Interstellar Colonization

Dyaush 2
Image from Steve Bowers

A Dyaushpitr-class interstellar colony ship; long and thin, to reduce impacts with the interstellar medium

We lost two hundred in year twelve. An explosion in the chemplant flooded a hab tube. We mourned the loss, but we endured, we worked for each other. From teens to the elders all among our small city toiled where they were best suited. Our loyal machines followed our commands, employing tactics in accordance with our strategies. Before long we recovered, and then grew. In old age I entered cryostasis, a risky venture. But I survived, thawed two centuries later to a thriving nation. One rich enough to offer longevity treatments.

- Interviews with the Aged, third millennium

I accompanied the shuttles down. No crew was needed, but I wanted to observe from the surface. Everyone else stayed to watch over the sleepers. Moments after landing the shuttles disgorged machines, supplies, and bots. One shuttle refitted into a shelter. Over the weeks I watched through screen and visor as the robotic complex grew. It was slow at first, long days of the bots harvesting resources. But soon fabricators became factories, solar fields became fusion plants, teams of bots became hives. It was a pleasant couple of years.

- Memories of the Frontier, sixth millennium

No one was even here for the "colonisation". Twenty years ago a seedcraft arrived, launched by a habitat in a nearby system (which, by the way, no longer exists). It slowed by sail then dropped onto the fourth largest moon. If anyone had been around they would have seen little more than a curious black fungus, spreading across the lava fields. They'd observe this smart matter grow dense and smooth at the centre. Upon that circular platform they might have smiled to see the extrusion of an arcology in the nouveau diamant style. But no one was here to see, so the city waited. And wait it did! No one bothered to visit until recently. In that time the arcology has maintained itself, and kept its lightway transceiver active. Nice place, to be honest, if I'd have no known I might have visited sooner. Hopefully someone else visits soon.

- Tyrol's Travel Notes, ninth millennium

Interstellar colonisation is an ancient dream. As early as the 20th century c.e. (1st century BT) visionaries debated how to reach the stars, but the practical achievement of interstellar colonies had to wait several centuries more, and remained a highly uncertain venture for almost two millennia afterward. Even today, with ten millennia of experience and technology the ancients would not have dreamt of, interstellar colonisation remains an expensive and sometimes controversial venture.

Despite the aid of data from the occasional interstellar probe and high-resolution imagery from space telescopes, the Interplanetary Age produced only a few colonies, and of those even fewer - Nova Terra and Penglai are examples — were successful. There were two primary reasons for the dearth of interstellar colony attempts at the time. The first of these was technical: starships of sufficient speed, reliability and colony capacity could not be built. The second reason was economic: the megacorps and interplanetary powers were far too busy exploiting the solar system and its resources to "waste" money on "blue-sky" projects. Significant interstellar colonisation was not achieved until the 400's, in the Solsys Golden Age when automation enabled the construction of ships with sufficient power, size, and self-repair capability to make attempts to reach other solar systems technologically feasible.

Even given technical feasibility, colonisation was still not a high priority project. The megacorps recognised the interest from many groups, but could see only limited benefits for themselves from interstellar colonisation: each venture would be a multi-century investment, and that would involve creating a new economy at a remote world from scratch and then only lead to very limited trade income given that interstellar transports were extremely slow and costly and that even communication was subject to enormous delays. Most analysis suggested that as technology advanced future ships would become faster and better, and it would be a smarter strategy to wait a few decades and reap the benefits of the fast economic growth of the golden age before funding interstellar colonies. At the same time though, large social segments systemwide believed interstellar colonisation was the key to freedom and future autonomy. Hence, many of the governments began to ponder the possibility of doing interstellar colonisation for political rather than economic reasons: enhancing civic pride, or getting rid of many of the would-be troublemakers, or making the megacorps happy with large pork-barrel projects. Slowly, the colony projects gained momentum, and a number of highly publicised and sometimes highly controversial colony projects were launched outwards.

