While the first mission of the Beagle was underway, humanity prepared itself for the step out of the solar system and into the realm of the stars, to become an interstellar species.
As early as 2042 the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, UNOOSA, was asked by the nations involved in the International Centre for Advanced Space Propulsion Technologies, and by extension the spacefaring nations of the UN, to work on plans to build up a transportation hub on 319876 Junctio, which had been selected to become a permanent base station in the near future to facilitate faster and more frequent transportation into and out of the solar system.
At a distance of 5.45 to 5.87 AU from Sol, the 10 kilometer asteroid was the prime candidate for such a station.
It quickly became clear that Junctio Station should only be one in an entire network of similar stations in other potentially settled systems, as well as in the solar system, to make travel a little faster and to provide for a convenient place to refuel, restock and repair spacecraft. To make sure that such a station could function and render its services to everyone, it could hardly be bound to the laws and politics of a single nation and would therefore need to be operated internationally as an extraterritorial place and thus be bound to international laws.
To this end the UNOOSA created the Space Infrastructure Section to operate Junctio Station and the supply networks to support it, approved by the majority of the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.
Within the solar system, Junctio Station would need a whole setup of support stations and spacecraft to ferry material, people and fuel to and from the station.
Until the end of 2042 it was possible to develop a plan for the initial development of Junctio Station, also allowing for future growth of the station. The construction of Junctio Station would follow three distinct stages leading to the completion of the initial development phase.
The first stage would be the initial survey of the asteroid 319876 Junctio and setting up a simple infrastructure for a close in-depth survey.
Following the survey, the second stage would be to create the basic systems for Junctio Station, such as basic living quarters for a crew of 20, life support, power systems, basic service systems for spacecraft. To this end Planetary Mining & Manufacturing, Orbital Industries and several smaller asteroid mining companies were asked for their know-how on permanent structures on the surface of an asteroid.
Stage Three would then be to build the complete infrastructure on Junctio itself. This would include mining and processing systems from one or more asteroid mining companies to provide raw materials and refined materials for any unforeseen repairs as well as local construction of expansions. Tank systems for various space propellant would be needed, but also quarters and closed loop life support systems to sustain at least a population of one thousand. This would include a 200 meter gravity deck, as well as international docking ports for 20 spacecraft and repair capacities for 5. Additionally some integrated defenses in the form of laser reactors were discussed.
Jupiter’s moon Callisto was also part of the initial development plans for Junctio Station, as a prime provider for water used as spacecraft propellant; either for fusion thrusters or, split into hydrogen and oxygen, for chemical rockets. Callisto already had a station and a basic infrastructure, so extending it was not expected to be much of a problem. The difficulty would more likely be to move large amounts of water into orbit around Callisto first, store it there and then to Junctio Station.
Most craft of the transport system could be automated and as such the general designs to be developed were automated surface-to-orbit and orbit-to-orbit tankers. For additional development of the space sector, the UNOOSA made a Request for Proposals to commercial and national companies.
To keep with the time constraints put up by the General Assembly, the selection process was aided by the use of advanced simulations for the proposals performance.
DaimlerChrysler was chosen for the surface-to-orbit vehicle with a version of their SERV reusable launch vehicle, the Single-stage Orbital Reusable Vehicle, a design modified to be used on bodies with no or very thin atmospheres. The SORV would be able to launch 500 tonnes into orbit around Callisto, while being able to land about 100 tonnes back on the surface before needing to be refueled.
For the unmanned orbit-to-orbit tanker, the Soviet NPO Energia design bureau won the contest. Their Autonomous Transport Komplex design, the ATK, was little more than a truss, powered by a simple 20 MW thorium fission reactor and propelled by a set of VASIMR thrusters as the delivery of water was not time dependent. The water itself was attached to the truss in the form of a 500 tonne block of ice, protected by a thin layer of polymer foam and actively cooled.
The APK was designed to carry 48 blocks, totaling at 28000 tonnes of water. Once an APK arrived as Junctio Station the blocks of ice would be melted into ice slush over the cooling tubes, using waste heat from the stations fusion reactor, and could be stored at 4 degrees Celsius for future use or electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen.
Transportation of people and other material between Junctio Station and Earth would be provided by a modified version of the MMUS with a lower number of propellant tanks, additional gravity wheels and storage, as well as external attachment points for larger cargo.
In early 2044 the UNOOSA ordered ten SORVs, six ATKs and three interplanetary MMUSs.
While the Beagle was on its mission to Proxima and Alpha Centauri, the Soviet Alexey Leonov, an unarmed scientific MMUS was on its way towards 319876 Junctio to implement the first stage of the Junctio Station Project by conducting a basic survey.
Following a 200 day fast transit trajectory, the Leonov moved into a slow orbit. The crew initially mapped the asteroid’s surface before using its parasites, a trio of next generation TKS, to survey several areas that had the best potential for initial base setup.
After the initial surveys and geological analysis the asteroid was confirmed to be a carbonaceous type. As such the asteroid contained a larger amount of water and other volatiles as well as organic compounds.
