With the Beagle, humanity finally had its first manned interstellar spacecraft and on January 10, 2044 it left the solar system on a course towards Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Sol. The Beagle was accompanied by the unmanned interstellar spacecraft Pioneer, which had already made the journey once before.
Pioneer had been slightly upgraded prior to the mission, equipping the craft with a powerful radio and laser communication system and was intended to be used as a sort of carrier pigeon for the Beagle as humanity yet had to discover some form of FTL communication. Pioneer could go back to Sol to inform Earth about any problems Beagle would encounter, be they technical or otherwise in nature.
The FTL transit for the 4.24 light years to Proxima Centauri took 3 days and 14 hours and deposited both human spacecraft at a distance of 1.34 AU from the red dwarf, just outside the Feynman Limit at 1.31 AU.
The actual mission of the Beagle was to do a close survey of the system, making use of the small Feynman limit to enter deep into the planetary system of Proxima Centauri and do flybys of the star’s three planets, with the close orbits of the two inner planets allowing a single hyperbolic pass. The Pioneer was to remain at the Feynman Limit and to stay in radio contact with the manned spacecraft.
The first two weeks of the mission were used to do a complete diagnosis of all systems to make sure that every piece of equipment worked correctly, followed by a week of optical and radio observation of Proxima Centauri and its planets from up close.
Before the Beagle mission started, the observed planets of Proxima Centauri were given actual names, instead of simple alphabetic designations. Proxima Centauri a was named Sharpley, after the astronomer who discovered that Proxima Centauri was a flare star. Proxima Centauri b received the name Alden, after the man who first accurately measured the stars parallax. Proxima Centauri c was finally given the name Innes, after the man who had discovered the star.
After confirming the position of each of the three planets, a short FTL transit carried the Beagle to a position 6 AU prograde to reduce the delta-v expended for the hyperbolic flyby. The optimization of the flyby brought the periapsis of the hyperbolic orbit close to Sharpley, while passing Alden at a distance of half a million kilometers and passing Innes at a distance of one million kilometers.
During the mission deep into the Proxima Centauri system, the scientific instruments of the Beagle collected a huge amount of data, part of which was analyzed on site, while other data was sent towards the Pioneer in a compressed data stream for later analysis. The mission also saw the first use of the optical systems of the spacecraft laser weapons as telescopes, allowing the observation of various areas of the space around the craft at the same time.
The crew used the time of the transit through Proxima Centauri to run training-simulations, from emergency to combat drills. The Brazilian command crew member, Manuela Wegener, also used the time to finish her doctoral thesis in aerospace engineering.
The first flyby happened in March 2044. Innes was a MesoJovian planet that orbited its primary at 0.7 AU. With 98 times the mass of Earth and a radius of about 45735 kilometers it was heavier than Saturn, but also smaller. It possessed a ring system similar to that of Saturn and a system of 25 moons that was observed during the flyby, including two moons larger than Luna.
The second flyby took place in late May 2044 and passed Sharpley. This first planet of Proxima Centauri was a Hemerian planet not unlike Mercury, orbiting its primary at a distance of only 0.0064 AU or nearly one billion kilometers and a short orbital period of merely twelve hours.
The flares of Proxima Centauri had scorched the surface of the planet clean, erasing many surface structures on the tidally locked dayside.
The final flyby was of Alden, which happened in mid June 2044. Much like Sharpley, Alden was tidally locked with its primary, but had several large differences. Orbiting its primary at 0.04 AU, or at almost six billion kilometers, Alden was just outside the scorching zone of the star’s flares. With one and a half Earth masses and a diameter of 15510 kilometers the planet had an active molten core, which produced a very strong magnetic field, redirecting most of the star’s charged radiation and the remaining flares away, protecting a thin nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere.
That Proxima Centauri harboured a potentially life bearing planet was the most important discovery of the first Beagle mission, but the planet presented itself as its own problem, as it was classified as a Polyphemian world. As such it was covered by a deep planetary ocean, which in turn was nearly completely enveloped by a thick sheet of ice. Only the areas in the center of this ‘eyeball iceball’ was ice free, however largely hidden by a central hurricane system.
Previous to the discovery of the strong magnetic field, Alden had first been thought to be a world that had been stripped clean of its atmosphere by the flares of Proxima Centauri.
During the remaining trip back past the Feynman Limit, the Beagle had a very close encounter with a 5 kilometer asteroid, passing it by a mere thousand kilometers. Other asteroids were discovered as well. Together with the potentially habitable Alden and the moons of Innes, the Proxima Centauri System became a potential target for the first extrasolar human settlements.
