RocketCat sez

Alright you delta-V jockeys! Just to get the rocket roaring I am going to give you a starter rocketpunk universe as a background for your science fiction novel or game/simulation. From this you will be able to tinker under the hood, re-wire things, swap out components, and build upon it until you have made it yours.

I figure this will be useful for beginners and for advanced students who are under a tight deadline.


Not required, but always nice is some MacGuffinite, that is, an economic or political reason motivating a push for a large number of people living and working in space. Because in the real world there does not seem to be any compelling reason. You can leave out the MacGuffinite but be prepared for a few know-it-alls to pop up and ask awkward questions.

This particular MacGuffinte I am about to offer is rather flimsy and far-fetched, but enough to start you brain-storming a MacGuffinte solution that will fit your needs.

At the start of the RocketCat era of space exploration, happening only mumbly-mumble years in the future, the state of Texas had fallen upon hard times. The prime mover of the Texas economy was the petroleum industry, which was not bringing in as much income now that hydraulic fracturing had become more widespread. Texas needed either a new source of income or a new market for its plentiful supply of electricity. Or both.

Texas noted the steady rise in popularity of the idea of colonizing Mars. In practical terms the concept was utter nonsense. But it was an nifty blue-sky concept to whip up political support among the ill-informed voting public.

And in addition to plentiful supplies of electricity, Texas also had some nice real estate quite close to the Equator. The closer to the Equator, the lower the delta V required to launch into a standard zero-inclination equatorial orbit. True, Texas was not as near to the equator as the ESA's Guiana Space Centre, Puerto Rico, or the Kennedy Space Center. But Texas [a] was part of the USA, not Europe, [b] had a surface area much larger than 9,000 square kilometers and [c] was not rapidly turning into a swamp. Texas also has to the east a long stretch of the Atlantic ocean where spent rocket stages and exploding spacecraft debris can ditch without triggering multiple lawsuits.

Texas' solution is a combination of:

Laser Launching is a relatively inexpensive way to boost lots of payload into LEO. It would open up access to space to everybody from megacorporations down to mom & pop asteroid mining businesses. The launch business would have huge numbers of customers due to the "If you build it, they will come" effect. People would look upon the launch site as a public benefactor.

Is this a new source of income for Texas? Check!

Will all those lasers be a new market for Texas' plentiful supply of electricity? Check!

Building a laser launch facillity when there is no real destination worth launching to is really stupid. The "If you build it, they will come" mentality has its limits. This is where Politics comes in.

Consider the US transcontinental railroad which started construction in the 1860s. 1,500 or more miles between the Missouri River and California with virtually no Anglo-American customers. Just like the laser launcher, it was a road to nowhere.


"Western railroads, particularly the transcontinental railroads, would not have been built without public subsidies, without the granting of land and, more important than that, loans from the federal government … because there is no business [in the West at that time,] there is absolutely no reason to build [railroads] except for political reasons and the hope that business will come."

"What we're talking about is 1,500 or more miles between the Missouri River and California, in which there are virtually no Anglo-Americans. Most railroad men look at this, including [railroad magnate Cornelius] Vanderbilt, and they want nothing to do with it."

The transcontinental railroad was built for political reasons, not economic ones. If Texas stirs in some "Colonize Mars!" popularism, they can get the federal government to provide some funding and loans. For a project whose true goal is to jump start the Texan economy, not a benefit for the US as a whole.

Much to Texas' surprise, the laser launcher actually did become a long-term profit center, instead of a short term scam.

The next stage is Cape Dread. This is a base on Deimos to harvest water ice to stock up various orbital propellant depots.

It gets started because as it turns out Deimos is a moon of Mars. Texas will be pushing the "Colonize Mars!" initiative, so a Deimos base will provide more excitement to the political effort, and also another nice project to boondoggle and to drum up more business for the Texas Laser Launcher.

The history of Cape Fear starts off very modest. Phase 1 is just a waypoint for a NASA Mars expedition. Phase 2 is commercial, when Texas tries to monetize it.

Then the "Close, But No Cigar" asteroid goes whizzing between Terra and Luna, scaring the poo out of everybody on Terra in general and a few trillionaires in particular.

Cape Dread sells subscriptions to trillionaires offering a luxurious bomb shelter suite on Deimos in case an asteroid actually does target Terra. They will offer a safe place to dine on caviar while having a ring-side seat to watch all the great unwashed masses getting eradicated by the next killer asteroid. And there are other benefits, such as being a tax haven and data haven. The data transmission to and from Terra will have a 15 minute lag time, but nothing is perfect.

During the next few years Cape Dread has an economic boom, building and over-building infrastructure. Eventually the economic bubble pops. But the infrastructure remains. Texas abandons the infrastruture for pennies on the dollar. However the old die-hards of Cape Dread are in for the long haul, they stick around. They become the nucleus of the Cape Dread colony, in the orbital propellant depot business.

And orbital propellant depots are the key to accessing the solar system, since they basically cut the delta-V cost in half.

Meanwhile zillions of small Maw-and-Paw Prairie Schooners start spreading across near space.

The unit of currency is not the dollar, euro, or bitcoin. It is the MacGuffinite, abbreviated MG (or Latin small letter "m" with tilde if you want to get fancy: "ᵯ" or Unicode U+1D6F). It is vaguely backed by whatever is the major MacGuffinite, but it is not on the "MacGuffinite Standard", like money based on the gold standard. Tying currency to a standard is just begging for a monetary collapse.

If a science fiction author just wants some window-dressing it is easiest on their readers to assume MC1.00 is approximately equal to $1.00US, €1.00, £1.00, 1.00 or whatever the readers are familiar with. Narrative-wise it is probably not worth the effort and reader confusion to set it to something wildly different.

Plot Complications

In addition to the initial MacGuffinite that allows the universe to be plausible in the first place, I have added some Plot Complications designed to be a never-ending source of interesting situations to assist scifi writers. So far I have Ten, feel free to add more.

  • TerraGov: This is a confederation of the major superpowers on Terra. They sort of run things on the homeworld and in many parts of space. Predictably, the nations who are not part of the confederation are rather angry about this. See the entry for details.

  • Beams-Я-Us Disruptive Innovation: For decades the economy of the solar system relied upon orbital propellant depots to bring down the cost of space shipping, and a secondary industry in the form of boom-towns have sprung up around the depots. Now, Beams-Я-Us have all but destroyed the orbital propellant industry with their laser-thermal infrastructure. The name of the game is Technological Disruption, which leads to Technological Unemployment, which leads to a huge amount of companies and people both thrown out of a job and very angry. Places that are now incandescent with rage at Beams-Я-Us include TerraGate, LuneIce Inc., Cape Dread, Ceres Colony, Doodlebug, Callisto Colony, and Icebox Delivery Inc. That's quite a few enemies. Lots of grists for the scifi author's mill, to churn out interesting plot complications or actual full blown plots. See here for details.

  • 16 Psyche: Psyche is the motherload of the asteroid belt. It has orders of magnitude more valuable metals than the rest of the asteroid belt put together. Which leads to the ROCK WARS. You never know when another space fleet from another mining corporation (or government) will attack. Psyche has been captured and recaptured many many times.

  • Cape Dread Phosphorus: The Mars colonies are still controlled by TerraGov, because Mars Need Phosphorus and Earth is the only convenient source. However, it turns out that the Martian Moon Deimos (site of Cape Dread) is a titanic type C asteroid. Which are rich in phosporus. TerraGov is rather touchy about the situation. See link for details.

  • Callisto Matter & Energy Co: Using the elements of Io, Jupiter's intense radiation field, and the magic of spallation of elements means CM&E has an industrial scale supply of expensive rare isotopes for sale. Occasionally isotope pirates try to execute a raid on Io. Unfortunately for them CM&E has a small defensive space fleet, which they can afford to arm with antimatter weapons. And enough spare energy to power a scary array of planetary defense weapons. See link for details.

  • The Riggers are semi-plausible bug-eyed monsters. Genetically engineered by foolish scientist, Riggers are vacuum-rated humans who look like a cross between a skeleton and an H. R. Geiger Xenomorph. They lurk in out of the way places in the solar system to prey on humans. They are hunted by genetically engineered Combat-Critters like RocketCat.

  • TerraCo Military Isolation Lab is an ultra top secret military lab busy working on weapons capable of making the human race extinct. Because there are always people who have phobias about personal inadequacies in the phallus department, trying to compensate with increasingly larger weapons. Science fiction authors can always make a story about a sinister mastermind trying to seal one of the secret weapons in order to advance their plans of ruling the solar system. Or one of the weapons deciding that it is tired of being a slave to the scientists and tries to escape.

  • Derelict Atomic Rockets are dangerously radioactive jettisoned stages left over from prior insane eras when the idiots thought that staged nuclear rockets were a good idea. These can be perils for contemporary space travelers who ignore their space history, or as a money-making opportunity for a desperate rock-rat who is a little short on cash this month.

  • Trojan Sargasso are the L4 and L5 Trojan points of each planet, which tend to gather random objects floating in the solar system. Some might be valuable. Some might be alien. Some might be dangerous. Valuable items found in such places are called "Tosheroons", which is an old Discworld term for a caked ball of mud and coins found in a crevice in an old drain where the water forms an eddy.

  • Mobile Refugee Camp From an old SF story, this is a ranshackle space colony composed of old spaceships that meanders through the solar system, rescuing displaced people evicted from their homeland by evil colonizers.

Solar System Map


Note, I cobbled together most of the symbols using icons from and Moskowitz Symbols were invented by Denis Moskowitz.



TerraGov is the de-facto ruler of Terra, sort of. It is actually a Confederation of the major superpower nations of Terra (science fiction authors reading this get to pick exactly which nations these are).

Having said that, there are plenty of second-string unincorporated nations who are quite angry about this. They are constantly trying to undermine TerraGov, constantly trying to enhance their own power, and constantly helping/hindering other non-incorporated nations according to current expediency. They are a nice rich source of spies, pirates, sabotage, covert support of TerraGov rebels, political intrigue, and other things guaranteed to liven things up. This should start the wheels turning inside the heads of science fiction authors.

Texas Laser Launch Complex

Terra's main surface-to-LEO laser launching site. It is busy night and day boosting payload into orbit. Mostly cheap Prairie Schooner ships owned by mom and pop entrepreneurs. Science fiction authors can choose where to locate the complex, should be on the coast as close to the equator as possible. Probably close to Brownsville. Just make sure the launch corridor does not pass over Mexico, they would be quite upset if flaming rocket debris fell from the sky.

Canada Orion Launch Complex

Canada has the McArthur River Uranium Mine, the world's largest high-grade uranium deposit. It produces 13% of world mine production. Canada, as a whole, produces 15% of the world's uranium production. This is very convenient if you are producing nuclear thermal rockets … or Orion Drive nuclear pulse rockets.

Canada also has the North Magnetic Pole (currently, blasted pole staggers around the place like a drunk at midnight trying to go home). It is in a real remote and isolated location. Oh, did you know that you can reduce the fallout from an Orion Drive by a factor of 10 if the launch site is near the north magnetic pole?

Fallout is only a problem within 80 kilometer of the launch site, and EMP is only a problem within 276 km of launch. Neither is an issue in a real remote and isolated location.

The Canadian government saw an opportunity. They now have an Orion spaceport near the magnetic pole that caters to boosting massive payloads into orbit in one piece. They produce the finest Orion spacecraft, and produce lots of nuclear pulse units to fuel the spacecraft.

They also have a branch of elite Mounties who guard the uranium mine, the nuclear bomb unit factories, and nuclear bomb stockpiles. They have absolutely no sense of humor, their weapons have no safeties, and their K-9 corps use wolverines instead of German Shepherds.

As a side note, Canada is the major contractor supplying the TerraGov astromilitary with Orion drive battleships, bombers, and pulse units.

Rymd Hem (Spacious Home)

Your one-stop shopping for inexpensive prefabricated space habitat kits and furnishings. The company founder saw the demand for low-cost Prairie Schooner habitats among the maw and paw entrepreneurs and smelled a business opportunity. Bigelow Aerospace demonstrated how to use public domain NASA TransHab technology to make inexpensive and compact hab modules. The secret is to make them inflatable. Rymd Hem made an affordable version, scrimping on the bells and whistles but maintaining a high safety standard. This quickly became the company's bread-and-butter product. Later they took a tip from the IKEA corporation and became the one-stop-shopping solution for outfitting their modules, and providing package deals of beginner asteroid miner gear and tackle.

Sunny's Space Force Surplus

For the better part of a century the US had Army surplus stores, selling over-stocked Army supplies and equipment to civilians. This later branched out into Navy and Ranger surplus stores. With the advent of the Rocketpunk age, the trend continues with Space Force equipment. A boon to family entrepreneurs trying to stretch their space equipment dollar.

Kenya-Free Space Port

A free-economic zone space port located where the equator crosses the coastline of Kenya. It has made the country fabulously wealthy. Many merchant spacecraft use Kenya as a flag of convenience. However, the other space-faring nations would prefer that Kenya would die in a fire, since the free port is seriously cutting into their revenue.


Tsiolkovsky Station

Wagon Train Company HQ

They provides tug services for Mom and Pop habitat modules launched from Texas Laser, hauling them to Luna, Mars, and the asteroid belt. The tugs also have emergency services, for an additional fee of course.

Konvoy Konveniences Fleet Base

They supplies special ships that fly with Wagon Trains or impromptu convoys taking advantage of Hohmann launch times. The ships contain 7-11 style price-gouging convenience stores and other services designed to harvest money from travelers.

Data Havens

Assorted short-lived Data and Tax Havens. Some are little more than cubesats.

The Motel Aldrin

An Aldrin Cycler providing Terra-Mars life-support services. You have to supply the delta V for rendezvous and escape of your crew and payload, but it has your transit life-support needs already delta Veed up for the trip.

Earth Two / Astropolis

Based on Dr. Krafft Ehricke's Astropolis orbital hotel and space resort design, it went bankrupt. It was later purchased for pennies on the dollar by a Kickstarted created by a fan of the 1970s and turned into a baby-boomer space colony.


