Author Topic: What Lies Ahead  (Read 3979 times)

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Offline Garfunkel

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2015, 11:23:00 PM »
Very interesting premise! Will be keeping my eyes on this one.
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2016, 04:42:18 PM »
**So I've decided to jump back into this.  I note that it's been over four months since I left this.  Eeek.  That tends to happen with me and Aurora, and I'm not completely sure why -- but what seems to be the main cause is I'll run into some point where I need to make a decision about something and it's not clear how I want to handle it.  I'll think about it for a while and then Aurora sort of drifts to the back of my mind if I don't get clarity soon.  In other words, Aurora is actually in some ways too good of a game for me;  it makes me want to get the direction of the story or world that I've created in it 'right' -- as I see it, of course -- and I lose motivation to continue the story if I'm not reasonabley happy with a resolution.  I don't have this relationship with other games, even stuff that's got it's own complexity as most things I play tend to have.  Not blaming the game per se, but there it is. 

I thought about doing a different kind of concept, or doing something in 7.x, or whatever, but chose not to.  Mostly this is because this is really the idea/backstory/approach I want to use for a long-term game, and 7.x won't add enough to it for me to justify a re-start.  So while I'd be a fool to guarantee how long this renaissance will be, over the last few days I've put together the next update.  If the forum co-operates, it will follow here.  If the forum doesn't co-operate, it will still follow here, just maybe in pieces as it's quite long.**
 
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Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2016, 06:56:42 PM »
A New Era Takes Shape(2068-2091)

Despite the best efforts of the best and brightest of the private sector, ramping up the necessary infrastructure took time.  A lot of time.  And as always happens, there were unforseen obstacles as well.  The public as a whole took little notice of the IRC's activities, partly because they had more immediate problems, and partly because there were precious few activities to take notice of.  Brief quarterly reports were published on various matters of concern, usually relating to unrest or open conflict in particular regions, or varying degrees of resource scarcity and changes in that dynamic.  A rather thicker annual report was published by Director Charlie Thomson's office, on the same subjects, but he spent more time than any in carefully considered media appearances sandwhiched between liasing with various 'heads of state' -- a rather lofty term considering a large number of them involved nothing more than local warlords of dubious legitimitacy and less concern for those they ruled.  Public relations, marketing the council as a independent, disinterested broker on the various, constantly-changing needs of the world economy, was job #1 and in reality, jobs #2 through 10 or more as well for Thomson. 

The 60s ended with marginally more hope than any decade anyone could remember, but Clayton's work still advanced at a snail's pace.  Integrating and trouble-shooting the resources that increased at a painfully slow rate took up the lion's share of the time, and his team was able to devote only several weeks a year to their primary research goals beyond the needs of making sure nothing got screwed up on the logistical end of things.  Progress was made every year though, and more and more dedicated data analysis meant increased, if barely-noticeable, ability to identify trends and issues before they became crises. 

In the early years of the 70s, a new shortage began to take shape even as global commerce continued to pick up steam.  It was becoming clear that massive desalination effort would be needed to avert severe water shortages before the end of the century.  It was the first real test of the IRC's clout;  would humanity co-operate on this vital need, or would their recommendations be ignored? 

Overall the response was disappointing.  Smaller nations didn't have the resources to make such a major effort, landlocked nations didn't have the water access obviously, and most of the larger powers focused more on what they considered more vital concerns.  But there were a few exceptions.  Most of them were mid-sized nations who realized they could get frozen out of the water market eventually, but had enough financial clout that with a moderate amount of pain they could become a player and decided the long-term gain was worth it.  Most of them were in what used to be known as Europe and Southeast Asia.  Some of the less-developed countries were needing freshwater imports within a few years, and it soon became obvious that those who had taken the long-term view would make a king's ransom.  That's when the biggest economies undertook a crash course to get in on the action. 

As all this was hitting home, Thomson's Vice-Director, Mitchell Howarth, was killed by a terrorist bombing in July of 2074.  Just 24, Howarth was the only certified administrator in line in the event Thomson had to step aside for whatever reason.  The combination of this attack on a major, visible IRC figure and the water issue threw the spotlight on the Council more than ever before. 

In 2078, the decision was made to allow young researcher Ewan Bryan to split time with Claytonallowing both to do PR duties and keep things humming.  The change rankles the arrogant Clayton even though he recognizes the need for it.  In truth, Bryant is even more productive as a head researcher though his specialty in detection electronics is not particularly more useful than Clayton's in focused energy applications in this particular case.  By this time the first round of new desalination plants along the coasts were on-line, and so far the impact of shortages has been very minimal, limited almost completely to the poorer, more isolated regions. 

