Space Prospector

I was at lunch with my friend, Don Anderson, and we were talking about Project X, my proposed series of stories set in the Asteroid Belt during the lead-up to what might eventually become a solar system-spanning war. We got talking about the kinds of spaceships that might exist in 2312. More importantly, we focused in on the standard rock rat, the ever-popular miner-prospecter of the Asteroid Belt.

What kind of ship would a miner-prospector need? He’d have to be out on his own for long periods of time, maybe by himself, or with a partner or two. Within minutes, the napkins came out and Don started started drawing. Here, through the magic of scanning, as filtered through Adobe Photoshop, is one of those napkin drawings:

The spaceship of a miner-prospector in the Asteroid Belt

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Project X

The Asteroid BeltI’ve been working on the background, concepts and characters for a series of stories, envisioned as novelettes and novellas, set in the Asteroid Belt starting around the year 2312. My working title for the series is currently Project X. This will obviously change later. My general concept for the series appears below.


The stories will focus on the expansion of mankind into the solar system, as hard-working people explore and tame the solar system in the same way that America was settled and tamed. And just as there were serious conflicts as America evolved into a nation, there will be similar conflicts in space, as the people who live and work in the Outer System establish their own societies and push for the rights they feel they are owed.

The series begins in the year 2312, 300 years from today. Mankind has spread throughout the solar system, although the heaviest population concentration is clearly still Earth and the near-Earth area, including numerous orbital facilities and an extensive lunar population. There is a well-established and growing colony on Mars, where terraforming was begun 43 years ago, with centuries of effort still to come. There are scientific research stations scattered throughout the system, some almost large enough and permanent enough to qualify as colonies themselves.

The Asteroid Belt is being extensively mined for metals, water and other elements. As a result, an increasing amount of technological infrastructure is being constructed in the Asteroid Belt, in Mars orbit and even as far out as Jupiter’s orbit (the Asteroid Belt is located between Mars and Jupiter). The people who live and work in the Asteroid Belt have earned a reputation for being tough, stubborn and, maybe, just a little bit unsophisticated by Earth standards (like how a rich Bostonite in the 1800’s might look at a rough-and-tumble cowboy in the old American West).

The United Earth Authority (UEA), the organization that replaced the United Nations after the Fourth World War (the only war in which antimatter bombs were used on Earth) governs space operations. The UEA has become increasingly autocratic, and is considered by spacers to be out-of-touch with space-related issues; it always adjudicates such issues in favor of Earth corporations and governments at the perceived expense of those who work in space. Accordingly, friction between the denizens of the Outer System and the UEA has been steadily increasing, with some people already advocating armed rebellion.

The UEA also has problems on Earth, with the side effect that these local problems further distract the organization from dealing effectively with its space operations. The European Federation, based in Stockholm, dominates the UEA. As a result, the UEA acts constantly to increase its own power and to diminish the power of so-called Old World governments, notably the United States.

As a result, it has incurred the growing opposition of the United States, which was sidelined as a superpower by the Fourth World War and the devastating antimatter attacks that leveled much of the eastern and central United States.

Over the course of the series, these basic conflicts between the UEA and off-worlders will lead first to armed rebellion by spacers, followed by a declaration of independence, organized revolution and the formation of new nations in the Outer System. Other space colonies, notably Mars, will follow the lead of the spacers. This open rebellion will, in turn, evolve into a widespread solar system war.

Our characters will be living in interesting times. They will have to pick sides, make life-and-death decisions and try to cope as best they can with the terrifying prospect of war in space. For perfectly valid reasons, friends may become enemies, lovers may be forced to betray each other and good people may have to commit horrible acts. Even relatives may end up on different sides of the conflict. Some characters will inevitably die in the war. Some will go on to greatness. Others will try just to survive. The unscrupulous may even do everything they can to profit from the war.

Here are some key principles to be embodied in the stories:

  • Hard Science: Physics isn’t just a good idea; it defines what can and cannot happen. For example, there is no sound in space, space ships generally aren’t streamlined and they don’t bank to make turns. Technology keeps you alive in space. Accidents in space kill. Quickly.

  • Extrapolated Future Technology: Tired of future stories where characters fight battles with 1940’s technology? This is the future. Think big: this is 2312 – 300 years from now will be as different from now as 1712 was. Nanotech. Artificial intelligence. Space suits with limited on-board AI’s. Smart weapons. Easy body sculpting (for a price). Genetic modification. Large-scale space construction. Asteroid mining. Mars terraforming. Space elevators. But still no faster-than-light (FTL) space drive or anti-gravity.

  • Character-Driven Plots: The stories will be about people first and foremost, regular people caught up in events and reacting to those events in the best ways that they can. Characters, even minor ones, will appear in multiple stories, and everybody will have their own story arcs.

  • Gritty Feel: The focus is on making the future feel real. Cramped spaceships, ancient space stations, tunnels burrowed into asteroids, etc. Fights will be frenetic and scary, because space is already deadly; fights can only be worse.

  • Realistic Conflicts: No aliens. No evil twin stories. No time travel. I’ll have real people experiencing real problems in the most hostile environment known. And people clashing because of perfectly reasonable yet diametrically opposed future ideologies (Earth vs. spacers, etc.).

Welcome to the future. May you live long enough to enjoy it.

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A Little Inspiration: Belt Structure

It’s common-place for SF writers to write about the asteroid belt in a sort of diffuse manner, without any real details that would help fix the features of the belt in your mind. There is a “structure” to the belt, as can be seen in the illustration below:

The Asteroid Belt

The numeric part of each asteroid’s name indicates the order in which the asteroid was discovered. In general, of course, the largest ones were discovered first. So, naturally, Ceres was the first discovered, then Pallas, Juno and Vesta, etc. Each of these, as well as many others, could be basis for a belt-based nation-state, or mini-nation.

As you can see, the belt extends from Mars out towards Jupiter. Some asteroids orbit nearer the inner edge, some in the middle (like Ceres), and some further towards the outer edge. There’s also an anomaly in the structure of the belt, the so-called Kirkwood Gap, in which far fewer asteroids are found.

All of these asteroids, of course, are orbiting the Sun at different speeds, and may thus be closer or more distant from each other based on where they are in their respective orbits.

Armed with these details, writers should be able to concoct more convincing stories set in the belt than many of the ones I’ve read in the past. Sometimes a little research goes a long way.

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A Little Inspiration: Lucky Strike

This is my vision of what it would be like to stake a claim on an asteroid.

A Lucky Strike!

Since the asteroid is so small, it would have to be rich in rare elements for it to be a significant claim.

A fundamental aspect of a lot of stories set in the asteroid belt is that, by law, asteroids must be claimed in person. So, no automated land grabs by big corporations. This rule basically levels the playing field, so we can have the asteroid prospectors we’re all so fond of in SF.

To make a claim, you have to visit an asteroid, survey it (take measurements, core samples, pictures, etc.), set a marker beacon so other miners will know the asteroid has been claimed, and then get back to register the claim.

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