TerraGate (aka "Supra-New York")

Largish space station on the main route between Terra and the rest of the solar system (not the only route). Mainly the largest transport Nexus in the solar system and a huge orbital propellant depot. Sort of like South Louisiana or Houston Texas in space. Lots of passenger traffic as well. They are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us and are quite angry, though not as much of a down-turn as other sites since they are more than just a propellant depot.


The Principality of Spaceland

A fabulously wealthy and powerful space colony. It is a "tax haven", offshore financial centre (OFC), free economic zone, corporate haven and data haven. They are a more long-term data haven, the tin-can cubesat havens in LEO have a limited life-span. Spaceland is also a very convenient place for wealthy people to use for citizenship.

As the cherry on top of the sundae, it is also a pleasure planet.

Space Colonies

An assortment of space colonies. See Langrage Point 5 below


Space Colonies

An assortment of space station with different functions and space colonies. Some are noble, some are shady, some have degenerated into Mos Eisley Space Station, some are falling apart due to the Three-Generation Rule. And most of them grow bamboo. Use your imagination: no matter how crazy the society you dream up, it is probably there somewhere. Space pilots trying to fly through call the area the Pinball Machine.

Hershey L5

Chocolate is a pain to grow on Terra due to picky climate constraints. Chocolate producing regions on Terra are prone to civil wars. Terra cannot produce enough chocolate to meet the global demand. And there are many people who are dangerous to be around when they are undergoing chocolate withdrawal (my wife, for instance).

Hershey is a Gerard O'Neill style L5 space colony optimized as a huge chocolate plantation.

NanoFacture LTD

Their orbital factories use precise control gravity, vacuum, radiation, temperature, and energy density to a degree impossible to achieve on Terra. They manufacture exotic substances and nanotechnology.

LUNA {Terra I}

Lunar Colonies

These are among the oldest space colonies. They played an important role in the construction of the various space colonies inside Terra's Hill Sphere. For the most part the colonies have not made attempts at gaining independence from TerraGov. Mostly because you can see TerraGov's battlefleet bases in the lunar sky with the naked eye.

Sears, Robot & Co.

Sears, Robot & Co. provides the same services that the original Sears did in 1888 for rural dwellers, but to Maw and Paw asteroid habitats. Look through their InterPlaNet catalog website, fill your virtual shopping cart, pay with BitCoins, and Sears will spring into action. The Lunar fulfilment center will package your order in cargo capsules and use their mass driver to lob it at your hab. They even have kit homes, er ah, habitat modules.

And they can even make emergency deliveries of oxygen and other vital supplies. After you have signed away your soul with your signature written in blood. These emergency shipments are usually delivered by Beams-Я-Us laser thermal transports.

LuneIce Inc.

Runs ice mines at the lunar poles. Supplies about half of the water, LOX and LH2 sold in Terra's Hill Sphere. They are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us and are quite angry.

MERCURY {Sol I} (Rocketpunk Data)

Winchell-Chung Astronautical Industries (aka Atomic Rockets Inc.)

eccentric genius
crazy old coot but he sure makes quality spaceships
nobody knows he has undercover agents all over the freaking solar system
nobody knows his spaceship factory is an orbital fortress either

A strange spacecraft manufacturer that specializes in experimental, customized, and extreme designs. It is run by an eccentric recluse, but the spacecraft are considered top-notch. The location is to take advantage of the rich metal deposits and almost unlimited solar energy available at Mercury.

RocketCat is a frequent visitor. After all, Chung built the Polaris for him. Another common visitor is the mysterious Gideon Davis.

The standard joke goes that he employs little green Kerbals to make his spacecraft, the same way Willy Wonka employs little orange Oompa-Loompas to make chocolate. But that is false. In reality Chung employs something much more dangerous: a colony of Techlins.

But do not approach the WCAI orbital construction complex without permission. The output of the solar-pumped laser array has been conservatively estimated at 1.3 petawatts. He says they are for laser-thermal rockets, but the array is called the Angel's Pencil from an old Larry Niven story. Dr. Chung does keep a wary eye on the nearby Beams-Я-Us laser arrays, in case they have some funny idea about a pre-emptive strike. In which case Beams-Я-Us will learn the hard way about WCAI's hidden casaba howitzers and antimatter weapons, as the Beam Boys become flabbergasted at the way their lasers harmlessly bounce off muon-iron armor.

🎶 Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-do
I have a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-dee
If you are wise, you'll listen to me
What do you get when you guzzle d-V?
Burning as much as a fat SUV
You are not getting very high Ace
You're not going in…to…Space.


Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-dar
If you're not greedy, you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-do! 🎶

John Reiher

See-Tee Factoree

Supplier of industrial amounts of commercial antimatter. In competition with Callisto Matter & Energy Co. Has a solar cell array that covers pretty much all of the planet's surface (an Asimov Array), harvesting the astronomical amounts of energy (1.3×1021 joules per year) required for the abysmally inefficient antimatter generators (0.001 efficiency). STF's output is about 15 kilograms of antiprotons per year (mixed with an equal amount of matter yields 2.7×1018 joules or about the same as a 645 megaton fusion warhead).

The Antimatter Guard has three permanent bases there, keeping a close watch on everything and supporting the heavily armed antimatter convoys. Because all sorts of evil individuals and organizations would just love to get their lunch-hooks on militarily-significant amounts of antimatter.

Naturally See-Tee Factoree has to get TerraGov's approval over each and every sale of antimatter.

Name comes from "contra-terrene" (CT), old term for antimatter.



Owners of cheap laser thermal rockets need somebody to supply them with laser beams. They can rent laser time from Beams-Я-Us. If you have no LT rocket, Beams-Я-Us will be more than happy to rent you such a rocket so you can also rent some of their laser time. But pay your bills or BRU will pull the plug and you'll either find yourself stranded or desperately trying to use the thin gruel of natural sunlight to get somewhere before your oxygen runs out.

Please note that all Beams-Я-Us laser arrays contain self-destruct devices controlled by the military Laser Guard. The military is always uneasy about civilians controlling lasers capable of slicing and dicing a battleship like a salami. Laser Guard also have several laser-hardened warships on patrol ready to blow the snot out of Beams-Я-Us' assets as a back-up for the self-destructs. Oh, did I mention that the self-destruct devices are booby trapped? And that the booby traps are booby trapped?

The beam arrays are solar powered, taking advantage of a solar flux 6.8 times as strong as that around Terra's orbit.

Beams-Я-Us have taken a few years to get their arrays operational. Now that they are going on-line, they have graduated from "Money Pit" to "Disruptive Innovation". The other corporations were amused at Beams-Я-Us, but they ain't laughing now. Beams-Я-Us are wrecking severe economic damage on orbital propellant depots and the surrounding boom-towns, turning them into ghost towns. The inhabitants of the now-ghost towns, the owners of the depots, and the LOX/LH2 mongers who supply the depots all are quite angry with Beams-Я-Us and their employees. The latter are advised to only visit ghost towns with an armed escort.

The Laser Horse

They have laser arrays like Beams-Я-Us, but they use them with company owned cargo spacecraft to make the equivalent of railroads in space. Meaning you can only send cargo along an existing railroad line, but along that line the cargo travels fast and cheap. Laser Horse supplies shipping services for people, cargo, and Maw-and-Paw habitat modules.

And like Beams-Я-Us, the Laser Guard has them on a very short leash. Because these lasers are also capable of slicing and dicing a battleship like a salami

The name comes from the nick-name of rail-road trains in the Old American West.

VENUS {Sol II} (Rocketpunk Data)


Floating city in Venus' atmosphere. Built by a consortium of (now bankrupt) real-estate developers, the city currently does not have much of an economic reason for existing. Put it this way, no legal economic reasons for existing. It is currently a repository for priceless stolen goods, where its terrible vulnerability is seen as an asset. If international law enforcement shows up, the baloon will self-destruct, the city will fall, the priceless stolen goods will be destroyed by the hellish conditions on the planet's surface, and all the owners of the stolen goods will vent their powerful rage on international law enforcement.

MARS {Sol IV} (Rocketpunk Data)

The Martian Colonies

These are still under control of Terra. They would revolt in a heartbeat, were it not for the unfortunate fact that Terra has a monopoly on supplies of phosphorus. But the instant that monopoly is broken the fireworks will start.

Martian Terraforming Project

A long term project to terraform Mars, to make it shirt-sleeve habitable. This will take a few hundred years. Patriotic Martian colonist prefer to call this "habitablization" instead of "terraforming" because they chafe under the iron rule of TerraGov.

The project is a big client of Icebox Delivery Inc, because Mars needs water and oxygen in gigaton quantities.


Phobos has no (official) human presence on it. Because it is in the process of breaking up. Which is bad news for the Mars colonies.

There are remote-control mining drones. And there may be a few wildcat human miners who are there illegally, but they find it impossible to obtain any insurance policies. Much like people who insist on building their homes on semi-dormant volcanoes.


Cape Dread

The primary source of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the inner solar system's orbital propellant depots (OPD). These (along with the Texas laser launcher complex) are key to opening up access to the solar system, since they basically cut the delta-V cost in half.

This also lead to Cape Dread becoming the orbital High Port paired with the Mars low port spaceport on the Martian surface. Which predictably lead Cape Dread to become a Boomtown. It is a Transport Nexus. Giant traffic control complex to keep the ships from colliding. Ship repair docks. Ship construction factories. Warehouses for merchant cargo in transit along with factors for various merchant corporations. Trans-ship point from the Terra-bound clippers to the reusable Mars shuttles. A place for independent asteroid miners to sell their hard found ore. Deimos ice miners, longshoremen, local 235 ice-miner's union.

There might also be wildcat independent Deimosians setting up shop with their own ice processing gear in smaller internal bubble-caves. Old spacecraft too broken down to make the run back to Terra might be retired to serve as surface facilities. Break off the propellant tanks to melt'em down for metal, bury the habitat modules in regolith for protection, take the reactor and use it as a power generator. Use a Mylar bubble mirror with the dilute Martian sunshine to slowly crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, subsist on a diet of algae. Thusly you'd have a habitat shack for an eccentric outer space mountain man. The Old Rocket Bar might actually be an old rocket, selling shots of space booze.

Tourist traps, luxury hotels. Not to mention the pawn shops, clip joints, bars and brothels that spring up around any spaceport or space station, in other words "Startown". Perhaps repo men ready to seize ships where the captain/owner has gotten too far behind on the ship's mortgage payment. The Cape Dread Port Authority would of course need a security squad. And there may be Lurkers.

Think of it like a combination of New York City and Hong Kong. In space. Science fiction authors take note: There are eight million stories in the Naked Asteroid, this has been one of them. The author is encouraged to write the next story using this colorful location.

Cape Dread want to stay independent from Mars and Terra since free ports can make more money. The situation is similar to that found in the movie Casablanca. Various national governments (both on and off Terra) want to seize control of the lucrative port. Meanwhile Cape Dread is constantly doing all sorts of shenanigans to maintain independence. Science fiction authors take note.

However, Cape Dread's power is slipping away as the ice mines of Ceres grow and expansion increases into the outer solar system. They are also suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us.

But on one point Terra is non-negotiable. While Cape Dread is independent (due to complicated events), the Mars colonies are still controlled by Terra. Mars would like to declare independence but Terra has grabbed them by the short-and-curlies: Mars is utterly dependent upon Terra for its must-have supplies of Phosphorus.

Terra knows that Mars will rise in revolt the instant it obtains and alternate supply of phosphorus so Terra will do almost anything to prevent that. About the only good supply other than Terra is from type C asteroids. So far the Terran Spaceguard has managed to prevent any large-scale shipments of phosphorus from making the trip from the asteroid belt, thus keeping a lid on dreams of a Martian revolutionary war.

Terra's problem is that Deimos is basically a huge type C asteroid.

So Terra has told Cape Dread "Here's the deal: you don't mine any phosphorus and we don't nuke Deimos into blue glowing gravel"

This totally unstable situation will suggest to science fiction authors oh so many juicy and dramatic plot possibilites.

ASTEROID BELT (Rocketpunk Data)

Ceres Colony

A boom-town similar to Cape Dread, located on the dwarf planet Ceres. A transport nexus, source of water ice for orbital propellant depots, and other space station services. Plus a small but growing colony. It has been slowly been taking away business from Cape Dread supplying LOX and LH2. But they are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us and are quite angry.

Read Leviathan Wakes by "James S. A. Corey" (first novel in the Expanse series) to get ideas about Ceres colony.


A space station in the same Solar orbit as Ceres, but on the opposite side of Sol. A smaller version of Ceres colony, but without the water ice or the colonists. Contra-Ceres ensures that a belter asteroid miner is never further than about three-quarters the Asteroid Belt diameter from a Ceres (actually √2 / 2 or 0.7), instead of sometimes being a full Belt diameter away.


A provider of services to Maw-and-Paw asteroid miners. Services ranging from renting mobile refineries to purchasing ore. Keep in mind that Maw-and-Paw operations are generally limited to mining volatiles, mining metals is a job for the big corporations with deep pockets.

Galmetals Inc.

The largest, roughest, toughest corporation in the asteroid mining business. They do not play hardball, they play granite-ball. They are currently in possession of the motherload at 16 Psyche, planetoid of the meteor swords. Only currently, Galmetals often has battles with other asteroid mining corporations, both with space navies and with hostile corporate takeovers.

16 Psyche

This is the asteroid-belt heavy-metal mother-load. It has 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt, and is almost 100% solid nickel-iron. Plus deposits of other valuable metals. Very little of it is worthless rock. It has been captured and recaptured many times by various asteroid mining megacorporations and national governments, and you never know when another space fleet will attack. It is orbited by quite a few refineries, whose ingot shipping mass-drivers can be quickly repurposed as fleet-killing weapons by whoever currently owns the place.

Naturally it has a huge nearby orbital boomtown, named "Plugged Nickel". Name is partially because all the store owners will try to cheat their customers, and partially because when another mining megacorp attacks the boomtown will get caught square in the middle of the cross-fire.

Doodlebug Corp

Specializing in orbital propellant depot refills, both of independent depots and their own brand of fill-up stations. Delivery to distressed spacecraft en route available for a fee.

Their corporate logo is a dowsing rod.

