While the Beagle was still in transit to Earth, the international scientific community was already plowing through the nearly one exabyte of data the spacecraft had transmitted. The information on the various planets and the direct observation of the stars were parts of the data that were most sought after. Only few astronomers were interested in what was known as the Beagle Whole Sky Survey, the observation of the entire sky from the various systems.The observations had been mostly made to try and discover new stars, brown dwarfs or maybe rogue planets.
Just as the Beagle passed the orbit of Mars, a Chilean team of astronomers shocked the planet by publishing what they had uncovered by comparing images made at Epsilon Eridani, Sirius and Luyten 726-8. Details on these images showed small lights around 61 Virginis, the home system of the Quetzal. The first spectral analysis of those additional lights showed reactions consistent with fusion thrusters or thermonuclear devices. This sent an uproar through the alien population and parts of the human population.
Speculations on potential survivors at 61 Virginis were quick to reappear and the majority of the Quetzal called for a reconnaissance mission to their old homeworld. Rynem, the former Sovereign of Thriem and now the Quetzal representative to the United Nations, was quick to use the political potential of the situation. Having survived the Final War and having been forced to flee from Cterin, he hadn’t appreciated how quick humanity had been to downplay the genocide of his species by the Enemy and was ultimately unsatisfied with the lack of military buildup in space.
Now with the revelation of something happening at 61 Virginis, he very publicly speculated about a survivor civilization near 61 Virginis and its struggle against some enemy, perhaps even the Enemy. He openly questioned the international lack of militarizing space, noting that humanity should not make the same mistake that had cost the Quetzal their homeworld. ‘The Last Battle’, a largely fictional movie account of the final battle of the Quetzal, premiered in June 2050 after three years of post production and it played nicely into Rynem’s hands.
The public, once again charged by the potential of an alien invasion through the movie and Rynem’s rhetoric, was quick to demand more protection in space to defend Earth as well asto find out what was happening at 61 Virginis. The political response to these demands was (predictably) slow, but lead to a renewed International Solar Defense Conference in Geneva by February 2051.
The atmosphere of the Conference was tense and undecided, as political agendas of the various nations and power blocs didn’t always align in a way they had during the first set of ISD conferences during the 2020s and 2030s. Some nations also outright questioned why Earth should reveal itself to a potential alien enemy. Further analysis of the images from 61 Virginis as well as images taken by orbital telescopes had revealed that the unknown activity had increased for several weeks, followed by a number of sudden short flashes and a period of waning activity after that. However, whatever was observed at the time had already happened about 27 years ago and nothing had come out of it concerning potential threats to Earth.
One of the first things decided at the 2051 ISD Conference was to keep observing 61 Virginis and that several orbiting telescopes were to remain directed at the star. This was followed by a decision to actually prepare a reconnaissance mission to the Quetzal home system to find out what exactly had happened and was perhaps still happening. Of course the Turukal representative also demanded a similar mission, but they were willing to wait for the Quetzal mission to finish.
Thanks to international politics the potential quick reconnaissance mission to 61 Virginis was not as easy a it appeared to be. The Beagle was already on the way for an extended mission to Eridu in the Epsilon Eridani system to survey the planet for its settlement potential. Other spacecraft would not be internationally crewed and operated and as such most of the power blocs feared that the others could potentially make a friendly contact with whoever was using nuclear weapons in 61 Virginis.
While a robotic mission was debated, experiences with the Pioneer showed that mankind was currently sorely lacking in any useful control software for such a mission. The first longer duration mission of Pioneer alongside the initial extrasolar trip of the Beagle had involved several occasions where the crew of the Beagle had been forced to remotely reboot the computer system.
So the only politically viable option was an international mission to 61 Virginis with an entire force of spacecraft.
Under these pretenses it became clear that the current existing FTL capable spacecraft were not up to the task of a reconnaissance mission over even 25 light years. While Beagle had made a distance of 74 light years during the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission, the spacecraft had been designed for long range scientific missions. All other MMUS spacecraft were mainly military spacecraft that were dependent on nearby resupplying, especially with potential engagements with whoever was exploding nuclear devices at 61 Virginis.