2080 -- As a new decade dawns, the research teams are now able to work over half the year at a time on their economic studies, allowing for much more significant progress and that time considerably lengthens each year.  It is estimated that the new networks are roughly one-sixth completed.  Meanwhile, global populations are approaching 12 billion, a threshold that is expected to be reached sometime in the first half of 2081.  That is the point at which it was estimated that even the most efficient distribution of the world's supply of renewable freshwater would not be enough to meet all needs.  With a sufficiently massive desalination industry, it was expected that over 50 billion could be sustained indefinitely, but that would require constant construction of new large-scale plants in the right locations.  It was also a boon economically in the sense of another growth industry providing plenty of employment for both construction and support staff, inspectors, those who operated the plants, and so forth.  The ever-increasing need for fusion power fueled opportunities in that sector, a more robust global recovery made service-oriented industries more viable once again, and in general things looked up.  The IRC's leadership on these matters gave it legitimacy, and most nations were more than willing to foot the relative pittance which comprised their share of the bill for the computerized analysis centers being developed in all regions of world.  They were not without their detractors of course, but those voices were now the minority.  The needed consensus of public support for the Council was now mostly in place, and the results soon showed it.

Bryan continues to improve and is now by far the better scientist, though Clayton still gets his share of time as he is the face of the IRC's development efforts.  Although the need for them is presently zilch -- a replacement for the early-21st century space stations is little more than a long-range idea at this point -- applicants for astronaut training along with other not-yet-needed positions multiplied during the 80s. 

Once again fate conspired to complicate things.  In the late summer of 2083, Henry Clayton, the face of the IRC's research efforts, was killed in what would eventually be deemed an industrial accident.  He was forty-seven.  With Bryan as his backup, by this point his value was mostly as a figure-head.   Of course, human life is fragile to a certain degree.  The occasional worker or junior researcher dying, or quitting, or getting fired or whatever is expected and would cause little more than a blip in the local news if they were even important enough to warrant that.  Over a billion man-hours every trip around the sun were by now devoted to IRC endeavors, and most of them would naturally go unnoticed. 

This was different.  Safety and public relations demands along with the ensuing investigation had to be done with unquestioned throughness and transparency, which sharply curtailed progress for a few years until recommendations on new protocols had been submitted and many implemented.  This was the first real black eye for the IRC and it needed to be handled with maximum care.  The ever-dedicated Bryan used his newfound free time to continue to study, and emerged from this period even better at his tasks than before, determined to make up for the slowdown. 

It was a time of great anxiety for Charlie Thomson for another reason;  at the moment, Bryan's brilliance was much appreciated and valued but all the eggs were in that one basket.  There was no backup if something happened to him.  Thankfully he had just turned 30 and was in outstanding health, but the IRC was still in great risk because the work could not proceed at all without a qualified project lead, and he was the only one available at the moment. 

It was nearly the end of the decade, December 2089, before that issue was resolved.  The new scientist was Katherine Warner.  She's not not nearly as skilled, specializing in stealth aeronautics and similar concepts, but she does guarantee that the work will go on uninterrupted.  The workload on Bryan could abate some now, though he will still handle the lion's share. 

After another couple years of work, Director Thompson concluded that the time was right for a new phase.  His requested time for extended remarks at the UN for his next annual report, setting the international diplomatic community abuzz with speculations ...
« Last Edit: January 15, 2016, 07:05:50 PM by Bryan Swartz »
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #18 on: January 27, 2016, 04:17:12 PM »
**Yay for the forums being back and improved!  On we go.**

UN General Assembly
Annual Meeting
January 14, 2091

Typically, Charlie Thomson's annual address to the UN was a dry summarization of the IRC's annual report.  The main reason he came at all was for the diplomatic purpose of interacting with various heads of state and other dignitaries.  They could read -- they didn't need him to present the report, anyone could do it.  Given his request for extra time this year, it was clear something a little different was in store. 

This was the 23rd such report he had made, annually at the beginning of each year as was tradition.  There were the usual greetings and pleasantries, emphasis on what the IRC and humanity had achieved, stressing the need for peace and cooperation in the face of continuing turmoil and unrest in many parts of the globe, and so on.  Good soundbyte-stuff.  Soothing to the ears.  This was much of his job as the face of the Council. 

Then, at the point when he would normally have been wrapping up on other occasions, he warmed to his real subject matter. 

