2174 Asteroid Heist

The biggest theft of the century and the "Rain of Gold".

In 2172, the asteroid mining company Seren-Enterprises maneuvers the core of a small comet from a near-Earth solar Orbit into high Earth orbit. The comet is 90 meters in size. It contains two million metric tons of water ice and an exceptionally high proportion of rare earths. The whole operation takes 14 years with fusion flare engines consuming most of the comet's ice.

Seren-Enterprises intends to mine raw materials for the orbital industry in cis-lunar space. The main customers are L4/L5 constructions, lunar production facilities, and research stations in earth orbit. In addition, the comet contains various precious metals including 50,000 metric tons of gold that is only needed in small amounts for industrial purposes. The project is running under the highest secrecy. The comet and the extraction facilities are hidden under a cover of aluminum foil.

Then in early 2174 the asteroid is occupied by well-equipped units of unknown origin. Seren-Enterprises is denied access. For ten months Seren explains away the delay in delivery to customers as being caused by operational problems without reporting the incident to the authorities.

At the end of the year the so-called *Rain of Gold* begins. The thieves land gold with deorbiters in remote areas collecting the cargo. These unregistered landings attract the attention of civil and military authorities worldwide. After three weeks in which the authorities try to negotiate with Seren-Enterprises units of the Space Guard try to land on the comet. There they encounter strong resistance and are repelled.

Now the hijackers change their tactics. They drop gold to the Earth, again into uninhabited areas, but now uncontrolled and without deorbiters. Much of the gold vaporizes as it enters the atmosphere. Drops of molten gold and nuggets rain down over wide areas starting a gold rush in the Sahara, Alaska, Siberia, and Australia.

The thieves land a total of 9,000 metric tons of gold. This accounts for about one percent of the world's gold reserves at the time. The world becomes aware that any organization in the future will be able to bring almost any amount of precious metal to the Earth. The price of gold collapses.

It quickly becomes known that 2,000 metric tons of gold had already been sold at the old market prices via futures contracts. The total value is equivalent to the gross national product of a small country. Later it turns out that the real purpose of the asteroid theft was not to sell gold, but to manipulate the markets, were the thieves probably earned much more.

In the chaos caused by the *Rain of Gold* the thieves leave the asteroid. Their identity remaining in the dark. Some facts point at state actors. There are many leads and clues, but no clear evidence. The real masterminds will never be revealed.

2179 The First Economically Independent Asteroid Base

In 2179, deep space commerce marks a major milestone with the establishment of Stella Servizio Stazione, the first economically independent asteroid base. Prior to this, all permanent off-Earth activities beyond the Earth-Moon system were predominantly sponsored by state-run space agencies, with their focus revolving largely around scientific research.

The early 22nd century saw the initiation of scouting and extraction of resources from asteroids by state agencies, albeit with heavy subsidies. Key milestones included the launch of several asteroid prospecting missions during the 20s and the establishment of the first semi-permanent asteroid mining station in 2148.

In addition to mining and prospecting a diverse range of research topics are pursued in the Asteroid Belt. These include research on planet formation and the evolution of the solar system. The Ceres optical interferometry telescope and the ultra-long baseline gravity wave detector were among the pioneering scientific advancements. The former uses asteroids to shield ultra-sensitive optical detectors from sunlight, keeping the distance between detectors stable to few nanometers over a distance of a million kilometers. The latter is preparing for the creation of a gravity wave detector with an astounding baseline of 400 million kilometers.

The game-changer came in 2155 with the advent of asteroid mover operations. For the first time in human history, technology allowed to alter the orbits of larger asteroids in the 100 meter range, effectively drawing these resource-rich celestial bodies closer to Earth. This development drastically reduced the cost and complexity of asteroid resource extraction.

Mining asteroids presents unique challenges due to their low gravity environments. Many asteroids – specifically the easily minable ones – are rubble piles, so the key is not so much mining as sorting through the loose material to find the valuable resources. The hazardous nature of asteroid mining, primarily caused by the unstable rubble piles that many asteroids comprise, poses a significant challenge. Even with the advantages of easy accessibility and low gravity, the danger to crews and equipment is considerable. Rubble pile asteroids are essentially agglomerations of rocks, pebbles, and dust held together by gravity and the weak forces between particles. Under the influence of minimal gravitational pull, these components can shift, triggering sudden landslides or producing treacherous dust clouds that can envelop equipment and personnel. Though movements occur slowly in low gravity environments, the immense mass and momentum of the rocks mean they can easily damage equipment and pose lethal threats to personnel. To address these dangers, stringent safety precautions and procedures are put in place. These measures are continuously updated based on the experiences of the crews, the evolving technology, and the increasing understanding of the behavior of rubble pile asteroids.