For the UNOOSA this was a good thing, as it meant that Junctio Station could operate partly autonomous if an asteroid mining company would settle down alongside the station to supply it with water, metals and plastics. With these resources the station could expand faster and allowed for a much more efficient use of transports carrying other needed resources or more advanced systems. The organic compounds could also be used for a simple graphene integrated circuit factory.
After sufficient data was acquired, phase one was concluded and it became possible to prepare the second stage of the Junctio Station Project. Orbital Industries was contracted for the use of the Humbolt to construct a stable connection between the future station and the asteroid, while the China Minmetal Corporation received a contract allowing for the initial mining operation for water, metals and organic compounds.
A set of six PM&M Waldo and four Soviet Rabochiy fabricator robots was purchased to construct the station’s structure, as well as the tanks to store large amounts of water, cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen, as well as Helium-3 and Deuterium.
BASF, Mitsubishi Chemical and Dow Chemical provided the chemical plants for the station, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India produced a 100 MW fusion reactor, with the initial habitation and storage volume provided by off-the-shelves inflatable and rigid habitation modules.
For the Callisto base, which was to be named Thetis Station, the UNOOSA ordered another 100 MW thorium fission reactor to melt the ice of Callisto, a large scale distillation system to clean the water, and shaped tanks to freeze the distilled water into blocks of ice that could be transported to Junctio.
By October 2046 the crew and systems needed for the second Stage were completed, about the same time the first interplanetary MMUS, the Great Western, had finished its maiden flight, a 30 day transit to Mars and back. Additionally the Soviet Union had completed two ATKs and DaimlerChrysler five SORVs, which allowed for the preparations of the setup of the initial stage of Thetis Station as well.
The Great Western, Humbolt, USC Independence and PLA-SF Chengdu were loaded with crew and materials and launched towards Junctio on a 300 day trajectory in November 2046. The longer trajectory was chosen due to the Humbolts low acceleration compared to the MMUSs.
The four spacecraft met with the Leonov at Junctio in August 2047 and began to construct the first modules. The Leonov and Great Western subsequently returned to Earth, while Humbolt, Independence and Chengdu remained at Junction to support further construction and provide the construction crew with a way back to Earth, should the need arise.
While the construction of Junctio Station commenced, two ATKs were loaded up with the ice mining equipment and the finished SORVs for Callisto and sent towards Jupiter, where they arrived in December 2047. A construction crew, sent ahead on HMC Sidney, was already waiting on Arcas Station. The SORVs delivered the ice mining modules about 20 kilometers away from the station, where the fusion reactor was erected, as well as the distillation and electrolysis systems. The actual mining was then done another 10 kilometers away from the ice factory.
By September 2048 Thetis Station had produced the first 24 ice blocks, which were transported into orbit and secured to one of the ATKs for transport to Junctio Station. On October 3rd, ATK 1 left orbit around Callisto on a trajectory to Junctio, where it arrived about 190 days later. The ice blocks were unloaded and attached to a simple framework on the surface of Junctio, while the tank systems were still under construction.
In November 2048 the second interplanetary MMUS, the Belorussiya, was completed and made a 30 day voyage to Mars, like its sister ship the Great Western. Meanwhile the Great Western had returned to Earth and underwent minor repairs and both craft launched towards Junction in late February 2049, arriving mid december. The Great Western remained stationed at Junctio after delivering a number of additional factory and refinery modules and three inflatable tanks, each capable of holding up to 20000 tonnes of water, supplementing the existing tanks. The factory modules included a number of fabricator systems that could be used for expanding the station and repair spacecraft.
With the completion of the remaining ATKs and SORVs, as well as the Hainan MMUS, the construction of Junctio Station was going according to schedule. As 2055 rolled around, the first phase of the Junctio Project was concluded successfully.
The Junctio Project also had a, not entirely unexpected, effect on commercial and private space endeavours, as more and more companies saw a growing economic viability, now that entire countries and even the UN were beginning to buy spacecraft and other space structures. The idea of an interplanetary infrastructure, with stations and spacecraft connecting them to each other, found fertile ground, especially among the groups pushing for more extraterrestrial settlements.
In 2043 the Solar Exploration and Settlement Alliance was founded by a number of space advocacy groups, private and national settlement programs and corporations to answer the increasing call for a centralized and independent think tank. The goal of the SESA was to plan the civilian commercial part of the solar systems infrastructure to be as effective, if not more so, than the ‘public side’.
At first this meant to further develop the inner solar system. Cislunar space already had a largely working infrastructure, even though it did need expansion in the form of alarger transport capacity.
Gateway Station in EML2 was already in use as a commercial jumping point for transports to Mars and Near Earth Asteroids and was seen as the logical choice for expansion due to the expected increase of traffic. SESA suggested to enlarge it with a large 200 meter gravity deck, extended docking ports, comparable to the International Orbital Dock and additional tanks for fuel and propellant.