"Today it is my priviledge to announce that the initial goal of the IRC Charter has been achieved.  With the continued co-operation of most nations and the expertise of numerous multi-national corporations, both of which continue to earn humanity's sincere appreciation and gratitude, we have reached the point where a million personnel of various stripes, working in dozens of separate facilities in every region of the world, contribute full-time to the central goal of preserving and protecting humanity's future.  Without such an unprecedented, global effort as the nations represented here today have put forward, these facilities and all of the support staff and infrastructure required to operate them could not have been accomplished."

"As today's report details, our continuing efforts to safeguard, develop, monitor, and analyze global supplies of all critical economic resources continue to advance.  At this time the work is more than halfway completed, and by the end of the century everything should be in place to allow complete and continous monitoring with a minimum of oversight.  As this process has unfolded, a new challenge has become clear;  humanity cannot prosper indefinitely without continually seeking out, innovating, and inventing new resources as well as more efficient ways of using the ones we possess.  This continued advance, more than ever, requires a low-gravity environment in which to proceed with cutting-edge research."

"In response to this need, I am requesting today approval of a new orbital space station for these scientific purposes.  As with everything else in the Council's purview, it would be jointly owned and supervised by all signatories to the IRC Charter.  The proposal I make her today is named the Phoenix, signifying our collective determination to rise from the chaos and suffering of the Great Recession to reach new heights.  Several launch vehicles based on the reliable Soyuz rockets used in the pre-Repression era, with considerable modifications and enhancements based on developments over the past couple of decades, will be needed to assemble and maintain the Phoenix."

"The expense of this project will be significant of course, but as our resource projections continually show, the cost of failing to do what is necessary to advance our knowledge of the physical building-blocks of our universe is far higher.  Fusion power and hadron colliders were once considered conjectures, overly-frivolous pursuits;  now they are the foundation of our global recovery.  The Phoenix project is every bit as vital to humanity's future."

"On behalf of not just the IRC, but all of our children, grandchildren, and the generations to come, I urge this body to consider and approve these recommendations."

Compared to the ISS, the Phoenix station was a little over twice the size(1,150 tons) and the price tag for the station itself was a hair under 38 billion, over 40 including the support craft.  This was well within the IRC's operating budget.  The proposal was well-considered, and the Council's role respected enough that there was not a great amount of debate.   If Thomson was even half-right about the potential benefits, it would be a bargain at a thousand times the price.  The support of numerous top scientists around the globe, both inside and outside the IRC's direct payroll, made it a slam-dunk. 
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #19 on: January 27, 2016, 04:26:36 PM »
Phoenix Transition(2091-2103)

In the spring of 2098, the regional economic centers were completely set up and staffed, updated tracking models and equipment in place, and largely automated procedures for constant adjustment and refinement of those models in place.  Early estimates were that the world economy would benefit from a prosperity boom within months of implementation, with the IRC benefiting to the tune of tens of billions a year.  In less than a decade, the entirety of the Phoenix project would pay for itself. 

By the end of the summer, the booster and launch apparatus for the new Soyuz were completed, with Holden-Lynch and Cameron Ltd holding most of the major patents.  Just a couple weeks before Christmas of the same year, the testing phase was finished for the rocket itself.  Unfortunately the celebration got a little out of hand.  Well, more than a little.  In the morning, Dr. Ewan Bryan was found dead.  It was soon determined to be a drug overdose.  He would never get to see the practical results of his work put to use. 

Kane Sullivan, Adam Doherty, and Katherine Warner were the candidates to take his spot, but none of them have more than a small fraction of Bryan's ability.  It seems IRC's most talented are doomed to early demises. 

Sullivan, who has some skill in matters of propulsion, set to work designing more efficient maneuvering thrusters.  This was really a sideshow and he wasn't expected to complete the work, just lay the foundation for it and make use of  the existing personnel and facilities while the Soyuz rockets and their payloads, the components for the Phoenix space station, were constructed and assembled in orbit.  Several of the rockets were built at thirty million each, and the modular sections of the Phoenix were quite a bit more expensive.  It was mostly the sensitive, high-tech electronics, research equipment, and the massive amounts of fuel required to deliver them to orbit that raised the overall price of the station though.  Even with every effort being made to get it done quickly, it would be a few years before the Phoenix was operational in the spring of 2103. 

By that point Sullivan believed himself to be about two years away from practical results in improving thruster efficiency.  That would be shelved, the project mothballed, it's protocols and data stored for some future time.  Probably a long time into the future.  All efforts would now go towards adding whatever equipment Phoenix needed, and analyzing the results relayed from the space station, designing new experiments, and so on.  Initial goals were focused in areas like superconductivity, manipulation of subatomic particles, microgravity fabrication techniques, and so on that had proven to be promising growth fields in the past.  Director Thomson focused on a flexible approach however, with engineers and factories standing by to implement any new ideas that might be found.