The Golden age persisted but for a brief time. There was a final flurry of activity when in the opening years of the Technocalypse, as various groups attempted to escape the oncoming disorder, and another major set of expeditions backed by GAIA as part of the Great Expulsion, but no further attempts are known from the ensuing Dark Ages, and colonisation did not resume until the First Federation era. This time the reasons for interstellar colonisation were stronger. The solar system was experiencing a major economic and social boom. Technologies and institutions of quality not seen in centuries became common place. Under the administration of the Federation's colonisation efforts were renewed, this time utilising more sophisticated stasis, more reliable neumanns, and later new infrastructure such as the lightway

The new colonisation ventures had profound political effects over the long term. One was the gradual dissolution of the Federation as a social and political force, as more and more activity went on outside Solsys. Another effect was the immense broadening of financial time scales. The hyperturing-supported economy was stable and to a large extent predictable, and the colony projects would lead to multi-decade planning horizons. While a long range plan of the Information or first Interplanetary ages could have been five years, now fifty or a hundred years became a rational planning timescale. By putting more and more decision making and management power into the hands of reliable automation, organizations could manage even multi-century operations without any risk of losing control. However, policy could not be allowed to change too quickly, or the projects would go haywire due to communications lags. This was the first step along the road which eventually led to the Age of Empires and the transformation of the megacorps into hereditary houses.

The selection of colonisation targets was based on several factors, but distance, the presence of suitable asteroid/kuiper belts and the presence of habitable/terraformable planets were, in that order, the most important. Distance limited the response times of the organisation; early 0.1c spaceflight involved decades-long turn-around times for even the most nearby systems. Easily accessible orbital resources were the reason systems such as Lalande 21185 and Barnard quickly became important, while Wolf 359 and Ross 128 languished (also, the lack of volatiles at Barnard eventually led to its decline). As for habitable planets, terraforming was a good long-term investment, but adapting tweaks or exploiting the bewildering array of clades of the solar system proved to give a much faster benefit (as Gordan Salam, a Jupiter Transsystem executive famously remarked, "Whatever the environment, you will find that someone once had the idea to tweak their children to live there for whatever ridiculous reason. Let's hire them!").

The introduction of wormholes in the late First Federation era led to a drastic change in colonisation strategy. Previously, colonisable systems had to be selected carefully, a colonisation fleet sent out and centuries could pass before the colony would bear profit. Now a linelayer ship could be launched and distribute wormholes along a route, enabling the fast access of highly skilled colonisation, terraformer and marketing professionals to the system once access had been achieved. While before joint-venture colonisation was common, now ownership of whole systems could be claimed. This in turn led to the emergence of the Empires (as well as other factors): groups controlling the colonisation process gained tremendous direct political, economic and informational influence over their colonies, enabling the formation of the empires. During this era Cygexpa, the Taurus Nexus and the Conver Ambi emerged as the logical result of mergers between the Terraforming Funds.

Over time colonisation began to develop a stable dynamic. A vast wave of exploration and colonisation probes expanded at near lightspeed outwards. Without sophont supervision they could chart star systems and construct habitats, awaiting the arrival of later colonists. Interesting systems were visited by linelayer ships and attached to the wormhole nexus. Many systems were selected as wormhole outposts with receiver arrays just to keep near to the information front (a delay in receiving a tip about a good system could mean that a competitor got there first). The linked systems were then developed as before, but by now the technologies were standardised and routine. One result was the tree-like spread of empires, with wormhole networks radiating away from Weylforge systems into the frontier. Large volumes were left untouched as too far from any suitable linelayer or too uninteresting; in these volumes other empires and independent worlds sometimes appeared.

