Colony

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A colony is a settlement by a space-faring civilization in an alien location, typically taken to mean a planet, although a myriad of other viable targets for colonization also exist. These include moons, asteroids, and artificial space stations, either orbital, located in points of gravitational equilibrium, or Outstations entirely beyond the gravitational influence of major celestial bodies.

People who migrate to settle permanently in offworld colonies are called colonists. Some colonies are politically independent, although the vast majority are the result of an organized colonization effort by a "mother civilization".

Establishing a colony is a major undertaking which requires access to space, people, food, construction materials, energy, transportation, communications, life support, simulated gravity, and radiation protection.

Materials

Colonies can use local materials or rely on shipments from other locations. Since sending regular supplies to a distant colony is an expensive project, modern colonization equipment typically includes a vast array of replicators suited to manufacturing various necessities.

Energy

Solar energy in orbit is abundant, reliable, and is commonly used to power satellites. Particularly in the weightless conditions of space, sunlight can be used directly, using large solar ovens made of lightweight metallic foil so as to generate thousands of degrees of heat at no cost; or reflected onto crops to enable photosynthesis to proceed.

Large structures are needed to convert sunlight into significant amounts of electrical power for settlers' use.

For both solar thermal and nuclear power generation in airless environments, and to a lesser extent in thin atmospheres, one of the main difficulties is dispersing the inevitable heat generated. This requires fairly large radiator areas. Alternatively, the waste heat can be used to melt possible ice on the surface of the world.

Transportation

Space Access

Before dedicated colony ships, the endeavor of building an offworld colony was limited by the costly nature of launching thousands, even millions of spacecraft to supply the necessary manpower, materials and equipment. The development of technologies such as Launch Tubes and space elevators made reaching orbit somewhat cheaper, but the need for a different approach was still recognized.

To this end, the first colonyships were soon developed as space travel technologies progressed. They were basically large transport starships with enough space to contain all the needed material to establish a colony, as well as accommodations for the first batch of settlers. Often, early colonyships were sleeper ships with the colonists cryogenically suspended in hibernation chambers.

Most colonyships were not designed to be reusable; rather, all components from the craft were used as materials for the new colony. Modern colonyships are typically equipped with special equipment designed specifically to facilitate the efficient breakdown and recycling of the starship materials.

Communication

Communication is relatively easy between colonies in-system; even light-speed communications, although slow, can be used for this purpose. The problems arise when colonies are established in other systems, typically light years away from the mother civilization. Eventually, the same breakthroughs in dimensional physics that allowed FTL travel also permitted Tachyon Relays to be built, making inter-system communications a reality.

Life support

Like everyone else, the inhabitants of the colony need to breathe, drink and eat; furthermore, gravity and reasonable temperatures are needed for long term survival. To this end, large artificial biospheres were developed for use on alien worlds. Colonies based around these closed ecological systems, referred to as Biosfere Colonies, must recycle or import all the nutrients without "crashing."

The relationship between organisms, their habitat and the alien environment can be:

  • Organisms and their habitat fully isolated from the environment (Biosphere Colonies)
  • Changing the environment to become a life-friendly habitat, a process called terraforming.
  • Changing organisms to become more compatible with the environment. (See genetic engineering, cyborg.)

Note that plant based life support systems are very inefficient in their use of energy; about 1-3% energetic efficiency is common. This means that 97-99% of the light energy provided to the plant ends up as heat and needs to be dissipated somehow to avoid overheating the habitat.

A combination of the above technologies is also possible.

Radiation protection

Cosmic rays and solar flares create a lethal radiation environment in space. To protect life, settlements must be surrounded by sufficient mass to absorb most incoming radiation. Somewhere around 5-10 tons of material per square meter of surface area is required. This can be achieved cheaply with leftover material (slag) from processing soil and asteroids into base materials. Alternatively, energy shields can be used to block harmful radiation. In the Galaxy today, dedicated Shield Bases, often military grade, are typically deployed on a colonized world.

Self-replication

Self-replication is technically an optional attribute, but is generally considered the goal of establishing a colony as it allows a much more rapid increase in colonies, while eliminating costs to and dependence on the mother civilization. The colony is finally expected to start contributing to the material wealth of the mother civilization itself, which then provides funding for further colonization efforts.

Intermediate goals include colonies that expect only information from the mother civilization (science, engineering, entertainment, etc.) and colonies that just require periodic supply of light weight objects, such as integrated circuits, medicines, genetic material and perhaps some tools.

Population size

Theoretically, a very small initial population of as little as two colonists capable of giving birth should be viable. Use of cloning and/or a genetic material bank from the mother civilization would also allow a smaller starting base with negligible inbreeding. In practice however, colonies are rarely started without a base population of at least 100+ individuals; often, this number is in the thousands range. Once the colony is viable, the population is increased through natural means and transported on site from other worlds.

Location

The location of colonization can be:

Gas Giants

It is also possible, although technically challenging, to colonize gas giants with floating cities in their atmospheres. By heating hydrogen balloons, large masses can be suspended underneath at the desired gravity. Larger gas giants would be less suitable for habitation due to their high gravity, escape velocity and radiation. Such colonies can export harvested atmospherics such as Helium-3 for use in fusion reactors.

Satellite locations

Free space locations

Space habitats

Free space locations in space necessitate a space habitat, also called space colony and orbital colony, or a space station intended as a permanent settlement rather than as a simple waystation or other specialized facility. They are literal "cities" in space, where people live and work and raise families.

Planetary orbit

Compared to other locations, planetary orbits have substantial advantages and one major, but solvable, problem. Low orbits can be reached quickly and there is ample continuous solar power in high orbits, whereas planets typically lose sunlight at least half the time. Weightlessness makes construction of large colonies considerably easier than in a gravity environment. Microgravity recreation is available on orbital colonies. Finally, the level of (pseudo-) gravity is controlled at any desired level by rotating an orbital colony. Thus, the main living areas can be kept at a desired level, whereas natural bodies have wildly varying gravities. Of course, with the development of Artificial Gravity generators, such considerations have become less important.

The main disadvantage of orbital colonies is lack of materials. These need to be expensively imported from nearby celestial objects such as planets, asteroids, comets, or elsewhere.

Gravitational equilibrium points

Another possibility are points of gravitational equilibrium. Many of these points have near-continuous solar power capability since their distance from an inhabited world results in only brief and infrequent eclipses of light from the system primary.

However, the fact that some points tend to collect dust and debris, while others require active station-keeping measures to maintain a stable position, make them somewhat less suitable places for habitation.

Asteroids

Colonization of asteroids, similarly, requires space habitats. Asteroid belts generally have significant overall material available, although it is thinly distributed as it covers a vast region of space. Unmanned supply craft and mining drones are often used in these situations. Rockets or mass drivers can be installed on asteroids to direct their path into a safe and beneficial course.

Starships

An interstellar colony ship similar to a space habitat, except with major propulsion capabilities and independent energy generation.

Possibilities include:

See also