A reconnaissance mission to 61 Virginis would be a military one and as such would require ample resources. This meant a modification of the MMUS design to turn it into bulk cargo carriers, making use of Intermodal Containers, and tankers for propellant and fuel. Any of those modifications were easily done due to the modular design of the MMUS, but they would need some time to be constructed.
Additional to the supplies, the general consensus was, that smaller and faster spacecraft would also be needed to react more swiftly to potential opposing forces. The recently developed MMLS could easily be adapted into a military version and was capable of deploying sufficiently fast to complement the larger MMUS. In a sense the MMLS would be the frigate support to the MMUS cruiser design.
Another proposal made during the 2051 ISD Conference was to provide the reconnaissance mission with an advanced screening element in the form of unmanned semi-autonomous combat vehicles, called Unmanned Combat Drones. Carrying a limited weapon loadout, comparable to a single weapon emplacement used on the MMLS and MMUS, these vehicles would normally be carried by the larger spacecraft,but could be released quickly and with a high thrust to weight ratio, compared to the larger craft, and thus intercept an opposing force quicker.
By the end of the conference, the participants had a relatively rough plan on the 61 Virginis reconnaissance mission. As the mission was expected to possibly come under fire from the unknown parties of 61 Virginis it was going to be a ‘reconnaissance in force’, consisting of six MMUS, a projected ten MMLS, twenty to thirty UCDs, three tankers and two bulk carriers.
Immediately following the Conference, Rynem lobbied for the inclusion of the Quetzal into the mission. He offered to add two of the remaining Quetzal combat spacecraft, Enthat and the Pekav Torroth, to the force, stating that the Enthat and the crew of the Pekav knew the system well.
Once the next new International Solar Defense Conference happened in 2053, also in Geneva, Rynem had managed to persuade the UN Security Council for the inclusion of the Quetzal. The Conference itself was meant to plan out the mission itself, which was proposed to happen in 2055, starting from Junctio Station. Most of the actual planning for Operation Medea, as the mission was named, had been done by the Estévez Group and was a bit more complex than the original assumption.
Due to the limited length of time a spacecraft could remain in Heim-Feynman Space, the spacecraft involved would need to translate back into Normal Space after about 15 days, or 17.7 light years to prevent overheating of the internal systems. Four days would then be needed to radiate the heat away . On the course to 61 Virginis, the system of Wolf 424 was along the way. While not in a straight line to the target system, it was thought as necessary to use the system for a stop over. Potentially the system could be used as a forward base, should more missions to 61 Virginis need to be undertaken.
Following the arrival at 61 Virginis, the spacecraft would then do a number of jumps around the systems Feynman Limit, observing the inner system as well as jumps to Seuwack and Dran, the outer planets of the system, which were situated past the Limit. The commander of the mission, who was still to be determined, would then have the freedom of decision what to do. However, combat with any unknown forces was to be prevented whenever possible.
In the end the Llighaqua Mission, with Llighaqua being the word for reconnaissance in one of the Quetzal languages, was set forth to begin in 2055.
During the second last day of the ISDC, Sky Watch informed the conference participants about additional signs of combat at 61 Virginis, with at least five new large flashes detected. With potential combat activity high within the 61 Virginis system, nervousness rose again, as did concerns about the defense of the solar system and whether or not the MMLS and the MMUS combat variants were sufficient for defense.
Thankfully the modular approach of both spacecraft designs allowed for a decrease of expenses of a standard MMUS compared to the cost of the Beagle. Additionally the materials available from the Moon and Apophis, as well as new construction methods and the intense use of rapid production technologies reduced material costs. The result was a ninety percent decrease in cost for a MMUS compared to the initial cost.
Some nations, like the United States and the Soviet Union, believed their defenses to be insufficient, even with the MMLS and MMUS designs, calling for a heavier combat spacecraft. To satisfy this perceived need, the ISDC proposed a new design, that was much heavier than the MMUS. Where the MMLS would be a frigate equivalent, and the MMUS a cruiser equivalent, the new Multi Mission Heavy Spacecraft, MMHS, was going to be a battle cruiser equivalent. Of course it would use the same modular approach as the other spacecrafts used and shared many of the same parts, additionally it would carry several UCDs in the base variant.
While the MMHS was not going to be used for the Llighaqua Mission, it was hoped that the first units, the American USC Enterprise and the Soviet Moscva, could be put into service by 2056.