They maintain a fleet of Robot Asteroid Prospectors (called "water witches") to find ice deposits and Kuck Mosquitos to go suck 'em up. They also market a line of low-powered LH2-LOX thrusters and regenerative fuel cells, both of which make more demand for their product. They are suffering an economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us and are quite angry.

Caribbean Sugar Islands LTD

Company uses a series of bare-bones installations to breed Helium-3 fusion fuel. They are not self-sufficient at all. On purpose. Naturally they are a company planet.

Their main competitor is Hee Three for Thee LTDee

Asteroid Belt Athens

A series of asteroid colonies that are sparking a new Renaissance. This could be the start of a new space cultural revolution. Keep in mind that their strength is the fact that each colony is kaleidoscopically different from all the others (as different as Athens was from Sparta). Many have societies that can charitably be described as "disconcerting".

  • Aster-Amazons: an all female society reproducing by parthenogenesis. They are of the opinion that the only good male is a gelded male, and they are not talking about anything as minor as a bilateral orchiectomy.

  • Singularians: the entire society is geared to do everything in their power to usher in a Vingian technological singularity aka "the Rapture of the Nerds". This is strictly along the lines of developing a computer artificial intelligence, since genetic tinkering with humans is forbidden under the Rigger Ban.

  • Hive Society: all members of society are mere cells in the organism which is the Hive. See Hellstrom's Hive and Macro-life.

  • Gestalt Intelligence: the society is attempting to forge a Group Mind, where there are many bodies but only one mentality. Current lines of research are trying to develop a brain-computer interface compatible with the local InterPlaNet and with radio-telepathy. We are Nestor.

  • Thelema: also known as A∴A∴, Άστρον Αργυρόν (Astron Argon) and Good Ol' 451. The society is into psionics and mysticism in a big way. Disturbingly their magick actually seems to work. Their emblem is an odd six-pointed star called a "unicursal hexagram".

  • Wierden: also known as the Well of Forever. A society inspired by an old TV show called "Babylon 5" to make themselves into B5 style "Technomages" (using science to give the appearance of wizardry). They have gotten rather good at it. Their skill with flashy special effects and showmanship is only second to their aptitude at computer hacking, electronic surveillance, microelectronics, advanced technology, exotic weapons, covert operations, disguise, and martial arts. Don't mess with them.
         They also are students of various philosophies and schools of mysticism. Which means they are more annoying than Master Po, Mr. Miyagi, and Yoda rolled into one.
         This is probably the place that the mysterious Gideon Davis hails from.

  • And Many More. Use Your Imagination


A large Dyson Tree in the asteroid belt, grown around a chunk of Saturn's ring purchased from Icebox Delivery Inc. Established by a mega-wealthy Tolkien fan, the colony is doing its best to transform themselves into space elves. The Word for World Is Forest.

Assorted Small Habitat Modules

These will range from the space equivalent of a shack, to a Maw and Paw habitat, to a small mining claim operated by a lone prospector, to a small colony where they have dome raising bees for new arrivals, to small boomtowns. Pictured sample station is based on the Douglas Collapsible Space Station.

Assorted Secret Asteroid Bases

Covert base built inside an asteroid, often with a spacecraft hangar bay covered with a camouflaged hatch. It looks like a commonplace space rock. Until the hatch opens and swarms of spaceships come flying out, bearing the Jolly Roger. Popular with pirates, revolutionaries, espionage agencies, and other organizations operating outside of the law.

JUPITER {Sol V} (Rocketpunk Data)


The atmosphere supports a Saganesque gas-giant ecosystem. None of them are intelligent, but it is so hard to be sure. Given Jupiter's unreasonably high escape velocity and the lack of any obvious valuable resources, nobody has bothered to invest enough money to settle the matter.


Callisto Colony

Callisto is more or less outside of Jupiter's radiation belt, unlike the other three Galliean moons. But it still has a huge supply of valuable water ice. They support the Europa and Ganymede Astrobiology Labs. They also control the incredibly lucrative power generators and ion-farms of Io. They are suffering a minor economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us, but only for the inner solar system export market. Beams-Я-Us lasers are not very cost efficient past the asteroid belt.

IO {Jupiter I}

Callisto Matter & Energy Co.

Io is a nasty volanic moon with an annual radiation dosage of around 69 sieverts per day (strong enough that a mere 4 hours exposure will turn you in to a walking ghost doomed to die). The plethora of volcanoes belching molten sulfur does nothing to improve the property value.

But between Io and Jupiter's surface is the potential to generate about 2.0 × 1013 watts (i.e., 20 terawatts or a bit more than the total electricity consumption of the entire planet in 2004). CM&E harvests a bit of this bounty by using electrodynamic tethers. On the drawing board is a scheme to use copper rods with microwave power emitters. These would be launched at Jupiter. As the copper cuts the magnetic lines of force it generates electricity. This is converted into microwaves and beamed back to Io. Of course the rods are destroyed when they enter Jupiter's atmosphere, but that's the price of doing business. This is the "Energy" part of "Callisto Matter & Energy Co."

The intense radiation field of Jupiter can be used for the spallation of elements into needed isotopes on an industrial scale. This is the "Matter" part of "Callisto Matter & Energy Co." Of course it is trivial to make huge amounts of weapons-grade plutonium, but other elements are more lucrative.

The isotopes are a valuable export as is. The large amounts of available power can be used to manufacture energy rich substances for export (like metallic hydrogen, metastable helium, and antimatter). CM&P is always looking for partners to establish plants on Io for power-hungry industrial processes. You supply the factory, Io supplies the power, both of you split the profits.

CM&P is owned by Callisto Colony, and they maintain a small fleet of armed spacecraft to ensure it stays that way. If you have any bright ideas about attacking that fleet, remember that Callisto can afford to arm it with antimatter weapons. And the huge amounts of energy available on planet can be redirected to power a frightening array of planetary defense weapons.

EUROPA {Jupiter II}

Europa Astrobiology Lab

Europa is deep enough in the deadly Jovian radiation belt that the dosage on the surface is 5.4 Sieverts per day (LD50). But shielded under the 20 kilometer ice layer is a buried ocean, full of alien life. The moon is a protected wildlife refuge, and the Europa Astrobiology Lab uses submarines to analyze the alien life. None of the Europian life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…


Ganymede Astrobiology Lab

Ganymede is shallow enough in the deadly Jovian radiation belt that the dosage on the surface is only 0.08 Sieverts per day. Nothing to sneeze at but will take a few days to have noticable effect. From a depth of zero to 800 kilometers from the surface is a stack of several ocean layers separated by different phases of ice, with the lowest liquid layer adjacent to the rocky mantle. The moon is also a protected wildlife refuge, and the Ganymede Astrobiology Lab uses submarines to analyze the alien life. None of the Ganymedean life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…

SATURN {Sol VI} (Rocketpunk Data)


The atmosphere supports a Saganesque gas-giant ecosystem vaguely similar to Jupiter's, but with a much lower population and diversity. None of them appear to be intelligent but there are plenty of apocryphal stories.

Hee Three for Thee LTDee

This company harvests Helium-3 from Saturn's atmosphere to sell to users of D-3He fusion reactors as fuel. There is Helium-3 in Jupiter's atmosphere as well, but the escape velocity is too high to make harvesting profitable. H3FT LTD wants to make Saturn the "Persian Gulf" of the solar system.

Alas, the demand for Helium-3 is not as large as hoped for, so the company is struggling. Their main competitor is Caribbean Sugar Islands LTD.


Floating city in Saturn's atmosphere. It was established by Hee Three for Thee LTD to be a luxurious city for the 3He cartels. Sadly the latter failed to materialize, so it is now mostly an industrial base for 3He harvesting operations. There is some tourist trade, whose main attraction is the spectactular ring system in the sky and day trips to observe the huge Saturnian wildlife. And of course the luxury hotels for honeymooning newlyweds, a sort of interplanetary Niagara Falls as it were.

Icebox Delivery Inc.

Based in Saturn's Rings, this company harvests large chunks of ice and gives them enough of a push to send them spiraling in to paying clients in the inner solar system. Since Saturn is so far from Sol, the delta V cost is quite modest. The ice takes a while to arrive, of course. A big client is the Mars Terraforming Project. They are suffering a minor economic down-turn due to Beams-Я-Us, but only for the inner solar system export market. Beams-Я-Us lasers are not very cost efficient past the asteroid belt. In any event most of their clients want bulk water for space colony ecologies and the Mars Terraforming project, not LOX/LH2 fuel.

Obviously Spaceguard watches all Icebox icesteroid moving operations like a hawk. Predictably boomtowns, camp-follower groups, and settlements have sprung up around the Spaceguard bases to meet the soldier's needs for gambling, whiskey, and prostitutes.

Saturn Ring and Moon System

Travel among the moons of Saturn requires remarkably low delta-V which lower the bar to the point where even teenagers can construct junkyard space taxis capable of traveling all over the ring system (or moon colonies who want their very own pocket space fleet). Kerosene fuel will do. Transit times vary from eight hours to 21 days, and synodic periods are mostly a few days.

Most of the moons and many of the larger chunks of ring material contain colonies of varying degrees of size and sanity.

There are a lot of mysterious things around Saturn, which science fiction authors can use as the basis for all sorts of diabolical MacGuffins and plot complications.

TITAN {Saturn VIII} (Rocketpunk Data)

Titanic Polymers Inc. (a subsidiary of ReiherCo)

If you are building spacecraft, space stations, or planetary bases; you gotta have some kind of plastic.

If you need something fancier than polyethylene made from agricultural waste, you have two choices. Pay through the nose for fancy plastic imported from Terra with an outrageous shipping charge (ugly 9 km/s delta V) or come to the friendly plastic brokers of Titanic Polymers, on the shores of Titan's seas of petroleum.

They also provide lubricants of all sorts for industrial and domestic use. "If you have two things rubbing together, TitanLube can make it a frictionless action!"

It takes a long time to do Hohmann shipping from Saturn, but since these products have such universal demand there will always be stockpiles available at your local transport nexus.

🎶 "You Can Trust Your Thing, To The Man Who Wears the Ring, The Big Bright TitanPo Ring!" 🎶

Titan Astrobiology Lab

The methane lakes of Titan contain microorganisms. Unlike the other astrobiology sites, the entire moon is not a protected wildlife reserve because Titanic Polymers Inc. managed to buy enough politicians. Only the small lakes near the Astrobiology lab are protected. None of the Titanian life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…

Othrys Colony

This is the largest of all the colonies in the Saturn system, because weird as it is, Titan is the most Terra-like place in the entire solar system. They use a lot of D3He fusion reactors because the fuel source is right next door. They have a pretty substantial military fleet, second only to the local Spaceguard flotilla.


Enceladus Astrobiology Lab

Enceladus has cryovolcanoes erupting from its south pole, this is the source of Saturn's E ring. The surface is the top of an ice shelf 35 kilometers deep, underneath is an ocean with an average depth of 28 kilometers. The moon is yet another a protected wildlife refuge, and the Enceladus Astrobiology Lab uses submarines to analyze the alien life. None of the Enceladean life is intelligent. As far as the scientists know…


TerraCo Military Isolation Lab

Secrets Man was not meant to know, we search for anyway
Trespassers will be shot on sight. Period.
Most heavily guarded place in the entire Solar system

This is an area where the military develops technologies with hazard ratings approaching Existential Threat level. That is, things that if they escaped control could make the human race extinct. The military's justification for meddling with such insanely dangerous toys is that they don't want to fall behind research done by The Enemy, but the true reason appears to be virtual genital amplification by packing a larger gun.

Broadcasts announce that unauthorized spacecraft breaching the security line will be fired upon with no warning, and they are not kidding.

There are two large task forces in the area. One has all their weapons aimed outward at incoming unauthorized ships, be they spy ships or be they enemy battle fleets trying to grab some goodies.

The other task force has all their weapons aimed inward. In case any of the experiments tries to ... escape. This is not paranoia, it has actually happened several times.

There are a series of orbital labs. Each is separated from the control complex and all other labs by a healthy distance. There have been a few "incidents" over the last 75 years or so, but the details are ultra-top-secret.

  • Two instances of labs being obliterated by nuclear explosions, apparently from the internal self-destruct system. Whatever they were developing was seconds away from escaping but had not managed to neutralize the fail-deadly system.

  • One instance where the lab was nudged into a Sol collision trajectory by a huge remote controlled military fusion tug. During the five year long fall, the lab was escorted by a large task force carefully making sure the lab did not deviate from the planned course. Presumably the available fleet firepower was not enough to ensure destruction of whatever-it-was, but the lab had managed to prevent it from penetrating the hull and escaping. After the lab fell into Sol and was presumably consumed, the task force invested Sol in a patrol orbit for another three months. Just in case the lab suddenly reappeared and tried to claw its way out of Sol.

  • One instance where the lab apparently vanished into an artificial wormhole, leaving only an abruptly cut-off radio message containing a long scream instead of "My God, It's Full Of Stars..." The wormhole vanished a few minutes later.

  • One instance where the lab started to fractally dissolve and change into a new shape. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is either gray goo nanotechnology or rogue Von Neumann machines trying to construct something by using the lab's atoms as raw material. The entire task force frantically bombarded the lab until it exploded, which took a remarkably long time because the blown-up bits stubbornly kept repairing themselves by growing back together.

  • One instance where half the guard task force abruptly started attacking the other half. The outer task force destroyed all the guard task force ships and the lab. The outer task force then had all their crews transfer into rescue ships, stark naked through vacuum. The outer task force was then self-destructed. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that a badly programmed superintelligent AI software tried to escape by taking over guard spacecraft via network firewall penetration and uploading itself into the ship's processing cores like an intelligent computer virus. After that incident the air-gap protocols were drastically upgraded. Commander Adama would approve.

  • One instance where the guard task force crew behaved in a strange manner (mostly by unexpectedly dropping dead in their tracks), suggesting that they were under attack by a Langford Visual Hack.

  • One instance where a lab exploded with merely the force of a chemical explosion. High speed Paparazzi video analysis suggests that a second almost-but-not-quite identical lab materialized out of nowhere. The twin lab overlapped the first lab, causing the explosion due to the fact that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that the lab inadvertently dragged its sister lab sideways in time from an alternative history or parallel time-line existing in the multiverse.