The traffic from Gateway Station largely went towards Mars, which was was almost sorely performed by the Aldrin Cyclers of the Mars Society, Lusitania and Mauretania. Both were by now essential to ferry people and material to Mars, but still limited in capacity. Now and again national spacecraft added to this, but only for the national settlement programs.
The SESA proposed the extension of the Aldrin Cycler system with additional cyclers and the expansion of the existing ones with 100 meter gravity decks, as well as several MMUSs. While the Aldrin Cyclers would provide a basic transport capacity for people and materials, the MMUSs could provide rapid priority transport.
Additionally the SESA noted the lack of other comparably low cost interplanetary transports, where an MMUS was too much to use. To this end, SESA suggested using the MMUS as base of the Multi-Mission Light SpaceCraft, MMLS, using systems of the MMUS to ease its design, production and servicing. Additionally the MMLS was designed to be equipped with a HFE Generator for extrasolar uses. The MMLS design was well received and was quickly adopted.
The other targets of the inner solar system where Near Earth Objects, with about ten of them claimed and mined by commercial and national companies. Most of these mines were completely automated and the SESA suggested to build up small settlements at the mines as supplements. While the automated mines made use of small tugs on trajectories and utilized gravity-assists around the moon that could minimize the needed ∆v, manned mines and settlements would need faster transports for people and material.
Outside of the SESA suggestions and plans, national and private interests saw the extension of lunar settlements and more people settled down permanently on the Moon, bringing the permanent population of the various lunar settlements to ten thousand by 2050, with more than thirty thousand temporary workers.
While most other nations built new smaller stations within cislunar space, India and China began with a new more productive space race, aiming to be the first ones to complete a free floating space settlement.
India started off this race by announcing the Vimana Project of India in 2044. Basing their plans on the Bernal Sphere and O’Neill Island designs from the 1970s, their Vimana design made use of a pair of 500 meters diameter cylinders with a length of 325 meters, connected by a shared spine and counter-rotating to each other. These stuy cylinders were more stable than those of the larger O’Neill designs and covered by solar cells, with a large solar cell system on each end of the central spine. Each cylinder was projected to be able to house five thousand people and provide food for them.
Construction of Vimana One began on June 3, 2045 in L4, with India buying large amounts of Lunar regolith and aluminium alloys for the outer shell of the cylinders from the Soviet Union. By August 2047 the cylinders were completed and sealed, before the solar cells were installed and the atmosphere slowly filled up with lunar oxygen from the Soviets and Apophis nitrogen from Orbital Industries.
On February 15, 2049, Vimana One was completed and the first settlers had moved in by March.
In response to the Indian Vimana Project, China answered with a space settlement project of their own, the Nyuwa Project. Much like the Indian Vimana design, the Nyuwa design was an advanced design based on an old 1970s design, in this case the Stanford Torus. Rather than using a single torus, the Nyuwa used a pair of 100 meter wide rings with a diameter of 1000 meters, connected by the central hub of the settlement. A large pair of solar cell arrays combined with a mirror system provided energy and light for the population of fifteen thousand.
The construction of Qiang Tian Yī began on June 27, 2045 in L5 and despite the larger size of the settlement completed only a one day after Vimana One.
Both China and India learned from the construction of their first free floating space settlements and almost immediately began with the construction of additional settlements. Until 2055 both nations built two more space settlements, Vimana Two and Qiang Tian Èr, while the United States, the Soviet Union and Europe were still in the planning phases of their own space settlements.
The work on the interplanetary transport network brought forth a new potential problem. The use of fusion power on Earth and on the newly constructed spacecraft increased Earths dependency on lunar Helium 3, a resource that was finite and would eventually run out. Therefore a new source of Helium 3 was needed. The most obvious sources were the gas giants of the solar system, each of which contained enough Helium 3 to last a very long time to come.
While Jupiter, the largest gas giant, might have been the prime candidate due to the bases on Callisto, but the high mass and gravity of the giant, as well as the deadly radiation belt forced to look into another direction.
Instead, Uranus was selected as the best world to mine Helium 3 as well as Deuterium from its atmosphere. The atmosphere of Uranus was calm, compared to the other gas giants and mining barges could be held aloft by hot hydrogen balloons heated by the waste heat of the barges reactor. Fusion powered SSTOs could service the automated barges and collect the Helium 3 and Deuterium, transporting it to orbital stations, where it would be loaded into freighters.
With Uranus being outside of the Feynman Limit and the planetary Feynman Limit of 863000 kilometers it was possible to cut years out of the transport by using FTL transports.
Interestingly enough the Turukal and the Quetzal had prior experiences with this kind of resource gathering. It quickly became clear that the Turukal had managed to save a single gas giant mining barge, which had originally been meant to be shipped to one of their own gas giants. To ‘help pay their debt’ the Turukal offered the gas mining barge to the UNOOSA to be taken apart and its plans distributed in the public domain.
With this shortcut available the SESA proposed the construction of a mining base on the innermost moon of Uranus, Cordelia, for any private company willing to mine Helium 3. Orbital Industries and Planetary Mining & Manufacturing were among the first to be very interested in this joint venture, deciding to build up a station sometime before 2060.