sensitive to environmental poisons, because their livers are less effective at some forms of detoxification than are humans. This also includes many medications. Some standard human drugs are quite poisonous to Spatia Catus. As is chocolate, poor kitty.
Standard cats raised as pets live in a kind of extended kittenhood (neoteny). They see their owners as a cat mother surrogate. Not so Spatia Catus, they are strictly feral, and are not domesticated. At all. If you try to pet one the shock-trauma room might be able to sew your arm back on.
Spatia Catus are not sexually compatible with human beings, for reasons you will discover if you research feline male genitalia (hint: spines, plural). You will then understand why female cats have to be so deep in estrus that they are cross-eyed before they will let a male cat anywhere near them.
RocketCat has been highly trained to detect, track, hunt down, and sanction with extreme prejudice Riggers. He has carefully honed detective skills, is a dead shot with most firearms, and is a master of a peculiar martial art called "Cat-Fu". As most cats RocketCat has inate skills with acrobatics and parkour. He has also been trained in microgravity hand-to-hand combat, where the tail gives him a distinct advantage. The tail can be used to change the body's orientation while in free fall, Terran cats use this to ensure they land on their feet.
RocketCat's odd hobby is astronautics and spacecraft design. As you already know from reading his comments scattered through this website, along with the knowledge that he does not suffer fools gladly and is quite sarcastic. His favorite games are Homeworlds, Ogre, and High Frontier.
He travels in a small torchship with a freaking nuclear salt water engine that don't need no steenking Hohman orbits. It also don't need no steenking stealth, you can track a continuously detonating atomic drive from as far away as Proxima Centauri. The spacecraft was constructed at Winchell-Chung Astronautical Industries, of course. He humorously named his ship the Polaris. It has a delta-V of 200 km/s, carries a crew of five hulking RatBot enforcers and is armed with a Casaba Howitzer. Said howitzer has six rounds, each of which can skewer a spacecraft the long way with a spear of nuclear flame. Yes, the astromilitary is not very happy about this being in civilian hands. The ship's armor has a foil-thin core that RocketCat is evasive about, but I suspect it is steel made with muon-iron (roughly 207 times as strong as conventional steel).
The Polaris is run by a sardonic artificially intelligent computer named GAZAK, if HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, then GZK is one ahead of HAL. GAZAK and the RatBots are quite capable of taking care of themselves. The gutters around the starport occasionally contain the mortal remains of idiot punks who thought RocketCat's empty spacescraft would be an easy burglary job. GAZAK also has a hobby of infiltrating the local node of InterPlaNet and hacking into every government, police, megacorporation, and other computer it can access.
And a word to the wise: when RocketCat is in town, do not torture or kill any domestic cats. RocketCat will find out and he takes such things very personally. The police will find your mutilated corpse with every wound and injury inflicted on the kittycat painstakingly recreated on what is left of your body, pre-mortem. A fact the police can readily ascertain due to the convenient presence of a reference hologram depicting the poor kittycat victim. Convenient because it is nailed to your skull. Underneath the hologram, your final agonized facial expression has been know to give nightmares to police and forensic experts.
Yes, there have been assassination attempts on RocketCat using a cat-kill as bait. Every time the end result is an unharmed RocketCat and all members of the assassin kill-team being found dead and identically mutilated as per above. As well as whoever hired the assassins in the first place.
As previously mentioned, Riggers are genetically engineered humans who can live in airless space, look like animated skeletons, and want to exterminate the human race.
Here is some inspirational material about hostile space skeletons from pulp science viction.