  • One instance where the lab moved away at high velocity from a Paparazzi satellite. Trouble is, there were about a hundred such satellites englobing the Isolation Lab area, and the lab moved away from all of them simultaneously. Which is impossible, if you move away from a given satellite you necessarily have to move toward a satellite located on the opposite side. But the lab managed to do this despite the impossibility. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that the lab fell into the fourth spacial dimension, which is about the only plausible explanation.

OORT CLOUD (Rocketpunk Data)

FOCAL Observatories

These are observatories stationed at a distance of 550 astronomical units away from the Sun, allowing them to use Sol as a gravitational lens. In theory this would allow a seeing object that were ten kilometers in diameter on the surface of a planet 100 light years distant.

Each can only observe galactic objects that are on the exact opposite side of Sol with respect to the observatory, so most are positioned to watch a particular extrasolar system. These are systems that are either close to Sol or that have a high probability of containing habitable planets. An observatory can be repositioned to watch a new star system, but this takes decades.

Detecting life on an extrasolar planet would be fascinating. But getting an early warning of an invading alien starfleet is priceless.

Oort Tribal Band Colonies

These are space colonies who really want to be isolated. They range from about 5,000 astronomical units (0.08 light-years, inner part of Oort Cloud) to 100,000 AU (1.5 light years or half a parsec). The latter are generally colonies on a slow journey to adjacent star system. Each colony only supports 25 people, since the only power source is the pathetically weak sunlight. The colonies cluster in tribal groups of 19.


Spent Nuclear Stages

There were quite a few bat-poop insane Mars missions that used staging, more precisely Nuclear staging. This means when the stage runs dry of propellant it is jettisoned into an eccentric solar orbit, nuclear reactor glowing blue with radiation an all. Examples include the Aeronutronic EMPIRE, Austin Mars Mission, Boeing IMIS, Douglas Mars, and the MSFC NTR Mars Mission

First off, these things will be mildly radioactive for thousands of years, and will provide rude surprises for careless space explorers who do not pay attention to the radiation gauges or their spaceflight history. It is possible that the exact orbit of these spent stages has been perturbed enough that nobody really knows where they are anymore.

But secondly the fuel rods in the reactor will probably have only burnt 15% of the uranium. It will still contain 85% of its original valuable fissionable uranium, all it needs is for the fuel rods to be reprocessed. This allows a rock-rat down on their luck to make some quick money. It also allows some criminal or terrorist organization to lay their hands on some weapons-grade fissionables without the Nuke Guard finding out. Just discovering one of these spent stages and determining the orbit is valuable, the orbital elements could fetch some good money from an underworld buyer.

L4 and L5 Trojan Points

All the planet-Sol and planet-moon L4 and L5 Trojan points will tend to gather space dust, and maybe larger objects. In PROTECTOR by Larry Niven the belter protagonist discovers a priceless historical artifact in Uranus's trailing Trojan point: a stage from the (fictitious) Mariner XX Pluto fly-by. Science fiction authors can put all sort of interesting things at a Trojan point: a Lost Spaceship, a dead body, an interesting meteor, an alien artifact, a mummified alien, etc.


Romany is a space colony assembled out of derelict spaceships and is a refuge for refugees and other displaced persons. They don't have much but are willing to share. It roams the solar system in a ramshackle fashion, and takes aboard people who have been kicked out of their homeland by evil colonizers. See the link for more details.


      Tim started the scanner going as soon as I handed over the controls. He thought I'd picked up our discarded fuel container again — which annoyed me since it showed little faith in my common sense. But he soon saw that it was in a completely different part of the sky and his scepticism vanished.
     'It must be a spaceship,' he said, 'though it doesn't seem a large enough echo for that. We'll soon find out — if it's a ship, it'll be carrying a radio beacon.'
     He tuned our receiver to the beacon frequency, but without result. There were a few ships at great distances in other parts of the sky, but nothing as close as this.
     Norman had now joined us and was looking over Tim's shoulder.
     'If it's a meteor,' he said, let's hope it's a nice lump of platinum or something equally valuable. Then we can retire for life.'
     'Hey!' I exclaimed, 'I found it!'
     'I don't think that counts. You're not on the crew and shouldn't be here anyway.'
     'Don't worry,' said Tim, 'no one's ever found anything except iron in meteors — in any quantity, that is. The most you can expect to run across out here is a chunk of nickel-steel, probably so tough that you won't even be able to saw off a piece as a souvenir.'

     By now we had worked out the course of the object, and discovered that it would pass within twenty miles of us. If we wished to make contact, we'd have to change our velocity by about two hundred miles an hour — not much, but it would waste some of our hard-won fuel and the Commander certainly wouldn't allow it, if it was merely a question of satisfying our curiosity.
     'How big would it have to be,' I asked, 'to produce an echo this bright?'
     'You can't tell,' said Tim. 'It depends what it's made of — and the way it's pointing. A spaceship could produce a signal as small as that, if we were only seeing it end-on.'

     'I think I've found it,' said Norman suddenly. 'And it isn't a meteor. You have a look.'
     He had been searching with the ship's telescope, and I took his place at the eyepiece, getting there just ahead of Tim. Against a background of faint stars a roughly cylindrical object, brilliantly lit by the sun­light, was very slowly revolving in space. Even at first glance I could see it was artificial. When I had watched it turn through a complete revolution, I could see that it was streamlined and had a pointed nose. It looked much more like an old-time artillery shell than a modern rocket. The fact that it was streamlined meant that it couldn't be an empty fuel container from the launcher in Hipparchus: the tanks it shot up were plain, stubby cylinders, since streamlining was no use on the airless Moon.
     Commander Doyle stared through the telescope for a long time when we called him over. Finally, to my joy, he remarked: 'Whatever it is, we'd better have a look at it and make a report. We can spare the fuel and it will only take a few minutes.'

     Our ship spun round in space as we began to make the course-correction. The rockets fired for a few seconds, our new path was rechecked, and the rockets operated again. After several shorter bursts, we had come to within a mile of the mysterious object and began to edge towards it under the gentle impulse of the steering jets alone. Through all these manoeuvres it was impossible to use the telescope, so when I next saw my discovery it was only a hundred yards beyond our port, very gently approaching us.
     It was artificial all right, and a rocket of some kind. What it was doing out here near the Moon we could only guess, and several theories were put forward. Since it was only about ten feet long, it might be one of the automatic reconnaissance missiles sent out in the early days of space-flight. Commander Doyle didn't think this likely: as far as he knew, they'd all been accounted for. Besides, it seemed to have none of the radio and tv equipment such missiles would carry.

     It was painted a very bright red — an odd colour, I thought, for anything in space. There was some lettering on the side — apparently in English, though I couldn't make out the words at this distance. As the projectile slowly revolved, a black pattern on a white background came into view, but went out of sight before I could interpret it. I waited until it came into view again: by this time the little rocket had drifted considerably closer, and was now only fifty feet away.
     'I don't like the look of the thing,' Tim Benton said, half to himself. 'That colour, for instance — red's the sign of danger.'
     'Don't be an old woman,' scoffed Norman. 'If it was a bomb or something like that, it certainly wouldn't advertise the fact.'
     Then the pattern I'd glimpsed before swam back into view. Even on the first sight, there had been something uncomfortably familiar about it. Now there was no longer any doubt.
     Clearly painted on the side of the slowly approaching missile was the symbol of Death — the skull and crossbones.
     Commander Doyle must have seen that ominous warning as quickly as we did, for an instant later our rockets thundered briefly. The crimson missile veered slowly aside and started to recede once more into space. At the moment of closest approach, I was able to read the words painted below the skull and crossbones — and I understood. The notice read:




     'I wish we'd got a Geiger counter on board,' said the Commander thoughtfully. 'Still, by this time it can't be very dangerous and I don't expect we've had much of a dose. But we'll all have to have a blood-count when we get back to base.'

     'How long do you think it's been up here, Sir?' asked Norman.
     'Let's think — I believe they started getting rid of dangerous waste this way back in the 1970s. They didn't do it for long — the Space Corporations soon put a stop to it! Nowadays, of course, we know how to deal with all the by-products of the atomic piles, but back in the early days there were a lot of radioisotopes they couldn't handle. Rather a drastic way of getting rid of them — and a short-sighted solution, too!'
     'I've heard about these waste-containers' said Tim, 'but I thought they'd all been collected and the stuff in them buried somewhere on the Moon.'
     'Not this one, apparently. But it soon will be when we report it. Good work, Malcolm! You've done your bit to make space safer!'
     I was pleased at the compliment, though still a little worried lest we'd received a dangerous dose of radiation from the decaying isotopes in the celestial coffin. Luckily my fears turned out to be groundless — we had left the neighbourhood too quickly to come to any harm.

     We also discovered, a good while later, the history of this stray missile. The Atomic Energy Commission is still a bit ashamed of this episode in its history, and it was some time before it gave the whole story. Finally it admitted the dispatch of a waste-container in 1981 that had been intended to crash on the Moon but had never done so. The astronomers had a lot of fun working out how the thing had got into the orbit where we found it — it was a complicated story involving the gravities of the Earth, Sun and Moon.

From ISLANDS IN THE SKY by Arthur C. Clarke (1952)

Copyrighted Locations

These are useful locations and institutions for RocketCat's Universe that come from copyrighted works of science fiction. You can use them if you are making a roleplaying game background for personal use only. But you will be breaking the law if you used them in your novel or other commercial project without permission from the original author.


(ed note: this provides a Law for the Asteroid Belt, and incidentally a cinematic and dramatic plausible system of far roving bounty hunters.)

The Autocrat of Ceres sat in his very plain chair in the very plain compartment, and regarded the two very nervous people before him with regret. He was going to have to kill them.

“I’m very much afraid,” he said, “that I don’t have much choice in the matter. You were each expected to show cause why I should not put you to death. I have seen no such cause shown. Instead I have seen two people who have allowed a petty squabble over mining rights to degenerate into another useless rock war. It is your egos, and not the mining rights, that prevent justice in this case. And the Autocrat’s Law requires me to remove all obstacles to justice. Case closed.” The Autocrat nodded toward his marshals, and they stepped forward.

The plaintiff screamed, the defendant fainted. The marshals were good at what they did. Within seconds, both of the claimants were restrained, sedated, and being taken away, toward the Autocrat’s very plain, very famous, very deadly airlock. The one where pressure suits were not allowed. The place to which human obstacles to justice were quite literally removed.

Justice, as with many other things in the Belt, was in short supply, and when available, was not of the best quality—too rough, too harsh and too rushed. To the Inner System dandies who visited now and again, the Autocrat’s Law seemed barbaric, violent and vengeful. But to the Belters, who had no other source of justice, the Autocrat’s Law represented civilization itself. In all the wide, wild, ungovernable vastness of the Asteroid Belt, they knew there was one place, one name, one law that all could trust. Only the Autocrat’s Law could protect them against themselves. Harsh and final it might be, but so too was it impartial.

For the Belters knew the Belt was huge—ungovernably huge. There could be no law when law enforcement was impossible, and no conventional enforcement was possible when the population density was something less than one crotchety misanthropic old coot per million cubic kilometers. It was easy for other things besides law to get lost in the midst of all that vast expanse.

Things like sanity, order, trust, proportion. Megalomania was an easy disease to catch when a man or a woman could have a world—albeit a very small one—for the effort of landing on it. And if your own world, why not your own law, your own empire? Why not declare the divine right of kings and expand outward, conquering your neighbors as you go?

The Belt had seen a thousand rock wars between independent states, many of which consisted of two rock-happy miners taking potshots at each other. If lunatics wanted to exterminate each other, that was their own affair, but there was a more serious and basic problem. Other people could get drawn in, or get caught in the cross fire. In all likelihood, the Autocrat had saved dozens of lives this day by blotting out the leaders in this pointless fight.

But, obvious as the case had been, the Autocrat had taken pause before rendering his decision. The present Autocrat of Ceres was a most careful person. But so was the previous holder of the post, and the one before that. No other sort of person would ever be appointed.

Not only Ceres, but the entire Belt Community as well depended on the Autocrat’s authority to supply order, discipline, regimentation, at least to Ceres and its surrounding satellites and stations. Anarchy surrounded Ceres on all sides, but even the Belt’s wildest anarchists knew they needed Ceres to be stable, orderly, predictable, to be a place where a trader could buy and sell in safety.

The rules might change elsewhere with every passing day, but at Ceres the Law was always the same. Claims filed in the office of the Autocrat were honored everywhere—for they were backed not only by the Autocrat’s Law and Justice, but his Vengeance.

Nothing but fair dealing was ever done in a Ceres warehouse. None but fair prices were ever paid. No one brought suit frivolously. For the Autocrat himself stood in judgment of all cases.

By the Law, the Autocrat was required, in every case from unlicensed gambling straight up to claim jumping and murder, to find cause why the death penalty should not be exacted against one—or both parties—to the case. If the Autocrat could not—or would not—find such cause, plaintiff and claimant, accuser and defendant died.

The Autocrat’s Law had a long reach. Many defendants were tried in absentia, having chosen to flee rather than face a day in court. But as the saying went, If the Autocrat finds you guilty, he will find you in the flesh. His bounty hunters—and his rewards—found the guilty everywhere. Very few places refused to honor his warrant—and none were places a sane man would flee towards.

Indeed, fear of the Autocrat’s Justice prevented all but the most worthy claimants from coming forth to ask it, and prevented all but the most venal from risking its power. Calls for justice were few and far between when the sword was as sharp as it was double-edged.

From THE RING OF CHARON by Roger MacBride Allen (1990)

Known Space is the fictional setting of about a dozen science fiction novels and several collections of short stories written by Larry Niven.


