2155 A Commercial Mining Vessel Embarks for an Asteroid

Over the past century, the exploration of asteroids has transitioned from a solely scientific endeavor to a commercially viable operation. Early scientific missions to asteroids began in earnest during the mid-21st century, using a blend of chemical rockets and electric propulsion to make the long journey to these small celestial bodies. These missions provided us with valuable insights into the composition of asteroids, confirming that a wealth of resources that had been detected by long range spectroscopy was ready to be exploited.

In the decades leading up to 2155, the increasing demand for construction materials in high Earth orbit and the growing needs of industries and populations for auto-fabrication inputs and metamaterials have catalyzed a shift in the space economy. Lifting these materials from Earth had become prohibitively expensive at scale, leading to a reliance on lunar mining. However, the moon's resources, while more cost-effective than Earth's, have still turned out to be too expensive for large scale construction in orbit.

In response, an international consortium of companies, including Star Industries from Ethiopia, Chandra SpaceWorks from India, Celestial Extraction Corp and Andean Sky Mining from South America, with significant involvement from North Star Resources and EuroSpace Materials, began to look beyond lunar mining. Their objective was to extract a range of resources from asteroids, including construction materials such as iron, aluminum, and titanium, volatiles like hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen for fuel and consumption, water, lithium, trace elements like phosphorus, and rare earths including gold and platinum.

As a result of decades of advancements in fusion technology, the open injector fusion core and high-performance magnetic mirrors had become commercially viable. This development enabled fusion torch propulsion to be used for asteroid movement. With this technology, reactor plasma, augmented by reaction mass, could be directly converted into exhaust, significantly boosting propulsion in situations where reactor fuel and reaction mass are abundantly available. This presented a more cost-effective and manageable way of bringing resources from deep space closer to Earth.

In 2155, the consortium launched the first commercial mining ship, equipped primarily with components for fusion torch engines. The target: a richly resourced asteroid in the asteroid belt. The plan was to install the engines on the asteroid's core and bring it into Earth's orbit. Unlike prior missions, which were primarily scientific and brought back small asteroids for research and construction in orbit, this mission was purely commercial.

The concept of harnessing asteroid resources was not new. There had been numerous scientific missions to asteroids, with landings and sample-return endeavors becoming increasingly common. However, these missions were constrained by their scale; they only collected small samples for scientific study. The breakthrough came with the development of technologies enabling asteroids to be moved into Earth orbit. This innovation, combined with the maturation of in-space manufacturing techniques, opened up possibilities for large-scale resource extraction and utilization.

The fusion torch engine played a pivotal role in this shift. These engines, installed on cometary nuclei, offered the power and endurance required to alter the trajectories of these celestial bodies significantly. The fusion torch engines were fueled by the hydrogen found in abundance in the comets themselves, providing a virtually limitless source of propellant. With these engines, asteroids could be brought into Earth orbit, effectively creating a new class of near-Earth objects ripe for exploitation.

The commercial venture, however, was fraught with economic risks. Moving a large asteroid into Earth's orbit was a decades-long project. In that time, the economic, political, and technological landscape could change dramatically, potentially affecting the venture's profitability.

Still, as space became increasingly commercialized, it ceased to be the exclusive domain of astronauts and scientists. The promise of wealth from asteroid mining attracted a diverse range of people to space-related occupations, leading to a significant cultural shift. Space was no longer the final frontier; it was the next frontier for business.