There was significant debate over which researcher should head up the project.  Kane Sullivan and Adam Doherty were considered the better candidates, both having the level of intelligence, ambition, and 'outside-the-box' thinking desired to find new, non-obvious solutions to whatever obstacles presented themselves.  Sullivan probably would have garnered the prestigious assignment were it not for his combative nature.  Doherty's health is a question, but he's fairly young at 31 years of age and Thomson believed there would be less conflict with him.  And so it was.  While the regional centers on Earth continued to make their recommendations for best use of what humanity currently has, it was clear that much of the future of our race lay in Doherty's hands.  Even with every possible resource at his disposal, it was not expected that he would achieve any major breakthroughs in time for many of those alive today to benefit from them.  But every great effort must start somewhere. 
 

Offline misora

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #20 on: January 27, 2016, 06:25:15 PM »
It's so nice to see this back, its really good!
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #21 on: January 31, 2016, 05:23:07 AM »
Thank you for saying so!  Hope you continue to like it.  Still editing up the next bit so I thought I'd post here just to fake people out and trick them into thinking I'd actually posted something substantive.  Shouldn't be long though. 
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #22 on: February 01, 2016, 04:22:39 PM »
Continuing Research(2103-2122)

As time passed, work aboard the Phoenix and back and on earth continued, and there were no major disruptions in the grand scheme of things.  Doherty improved pretty consistently, demonstrating himself to be a good choice. 

Then in 2114, Director Charlie Thomson retired.  He's done a splendid job over the first 45 years of the IRC, but at 68 health is starting to catch up to him and leaves his post in late November.  This leaves the question of who replaces him.  Only one man can be first.  From 2069 to 2114, 'Chairman Charlie' had a heck of a run.  From this vantage point it seems unlikely that the job will provide quite as many challenges for his successor.  Establishing the IRC in terms of credibility and diplomacy, Thomson showed good judgment and a steady hand. 

Fortunately, stability and steady recruitment has the IRC in a position that there are plenty of choices.  18 of them, to be precise.  It soon became clear that Alex Blake(29) had the ability to handle the public and the media that would move him to the head of the class, far above everyone else .   Meanwhile most progress from the Phoenix was more of the theoretical than practical reality so far, but Doherty remained optimisitic that better developments were ahead.

Just a couple years later, in 2116, the team started to report unusual experiment results.  Unusual being an understatement here.  Microscopic samples trickled out, samples of materials with incredible properties.  The first possessed tensile strength several orders of magnitude beyond any alloy that could be constructed on Earth.  Then the next year there were a couple more, one that allowed for nearly-instantaneous transmission of information, allowing the possibility of obsoleting quantum computing which in comparison might become as relevant as the abacus in comparison.  Another, when heated to the just shy of the melting point, possessed an energy density previously thought impossible and well beyond any known fuels.  For a while new materials were discovered nearly every month.  Top scientists, many of them Nobel winners, were brought in from around the globe to verify the experiments, which were repeated multiple times. 

Finally, in late May of 2022, it was decided that there was no point in delaying any further.  The findings had been proved valid a hundred times over. They were impossible, but valid nonetheless.  A total of 11 distinct new materials had been discovered.  Various heavy metals, some currently used and some combinations of existing materials, would be required for any kind of large-scale fabrication, but the methods for doing so, and the fundamental properties resulting from those combinations had been demonstrated beyond the point of contradiction. 

Director Alex Blake, head researcher Adam Doherty, and scores of others were on hand for a press conference to announce the new results, and while it was a positively seismic revelation to the scientific community, to the average man on the street it made little difference.  There were now 16.5 billion of them.  This number grew constantly, and with it the stress on the global economy, even with new innovations to make life easier constantly being developed. 

The IRC announced the Prospector Project, aimed at a complete scan of the Earth to determine exact locations and amounts of the required raw materials.  This required a couple of new expenditures.  The first was the Charlie Thompson Memorial Space Center, dedicated to the IRC's original director of course and with the purpose of launching the proposed Prospector satellite, using existing booster and other ICBM-related technologies as much as possible.  The price tag was 2.24b US.  And then there was the need to develop the scanning electronics suite itself, and work out any issues that might arise. 

Addendum:  New Materials Summary

** Official Note:  These are listed in order of discovery, not necessarily importance **

Duranium -- An unorginally named, highly durable and relatively speaking nigh-indestructible alloy.  Duranium allows for industrial equipment and machinery capable of surviving incredibly stressful loads without breaking or fracturing, hardening buildings of all types against massive forces such as earthquakes far more effectively than previously known materials, and many other applications we can only guess at. 