After passing the Feynman Limit, the Beagle circularized its orbit around Proxima Centauri at 1.35 AU. After a week of checks on the HFE Generator, a pair of FTL transits returned the spacecraft to the position of the Pioneer. Once the Beagle had linked back up with the unmanned spacecraft, one of the Beagles Hawk craft, named Snoopy by the crew, was used to physically transfer the entirety of the collected data over, creating a second backup, additional to the data contained in the craft’s computer.
Additionally the systems of the Pioneer were tested as well, both spacecraft prepared for the second part of the mission, taking a two-month observation for each star of the Alpha Centauri dual system.
A short FTL transit over a quarter lightyear brought the two spacecraft to their second target and they settled into a 6 AU orbit around Alpha Centauri A. Half of the Beagles optical systems were directed towards the inner system of Alpha Centauri A, while the remaining were to carry out a survey of the sky.
Halfway into the observation period of Alpha Centauri A, Beagle and Pioneer made use of FTL transits to the other side of the star to observe the entirety of the system.
The monitoring confirmed most of the observations that had been made during the past three decades. Three planets had been discovered in the stable orbits of Alpha Centauri A’s inner system during the 2020s and had received names by the IAU. The Beagle Mission brought the number up to four with a local discovery.
The two inner planets of Alpha Centauri A, the first named Pelham, were Hemerian in nature, with distances of 0.3 and 0.67 AU and the respective masses of 0.00089 and 0.033 Earth masses. The second planet was discovered by the Beagle and two moons were found in it orbit. It was later named Cassida.
The third planet of Alpha Centauri A, Alpha, was an EuArean type planet, a Marslike world, orbiting its primary at 1.4 AU and having a mass of 0.23 Earth masses. Remote observations showed that the atmosphere consisted of CO2 and Nitrogen and was about three times as dense as that of Mars. As Alpha Centauri A was of a slightly higher mass compared to Sol, its luminosity was higher as well, increasing the surface temperature of the planet compared to Mars.
The fourth planet of Alpha Centauri, as the first to be discovered and named Tiber, was a MesoJovian world with a mass of 0.22 Jupiter masses and slightly lighter than Saturn. At 2.1 AU it was closer to its primary compared to Jupiter and light enough not to disturb the orbit of the third planet. Sixteen moons were discovered by the Beagle, with the largest being an Arean world.
Following the observation period of Alpha Centauri A, the two human spacecraft transferred to an orbit around Alpha Centauri B and began another observation period of the second star of the system.
Again, the observation was quick to confirm the two previously discovered worlds, as well as discovering two additional planets. All worlds proved to be extremes in their nature.
The first world, later named Centauri, was a tidally locked Hephaestian world that grazed the star at a mere 0.043 AU, well within reach of the stars coronal mass ejections. Althought the planet was just a little bigger then Earth, it was completely scorched and its surface largely in a liquid state.
The second planet, named Newton, was a Hot Neptune of 18 Earth masses and orbiting at 0.2 AU, which was still closer than Mercury orbited around Sol. Interestingly enough the planet still had three moons, barren rocks that were assaulted by the radiation of Alpha Centauri B.
The third world, called Wunderland by the crew of the Beagle, was an AreanXeric world, a hot dry martian planet, of about 0.4 Earth masses in a 0.6 AU orbit.
The fourth and outermost planet of Alpha Centauri B, Demeter, was a Venus like Cytherean world with close to the mass of Earth and nearly 1 AU distance to its primary. It too had a single moon, which was the size of Earth’s moon and turned out to be an Arean world, with a very thin atmosphere.
Once the observation period was over, the data was once again physically ferried over to the Pioneer, by the second Hawk, craft, named Gromit by the crew, before the preparations for the return journey were made.
Following another thorough check of the HFE Generator, Beagle and Pioneer shifted into Heim-Feynman Space on January 29, 2045. The Alpha Centauri B to Sol transit lasted 3 days and 16 hours and returned the two spacecraft to the edge of the Sol Feynman Limit.
The Beagle first managed to establish radio contact to Arcas Station on Callisto, followed by a directed laser contact to Earth. The Beagle was received with great relief, followed by displays of euphoria as mankind was now essentially an interstellar capable species, which also resulted in a celebrity status for the entire crew of the Beagle.
Following this, Beagle received orders to return to Earth on a 200 day trajectory. Once returned the Beagle would undergo a set of intense tests and examinations to make sure that the HFE transits didn’t induce any minute damages to the spaceframe of the craft.
The first packages of data were beamed to Earth over the first two months of the transit, while the physical backup remained on the Pioneer in case anything else happened to the Beagle.
The recovered data was a treasure trove of knowledge and allowed the first close insights into extrasolar planets, especially from the flybys at Proxima Centauri.