  • The Sol Belt possesses an abundance of valuable ores, which are easily accessible due to the low to negligible gravity of the rocks containing them. Originally a harsh frontier under U.N. control, the Belt declared independence after creating Confinement Asteroid (asteroid bubble), a habitat with spin gravity that permitted safe gestation of children, and Farmer's Asteroid, the Belt's primary food source. Almost immediately a lively competition began between the fiercely independent "Belters" and the technology police of the U.N. Several years of tension and economic conflicts followed, but soon settled into a relatively peaceful trade relationship as the Belt has so many resources that the UN and the Earth need.
  • Mercury is also a colony world with a small number of inhabitants, used mainly for mining and as a gravitational anchor for orbiting solar power stations which beam power to the more remote colonies using gigantic lasers. At the time of the First Man-Kzin War, human society is so pacifistic that no weapons exist; those who are able to even contemplate killing another sentient being or constructing a weapon for that purpose are regarded as mental aberrations and must take drugs to control their thoughts. However, an enormous laser, whether constructed as a weapon or not, makes a highly effective one, and it's strongly implied that the existence of the Mercury power satellites is a large part of what enabled Sol System to hold off the Kzinti in the early part of the war.
From the Wikipedia entry for KNOWN SPACE

Confinement Asteroid is unique.

Early explorers had run across a roughly cylindrical block of solid nickel-iron two miles long by a mile thick, orbiting not far from Ceres. They had marked its path and dubbed it S-2376.

Those who came sixty years ago were workmen with a plan. They drilled a hole down the asteroid’s axis, filled it with plastic bags of water, and closed both ends. Solid fuel jets spun S-2376 on its axis. As it spun, solar mirrors bathed it in light, slowly melted it from the surface to the center. When the water finished exploding, and the rock had cooled, the workmen had a cylindrical nickel-iron bubble twelve miles long by six in diameter.

It had been expensive already. Now it was more so. They rotated the bubble to provide half a gee of gravity, filled it with air and with tons of expensive water covered the interior with a mixture of pulverized stony meteorite material and garbage seeded with select bacteria. A fusion tube was run down the axis, three miles up from everywhere: a very special fusion tube, made permeable to certain wavelengths of light. A gentle bulge in the middle created the wedding-ring lake which now girdles the little inside-out world. Sunshades a mile across were set to guard the poles from light, so that snow could condense there, fall of its own weight, melt, and run in rivers to the lake.

The project took a quarter of a century to complete.

Thirty-five years ago Confinement freed the Belt of its most important tie to Earth. Women cannot have children in free fall. Confinement, with two hundred square miles of usable land, could house one hundred thousand in comfort; and one day it will. But the population of the Belt is only eight hundred thousand; Confinement’s score hovers around twenty thousand, mostly women, mostly transient, mostly pregnant.

From WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven (1966)

(ed note: "Earthplanet" is Terra. It had a world government. It has since balkanized due to several civil wars. "Earthsystem" is the solar system space colonies. Politically they have little or no contact with Terra.)

     McNulty shut off the tapeviewer. “During the past two ship days,” he remarked, “I have recorded news reports of forty-two of these so-called miniwars on the planet. Several others evidently are impending. Is that normal?”
     “Actually it sounds like a fairly quiet period,” Hiskey said. “But we might liven it up!” He pulled out a chair, sat down. “Of course I haven’t been near Earthsystem for around eight years, and I haven’t paid too much attention to what’s been going on here. But on the planet it’s obviously the same old stuff. It’s been almost a century since the world government fizzled out; and the city states, the rural territories, the sea cities, the domes, the subterranes and what-not have been batting each other around ever since. They’ll go on doing it for quite a while. Don’t worry about that.”
     “I am not worrying,” McNulty said. “The employment possibilities here appear almost unlimited, as you assured us they would be."

     Hiskey grinned. “There’s a little more to it than that. Did your tapes tell you anything about Earthsystem’s asteroid estates?
     “Yes. They were mentioned briefly twice,” McNulty said. “I gathered their inhabitants retain only tenuous connections with the planetary culture and do not engage in belligerent projects. I concluded that they were of no interest to us.”
     “Well, start getting interested,” Hiskey told him. “Each of those asteroids is a little world to itself. They’re completely independent of both Earthplanet and Earthsystem. They got an arrangement with Earthsystem which guarantees their independent status as long as they meet certain conditions. From what Gage’s sister told him, the asteroid she’s on is a kind of deluxe spacegoing ranch. It belongs to a Professor Alston . . . a handful of people, some fancy livestock, plenty of supplies.”

     “A private asteroid—any private asteroid—is expected to go out of communication from time to time. They’re one of Solar U’s science projects. They seal their force field locks, shut off their transmitters; and when they open up again is entirely up to them. I’ve heard some have stayed incommunicado for up to ten years, and the minimum shutoff period’s supposed to be not less than one month out of every year."

     Professor Derek Alston’s asteroid also remained something of an enigma. In Mars Underground, and in the SP Academy’s navigation school, the private asteroids had been regarded much as they were on Earthplanet, as individually owned pleasure resorts of the very rich which maintained no more contact with the rest of humanity than was necessary. Evidently they preferred to have that reputation. Elisabeth had told him it wasn’t until she’d been a Solar U student for a few years that she’d learned gradually that the asteroids performed some of the functions of monasteries and castles in Earth’s Middle Ages, built to preserve life, knowledge, and culture through the turbulence of wars and other disasters. They were storehouses of what had become, or was becoming, now lost on Earth, and their defenses made them very secure citadels. The plants and animals of the surface levels were living museums. Below the surface was a great deal more than that. In many respects they acted as individual extensions of Solar U, though they remained independent of it.

     Elsewhere were the storerooms; and here Elisabeth loved to browse, and Harold browsed with her, though treasures of art and literature and the like were of less interest to him. Beautiful things perhaps, but dead.

     And then the projects—Step into a capsule, a raindrop-shaped shell, glide through a system of curving tunnels, checking here and there to be fed through automatic locks; and you came to a project. Two or three or at most four people would be conducting it; they already knew who you were, but you were introduced, and they showed you politely around. Elisabeth’s interest in what they had to show was moderate. Harold’s kept growing.

     “You’re running some rather dangerous experiments here,” he remarked eventually to Derek Alston.
     Derek shook his head. “I don’t run them,” he said. “They’re Solar U and SP projects. The asteroid merely provides facilities.”
     “Why do you let them set themselves up here?”
     Derek Alston shrugged. “They have to be set up somewhere. If there should be some disastrous miscalculation, our defensive system will contain the damage and reduce the probable loss in human lives.”

     And the asteroid had, to be sure, a remarkable defensive system. For any ordinary purpose it seemed almost excessive. Harold had studied it and wondered again.

     “In Eleven,” he said, “they’re working around with something on the order of a solar cannon. If they slip up on that one, you might find your defensive system strained.”
     Derek looked over at him. “I believe you weren’t supposed to know the purpose of that device,” he said idly.
     “They were a little misleading about that, as a matter of fact,” said Harold. “But I came across something similar in the outsystems once.”
     “Yes, I imagine you’ve learned a great deal more there than they ever taught in navigation school.” Derek scratched his head and looked owlish. “If you were to make a guess, what would you say was the real purpose of maintaining such projects on our asteroid? After all, I have to admit that the System Police and Solar U are capable of providing equally suitable protective settings for them.”
     “The impression I’ve had,” Harold told him, “is that they’re being kept a secret from somebody. They’re not the sort of thing likely to be associated with a private asteroid.”
     “No, not at all. Your guess is a good one. There are men, and there is mankind. Not quite the same thing. Mankind lost a major round on Earthplanet in this century and exists there only in fragments. And though men go to the outsystems, mankind hasn’t reached them yet.”
     “You think it’s here?”
     “Here in Solar U, in the System Police, in major centers like Mars Underground. And on the private asteroids. Various shapes of the same thing. Yes, mankind is here, what’s left of it at the moment. It has regrouped in Earthsystem and is building up.”
     Harold considered that. “Why make it a conspiracy?” he asked then. “Why not be open about it?”
     “Because it’s dangerous to frighten men. Earthplanet regards Earthsystem as an irritation. But it looks at our lack of obvious organization and purpose, our relatively small number, and it doesn’t take alarm. It knows it would take disproportionate effort, tremendous unified effort, to wipe us out, and we don’t seem worth it. So Earth’s men continue with their grinding struggles and maneuverings which eventually are to give somebody control of the planet. By that time Earthsystem’s mankind should not be very much concerned about Earthplanet’s intentions towards it.
     “The projects you’ve seen are minor ones. We move farther ahead of them every year, and our population grows steadily. Even now I doubt that the planet’s full resources would be sufficient to interfere seriously with that process. But for the present we must conceal the strength we have and the strength we are obtaining. We want no trouble with Earth. Men will have their way there for a time, and then, whatever their designs, mankind will begin to evolve from them again, as it always does. It is a hardy thing. We can wait. . . .”

     “Where’s the asteroid going on interstellar drives?”
     “I told you mankind hadn’t got to the outsystems yet,” Derek said. “But it’s ready to move there. We’ve been preparing for it. The outsystems won’t know for a while that we’re around—not till we’re ready to let them know it.”
     “This asteroid is moving to the outsystems?”

From THE CUSTODIANS by James H. Schmitz (1968)

(ed note: This provides a cinematic and dramatic system for spacecraft combat, without instantly killing all the fragile interplanetary colonies.)

Jon had studied his history of humanity in space, and especially humanity's history of warfare. War had brought him to this end. Men had taken the ancient game of chess, had given it three dimensions and a wider variety of pieces and moves and had turned warfare into a game. The basics remained the same. The Command Ship replaced the king, invested with the power to control the pieces on the three-dimensional board of space-time. Destroy the opponents' Command Ship and the battle ends in victory. The only major difference was that men still moved the pieces, but they moved them from the inside, and men died if they were lost.

A large cometary mass had entered the solar system a few years back. Once it had been determined to be of interstellar origin and a genuine scientific find, the Jovan and Lunan governments could not risk hostilities breaking out among competing exploration parties conducting a space race to claim the find in the name of a single government. Even by Jon's standards, the ideal solution would have been to mix crews aboard an international exploration caravan, but the Jovans considered Lunan lighting harsh and distracting, the air too dense and hot. The Lunans considered Jovan gravity preferences unnecessarily stressful and the side effects of the antibiotics necessary to prevent cross-biological contamination too uncomfortable. It took little more than minor grievances to result in a challenge by the Outer System Federation to armed combat, the winner to take possession of the cometary mass, the loser to trust that all findings would be fairly shared by all the nations.

But Jon not only knew the real reason for the challenge, he had anticipated it. It had been six years since the last major confrontation between the two greatest powers in space. Both were eager to probe the developing war technology of the other side.

On Earth, prior to the Holocaust, a growing population had featured relatively few races and cultures in its growing homogeneity, but it had faced the increasing stress of dwindling food and natural resources to be shared by all. Humanity had almost succeeded in creating a paradise on Earth, but it failed abysmally in controlling its own nature. When war broke out, it destroyed everything, but once free in the vastness of space, the process only intensified. As each colony left the ship-building yards of Jupiter or the inner system, a new racial variety of humanity was born, and a new culture. The same reasons for war existed, but also a heightened awareness of its consequence.

Economically, the two major spheres of humanity complemented one another. The colonies among the outer worlds specialized in the mining and processing of the lighter elements. Icebergs of insulated gases, liquids, and solids spiraled constantly down into the inner system. The outer system colonies considered themselves independent, but organized economically and militarily under the leadership of the Jovans, the outer system's largest society orbiting the four major moons of Jupiter.

The colonies of the Inner System Alliance also considered themselves independent, but, again, organized under the leadership of the Lunans, the largest inner-system colony based on Earth's single moon. Given the abundance of free solar energy close in to the sun and the heavier elements mined from Mercury, Luna, and Mars, the Inner System Alliance specialized in heavy construction and manufacturing.

Early in the days of the thriving space colonies, humanity hard learned three important facts and worked quickly to incorporate them usefully into the structure of a burgeoning society. First, a highly technical civilization meant increased specialization and interdependence between its parts. Second, the psychological distance between cultures in space would surpass anything seen on Earth in mankind's history. And, third, as long as man could bunch his hand into a fist, violence as a viable alternative to negotiation would remain too great a temptation to ignore. There would be war, but war would have to be contained. The rules of the wargames had been established by the Ganymede Convention less than two centuries after the Holocaust. Wars would be fought, but civilian populations would not be the target. Each population center understood, regardless of the intensity of their hatred, that their own welfare depended upon the welfare of an integrated whole.

War became a sport. The struggle of opposing warfleets to destroy the Command Ship of the opposition made the wargames the most intensely fascinating and challenging sport man had ever known.

The Outer System Federation voiced the initial challenge over the issue of the interstellar comet and its anomalies. Therefore, the Inner System Alliance had the choice of a defending position. Luna Nation chose Earth as a backdrop to their defensive position, forcing the Jovan forces to attack at a shallow angle across the interference provided by the face of a full-sized planet.

The Jovan fighter squadrons had been brought in by the carrier Saratoga. Jon's squadron had been assigned to defend the battleship Ganymede. The Ganymede engaged early in the apparently suicidal attack upon the Lunan Command Ship Brystol. But the battleship deflected at the last instant, attacking the fortress defending the Brystol. The maneuver forced the Brystol to take evasive action, a move to place more of the mass of the Earth directly behind it in relation to the incoming Jovan forces.

The wargames would have been little more than mass destruction of automated equipment without the deliberately imposed handicap of human-piloted machinery. Because of their human pilots and crews, the Jovans couldn't move directly against the Lunan formations. At velocities of hundreds of kilometers per second, the human body couldn't survive the G forces necessary to pull away from the bulk of the planet lying behind the Lunans. Automated vessels were legal, but limited in firepower. Still, in the excitement of battle, the Lunan forces panicked in the face of the onslaught of the carrier Saratoga barreling in on a full-frontal attack, decelerating engines of over fifty million tons of thrust burning like full-fledged supernovas.

Long before the Saratoga reached maximum deceleration, swarms of fighters fell away from the craft, blossoming outward to attack the flanks of the Lunan fleet on the horizons of Earth, the hurtling Saratoga little more than a weapon of fear, a lightweight shell never intended for combat worthiness. The Brystol had only seconds to analyze the bizarre strategy and respond. As the juggernaut deflected from its suicidal trajectory, skimming the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrating from numerous missile hits, the Brystol moved out of harm's way, directly into the firing trajectory of a Jovan weapons barge that had moved into position during the confusion.