Neutronium -- We know very little about how this one works, but experimentation has shown that controlled use of miniscule electrical currents allows it to reorganize and reshape itself on a molecular level, allowing it to reshape itself while remaining stronger than most known synthetic materials.  Perhaps the most unbelievable material of them all, neutronium will certainly be the subject of intense study for the forseeable future. 

Corbomite -- This is one of the most nebulous of the group.  It was almost overlooked during testing.  All we can say is that it seems like small amounts of it add stability to some of the others in certain configurations.  Much more information is needed. 

Tritanium -- Appears to be useful mostly in containing and shaping explosions.  To that end, it may see the most use in providing demolitons-related applications. 

Boronide -- All we really know here is that it reacts with many organic materials in unusual ways.  Potentially very useful, and also potentially very dangerous.  Misuses in the realm of bioweapons make it vital to keep this substance out of the hands of subversive elements, terrorists, and the like. 

Mercassium -- Silicon on crack basically.  It's the foundation of future supercomputers, though other uses may yet come to light. 

Vendarite -- Even the scientists couldn't tell us much here.  It's definitely a distinctive composite, but as for what it does, nobody really knows. 

Sorium -- Funny how they tell you not to run after they say things like 'think plasma at room temperature'.  It appears that this will be most applicable as a fuel, with the potential of making the astronomical costs of escaping Earth's gravity trivial. 

Uridium -- Spectacular conductive properties have electronics experts salivating here. 

Corundium -- They used to say nothing was harder than diamonds.  They don't say that anymore.  This unique metal can only be formed at incredibly high temperatures, but slices through most known substances like a knife through hot butter.  It's sort of a twin of duranium, the flip side of the coin in that rather than tensile strength, corundium is incredibly resistant to any change in shape or size.  It can be broken more easily, but it will not stretch to any measurable degree before it does. 

Gallicite -- An incredibly high tolerance for heat and pressure makes this a prime candidate for development as a material in rocketry, propulsion, and reactor advancement. 
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #23 on: February 23, 2016, 04:13:09 AM »
The Prospector Era;  Initial Sol Survey Efforts(2123-2030)

Within 18 months of the Prospector being announced, in March 2124, it was announced that a suitable sensor suite for orbital scans had been completed thanks to the work of the IRC grunts led by Adam Doherty.  More than the scanner itself would be required however, and Kane Sullivan, as the leading specialist in matters of power, took the reins to work on a sufficiently miniaturized PWR(fission-based Pressurized Water Reactor) to power a satellite using the new developments.  Sullivan did not appear to learn a blasted thing over the more than four years he spent designing the reactor, finishing no more skilled than when he started.  If nothing else this confirmed the choice of Doherty as the default top researcher for the IRC.  The only real hiccup was a relatively minor scare just before Christmas in 2026, when a couple of low-level administrators died in apparent terrorist bombings in as many weeks.  Security services managed to protect all of the top officials successfully however, and no real panic set in. 

It was November 2028 when the reactor was finished, and the Prospector satellite prototype phase was handed over to brilliant, industrial Dr. Alexander Donelly.  The work took him only a month, and on the first of the new year, the 60th anniversary of the IRC's founding, a successful test launch was conducted.  The geosensor suite worked, but did not have enough power for a full scan of the earth.  A fully successful mission would require a larger engine and power plant.  Young 23-year-old Zoe Fry was the most skilled, but had just about every negative personality trait and attitude aspect you can imagine, so Sullivan got the job once again.  By October the new booster was ready, and the day after Christmas the Prospector finally launched.  At just under 60 tons, half of the weight went to each of three booster engines, almost 20 tons for the sensor, 3 tons for the reactor and nearly as much for the required 275 liters of refined sorium fuel.  Everyone waited, even the researchers.  the IRC labs went silent.  The next step would depend on the readout from the satellite. 

It took almost a year to complete the survey, and while a ground team was formed to confirm them and investigate any anomalies, a debate raged about how to handle the new resources.  While that was going on, Sullivan worked on completing more fuel-efficient thruster research, research that was begun nearly a century ago and then mothballed.  The data is still there however, and it didn't take long to resurrect the project. 
 

