Shortly after the Llighaqua Mission had left the Solar System, Beagle had returned, carrying a wealth of information on the habitable planet the spacecraft had discovered in the Epsilon Eridani system. Named Eridu, this planet massed 1.33 times of Earth and had about 1.2 times of its gravity.
Most of the planets just 17 percent landmass was made up by three small continents and a larger number of island chains of various sizes, most of which were the tops of the only large mountain chains the planet had. The tallest peak of the planet was merely 1265 meters in height, measured by two of the radar mapping satellites carried by Beagle.
The equatorial continent was named Alulim, the northern continent Jushur and the narrow north-to-south continent Etana, using the names of ancient Sumerian kings, as were the larger islands and island chains.
As the planet was along the inner third of Epsilon Eridanis habitable zone and the amount of water in the atmosphere, the average temperature was about 23 degrees, making the majority of the landmass being covered by lush dschungels and forests, while the lack of large mountain ranges meant that it lacked anything like central continental climates like found in the American Middle West. An axial tilt of just 9 degree resulted in less developed seasons.
While most of the observations of the planet had been made from orbit and through teleoperated landers, two manned expeditions to the planet’s surface had been made, allowing xenobiologists and geologists to take a closer look of their own.
As expected there was little chance of cross-infection with native bacteria and viruses, even though the ecology of Eridu was based on the same proteins and genetic bases as Earth life. However it was discovered that a few plants and maybe animals might be digestible by humans, just as a few other native animals might be useful as work animals for potential first settlers.
With the return of Beagle, talks about settling the planet began, culminating in the United Nations Summit on Extrasolar Settlements in 2057. During this summit the Great Powers tried their best to carve up the planet, much like the colonial powers of old had done to Asia and Africa nearly two centuries ago. Many of the nations that used to be colonies however were successful to interfered here. Partly this was due to bad memories, partly by wanting their own piece of the cake.
The Summit ended with the Eridu Treaty, which allowed the signatory nations to lay claim on an area of land not more than 2500 square kilometers for the first ten years, before being allowed to grow their claimed areas within limits that still had to be set. Additionally claimed areas also would need to have a direct connection to the originally claimed area. The Eridu Treaty would extend to other habitable planets, as well as uninhabitable planets and dwarf planets and be valid for fifty years before being renegotiated.
Corporations and private missions were also allowed to claim areas, however they were limited to merely ten square kilometers. Unclaimed areas were free to be used for building traffic infrastructure as well as being explored by scientific missions.
As the Eridu Treaty was limited to extrasolar claims, the situation in the Solar System didn’t change at all.
Backed by the Eridu Treaty, the Great Powers made use of the scientific data from Beagle to select the best places for their initial settlements and lay out plans to set them up.
The first to launch missions to claim and colonize parts of Eridu were China and the Soviet Union, having already used their extensive propaganda machinery to turn extrasolar colonies into the new places to be, resulting in a larger pool of volunteers. So shortly after the Eridu Treaty was signed, both nations had already build up the first settlement expeditions and were ready to go.
Both expeditions set out from SEL 1 on September 15, 2057, a month after the end of the Summit. They were loaded with construction material, transportation, food stocks and other materials to build up basic infrastructures, allowing a very limited autarky for the new settlements. Additionally they carried materials for basic transit space stations and defenses, just in case.
While the Soviet mission, claiming the isthmus area on Etana, had an initial population of 500 settlers, carefully screened for their ideological purity, the Chinese sent out no less than 1500, some of whom were just wanting to get as far from the thumb of Beijing as possible, settling down around a bay on the east coast of Alulim.
Other nations were to follow during the 2060s, with the United States and EU establishing their settlements with a relatively low number of around 300 settlers on the east and west coast of Badum.
While the first settlements were established on Eridu, commercial interests were already established in Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star and Luhmann 16, after Planetary Mining & Manufacturing and Orbital Industries, among others, purchased or build their first FTL capable craft. The first craft were survey craft based on the MMLS hull, followed by MMHS based industrial craft, first scouting out interesting asteroids and establishing mines.
Of course this raised the question whether or not these extra solar mines were cost effective or even needed, considering the large amount of minable asteroids back home. To a small degree the mining companies were granted tax cuts to help create claims for their home nations, potentially allowing them to claim parts of the systems. Another was to give the incentive to create smaller forms of the Waypoint Depot, allowing future patrols to protect these claims.
Back in the Solar system the mining companies continued to expand their infrastructure feeding the continuously growing orbital industries in cislunar space. There was a drop in the prices for platinum group metals in the late 2050s when Lunar Surface Mining LLC began to look at impact craters on the lunar surface for the asteroids that impacted there, showing closer targets for these metals than the Near Earth Objects used by various other mining companies.
This valuable discovery lead to the development of semi-permanent redeployable habitats for the technicians and engineers tasked with supervising the mining systems. While designs varied, they generally followed the basic structure of the German antarctic station Neumayer-Station III or the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, though with integrated propulsion systems, such as continuous tracks and/or cryogenic thrusters.
With additional sites for Helium 3 mines on the lunar surface the population of the Moon, whether permanent or temporary increased by several thousand.
