The Great Unknown

Ever since the death of Richard Feynman shortly after his last published work, ‘An attempt to revise a Theory of Everything’ wherein he attempted to answer and solve the kinks within the Heim Theory, human scientists had worked tirelessly to understand his train of thoughts and to use it to develop an actual FTL drive.

First it had only been a theoretical work on designing a counter-grav system as well as a working theory of an FTL drive that needed neither exotic matter nor negative energy to work. The first use of contra-gravity generators by the Chinese on their heavy lift vehicles and SSTO spaceplanes had proven the first part of this wild theory, however proof of an FTL drive was still decades away.

The discovery and the rescue of the Quetzal and Turukal at Titan had greatly helped human science along and with it provided the first actual working examples of an FTL drive, based on the Heim-Feynman Theory. Then, with the disclosure of a potential alien threat to humanity and its new friends, interest in a natively developed FTL drive gained momentum, where it previously had only been on the back burner in favor of other things.

Finally, on December 13, 2024, this resulted in the formation of the International Centre for Advanced Space Propulsion Technologies. ICASPT was formed by UNESCO, the IAEA, CERN and several other research institutes, including Soviet and Chinese ones, with the goal of developing a human FTL drive and other advanced propulsion systems for spacecraft.

The Quetzal and the Turukal both provided their respective theories and plans for working FTL cores, and human scientists were quick to note that both theories and plans differed greatly in design and function, while having the same overall effect.

Similar to the proposal within the human FTL theory, the FTL cores of the Quetzal and the Turukal used a pair of counter rotating superconductors to create a turbulent magnetic field that formed a form of four dimensional transition event around the FTL core that dragged the object encased by the field into the 8 dimensional Heim-Feynman Space. The placement, shape and the actual effects of these rotating superconductors differed however.

The Turukal design was based around a pair of solid cylinders with a radius that was equal to its height, one located in the back of the spacecraft and the other one in the front, both placed along the roll axis. The magnetic fields suspending both cylinders also induced the rotation as well as strong magnetic fields that interacted with each other to generate the dimensional transition event.

The Quetzal design differed from the Turukal design in the way that they used a large pair of superconducting rings, also located along the roll axis and at the same distance to the center of rotation. The design reduced the energy requirements to induce the rotation compared to the Turukal design, and increased the fine control over the field.

Both drive designs had the disadvantage that any spacecraft using them was forced to deactivate its fusion thrusters, as the magnetic fields interacted with the core and destroyed the fragile balance of magnetic forces within the generated field, making it useless for an FTL transition. The Turukal design even made it necessary to deactivate the fusion reactor as well. The only other observed example of the FTL core, that of The Enemy, appeared to neither need to deactivate the fusion thrusters or reactors.

Rather than beginning to work on straight copies of either the Quetzal or the Turukal cores, the scientists and engineers at the ICASPT, began to work on ways to enhance the Quetzal design to allow it to keep the fusion thrusters active during FTL transit, as The Enemy had shown was possible. The lack of that ability had shown to be a tactical weakness and strategic disadvantage from data of the war.

Over the next years up to 2033, simulations of the Quetzal and Turukal FTL cores were used as base for the development of the human FTL core. As simulations got more detailed it was possible to modify them to find a solution to the problem.

In 2033 the breakthrough was finally announced, but immediately became hotly debated.

The suggested new design was based around a pair of large counter rotating superconducting rings arrayed with a mere distance of one meter between each and their placement at the end of the spacecraft, close to the fusion reactor and the fusion thrusters. While the magnetic field of the FTL core expanded forward much like the Quetzal and Turukal cores, the aft section of the core was heavily influenced by the thrusters and more turbulent. By carefully managing the thrusters magnetic fields and using the stable field of the fusion reactor to help, it was possible to generate the the field conditions needed to generate a transition event into Heim-Feynman Space.

After several successful simulations of the newly named Heim-Feynman Event Generator, the construction of an unmanned prototype spacecraft, the Pioneer, fell into the timeframe of the Apophis Crisis and did not get the media attention it deserved, even though CNN covered its launch as breaking news.

The Pioneer was a design originally intended to be the USC Intrepid, a sister craft to the Constitution. But with the ineffectivity of the design as combat spacecraft the nearly completed spacecraft had been given to the ICASPT. The HFE Generator formed a ring around the aft superstructure of the spacecraft and was protected by the same armor type that protected the inner workings of the central superstructure.

One of the restrictions the Heim-Feynman Theory placed on the HFE Generator was a minimum distance from a central body of a gravitational system, such as the solar system, dependent on the strength of the gravity field as well as the magnetic field of the central body. For Sol, the minimum distance was about 5.5 Astronomical Units, or just past the orbit of Jupiter. This limit was named Feynman Limit, as Richard Feynman had discovered it during his work on the H-F Theory.

As such the Pioneer was programmed to make a fast trajectory of two hundred days to a distance of 5.6 AU, enter into a circular heliocentric orbit at that distance and run analysis of the HFE Generator, before attempting an automated transition event into Heim-Feynman Space and return to normal space on the opposite side of the solar system.

The first FTL transit of a human spacecraft happened on October 11, 2035, and while it made the headlines, it faded quickly as there were more pressing concerns. The Apophis Crisis also halted further experiments with the Pioneer until late 2036, when the spacecraft made two more FTL transits just short of the Feynman Limit.

By early 2037, the Marco Polo was sent out towards the Pioneer with a maintenance mission. The mission also included a slight refitting of the Pioneer with several experimentation containers carrying biological samples and a life ape. Some of the fuel of the Marco Polo was used to add some maneuverability to the spacecraft.