Offline Bryan Swartz

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Re: What Lies Ahead
« Reply #24 on: April 12, 2016, 03:46:36 AM »
** Author's Note:  This update is a bit haphazard, I will try to get things a little more structured going forward, but the history is a little 'uneven' right now and seems to defy attempts at easy organization.**

Continued Inner-System Surveys(2130-2137)

As far as the Prospector was concerned, going beyond the moon meant taking into more consideration the fuel needed for an extended journey in space.  Even with a maximum-efficiency thruster going at a minimal velocity of about 100 km/s, considerable space inside the probe would be needed.  Luna itself was pretty easy;  it could be reached in just over an hour.  Best estimates on travel time to the other major bodies in the system were as follows:

Venus -- almost 5 days
Mars --  A little over 9 days
Mercury -- 10.6 days
Jupiter -- 73 days
Saturn -- 148 days
Uranus -- 316 days
Neptune -- 503 days

The longer a trip was, the more sacrifice would need to be made in terms of the size of geosurvey sensors onboard -- and therefore, more fuel required for a longer operational duration.  The initial readout of Earth's mineral reserves, as completed in November 2030, reported the following:

Duranium -- 1.27 mt, 100%
Neutronium -- 866 kt, 60%
Corbomite -- 1.06 mt, 60%
Tritanium -- 1.42 mt, 40%
Boronide -- 447 kt, 60%
Mercassium -- 1.44 mt, 40%
Vendarite -- 504 kt, 60%
Sorium -- 989 kt, 100%
Uridium -- 496 kt, 50%
Corundium -- 1.39 mt, 100%
Gallicite -- 417 kt, 90%

It is estimated that, at current techniques each manhour involved in mining operations might eventually produce as much as a little over a 40th a pound of refined ore per year.  Clearly a massive effort would be required.  This fact only intensified the debate about who would control these resources.  The IRC, the UN, various nations and regional authorities around the world, and multinational corporations all naturally chose 'us' as their preferred solution.  There was considerable concern voiced about the IRC gaining too much power if they were given a monopoly;  nobody wanted an autocratic, single body effectively forming their own global government.  Their technical expertise would be required, however. 

While the back-and-forth on these issues raged, Sullivan was at work using the 'dead time' to finish research on more fuel-efficient thrusters, research that was begun nearly a century ago and then mothballed.  The data is still there however, and it didn't take long to resurrect it.  This was merely to make use of the time though.   Two things were obvious to all sides;  an agreement needed to be reached quickly, since further progress in use of the TN minerals could not happen without it and the public would not tolerate such inaction.  Secondly, no one faction had the necessary resources.  Only the corporate sector had the necessary investment capital for large-scale mining, refining, and fabrication operations, which would require a massive initial outlay and large-scale investment for the forseeable future.  At the same time, only the IRC had the technical expertise.  Resulting from this was an arrangement which hearkened back to the concept of eminent domain.  The IRC was given the authority to purchase, subject to UN approval, whatever amounts of refined ore their needs required at fair market value up to 70% of available stockpiles.  In exchange, they would provide technical, consulting assistance to multi-national corporations in developing these resources, including any related scientific advances that may come about in the future.  Any nation or corporation that refused such an accomodation would be cut off from the IRC's support, which all of them needed desperately and they knew it.   With the UN acting as a theoretically impartial observer and broker of these terms, in 2031 initial efforts to harvest significant quantities of the ores was begun.  At first, the rate of employment in the new high-tech industrial industries(mining only at this point) was about two hundred thousand new jobs a year, which isn't even a grain of sand compared to the beach.  Compared to a population of about 17.7 billion worldwide, it would take nearly a thousand years to employ just 1%. 

In 2132, late November, new improved efficiency thruster concepts completed by Sullivan. On the industrial side, despite the efforts of now nearly a half a million full-time workers, the testing and equipment/facility design phase was still underway.  Director Blake was becoming increasingly disturbed at the delays, but there were signs the first tangible results would become viable by spring of the next year.  The researchers were thrown into a sort of limbo for the time being. By April of 2133 the first tangible results  finally appeared.  It was only a few tons, but it was something.  The engineers reported that for the most important immediate application, the design of new, more efficient Prospector probes that could visit other bodies in the solar system, they would need more time to study the sorium and refinery techniques.  And so the waiting continued.  The next year, Kane Sullivan passed on, a bit early but he was in his early 60s.  It appears his lasting contribution will be in the development of the reactors and propulsion systems, but he did not see the Prospector project come to full intended fruition. 

Just a couple months after Sulllivan's passing, in June of 2134, the first-ever sorium refinery operations got underway, with an annual capacity estimated at twenty thousand liters initially.  By early July, there was more than plenty to spare and initial testing showed it to be of good enough quality to begin testing a new engine combining the improved fuel with the latest in propulsion efficiency understanding.  Unfortunately the power required mandated some sacrifice in terms of fuel consumption.  Attitude issues or not, Zoe Fry was the only candidate for the job, having improved herself markedly.  A full million were now employed in TN-related activities, with a mineral stockpile of over 100 tons and an extraction rate over 150 tons annually.  Of the current proven deposits, gallicite possessed has the lowest exhaustion timer, over 22 thousand years' supply at current extraction rates, most of which was being stored, not used.  There was no need to worry about a lack of raw material for the forseeable future. 