Jon had studied the entire battle and its subtly shifting strategy during the seconds it took to engage, fire, and pass from the scene on his own individual mission. The Brystol should have vanished in a fireball of thermonuclear fury. It somehow survived, the Lunan formation reorganizing for its offense and a tighter defense around its Command Ship. The Jovan forces had incurred high losses in order to accomplish a probable victory. Knowing they would not survive another pass, Jon heard the concession to victory an instant before a random proximity mine detonated a few kilometers away. The blast reduced the underbelly of his Cobra to slag.

His computer had assessed the damage as terminal, blown off the shell of armor and ignited the emergency retrorockets to kill as much of his forward velocity as possible. Regardless, crippled fighters spinning into deep space at several hundred kilometers per second were not prime candidates for immediate rescue in the after battle cleanup.

A pilot in a fighter too heavily damaged to decelerate always had the option of entering a state of suspended animation and be rescued at convenience in the outer system. Jon had slept twice under such circumstances. He would have preferred to sleep again, but captured by the gravitational field of Earth, he had orbited the planet once, sweeping inward to skim tenuous atmosphere. He lost even more orbital velocity. The fighter had skipped once into space and arced back down for a final confrontation with the unknown.

For the first time since the Holocaust, a warfleet violated the rules of the Ganymede Convention. No command ship existed among the fleet to end an armed conflict. Most of the craft appeared to be scientific in nature, a true exploratory caravan, but it included warcraft capable of unacceptable levels of devastation.

Moore listened to the communication between Luna Authority and the Supreme Commander of the Jovan fleet broadcast on an open channel.

"Luna Navigational Control," a heavily accented Jovan voice spoke, "we are assuming a fifteen hundred and sixty kilometer equatorial Earth orbit. We are on a peaceful mission."

Luna Authority responded instantly. "The spirit and the letter of the Ganymede Convention has been violated. Never in the history of the space nations has civilization faced such grave risk of irresponsible catastrophe."

From SILENT GALAXY aka BATTLEFIELDS OF SILENCE by William Tedford (1981)


These are a few sample ships that might be flying around in the RocketCat Universe.

Ship List
Magneto-Inertial Lo21.770.0012.6 MW4456.5
Star Fighter6.7545.221.0 MW13,2650.113
Magneto-Inertial 2260.01136.0 MW46230
Translunar Rescue10.8?311.8 MW??
Magneto-Inertial Hi51.550.09347.9 MW6,32155.1
Kuck Mosquito5.60.59484.0 MW4,840100
Snare Delta5.781.0937.0 MW8,1630
GCNR Spacecraft41.50.164.1 GW9,205150
Asteroid Crew Transport510.00964.8 GW800150
Orbital Patrol6.18.757.7 GW77,00012
Admiral Farragut1000.116.7 GW16,4530
Mini-Mag Orion1000.8729.9 GW119,269100
Propellant Tanker16.738.161.3 GW228,153136
Orion Bomber31.35.477.4 GW232,590136
Ray McVay Patrol Ship8.2200.2169.4 GW2,840,9950
Orion Battleship3012.3785.4 GW502,118308
Boostship2800.11.1 TW39,28620,000
Polaris200103.03.5 TW28,166,6677

ΔV is Delta V, used to figure out how far the ship can move on the Solar System map between refueling. For example: the delta V cost to travel from Amalthea Transfer Orbit to Low Jovian Orbit (LJO) is 8.02 km/s. The Star Fighter only has 6.754 km/s of delta V so it cannot follow that arrowed line. The Magneto-Inertial Lo Gear has 21.77 km/s of delta V so it can follow that line, and have 13.75 km/s of delta V left over.

"Thrust Power" is sort of a rating of how powerful the engine array is. Megawatt (MW or million watt), Gigawatt (GW or US billion watt), and Terawatt (TW or US trillion watt). So the Orion Battleship has a gigawatt thruster.

"Specific Power" is sort of how much bounce-for-the-ounce you are getting with that ship. It is the thrust power divided by the ship dry mass, in units of watts per kilogram.

Ship Datablock codes:

  • ΔV: Delta V, used to figure out how far the ship can move on the Solar System map between refueling.
  • Ve: Exhaust Velocity, used to calculate ΔV.
  • F: Thrust, used to calculate acceleration. Also used to see if engines are powerful enough to boost the spacecraft off a planet's surface and into orbit. Or to see if spacecraft can accelerate fast enough to leave Terra's Van Allen Radiation Belts before the crew dies.
  • R: Mass Ratio, used to calculate ΔV
  • IAccel: Initial Acceleration (acceleration with full propellant tanks, will rise as propellant mass diminishes)
  • Fuel: Energy source to accelerate reaction mass
  • Rmass: Reaction mass, matter jetted out exhaust nozzle to create thrust
  • Eng: Propulsion System, i.e., rocket engines.
  • Crew: Number of crew members, or "Automated" if this is a computer controlled ship or remote-controlled drone.
  • HabVol: Volume of pressurized habitat space. Divide by number of crew to find volume per person. If this volume is too small (25 m3) the crew will get cabin fever.
  • LS: Life support endurance time, or how long until the crew suffocates or starves. May also show life support person-days.
  • Cargo: Maximum capacity of cargo bay in either kilograms or cubic meters (or both). If the intended cargo fills all the cubic meters of the bay but is below the maximum kilogram capacity, the cargo has "bulked-out" before it "grossed-out".
  • Ht: Tail-sitter Height (length if it is a belly lander)
  • WMass: Wet Mass (spacecraft mass with full propellant tanks).
  • Aux: auxiliary utility spacecraft carried
  • Wep: weapons and defenses
  • Notes: other useful information

kN: Kilo-Newton. 1 kN = 1,000 N

MN: Mega-Newton. 1 MN = 1,000,000 N

t: tonne or metric ton. 1 t = 1,000 kg

PD: Person-Day of life support

LH2: Cryogenic Liquid Hydrogen


This is the personal vehicle of RocketCat, custom built by Atomic Rockets Inc.

ΔV:200 km/s Engx3 NSWR
Ve182 km/sCrewx5
F39,000 kNHabVol168 m3
(33.7 m3/crew)
R3.0LS16 months
(2,400 PD)
IAccel103 m/s2
(10.5 g)
Cargo6.936 t
16.25 m3
Ht 43 m
WMass378 t
Aux x2 space taxi
Wep x6 Casaba Howitzer torpedoes
Muon-iron armor
Notes Personal vehicle of RocketCat
Hull radiation shielding is 1 g/cm2
On-board power: fission reactor
UTB fuel is 22% enriched
Sentient AI named GAZAK
x5 RatBot enforcer robots


The JPL Modular Hab System is an incredibly versatile set of mix and match components that are incredibly useful. You can make spacecraft, EVA pods, Mars rovers, planetary bases, the possibilities are endless! I'm sure RocketCat's Universe will have this or an equivalent. More details and ideas can be found at the link.

Snare Delta

ΔV:5.78 km/s EngBimodal NTR
Ve9.37 km/sCrew6
F200 kNHabVol350 m3
R1.85LS18 months
IAccel1.0 m/s2
(0.1 g)
Ht56 m
Aux x1 MMSEV
x1 HL-20 lifting body
Notes Bimodal engine supplies 50 kWe
when not thrusting


Uncrewed bulk tanker used to transport liquid hydrogen to orbital propellant depots.

ΔV:16.73 km/s EngOpen-Cycle GCNR
Ve35 km/sCrewAutomated
F3,500 kNHabVol0
IAccel8.1 m/s2
(0.8 g)
Cargo136 t LH2
Ht47 m
WMass433 t
Aux 0
Wep 0
Notes If the cargo LH2 is expended along with
the propellant LH2, then the ΔV is 48.5 km/s


ΔV:5.6 km/s EngChemical
Ve4,400 m/sCrewAutomated
F220 kNHabVol0
IAccel0.59 m/s2
(0.06 g)
Cargo100 t H2O
LOX/LH2Ht12.4 m
WMass350 t
Aux 0
Wep 0
Notes Sucks water ice out of comets or
D-type asteroids and delivers it
to orbital propellant depots.


GCNR Spacecraft
ΔV:41.5 km/s EngOpen-Cycle GCNR
Ve54 km/sCrew?
F150 kNHabVol?
IAccel0.16 m/s2
(0.016 g)
Cargo150 t
WMass950 t
Aux ?
Wep ?
Notes Standard 34 t TransHab would support 6 crew,
reduce cargo to 116 t, giving 116 t
to outfit ship as you see fit.
LH2/235U ratio is 200:1 (so 2.2 t 235U fuel).
Courier version has cargo = 0
but ΔV = 64.1 km/s.


ΔV:280 km/s EngHandwaving
Ve220 km/sCrew?
F10,000 kNHabVol>50,000 m3
R3.57LS70 days
IAccel0.1 m/s2
(0.01 g)
Cargo2,000 passengers
+20,000 t cargo
Ht400 m
WMass100,000 t
Wep 0
Notes Mission: 4 AU Terra to Pallas. Boost
at 0.1 m/s2 for 15 days,up to 140 km/s.
Coast for 40 days. Decel for another
15 days to Pallas.
Centrifuge arms are 100 m
so 3 RPM gives 1 g.
Ion drive powered by deuterium-deuterium
fusion reactor. 36 t of D for Pallas trip.

Asteroid Mining Crew Transport

For a Terra-Asteroid run, the vehicle boosts for 11 days, coasts for 226 days, then brakes for 13 days to rendezvous.

Asteroid Crew Transport
ΔV:51 km/s EngFusion
Ve100 km/sCrew?
F96 kNHabVol31,250 m3
R1.67LS250 days
IAccel0.0096 m/s2
(9.8e-4 g)
Cargo1250 passengers
+150 t cargo
DeuteriumHt480 m
WMass10,000 t
Wep 0
Notes Blasted thing puts out 4.4 Gigawatts
of deadly neutron radiation. Stay Away!
Centrifuge arm is 150 meters long. It can spin
at a low 2.5 RPM and still produce a full 1 g.
There is 19,200 m2 of heat radiator in a
desperate attempt to get rid of
2.8 gigawatts of waste heat.


ΔV:100 km/s EngAntimatter
gas core
Ve55.72 m/sCrew
F600 kNHabVol
IAccel m/s2Cargo
Ht150 m
WMass6,114 t
Notes 4.5 grams of antihydrogen fuel.
Can do Terra-Jupiter in 6 months.


ΔV:100 km/s EngMini-Mag Orion
Ve93,000 m/sCrew
F642 kNHabVol
IAccel0.87 m/s2
(0.09 g)
max: 0.26 g
Cargo100 t
WMass739 t
Notes Standard 34 t TransHab would
support 6 crew,
reduce cargo to 66 t,
giving 66 t to outfit ship as you see fit.


ΔV:Lo Gear: 21.77 km/s
Hi Gear: 51.55 km/s
 EngMI Fusion
Ve50.42 km/sCrew
FLo Gear: 0.103 kN
Hi Gear: 13.8 kN
RLo Gear: 1.54
Hi Gear:2.78
IAccelLo Gear: 0.001 m/s2
Hi Gear: 0.090 m/s2
CargoLo Gear: 58.5 t
Hi Gear: 55.1 t
WMassLo Gear: 90 t
Hi Gear: 153 t
Notes Standard 34 t TransHab would support 6 crew
and give 24.5 t (Lo) or 20.1 t (Hi)
to outfit ship as you see fit.
Will require larger photovoltaics to be used
beyond orbit of Mars.


ΔV:26 km/s EngMI Fusion
Ve49 km/sCrew6
F1.47 kNHabVol350 m3
R1.7LS18 months
IAccel0.01 m/s2
(0.001 g)
Cargo30 t
WMass134 t
Notes Will require larger photovoltaics to be
used beyond orbit of Mars.


ΔV:31.3 km/s EngOrion Drive
Ve36 km/sCrew20 to 35
F4,300 kNHabVol875 m3
R2.386LS6 months
IAccel5.4 m/s2
(0.55 g)
CargoSee Weapons
Ht48 m
WMass794 t
Wep 136,000 kg of strategic nuclear warheads
(1 megaton city-killers and 0.1 MT strategic)
(Approximately x300 one megaton warheads)
Defensive decoys and antimissile weapons
Notes Military Warship


ΔV:30 km/s EngOrion Drive
Ve35.3 kM/sCrew120
F44,500 kNHabVol3,000 m3
R2.32LS6 months
IAccel12.3 m/s2
(1.25 g)
Cargo308 t
(See Weapons)
Ht78 m
WMass3,629 t
Aux x6 hypersonic reentry vehicles (20 crew@)
x12 space taxi (2 crew@)
Wep x3 Mk-42 5-inch naval turret
x500 missiles w/ 20 megaton warheads
x90 missile launchers
x300 Casaba Howitzers
x6 Casaba Howitzer launchers
x6 20mm CIWS turrets
Notes Military Warship

Ray McVay Rocketpunk Patrol Ship

Ray McVay Patrol
ΔV:8.2 km/s EngChemical
Ve4,400 m/sCrew20
(24 SAR)
F7.7 MNHabVol
IAccel4.9 m/s2
(0.5 g)
LH2/LOXHt73 m
WMass384.6 t
Aux x1 Cygnus space tug.
x1 Espatiers transport capsule
x1 1,500 nm IR laser w/ 10 m
fixed mirror and 4 m rotating mirror.
Espatiers have powered armor
and 6 combat drones.
Aerogel insulation under
nano-carbon whipple shielding.
EW: Laser blinding
Laser EMP
Notes 10 Officers, 6 Espatiers, 4 Cadets.
Up to 24 for emergency SAR.


ΔV:6.1 km/s EngChemical
Ve4,400 m/sCrew5
F3,500 kNHabVol300 m3
R4.0LS2 weeks
IAccel8.75 m/s2
(0.89 g)
Cargo12 t
LOX/LH2Ht40 m
WMass400 t
Notes Used by the Orbit Guard


You have to understand that this space fighter is the future equivalent of a wood-and-fabric Fokker Triplane. It can barely get off the ground and the weapon mass budget is miniscule. The Star fighter and the Centaur-G stage is lofted into orbit with a large booster rocket. It has no life support, the pilot has to rely upon their space suit and diapers.

