Saturday, 7 November 2015

Would You Like to Know More? - The United Nations Space Administration

In the aftermath of the Sun Dragon encounter, once the situation on the ground stabilised, there were little resources or enthusiasm for operations in space. However, the lack of global communications, weather satellites and other infrastructure that human society had come to depend on required orbital operations to resume.

A better mood of cooperation had developed during the restoration. To help share the burden, the United Nations Space Administration (UNSA) was formed in 2031 to coordinate orbital operations and provide the roadmap for human activities in space again.

It was also tasked with learning more about the Sun Dragons with the aim of providing a defence if the creatures ever returned.

The Sun Dragon encounter proved that there was other life in the universe and the UNSA would coordinate the search to find extraterrestrial life, intelligent or otherwise.

Orbital Clean-up

The Sun Dragon encounter had destroyed all of the satellites in orbit by creating a cascade event, where damaged satellites crashed into each other and eventually surrounded the planet in a cloud of debris. Orbiting the planet at high speed, these fragments posed a huge risk to any launches.

NASA and China’s National Space Agency  both launched separate missions in 2030 to try to clear low Earth orbit. Both missions failed, partly because they swept debris into each other’s orbital paths. It was this failure that was instrumental in creating UNSA.

From 2034 and for the next two years, a series of missions coordinated by UNSA – but launched by NASA, ESA, CNSA, the Russian Federal Space Agency and a consortium of the remaining private space industries – cleared low earth orbit. They used a Japanese design of a magnetically charged net to sweep up the debris and drag it downward to be burned up in the atmosphere.

Clearing high orbit took another three years, and then it was safe to start the space telescope programme.

Space Telescope Network Launched

One of UNSA’s key tasks was to identify future threats from space. It wasn’t considered likely that the Sun Dragons would return any time soon. However, no-one knew for certain or if there were any other threats out in space.

Ground-based telescopes had resumed watching the sky as the technical infrastructure was restored. These telescopes were hindered by the atmosphere so as soon as low Earth orbit was cleared, the first of a new breed of space telescope was launched.

The plan was to make the space telescopes as cheap as possible, so that more could be launched and observe every patch of the sky. The telescopes were designed to watch not just in visible light but at all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Alongside the telescope launches, a new network of communications and observation satellites were launched.

Mars Voyager Heritage Site

With low Earth orbit cleared, access to the Mars Voyager was possible. It had deteriorated into an unstable orbit and would likely burn up in the atmosphere within thirty years. When it became public knowledge that UNSA planned to force it into a burn up orbit, there was a public outcry.

Matt Hargreaves, the CEO of Chimera Industries, offered $1 million to fund a mission to push it into a safer orbit where it could remain and not be a threat to the low-orbit satellites. With a tight budget, UNSA declined, but an international crowdfunding project raised enough funds for the project to be greenlit.

Later that year, the United Nations declared the spacecraft an international heritage site, protecting the only grave in space.

Observer Missions

Space operations didn’t expand beyond Earth orbit until 2037 when the first of four Observer missions was launched. The first two were sent to Jupiter and the following pair to Saturn.
The Sun Dragon  had used the magnetic fields of the major planets to fuel its movement against the solar wind. There were some indications that it had used Jupiter as a stepping stone through the solar system and researchers believed it would have used Saturn for the same purpose.

The Observer missions had two objectives: the first to search for any signs of the Sun Dragon’s passing, and to try and learn more about the alien. So far the only significant data had come from the Mars Voyager mission and the failed attempt to destroy the entity.

The second objective was to monitor for the return of another Sun Dragon and provide some advance warning if it did.

The Jupiter missions arrived safely a year after their launch and the Saturn probes two years after theirs. So far none of the missions have provided any conclusive data about the Sun Dragon.

Chase Missions

The first Chase probe departed Earth orbit in 2041 and its target was Sun Dragon C heading towards Tau Ceti. This mission was designed to supplement the Observer missions by making closer and direct contact with the two Sun Dragons heading out of the solar system. It caught up with the alien near Jupiter’s orbit and despite the short time of the encounter, it reported back a wealth of information.

It discovered that the entity was in a dormant state and so didn’t attack the probe. Its sensors confirmed much of the research by the Mars Voyager, although in greater detail.

The second Chase probe was launched in 2043 and it caught up with its target –Sun Dragon B heading towards Barnard’s Star – in 2045. It too found the alien in a dormant state and provided additional information. Its most significant discovery was the fact that the entities weren’t exactly the same and that there were small chemical and molecular variances between them.

The two probes have both achieved escape velocities for the solar system and are still sending back data.

Tau Ceti Mission

By the 2070s it looked as if UNSA would lose its leading role in space operations. By law it controlled operations in Earth orbit, but the national space agencies had resumed robot missions to the Moon and the planets. The consortium of private industry had succeeded in moving a near-Earth asteroid into Luna orbit and begun mining operations.

That changed once the Tau Ceti signal had been authenticated as originating from the star system. Three radio telescopes were launched into deep space to help study the transmission. When the signal faded away, the only way to discover its source was to send a mission to Tau Ceti, 12  light years away from Earth.

The enormity of the mission and the effort it required generated a lot of resistance. Many people considered the task impossible. However, the potential for the source being an intelligent race captured the public’s imagination. National space agencies were under pressure to support the mission, private industry was happy to involve itself in what was likely to be a trillion-dollar project, and UNSA saw an opportunity to restore its primacy in space operations.

The design phase for the project began in 2091 and construction started in 2094. Now in 2099 it is ready to begin its journey to Tau Ceti.

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