Prospector Designs

With the new thrusters available and more than sufficient sorium fuel being produced, the Prospector Project was finally fully underway.  The new probe design was essentially a balance between the fuel needed to ensure it would have power long enough to complete it's mission, and also report back it's findings before shutting down, and having as large a scanner possible in order to provide enough power to complete the surveying itself.

Two versions were actually designed.  The standard one was intended to survey the larger bodies of the inner system:  Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Mars primarily.  Like the original that did the initial scan of Earth, it was a maximum-size, 60-ton rocket.  The second version, known as the 'M' variant -- the M representing it's minaturized size, some took to calling it simply the 'mini' -- would have just a single booster instead of three, and handle much smaller targets like the moons of Mars, asteroids, or any local comets.  The Prospector M was, as a result, a fraction of the cost and size at under 20 tons. 

A more long-term goal was a package capable of getting past the asteroid belt and reaching the many moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well as the gas giants themselves, and perhaps even Neptune and Uranus.  But first things first.  Getting results from all the major inner-system bodies and a representative cross-section of the smaller ones would give the IRC a much better idea of how common mineral deposits were beyond Earth, and what, if any, future survey activities were justified. 

Lacking any real rocketry specialists as of yet, Blake again turned to the man who has become his premier researcher, 43-year-old Alexander Donnelly, in order to hammer out the prototypes.  The standard Prospector would come first, and it took only months to complete them.  Five standard probes were begun, at a total cost of 230 million;  a dozen of the mini-Prospectors would mean another 156 million.  A miniscule cost in the grand scheme of things.  And then the question was, what to do with the research department?  A break of some years was expected, but not long enough to do any kind of major economics research yet.  Adam Doherty was back in the mix for some uridium-based work on the possibility of detecting uncharted gravitational disturbances in space.  Near-earth collison and other similar needs made this a field that interested a fairly broad spectrum of interests. 

In July, after confirmation of sufficient fuel quantity and purity was made, the first Prospector was ready to go, and as it happens, Mars was in nearly the perfect position, something that happens only once every few years.  It was an easy decision, and the launch occurred on the morning of July 6.  In less than two weeks it was on station, and all that remained was to wait for results, which would take months. 

Mars was not the only iron in the fire though.  By mid-September a second Prospector was finished and sent on it's way to Mercury.  This was the longest journey at around 100 million miles, but the real resource hog was still the scanning operation. 

About a week later, a stupid error by Flight Control at CTMSS, and the Mars Prospector was sent off course, out of orbit, aborting it's scan.  It could not be salvaged, and a new probe would be needed.  Good thing a spare was built!  The planets were no longer in alignment though, so it would have to wait some while.

**In actuality, I messed up and deleted the wrong waypoint, causing the probe to just hang out well behind Mars in it's orbit.  It's still there :(**

In December, the third Prospector was launched, this one headed on the trip to the moon which would take just over an hour for the transit.  This ought to be child's play ... if the beauracrats could manage to send the right telemetry data, that is.  Up through year's end all appeared to be going well ... but there was still no completion messages from either Mercury or Luna, so nobody could be certain. 

As 2136 began, there were now two million employed in the mining and refining operations, 357 tons of minerals and almost 28k liters of fuel in storage and production increasing all the time.  The third side of the triangle, manufacturing, has been silent but now gets into gear working on adding capacity for building the probes faster.  It'll take three years at the current rate to see any real increase, but there will be need for similar projects down the road almost certainly.  By mid-January, the Mercury Prospector reported back, the first to complete it's assigned mission!  And not only that, but it confirms Earth is not the only source of suitable deposits. 

** 1.22 mt duranium(0.5)
** 193 kt mercassium(0.5)
** 263 kt vendarite(0.4)
** 688 kt uridium(0.1)
** 3.62 mt gallicite(0.7)

So, just under half of the relevant ores are present here.  Combined, mining here would be between a third and a quarter as productive as on Earth.  The big news here is the amount of gallicite -- not quite as accessible as that found on Earth, but almost nine times the amount.  Of course, such considerations  make the rather large leap that it would even be possible.  If Director Blake immediately ordered a mission to do so, it couldn't be carried out.  There'd be no way to either transport the necessary equipment and manpower, nor house those needed to operate it.  A ground team would need to be sent first for more specifics and confirmation.  There is in fact no guarantee it will ever be possible.  The presence of minerals both on Earth and Mercury suggests that such deposits may be common.  If so, there is a chance that more developed space travel may be profitable, with a whole host of implications.  But definitely the biggest news here is the scientific aspect, and the fact that the probe worked.  The Prospector program will definitely continue in light of this success. 