ΔV:Stage 1: 5.278 km/s
Stage 2: 1.476 km/s
Total: 6.754 km/s
Ve3.17 km/sCrew1
F13.6 kNHabVolSpacesuit
R1.59LS24 hours
IAccel5.2 m/s2
(0.5 g)
CargoPilot: 218 kg
Weapons: 113 kg
NTO + PAAB-1Ht8 m
WMass2.584 t
Wep 113 kg of weapons, which ain't much
Notes Stage 1 is the Centaur-G
Stage 2 is the Star space fighter proper
Drop tanks can add an additional 0.886 km/s ΔV


ΔV:10.8 km/s EngNTR
Ve9.81 km/s
10,79 km/s)
F63.57 kNHabVol
Aux x2 space lifeboats

  1. Asteroid Mining Crew Transport
  2. NTPS Asteroid Survey Mission
  3. Boeing STCAEM Dress Rehersal
  4. HOPE Z-Pinch Fusion
  5. Project APEX
  6. Orion Battleship
  7. Orion Bomber
  8. NSWR Polaris

RocketCat Origin

In the year mumbly-mumble some brilliant but misguided scientists were trying to decrease the cost for humans to access space by reducing human's life support costs. Perhaps inspired by Planets in Peril by Edmond Hamilton, they genetically engineer human beings who can live in the vacuum of space with no protection. The new race, called "Riggers" (from "rigor mortis"), bear a passing resemblance to a skeletal human, abet with some body parts seemingly composed of gristle. In other words, the Dem Bones trope.

You can see where all this is heading.

The misguided scientists are predictably hoisted by their own petard as the Riggers figure there is not enough room in the Solar System for two intelligent races. The Riggers embark on a brutal campaign of human genocide, but are defeated since human beings are even nastier.

A hand full of surviving Riggers lurk in obscure areas of the Solar System, occasionally pirating human cargo ships and smelting down the hapless human crews for their component H2O and phosphorus. Or at least the random bits of the crew which remained after the Riggers had feasted on their still-living bodies.

Riggers have no gender, and are incapable of natural reproduction (We think...). They are generally produced by cloning, being brought to term in an artificial womb. However there are whispered rumors about the existence of one or more Rigger Queens.

Riggers use organic spaceship they breed themselves. The ships look like a painting by H. R. Giger. Unfortunately for the Riggers, organic spaceships are pretty much inferior to conventional spaceships in every way. About their only advantage is they can heal damage without needing a repair dock, but they do need to be fed asteroid bits to grow replacement parts.

Meanwhile the process of genetically engineering human beings has been made illegal, under penalty of death. Never again.

To help track down the remaining Riggers the TerraCo Military Isolation Lab (Saturn-Sol Lagrange Point 4) created the Beast Master program. This was not very successful, since it is very hard for non-sentient animals to operate effectively when wearing tiny four-legged space suits. Even harder is to try and sniff out a fugitive when the animal is wearing a spacesuit helmet.

The following program hit pay dirt. The Combat-Critter Program genetically uplifted predator animals who had at least a vague friendship with humans. They would hunt down and terminate Riggers.

There also had to be an increase in the astromilitary budget. In other words the Riggers had become MacGuffinite.

The most successful is the new species Spatia Catus, and the meanest of them all is RocketCat.

Of course the scientists engineered a genetic kill-switch in all the uplifted animals. So they can be swiftly terminated if they become dangerous. Just in case. But when I mention this to RocketCat, he just ... smiles.

RocketCat stands about average human height, has digitgrade legs and a tail (which is kept along the spine inside a space suit and protrudes out a silly hole in civilian pants). Mass is around 70 kilograms. Catnip has little or no effect, to deny Riggers an easy weapon (but they can smell it a mile away).

The hands are modified to be close to human in order to allow operation of standard human equipment and controls (not to mention weapons). Fangs and teeth, on the other hand, are pretty much standard cat (well, standard for a cat the size of a human at any rate).

The hands have retractable claws which RocketCat occasionally inlays with monoedge blades capable of slicing flesh to the bone and cutting through most armor (eventually). Since like all felines the claws are periodically shed, RocketCat only inlays for special occasions (wearing fingerless gloves to expose the blades). So if you see one of RocketCat's shed claws lying on the ground, pick it up really carefully if you don't want to lose your finger.

RocketCat is fond of using his monoedge claws to engrave rune-graffiti into metal space-station walls. Runes because the Elder Futhark have no curved lines in their letters. Runes were originally carved on slats of wood with a knife, which made it difficult to create a curved line. The same holds true for monoedged claws on metal hulls. Runes also have no horizontal lines because that would cut the wood along the grain, which RocketCat does not give a rat's heinie about because metal hulls have no grain.

If he is leaving a message intended for other feline combat-critters, he uses the Hani alphabet. Yes, the cuts have curves, but if you are using monoedge claws then making a curve is just a bit more difficult, not impossible.

His fur color is jet black, as black as the Boötes void.

Spatia Catus' metabolism has been genetically tweaked so it can produce arginine and taurine, unlike conventional cats who need those in their diet. Like ordinary cats Spatia Catus favor a high-protein diet (obligate carnivore), which makes it a challenge to use a closed ecological life support system (they can't live on algae). This makes their feces malodorous, hence the aphorism "mean as cat-poop." I'm sure they get real tired of eating compressed bug bars, and at space stations tend to spend more than they should for restaurant meals of real meat (they will have extra money anyway since alcohol is cat poison, so no bar tab). There is also a remarkable absence of rats around any place a Spatia Catus is bunking. The rats that are too stupid to flee at the merest whiff of cat scent will quickly become a midnight snack. Think of it as natural selection in action.

Spatia Catus is hypersensitive to spoiled and rotted food. They can detect the odor long before it becomes strong enough to be smelled by a human. This gives them a reputation for being finicky eaters.

As with standard cats, they have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level required for humans. And poor color vision, they have difficulty distinguishing between red and green (which can make it difficult to use some spacecraft controls and computer user interfaces). They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans, detecting frequencies from 55 Hz to 79,000 Hz, a range of 10.5 octaves. This includes ultrasound. The hearing is very sensitive being most acute in the range of 500 Hz to 32 kHz. The mobile ears enhance the ability to detect a sound's location. They also have a sense of smell about twice as sensitive as human. Sense of taste is poor, fewer taste buds and they cannot taste sweet things at all.

As with standard cats, they are sensitive to environmental poisons, because their livers are less effective at some forms of detoxification than are humans. This also includes many medications. Some standard human drugs are quite poisonous to Spatia Catus. As is chocolate, poor kitty. And as previously mentioned alcohol is also poisonous, poor poor kitty!

Spatia Catus are all RayCats. Their fur changes color if exposed to nuclear radiation. Sort of like a natural dosimeter. They do tend to loath the RayCat Ballad, because they've heard it all their lives.

Standard cats raised as pets live in a kind of extended kittenhood (neoteny). They see their owners as a cat mother surrogate and themselves as mommy's little good kitten, even when they are fully grown. Not so Spatia Catus, they are strictly feral, and are not domesticated. At all. If you try to pet one, especially an adult, the shock-trauma room might be able to sew your arm back on.

Spatia Catus are not sexually compatible with human beings, for reasons you will discover if you research feline male genitalia (hint: spines, plural). You will then understand why female cats have to be so deep in estrus that they are cross-eyed before they will let a male cat anywhere near them. Spatia Catus will breed true, two of the opposite gender can produce a nice litter of Spatia kittens. Humans are warned that while Spatia kittens look cute, they are not domesticated. Petting one is even more dangerous than petting a lynx kitten. The kittens are feral and you do not want to get in between a kitten and a momma who could single-handedly take down a Bengal tiger

RocketCat has been highly trained to detect, track, hunt down, and sanction with extreme prejudice Riggers. He has carefully honed detective skills, is a dead shot with most firearms, and is a master of a peculiar martial art called "Cat-Fu". As most cats RocketCat has inate skills with acrobatics and parkour. He has also been trained in microgravity hand-to-hand combat, where the tail gives him a distinct advantage. The tail can be used to change the body's orientation while in free fall, Terran cats use this to ensure they land on their feet.

RocketCat's weapon of choice is a 3 cm Campbell Heavy Laser Pistol, though he is fond of Deathwind 20mm Gyrojet pistols with seeker rockets.

RocketCat's odd hobby is astronautics and spacecraft design. As you already know from reading his comments scattered through this website, along with the knowledge that he does not suffer fools gladly and is quite sarcastic. His favorite games are Homeworlds, Ogre, and High Frontier.

RocketCat has a personal spacecraft, a small torchship with a freaking nuclear salt water engine that don't need no steenking Hohman orbits. It also don't need no steenking stealth, you can track a continuously detonating atomic drive from as far away as Proxima Centauri. The spacecraft was constructed at Winchell-Chung Astronautical Industries, of course. He humorously named his ship the Polaris. It has a delta-V of 200 km/s, carries a crew of five hulking RatBot enforcers and is armed with a Casaba Howitzer. Said howitzer has seventeen rounds, each of which can skewer a spacecraft the long way with a spear of nuclear flame. Yes, the astromilitary is not very happy about this being in civilian hands. The ship's armor has a foil-thin core that RocketCat is evasive about, but I suspect it is steel made with muon-iron (roughly 207 times as strong as conventional steel since a muon is roughly 207 the mass of an electron).

The Polaris is run by a sardonic artificially intelligent computer named GAZAK, if HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, then GZK is one ahead of HAL. GAZAK and the RatBots are quite capable of taking care of themselves. The gutters around the starport occasionally contain the mortal remains of idiot punks who thought RocketCat's empty spacescraft would be an easy burglary job. GAZAK also has a hobby of infiltrating the local node of InterPlaNet and hacking into every government, police, megacorporation, and other computer it can access.

And a word to the wise: when RocketCat is in town, do not torture or kill any domestic cats. RocketCat will find out and he takes such things very personally. The police will find your mutilated corpse with every wound and injury inflicted on the kittycat painstakingly recreated on what is left of your body, pre-mortem. A fact the police can readily ascertain due to the convenient presence of a reference hologram depicting the poor kittycat victim. Convenient because it is nailed to your skull. Underneath the hologram, your final agonized facial expression has been know to give nightmares to police and forensic experts.

Yes, there have been assassination attempts on RocketCat using a cat-kill as bait. Every time the end result is an unharmed RocketCat and all members of the assassin kill-team being found dead and identically mutilated as per above. As well as whoever hired the assassins in the first place.


As previously mentioned, Riggers are genetically engineered humans who can live in airless space, look like animated skeletons, and want to exterminate the human race.

Here is some inspirational material about hostile space skeletons from pulp science fiction.


     "The other factor that deepens the hopelessness for us is a more tangible and terrifying one. It is the threat of the Cold Ones. That is the name we give to a new and hostile race of intelligent creatures that has appeared in our dying universe.
     "The Cold Ones are unhuman in many respects. They are the product of a disastrous chain of biological events that took place on the frozen planet of a dead star. They have advanced as we retreated, conquering world after world that we abandoned. For they can live in the endless icy darkness of airless worlds, where we would die.
     "Our retreat, and their advance, have now almost reached the fatal climax. Most of our universe is already blacked-out by death, a vast wilderness of ashen bulks that once were stars, and icy spheres that once were smiling worlds. The last millions of us Tarasts now huddle together upon the chill worlds of a few smoldering stars that are not yet completely dead.
     "Now the Cold Ones are reaching toward that dying star-cluster that is our last refuge. Already they have established a base there from which they attack our crowded worlds."

     "Good God, those spaceships are open!" he cried. "They're just fast space-sleds. How can their crews survive in airless space?"
     "The Cold Ones do not need air to breathe," Gerdek said from the breech of the gun he was handling. "Ha—we got that one!"

     The Cold Ones were indeed ghastly figures. Their bodies; were of human size and shape but they were not of; flesh. They were of bone, gleaming, hard white bodies with skull-like heads from which two uncanny eyes looked forth with fixed, unwinking glare. They looked, indeed, horribly like human men changed by some dreadful metamorphosis into ossified creatures.

     He observed his captors more closely. He saw that these Cold Ones were not really skeletal figures, though he had applied that term to them in his rage. The arms, legs and torsos of the creatures were of human shape and size. But they seemed of solid white bone instead of flesh. The blank, bony faces of the skull-like heads were hideously noseless, though they had a mouth opening between hinged jaws.

     Grag abruptly realized that in speaking to one another, the Cold Ones did not move their bony jaws. The fact was that his captors were not really speaking at all, though at first he had thought they were. They were conversing telepathically, and his brain caught their thoughts. These creatures, the robot now perceived, would be wholly unable to communicate were it not for their well-developed telepathic faculty. For they spent most of their lives in airless voids where sound was impossible.

     "Lad, look at these creatures. I never saw anything just like them."
     Curt Newton joined him and examined the shattered bodies with intense interest. He realized at once that these inhuman creatures who could live in an airless void were of a startling new order of creation. The broken white bodies and limbs were composed almost wholly of rigid bone. The only parts not of osseous tissue were elastic, cartilaginous ligaments inside the hollow limbs, and the eyes and brain. The eyes were lenses of transparent cartilage. And the brain exposed by the shattering of one skull-like head was an organ of hard gristle.