The rather cost intensive mining of lunar Helium 3 however had already lead to the development of other means of mining the valuable gas. The Neptune Gas Mining Corporation was formed by several EU and US companies as a joint venture and using the Turukal Gas Giant mine began to develop their own gas mining system to be used in the upper atmosphere of Neptune.
This first Gas Mine was a close copy of the multiple piece Turukal system. An Orbital station was designed to house large tanks and docking ports for tankers, as well as habitation for technicians and engineers. It was then connected through a long tether wo the main scoop collected the atmospheric gas of Neptune, where it was collected and separated to extract the Helium 3.
The main scoop also collected some Deuterium to feed its integrated fusion reactor, which also powered the orbital station as the heat management for the reactor was more effective in the gas giant’s atmosphere. Additionally the current running through the tether interacted with Neptunes magnetosphere, providing a propulsive force to counteract the atmospheric drag. To transfer the mined gas to the orbital station, a climber was attached to the tether, running up and down along its length to carry the mined liquified gas into orbit.
Operation of the Nereid Gas Mine began in December 2061 and it was served by three FTL equipped MMUS based tanker craft.
Only three month later the cost of Helium 3 dropped significantly, though not thanks to the Nereid Gas Mine, but through the arrival of two FTL spacecraft from 61 Virginis, carrying a few enterprising Untiph-bel entrepreneurs as well as ten thousand tonnes of Helium 3. This amount alone was several times the 2061 production of Helium 3. Their arrival not only crashed the cost of Helium 3, but also provided a big problem, as there was the need to work out how to pay for the the liquified gas necessary for fusion reactors.
The Untiph-bel were using an energy backed monetary system, with its smallest unit being equal to 0.764 Joules. To make things more complicated to find a conversation was the use of kilograms for of liquid Helium 3 being used as monetary units in itself. Eventually however a conversation was found, going back to an oddity of the Quetzal biology, which made crude oil a delicacy. As the Untiph-bel, other than the survivors, had never tasted crude oil, they were very interested in purchasing it to be sold back home. In the end fifty thousand barrel of crude oil were used by various groups to purchase the ten thousand tonnes of Helium 3, as well as 500 million Euros and US Dollar for any future dealings in Swiss company accounts.
There were some fears that this relative low cost of the Helium 3 was going to make Earth dependent on the 61 Virginis Helium 3, but those fears were slowly put to rest. With the Nereid Gas Mine active, with a projected yield of 1000 tonnes of Helium 3 per year, six similar sized mines in various stages of construction and larger mines planned for Neptune and Uranus, eventually Earth might be able to compete with the Untiph-bel.
To make things even more interesting, Sol was almost in a straight line between 61 Virginis and Beta Hydrii, making it a prime spot to take on supplies for any spacecraft of the Untiph-bel and the Tiaunt. It became clear when the two tankers that had visited Sol in early 2062 made their way towards Beta Hydrii in late 2062, selling off a thousand tonnes of Helium 3 on the way. They later returned through Sol, carrying fourty thousand barrels of Jerat crude oil.
Outside of this small economic boom in the outer parts of the solar system, Mars remained a boom town as well. The Aldrin Cyclers of the Mars Society were continuously enlarged to cope with the growing number of settlers moving to Mars, making use of the low cost service. By 2060 the amount of incoming settler, either by Cycler or powered spacecraft, exceeded the capacity of the existing gateway stations in Mars orbit.
To take care of this problem the Mars Society suggested a base on Deimos to take care of the international traffic, operated by the UNOOSA to safeguard the fair use of the station. The Mars Society even went as far as offering their own Mayflower Station as the core for the new Port Deimos.
While the UNOOSA was interested in the idea, Port Deimos could only be set up in 2063, following negotiations with both China and India, since both nations had only recently enlarged their own traffic control stations. Rather than using the Mayflower Station as a core however the UNOOSA used the Waypoint Station design already used several times, since it could easily be extended and was intended to be anchored to an asteroid from the ground up, making use of modular systems that were already produced and didn’t need work to be make compatible with the Mars Society systems.
Closer towards the Sun, the Soviets intensified their scientific work on Venus. While their decades long work on the Veneran derelict still didn’t yield any significant advances in science outside of a few metallurgic advances, their interest in Venus itself had slowly returned.
Over the past decade the Soviet Academy of Sciences has developed a manned mission to Venus. Rather than landing on the planet however, the plan was to use a special inflatable airship to cruise through the upper atmosphere of Venus for about a year to get more information about the atmospheric currents as well as testing technologies that might be useful for the potential colonization of the veneran upper atmosphere.
With the new developments everywhere in the solar system there was a need for high speed courier craft, to transport large amounts of data that couldn’t be transmitted with conventional radio or laser communication systems, either because they needed to be encrypted or were simply too large to be easily transmitted. Such a craft was quickly developed and based on the Unmanned Combat Drone design, by more or less simply replacing the weapons payload with a habitat for a crew.
This new Light Courier Craft was quickly put into service and saw its first use in cislunar space, ferrying important people around, before it was used for scientific missions within the solar system. It could also be carried by a larger FTL spacecraft to act as a light scientific craft or a light scout.