The fourth Prospector was finished in late February.  It will be some time before Mars is in position, but Venus is nearly so, and the Mars replacement enters production.  Activity resumes at CTMSS as a launch is expected within weeks.  Within days, the Luna probe reports back that the moon is barren.  This is a considerable disappointment, since this would obviously be the easiest test destination for off-world mining due to it's proximity.  Less than weeks later, the Venus Prospector launches.  This is the most challenging survey of the group, as Venus requires almost as much effort and time as the Earth to complete.  Minimizing travel time, and therefore fuel, was critical.  The trip itself takes less than week and is completed successfully, but pretty much the rest of the year will be required for the survey. 

In May, the final standard Prospector finished was completed.  With Earth now basically directly opposite the Sun from Mars, about as bad of a launching position as it is possible to get.  Therefore it would be some time before the second attempt at scanning the red planet commences.  The first of a dozen mini-Prospectors were begun, and those would be sent at the closest targets of opportunity as they were completed.

The first such launch happened a month later, with the closest asteroid, Apollo, chosen as the target.  Apollo is just two kilometers wide, making a survey of it nearly instantaneous. 
The goal of this stage is to do a cross-section of the smaller bodies that are closest to Earth, in order to gain an inkling of the relationship between size and mineral value.  A dozen data points is far too few to be conclusive of course, but it is a dozen more than we currently possess.  It's just a small sample, a starting point.  And Apollo is first.  By the end of June, the report came back that Apollo was barren as well.  In late September, another tiny asteroid, 'ahead' of Earth in it's orbital path, 2010 TK7, was found to be barren also. 

Incoming comet Faye is the next target in October, although the 'M' Prospector probes are being built faster than they are being used at the moment.  This proved to be more difficult than expected.  The probe overshot the comet and then turned to catch it, but didn't appear to be fast enough to do so.  After a few more weeks of pointless chasing, it was clear that a faster probe would be needed to reliably intercept such objects. 

2137 started with a bang;  the Venus probe returned massive deposits, but most of them highly inaccessible.  The total amounts were as follows:

** 30 mt duranium(20%)
** 33.8 mt neutronium(90%)
** 20.1 mt tritanium(10%)
** 26.5 mt mercassium(10%)
** 28.4 mt gallicite(10%)

Massive amounts of all of these compared to Earth, but only neutronium is accessible -- to say nothing of the general inhospitability of Venus as well. 

In February, Director Blake decided to sample a couple of 'M' class missions to some of the larger asteroids.  The first to be targeted was Cybele, which is near the outside of the asteroid belt at some 515m km from the Sun and was now near closest approach, some 365m or so.  Even a 'large' asteroid such as this is only 274 km across, and would require only days for an orbital scan.  Before the end of the month, a similarly located, slightly smaller asteroid, Euphrosyne, was targeted as well.  This pair of launches figured to be the last until the Earth caught up enough to Mars to give a second attempt at a scan of the red planet.  By early March, the last of the current run of Prospector probes was finished.  No more are intended for the immediate future. 

By the end of March the Cybele probe was on station, and the one headed for Euphrosyne was just a few days out.   They still had over half their fuel remaining, no question about the ability to complete their missions.  Additionally, Adam Doherty's team had finished theoretical research into gravitational sensors.  Time to find a new direction in terms of research.  Commercial application of new construction techniques became the focus once again. 
Another week, and the Prospector 'M' chasing the comet Faye ran out of fuel and self-destructed. By the middle of the month, both Cybele and Euprhosyne reported negative results from their scans.  Not good news for the prospects of finding deposits of heavy metals on asteroids, as all of the few that have surveyed so far have come up completely empty.  Meanwhile, limited supplies of Tritanium are slowing down expansion of the rocket-producing facilities. 

A quiet few months later, Earth caught Mars in the orbital alignment, and the final standard Prospector was launched to finish that survey.  It arrived on station in Mid-August, and weeks before year's end reported that Mars is barren.  This effectively concluded this phase of the Prospector's exploration.  Journeying to the outer system and searching additional asteroids closer in is not deemed cost-effective at the present time, given that whatever might be found can't be developed at this point in time anyway, and so far the asteroid results are not encouraging.  The IRC's focus is now firmly on coordinating and cooperating with the corporate sector in mining and refining the TN minerals, and any research that might be necessary related to that endeavor. 
 

 

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