     "Only a bunch of cursed nightmares like those Cold Ones could live in such a place. What are the creatures, anyway? They don't breathe, they have no flesh, yet they somehow look human."
     "The human resemblance was very strong in those dead ones I examined," commented the Brain in his rasping voice. "It seemed to me that the creatures might be a strange variant or mutant of ordinary humanity."
     "Your guess is right," Gerdek told him. "The Cold Ones came originally from our own human stock in this universe."
     Captain Future was astonished. "The devil you say! You mean that natural evolution produced such a quasi-human race?"
     "No, it was not natural evolution that produced them," Gerdek answered gloomily. "It was artificial evolution."
     Curt suddenly remembered something. "Now that I think of it, old Igir said something at the Council about the Cold Ones being loosed upon this universe long ago, by the disastrous experiments of a Tarast scientist. Is that what you're talking about?"
     Gerdek nodded. "That was their origin," he said. "It happened thousands of years ago. At that time the Tarast empire still held sway over almost all this universe. But already many of our suns were dying, and we were faced with the shadow of doom that has since become so dreadful. In those days Tarast science was still great. And our greatest scientists sought a means of combating the growing menace of cold and night.
     "One of those scientists was a man named Zuur, native of the world Thool that lies far across the universe from here. The sun of Thool was one of the first to die, and its people were transferred to other planets. But Zuur remained in his laboratories on frozen Thool, seeking a solution to the great problem facing our people. Zuur had a daring plan in mind. He foresaw that almost all our suns would soon be dead, and our planets cold and airless. He wanted to adapt the Tarast race to live under such conditions. His idea was to cause an artificial evolution of our human people into a new race which would be able to live on cold, airless planets.
     "He was an expert in the technique of causing artificial mutations. He used that technique on certain Tarasts who had volunteered for the experiment, and produced thus a radical new mutation of the human stock. The mutants were humans completely fleshless and bloodless, their osseous bodies requiring only a few mineral elements for food. They could exist in airless space because they were not oxygen breathers. Cold meant nothing to them, for their bodies had no blood or liquids to freeze."
     "So that was the origin of the Cold Ones," murmured Captain Future with deep interest.
     "Holy sun-imps, you ought to have murdered that guy Zuur for turning loose such a bunch on you!" Otho exclaimed.
     "Zuur met death at die hands of his own creations," Ger-dek said somberly. "He did not realize what a malign species he had created until they turned and destroyed him. Their minds, like their bodies, were not really human, and they were dominated only by a cold lust for conquest."

     "Zuur wrote:
     " 'My latest attempt to create a new mutant race of humans, to fit the changed conditions of our universe, has been a failure. These new mutants can endure cold and airlessness, as I had hoped. Their osseous bodies require only simple mineral elements for sustenance. They are highly intelligent, too, though their intelligence is of a coldly malignant type. This leads me to think my process changed die human mind or soul, as well as the body.
     " 'But despite their intelligence and capabilities, they are a failure. For though they can endure the most extreme conditions of cold and hardship, they have one hidden weakness in their makeup that would render them vulnerable to extermination by anyone who knew it.
     " 'So I am going to destroy them and try again, in order to develop a different mutant of less malignant type who will not possess this dangerous and vulnerable weakness.' "
     Lacq paused a moment, and then went on earnestly.
     "That is what my ancestor Zuur wrote in his last letter. It was the Cold Ones he was writing about, and whom he meant to destroy. He never did so, however. The Cold Ones must have guessed their creator's intention—for they killed him first. Then they spread out from Thool, increasing in numbers and invading all the universe."

     He read the ancient writing.
     I have decided to destroy the colony of osseous mutant-humans whose development cost me so many years of labor. My hopes have ended in tragic failure. This osseous race which I evolved can never continue man's civilization into the future, as I dreamed. They can withstand the cold and airlessness of our dying universe, it is true. My manipulation of the genes evolved a race capable of that, as I hoped. But their psychology is alien to that of ordinary humanity, and they are so coldly cruel and ruthless that I cannot entrust to them the future of civilization.
     Even if I did so, they would in the future be all destroyed by the vulnerability to inherit them. It is a fatal defect which I entirely overlooked when I planned their evolution. It is a defect which does not harm them in the least, under the present conditions of our dying universe. But it would become lethal to all of them when our universe is reborn, as it will in some future time.
     This fatal defect of the Cold Ones is their susceptibility to ultra-violet vibrations. Ultra-violet rays have a terrific damaging effect upon any living tissues not properly conditioned. Human beings, who evolved long ago when our universe was young and its suns poured forth much ultra-violet radiation, naturally developed protection against that radiation in the form of pigmented skin. This makes humans able to withstand a high degree of ultra-violet without harm.
     But the Cold Ones have not developed protection against such radiation, for they have been evolved in our present dying universe, in which there is almost no such thing. Dying suns like ours emit hardly any ultra-violet rays. So it is natural that the Cold Ones have no protection against such rays, for they do not need such protection now.
     But when our universe is reborn, as it some day will be, then hot young suns will be pouring out floods of the ultra-violet rays. The Cold Ones would have no protection against those fierce rays. The radiation would almost instantly slay them all, shattering their cartilage-brains and riddling their osseous bodies. They would perish.
     So the future of civilization cannot be entrusted to them. And as I have written, their malign and alien natures make that impossible, in any case. Therefore I have decided to destroy them before they try to turn on me and kill me. I shall use ultra-violet rays to exterminate them quickly.

From PLANETS IN PERIL by Edmond Hamilton (1942)

     They stood waiting for him, dark silhouettes against a ruddy background. Chayn shifted his vison into the higher regions of the spectrum. They became visible in the microwave spectrum, outlined in a bluish haze. Chayn crouched in shock, paralyzed for a fraction of a second.
     They were human skeletons with eyeless sockets turned to focus on him. The three of them moved swiftly to surround him in the artificial gravity field. They attacked with a strength sufficient to tear metal. Chayn felt hammer blows on his back. He reached out blindly with one forearm and grasped a leg of the nearest machine. He yanked and the machine shattered.
     Robots, sophisticated devices only superficially of human shape. Chayn crushed carbon bone to powder in amazement. He felt and even saw the intense magnetic fields animating the skeleton dissipate. In disgust and horror, Chayn swung both forearms, shattering the remaining two machines. Damaged, they crumbled unmoving to the deck.
     Human technology. It had to be. Nightmarish and terrible, it was the most sophisticated he had ever seen, more than he could have imagined.

     No more than three meters distant, the guard stopped and looked directly at the probe. Chayn looked back into hollow eye sockets. Something glimmered from within those dark orbs. Engineering concessions had been made to the terrifying illusion of a human skull. From close proximity, the Cluster Guardians were a long way from appearing human. They were more insectile, the skeleton an actual exoskeleton housing a complex technology to give the machines their pseudo life of movement and coordination.

     The woman offered a nod of acknowledgment and a ghost of a smile, leading her to a lab where white-smocked technicians clustered around a low operating table. Drills whined as they dissected the remains of one of the black skeletons. Kamor sat on the edge of a counter overlooking the operation. He dropped to the deck and walked around the table to greet Villimy.
     "Jan didn't expect you back. On a scale from one to ten, you've earned an eleven for tenaciousness. Welcome back, Villimy Dy."
     Villimy turned to the room's center of attention. She pushed her way through an open space to gaze upon the length of a broken and inanimate skeleton. The cross-section of a broken bone gave her no idea how the conglomeration of bones could possibly move.
     "That's a machine?" Villimy said to no one in particular.
     "Not the kind with moving parts," one of the technicians offered without bothering to look up from an inspection of the femur connection to the pelvis. "Tendrils of a very dense element in the bone structure serves as a means of intercepting modulated, hyperlight signals. Not tachyon particles. The signal is processed in the skull within a very simple electronic circuit and directed to the bone marrow. Dense magnetic fields form close around the bone structure and manipulate it. The skeletal structure is definitely a human copy. Only the rib cage is superfluous to function, apparently used as a nuclear battery providing long-term power. It's not, strictly speaking, a robot at all, more of a remote-controlled device, a drone."

From NEMYDIA DEEP by William Tedford (1981)

     In the very instant that I realized that something was amiss, a score of men surrounded and overpowered me before I could draw and defend myself. A voice cautioned me to silence. It was the voice of the man who had summoned me into this trap. When the others spoke, it was in a language I had never heard before. They spoke in dismal, hollow monotone — expressionless, sepulchral.
     They had thrown me face down upon the pavement and trussed my wrists behind my back. Then they jerked me roughly to my feet. Now, for the first time, I obtained a fairly good sight of my captors. I was appalled. I could not believe my own eyes. These things were not men. They were human skeletons! Black eye sockets looked out from grinning skulls. Bony, skeletal fingers grasped my arms. It seemed to me that I could see every bone in each body. Yet the things were alive! They moved. They spoke.

     The cabin lights were switched on. I was disarmed and my hands were freed. I looked with revulsion, almost with horror, upon the twenty or thirty creatures which surrounded me.
     I saw now that they were not skeletons, though they still closely resembled the naked bones of dead men. Parchmentlike skin was stretched tightly over the bony structure of the skull. There seemed to be neither cartilage nor fat underlying it. What I had thought were hollow eye sockets were deep set brown eyes showing no whites. The skin of the face merged with what should have been gums at the roots of the teeth, which were fully exposed in both jaws, precisely as are the teeth of a naked skull. The nose was but a gaping hole in the center of the face. There were no external ears — only the orifices — nor was there any hair upon any of the exposed parts of their bodies nor upon their heads. The things were even more hideous than the hideous kaldanes of Bantoom — those horrifying spider men into whose toils fell Tara of Helium during that adventure which led her to the country of The Chessmen of Mars; they, at least, had beautiful bodies, even though they were not their own.
     The bodies of my captors harmonized perfectly with their heads — parchmentlike skin covered the bones of their limbs so tightly that it was difficult to convince one's self that it was not true bone that was exposed. And so tightly was this skin drawn over their torsos that every rib and every vertebra stood out in plain and disgusting relief. When they stood directly in front of a bright light, I could see their internal organs.

     "These things are Morgors?" I asked, nodding in the direction of some of the repulsive creatures. U Dan nodded.

From SKELETON MEN OF JUPITER by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1943)


Techlins are space gremlins. The name comes from "techno-gremlin." They are not a myth, but instead an experiment in genetic engineering that got out of hand.

Techlins are a little bit like mythological World War 2 gremlins. And also a bit like the "watchmaker" Motie Miniatures from Niven and Pournelle's THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, the goblins from Terry Pratchett's RAISING STEAM, and Oompa-Loompas from WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

Physically they are humanoid creatures about 30 centimeters tall with an intelligence slightly below your average human, but are natural-born engineers. They look like a cross between a Roald Dahl gremlin and a Kerbal. Domesticated techlins look roly-poly and clownish. Feral techlins look more sinister, like a Miles Teves gremlin.

They tend to carry a variety of tool around their person, from a screwdriver in the pocket to a tool belt, to a toolbox backpack.

Some speak a spacer pidgin, others can manage a full spacer creole. They tend to use a lot of what Mr. Spock calls "colorful metaphors", i.e., profanity.

"Domesticated" techlins are friendly and helpful, as long as they are well treated. They are sort of in-between being crew members and part of the spacecraft's internal self-repair equipment. The engineers will have to be tolerant. The techlins are fond of taking pieces of equipment apart, but they can reassemble perfectly. Indeed they often make improvements when they put it back together. Savvy engineers will study the improvements with an eye to patenting them. On the minus side, such improvements might get the ship into hot water with snooty bureaucratic by-the-book spacecraft certification inspectors and ship surveyors from insurance companies.

"Feral" techlins can be traded with or bribed to perform engineering tasks. But sometimes they are malicious and mischievous. They are elusive, like rodents. Since they are so small, they can easily travel through ventilator ducts and other cramped parts of the ship. Some spacecraft may have feral tremlin infestations that the captain and crew are unaware of. Or just the captain is unaware. The crew knows that if they put a broken piece of equipment under their bunk along with a couple of luxury ration bars, the equipment will be magically fixed by morning.

Mistreating domesticated or feral techlins is a very bad idea. Especially the feral kind. Domesticated usually just complain to the first officer or rig disgusting booby-traps for the mis-treater in the shower or toilet. Ferals can kill you.

Feral techlins are far more dangerous than your run-of-the-mill super-vermin. They know your ship's engineering better than you do, and can cause more kinds of sabotage than you can imagine. Trying to clear the ship by venting it to vacuum is futile. The techlins will have already made hidden pressurized tremlin habitat modules, venting the ship will just piss them off. They can also use space suits like impromptu space pods. Sort of like children standing on each other's shoulders while wrapped in an overcoat, masquerading as an adult (what TV Tropes calls "Totem Pole Trench"). The Motie Miniatures used this trick in THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, holding the decapitated head of the former spacesuit owner inside the helmet to lull suspicion.


Much like Riggers, techlins started off as an attempt to genetically engineer human beings to be better suited for the space environment. Like the Riggers this experiment was of dubious morality. We do not know how the researchers could have possibly thought this project was a good idea, because nobody knows which lab was responsible. Except for the perpetrators of course, and they ain't talking.

Apparently the original techlins were of the opinion that they were being treated rather shabbily by the researchers, what with all the dissections and everything. The techlins instinctive engineering skill so outclassed the researchers that preventing their escape was impossible. The techlins got away, The Secret of NIMH style.

The researchers hushed everything up and forged records to cover their miserable asses. They covered up even more after the Rigger Incident, when their tremlin experiments retroactively became capital crimes subject to the death penalty. In RocketCat's future, looking up techlins on Wikipedia shows an entry full of references about how they are conspiracy theories at best and cryptozoology at worst. And any Wikipedia edits to that entry suggesting otherwise get removed suspiciously quickly.

The escaping techlins infiltrated a few unsuspecting ships to make their getaway from the labs. These eventually became tiny feral colonies. As time went on, other ships were infiltrated when ships were at a spaceport. In fact, some colonies were established inside spaceports and space stations.

But feral tremlin colonies are still rare enough that most people consider them to be a myth. If the astromilitary became convinced that techlins were real, techlins would quickly be marked for extermination as if they were Riggers. The astromilitary has read THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, especially the part where the Motie Miniatures utterly destroyed a battlecruiser despite the best efforts of the crew.

The largest domesticated tremlin colony is at Winchell-Chung Astronautical Industries (aka Atomic Rockets Inc.) and is the secret behind their innovation talent. There is also one on board RocketCat's Polaris. These colonies are kept a secret. RocketCat's RatBots have special internal pressurized armored chambers for techlins, along with sally ports. This allows the techlins to go on missions and otherwise travel around secretly. Chung and RocketCat techlins carry ultra-advanced tools like sonic screwdrivers, laser cutters, atomic bonders, and freaking back-pack Santa Claus Machines.

Both Chung and RocketCat treat their techlins very nicely.

There may be colonies of domesticated techlins on other ships. Those ships go to great pains to keep the existance of the domesticated techlins a deep dark secret. Domesticated techlins not working for Chung or RocketCat will carry more conventional engineering tools, not the ultra-advanced kind. Or not as many at any rate.

Atomic Rockets notices

This week's featured addition is SPIN POLARIZATION FOR FUSION PROPULSION

This week's featured addition is INsTAR

This week's featured addition is NTR ALTERNATIVES TO LIQUID HYDROGEN

Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets on Patreon