The mid-22nd century saw a surge in interplanetary traffic to the middle solar system, made possible due to the availability of lunar resources, ship construction in space, and Mars settlement projects. Other significant contributors included asteroid mover operations and the ever increasing scope of scientific missions to asteroid belt and beyond.

Stella Servizio Stazione is established to support all these activities. Strategically located within the asteroid belt, Stella Servizio Stazione offers a comprehensive suite of services. Beyond providing crucial refueling for interplanetary travel and transport, it houses facilities for the refinement of resources and maintenance services. Recognizing the importance of the human factor in space operations, the base also incorporated facilities for rest, recreation, leisure, and entertainment specifically tailored for crews and miners spending extended periods in space.

The success of Stella Servizio Stazione primarily rests on the principles of in-situ resource utilization. By sourcing the raw materials directly from the asteroids in its vicinity and utilizing it for fuel and other services, the base manages to significantly reduce the costs associated with interplanetary travel.

To refuel vessels without them being required to slow down, Stella Servizio Stazione uses an elaborate in-flight refuelling system, the "matter stream". This matter stream is a network of nodes that sends fuel pellets to fast-traveling ships. The ships are equipped with receivers that are constantly communicating with the nodes to update their relative positions. This precise, real-time targeting is an engineering marvel that allows vessels to refuel in-flight, significantly improving turnaround times.

Stella Servizio Stazione is founded by Vincenza Boccaccia, an early asteroid mover and trillionaire with large stakes in orbital resource extraction and manufacturing. Boccaccia, a hands-on operator and manager, oversaw the creation of the "Stazione" herself. Vincenza Boccaccia was born in a small town near Naples, Italy, and was drawn to the skies from an early age. Her fascination with space exploration led her to study astrophysics, and she quickly became a standout in the field, attracting attention from major space agencies and private companies. A relentless entrepreneur, she used her knowledge to pioneer innovative methods of space resource extraction and asteroid movement, amassing significant wealth and influence in the process.

Vincenza Boccaccia's ambitions extend far beyond the confines of the traditional business model. As an early asteroid mover and a pioneer in orbital resource extraction and manufacturing, her vision was not merely to amass wealth. It is her audacious dream to leverage her ventures as a stepping stone for humanity's expansion throughout the solar system.

The establishment of Stella Servizio Stazione is fueled by a combination of personal aspirations and grand visions for the future of humanity. A part of Boccaccia's drive comes from her personal desire to distance herself from the Earth-centric civilization. This inclination is intertwined with survivalist motives, a yearning to create an abode beyond Earth that could act as a haven if disaster ever befell the home planet. At the same time, Boccaccia was deeply committed to the goal of making humanity an interplanetary species. By making the asteroid belt her new home, she aims to blaze a trail for others to follow, thereby extending the reach of human civilization. She envisages Stella Servizio Stazione not just as a commercially successful venture but as the first outpost in a network of stations that could one day span the solar system.

Despite her success and accumulated wealth, Boccaccia's venture into establishing Stella Servizio Stazione was fraught with risk. The technological complexity and financial investment required to launch and maintain such a station were immense. The development of the in-flight matter stream technology alone was a decade-long process, filled with doubt and uncertainty. Even after the development and prototyping phase, there was no guarantee that potential customers would adapt their ships to equip matter stream receivers. But Boccaccia, driven by her vision and armed with her wealth, took the gamble.

Despite the initial skepticism and the enormous challenges, Boccaccia’s endeavor pays off. Stella Servizio Stazione flourishes, providing an essential link for interplanetary commerce and travel. The successful implementation of the in-flight matter stream technology revolutionizes space travel, making it faster and more cost-effective than ever before.

Over time, Stella Servizio Stazione evolves into a bustling hub of deep space commerce significantly driving down the costs of space travel to and from the outer system. The success of Stella Servizio Stazione sparkes significant interest in establishing more such facilities across the asteroid belt. It proves the potential of private commercial space operations, inspiring other investors to follow Boccaccia's lead. The era of state-run space operations appears to be giving way to a new age of commercialization and independence, with enterprises standing on their own without the need for constant state subsidies.