While the Marco Polo kept its position about a million kilometers away from the Pioneer, the craft made a run of six FTL transits with biological material.

On July 24, 2037, the first human, the American astronaut David Wilkins, made a pair of FTL transits with the Pioneer.

As scientists were still wary about potential problems for the human body during FTL transit and the effects of the 8 dimensional Heim-Feynman Space, Wilkins and the biological samples were kept under strict observation during the return of the Marco Polo to Earth.

Without any observable short and medium term effects on Wilkins or any othe other biological samples, the member nations of the ICASPT began to consider the possibility of greenlighting the HFE Generator design for general use.

The design of the HFE Generator was an international effort, making the United Nations suggest that the first manned FTL spacecraft to leave the solar system should be an international effort as well. The equally internationally used design of the ‘Multi-Mission Universal Spacecraft’ also had the design features needed to work with the human HFE Generator and international funds were set aside for the construction of the Beagle.

Crewing the Beagle however proved to be a massive political problem. While most positions, like scientists and engineers were given to the most capable people, the command crew was the major reason why the crew selection needed several years. Every nation on the Beagle Project wanted one of their own to be the commanding office of the Beagle, largely for publicity.

The solution for this problem came from an unexpected side. Switzerland, a small European nation that clung to its neutrality and was largely uninvolved in space, aside from two Swiss Air SSTOs, suggested to use a neutral party as the commander of the Beagle, in this case one of the already experienced Quetzal spacecraft commanders.

The suggestion was not taken seriously at first, but potential gains for everyone quickly materialized. The command crew of the Beagle could learn from the experience of a potential Quetzal commander, who was used to operating in another solar system without any contact to the homeworld.

By 2041 the diplomatic problems surrounding the Beagle were largely put aside, with the added benefit of command crew rotation. This rotation would see every member of the command crew rotate through every service station in command, giving them additional experience that could be used to crew up additional spacecraft or train later command crews as well.

While the construction of the Beagle was underway, the Marco Polo undertook another mission for a modification of the Pioneer in 2039. This mission upgraded the command and control systems of the automated spacecraft and the addition of a command expert system just one or two steps below an actual artificial intelligence.

Pioneer’s new mission was to do a number of extrasolar FTL transits to a few selected closeby stars to test the long range performance of the HFE Generator. And while the spacecraft was close to other stars, its new payload of additional scientific equipment was to take an even closer look at the stars and their immediate surroundings.

The Pioneer One Mission launched on June 1, 2040 by the first FTL transit out of the solar system and towards Proxima Centauri. Pioneer remained at Proxima Centauri for one month, before returning, managing to do a pinpoint translation from Heim-Feynman Space to the exact orbital elements it had before launching.

After transmitting its data to Earth, Pioneer made four more FTL transits towards the binary brown dwarf Luhman 16, nearly 7 light years from Sol, the G-class star Tau Ceti, 12 light years distant, the white dwarf Van Maanen’s star, at a distance of 14 light years, and Altair, with a distance of 17 light years. Each time Pioneer returned to its previous position in Sol orbit between transits to the next star.

The Pioneer One mission yielded good data on the HFE Generator parameters and allowed to measure the speed of the spacecraft while in FTL transit, at 431 times the speed of light, about three percent faster than the Quetzal FTL core. Additionally it became clear that the range of the FTL transit was limited to the internal heat capacity of the spacecraft, as the radiator systems effectivity dropped within Heim-Feynman Space.

The scientific data from the five visited stars contained a few surprises for the astronomers. Four of the five stars had a planetary system, with only the space around Van Maanen’s star being devoid of full planetary companions aside from a large number of asteroids. Of these planetary systems two were especially interesting. The binary brown dwarf Luhman 16 had a single planet of Mercury size and mass in orbit around Luhmann 16α, while Tau Ceti had a super Earth orbiting within the habitable zone. Spectral analysis of this super-Earth showed that possessed an atmosphere containing oxygen. The planet was unusable for potential settlement however, as it had twice the gravity of Earth, as well as a percentage of sulfides in the atmosphere.

The accuracy of the FTL translations shown by Pioneer was very welcome to the ICASPT and the spacefaring nations. Due to the presence of the Feynman Limit it was a necessity to move out past Jupiter before an FTL transit could happen. This made operation of spacecraft outside of the solar system a problem as the FTl spacecraft needed to waste propellant and time to move to the Feynman Limit and back to Earth for resupply, maintenance and crew changes.

The obvious answer was to set up one or more bases outside the FTL limit to act as transit hubs for FTL travel, as well as resupply and repair bases. The two potential designs for a transit hub were to either construct a base from scratch, or to use an asteroid in a useful, or a correctable orbit.

With readily available raw materials for manufacturing and refueling, the asteroid became the potential transit hub of choice. The Fondation Besixdouze was asked to identify an asteroid with the needed orbital parameters and provided ten potential asteroids.

The largest of these asteroids, the ten kilometer carbonaceous asteroid 2022 RD25 in an 5.8 AU orbit around the sun with a low eccentricity that meant that its perihelion was never within the Feynman Limit. The asteroid was renamed to 319876 Junctio, with the spacefaring nations deciding to build a joint transport hub on it to ease extrasolar activities until 2055.

On February 3, 2043, the Beagle was finally completed and underwent a set of short flights to Venus and Mars to allow the crew to get used to the slightly different operation of the spacecraft compared to conventional a MMUS and test all systems. Beagle then took on a full fuel load and provisions, as well as probes and landers, before making a 200 day fast transit to the Feynman Limit, joining up with the Pioneer.

Both spacecraft left the solar system on January 10, 2044 for the first manned FTL jump into another system, Proxima Centauri.

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