  • Backscattering Waves  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Steve Bowers
    Some colonies themselves send out waves of colonsation, which may come into conflict with other waves from the original source.
  • Blazer, Deeper  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Pre-Technocalypse terms for pioneers and adventurers who sort to explore and develop "deep space" (hence "deeper") and "blaze a trail" (archaic expression - origin unknown) out beyond CisLunar space, Mars, the Belt and the main population hubs.
  • Brobdingnag  - Text by Mike Miller
    Giant worldship as large as a dwarf planet.
  • Colonist  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Sophont being who leaves eir homeworld to colonize a new solar system.
  • Colony  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Dependent member of a larger polity or empire.
  • Colony Ships  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Terragens, and in the past some xenosophonts, have used a number of different kinds of strategies to establish colonies across interstellar distances. The resulting ships range from gigantic and slow generation ships to much smaller data-only ships.
  • Destrada Incident  - Text by John B
    The subrelativistic explorer ship Destrada lost in transit because of hardware incompatibility.
  • Diademata, The  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Halo drive Colony ship, launched from Corona in 9255.
  • Dyaushpitr Interstellar Colony Ship  - Text by Steve Bowers
    An early interstellar colony ship.
  • Early Interstellar Colonists  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Without the vision and sacrifices of the hardy and courageous colonists, humankind would never have left the safety of Earth.
  • Encyclopaedia Everythingiana, The  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    A bootstrap database for lost or abandoned societies.
  • Eridanus League, The  - Text by Aaron Hamilton, updated by Steve Bowers
    Early interstellar empire, informally aligned with the First Federation.
  • Exploration, Interstellar  - Text by Todd Drashner, with comments by Steve Bowers
    Interstellar Exploration, especially by the Sephirotics, involves a number of progressive stages.
  • Explorer Class  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Specialist Exploration craft that generally reach a target star before other vessels.
  • Far Edge Party   - Text by Steve Bowers
    Many explorers who exist in multiple copies arrange to meet at distant locations to exchange information and memories. These meetings are traditionally called 'Far Edge Parties', as they are supposed to occur at the 'far edge of the galaxy', although to date no exploration ships have reached that far.
  • Feral - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    [1] A sapient being that seeks to live free of hyperturing supervision. As used by those who do not, this usually associated with romantic or shock-value associated memes of unpredictability, aggressiveness, lack of hygiene, baseline atavism, etcetera.
    [2] Generic term for modosophont rogues and malcontents, either dangerous or potentially so to other sapients. Some live a degraded existence in their biospheres and ships (not having the resources of the AIs, the adaptability of the tweaks, the ability of the cyborgs, or the comfort of the AI-devotee nearbaselines). Others, with access to ships, become pirates, black marketeers, and petty thugs.
  • Galactic Colonisation Board - Text by Steve Bowers
    A quasi-religious body responsible for coordinating the exploration of the Outer Volumes (under divine guidance from the Sephirotic Archailects and their representatives). Currently based on Cythera.
  • Generation Ship  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Huge, slow, self-contained interstellar ships taking more than one lifetime to arrive.
  • Great Expulsion  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Five and a half billion people are expelled from Earth by the newly ascended Goddess GAIA.
  • Historical Diaconcentrism - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    The tendency for the peripheral regions to be historically and technologically backward - "living fossils" - in relation to the inner sphere (owing to the amount of transit time - usually many centuries - required to get there). Moving from the core to the periphery is in a sense like moving back in time. This phenomenon breaks down as the outer volume worlds develop their own cultures and civilisations.
  • Interstellar Colonisation Before the First Federation Era  - Text by The Astronomer, Ryan B (Rynn), Steve Bowers
    Every known colony ship launched up to the start of the First Federation.
  • Light Speed Paranoia  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Every star is separated from every other star by a distance on the order of light years, and so all information any one star-system can have about its neighbours is years out of date. This makes each star system paranoid about what the others are thinking and planning, so they have to assume the worst.
  • Lost Colonies  - Text by Somes Jung Hallinan with additions by Steve Bowers
    Colonies that have been totally isolated from the remainder of Terragen civilization for a long period of time.
  • Low World Houses  - Text by Wesley Bruce
    Low canopies to retain a breathable atmosphere on an otherwise inhospitable planet.
  • Magellanica  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    the first interstellar colony ship from the Federated South America Space Alliance (Gran Colombia, Federation of Brazil and the Argentinian States).
  • Mobile Frontier, The  - Text by Thorbørn Steen
    The moving edge of Terragen expansion.
  • Nova Terra  - Text by Anders Sandberg and M. Alan Kazlev
    The first successful human interstellar colony
  • Project Frontier  - Text by The Astronomer, Ryan B
    First serious attempt at interstellar colonization, but ultimately resulted in the loss of the Alpha Centauri system and the rise of the independent Nauri civilization.
  • Red (Tau Ceti Colony Ship)  - Text by Original article by Anders Sandberg
    One of the oldest surviving spacecraft in the Terragen Sphere.
  • Relativist  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Culture/Profession based on relativist courier and trader lifestyle. Relativists are of great importance to worlds not connected to the main wormhole nexus. These are the crew members of interstellar ships, who spend long years travelling in stasis at relativistic speeds. They can easily spend a century on a single mission, although to them it may only seem like a a few months or years. Despite great diversity among themselves, they are united in the sense of temporal discontinuity from the rest of Terragen life.
  • Sagittarius Project - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Major exploration project backed by a number of research and colonization megacorporations in the Establishment and early Consolidation era. The Sagittarius Project attempted to set up wormhole links to the Sagittarius arm and continue inwards to the galactic core. Over time, the Project developed into a megacorp-house like most others (eventually becoming the Sagittarius Sphere), and the thrust towards the core was replaced by exploiting the many new worlds found in the Sagittarius arm. Some research vessels are still on their way towards the core, and are expected back in a few millennia.
  • Scout Base  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev (inspired by Traveller Library)
    Port facility for the support, maintenance, and repair of scout vessels, usually located many light years from the nearest settled system or colony, let alone the nearest wormhole terminus. Most large empires maintain a variety of scout bases scattered throughout the periphery of known space.
  • Scout Ship  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    A small, long-range relativistic exploration vessel, almost always conversion or reactionless drive propelled, equipped and designed for extended relativistic travel, with excellent shielding, and generally some measure of self-repair (but not self-replication) faculties.
  • Seedship  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Interstellar vessel carrying embryos, gametes or digitised DNA in order to raise humans or other modosophonts on arrival using robotic parents.
  • Seedtech  - Text by Stephen Inniss, Steve Bowers and M. Alan Kazlev
    Large, self-replicating sporetech units
  • Starlark, The  - Text by Steve Bowers
    One of a numerous class of ships built after the Great Expulsion, as the population of Earth sought refuge in the worlds and habitats of the Solar System and among the stars.
  • Terragen Expansion  - Text by Anders Sandberg amended by Steve Bowers
    The expansion of the Terragen Sphere over time.
  • Territory - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Sector or colony or region of real or virtual space ruled remotely, generally through a local administration office or representative.
  • Virginis Combine, The  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    An early interstellar empire, influential during the late Federation and early Expansion periods.
  • Von Neumann Probe - Text by Anders Sandberg in his Transhuman Terminology
    A Von Neumann Machine able to move over interstellar or interplanetary distances and to utilize local materials to build new copies of itself. Such probes are used to set up new colonies, perform megascale engineering or explore the universe (see the Far Edge Party).
  • Wilds, The  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Generic term for non-sephirotic terragen space beyond the borders of the Civilized Galaxy.
  • Wormholes - Cultural Factors  - Text by Anders Sandberg; additions by Todd Drashner and Stephen Inniss
    The addition of a wormhole stargate to a system has multiple effects both on local culture and on Terragen culture generally.
  • Xenomorph - Text by Steve Bowers
    Any Terragen entity using an artificial alien (xenosophont) body for the purposes of cultural contact, exploration or colonisation.
Related Topics
Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg
Snapshot by Ryan B
Initially published on 13 August 2000.

Additional Information