In 2245, the Alliance government determined that as more people moved out into the Verse, long range communications would become a problem as the current Cortex satellites and planet based installations were overwhelmed by the increase in traffic and left behind as humanity expanded beyond the Core. Many options were considered. Larger Cortex relay satellites were considered, but had limited long term upgradability. Planet and moon based transmission facilities were limited by the atmosphere and by the mass of the planet or moon creating a “shadow” behind the facility, requiring multiple facilities around the planet. Another drawback to the idea of basing a Cortex relay on a planet was that the Alliance would be dependent on the local government for administration of the facility. This wasn’t a problem in the Core, but became problematic outside of the Halo.
While this study was going on, the Department of Environmental Studies was encountering a problem dealing with high levels of terraforming “waste” in the form of large clouds of ionized particles and terraforming nanobots that were collecting in a planet’s Van Allen belts. At first, these clouds were seen as a benefit. In very low quantities, these clouds helped direct excess heat and light away from planets that were closer to the parent star that the inside boundary of the star’s habitation zone. In higher concentrations, they concentrated heat and light onto the planet’s surface, allowing planets well outside the habitation zone to be terraformed. But as the concentration increased, it started having a detrimental effect on the planet’s environment. Concentration levels high enough to form a visible layer in the upper reaches of the atmosphere concentrated too much sunlight onto the surface, baking the landscape. The cloud blocked specific wavelengths of light. Plants that could survive the heat didn’t grow well. Migratory animals were listless and wandered aimlessly. No one was quite sure how, but the cloud seemed to interfere with the planet’s convection cycle. Surface water evaporated but seldom returned as rain, making the planet’s surface very arid. The cloud completely blocked incoming and outgoing transmission, isolating the planet from the Cortex.
These problems were seen as unrelated until one day when a Cortex engineer started talking shop over lunch with a technician from the DES. A side project was created to see if there was some way the cloud could be tuned so that it would pass transmissions. Instead, they discovered that the ion cloud could act as a giant antenna. This solved the problem faced by those charged with expanding Cortex coverage to keep pace with outward expansion. A large asteroid or small moon could be terraformed to create the Van Allen belts that the ion cloud needed as a starting framework. With the cloud concentrations so high, the asteroid chosen could be away from any star. A body could be selected out in inter-cluster space. The cloud would amplify the weak solar radiation that reached it, making the surface barely habitable for the Cortex crews that would build the relay stations, antenna and server farms.
The extremely high concentration of celestial bodies in the Verse, first seen as an incredible boon, also had a major drawback: The high number of usable bodies in the cluster also included a correspondingly high amount of junk. There were asteroid swarms in the L4 and L5 points of all the stars, protostars, and gas giants, and many of the larger terrestrial planets. Just about every celestial body with a significant gravity pull had at least clouds of dust and small debris in its associated Lagrangian points.
This drawback had its own advantage. Bodies suitable to be Cortex Relay Stations were found already in the places they needed to be, or near enough to be nudged into place. Terraforming of the first four Cortex Relay Stations began in 2260. While there was some effort to get a living biosphere up and running, it was just enough to help maintain the environment. The stations were to be unmanned. The crew facilities left by the terraforming crews would be used by Cortex technicians to construct the server farms and antenna farms that would dot the surface of the asteroid. After the station was up and running, the facilities would be abandoned in place, with enough power to support the occasional maintenance crews. Asteroids were selected and placed (when necessary) for Comm Station Ring 2 in 2275, and terraforming was started. When complete, there would be complete Cortex coverage for all four inner systems, and coverage for Blue Sun that was considered adequate.
Formerly magnetically inert bodies had magnetic fields created. Interaction between the asteroid’s new magnetic field and White Sun’s solar wind created the needed Van Allen belts. The ion cloud particles were funneled into the Van Allen belts, and further strengthened by atmospheric processors tuned to produce more waste. The increased ion cloud density became a visible shell encasing the entire planet just outside the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and extending as far out as two asteroid radii. As the cloud density increased, patterns of “weather” can be seen in the form of shifting patterns of light and shadow. Cloud density ranges from 50 Pa to 500 Pa. If the human ear could tolerate the low pressure, sound could be heard in the cloud.
Down on the surface, Cortex server farms were constructed at various points around the asteroid, separated by long distances to reduce the chances of catastrophic damage affecting more than a single farm. Every active server farm has a dedicated Disaster Recovery farm 180° around the asteroid. Spaced equally across the surface are antenna farms to collect from and retransmit data into the ion cloud. The ion cloud acts as an omni-directional world-sized transceiver array. While all Cortex activity can be monitored from the operations center built around the terraformers facility, each server and antenna farm has its own dedicated automated power station and control facility. The operations center can accommodate a crew of several hundred, but is intended to be unmanned and fully automated. The surface of a Cortex Relay Station asteroid is restricted to authorized personnel only. Trespassing for any reason other than a craft emergency can result in fines or imprisonment. There are limited facilities for repair and refueling, but those are intended for maintenance crew use only.
The surface of the asteroid is livable, but not very. Under normal conditions, and atmosphere on a body that far away from its primary would be a layer of frozen gases on the surface. The ion cloud collects and amplifies the weak light of White Sun. The surface temperature varies from cold to cool, resembling late autumn on a cloudy day. The cloud distributes light and heat around the asteroid. There are no polar ice caps or tropics. Night is darker than day and resembles the light level under a heavy overcast.
Landing on a Cortex Relay Station asteroid presents difficulties to the ship as it approaches. The Cortex Relay cloud starts in upper atmosphere and continues into space as an immense cloud of sparking / sparkling vapor with indistinct flashes of lightning (like heat lightning). Visibility is severely limited until the ship reaches low orbit. The cloud severely disrupts communications and other instruments of the ship as it passes through. While the pressure is extremely low, the cloud behaves just like the asteroid’s atmosphere, dragging on the ship, causing any orbit to decay rapidly. There is essentially no geosynchronous orbit. Even orbits that far out are not stable.
Comm Relay Station Rings Edit
- Station 1a, Georgia L4 – A/2260(White Sun)r24g4
- Station 1b, Georgia L5 – A/2260(White Sun)r24g5
- Station 1c, Red Sun L4 – A/2260(White Sun)r24g6
- Station 1d, Red Sun L5 – A/2020(White Sun)r24g7
- Station 2a, Kalidasa +30° – A/2260(White Sun)r25m5
- Station 2b, Kalidasa L4 – A/2260(White Sun)r25m6
- Station 2c, Kalidasa +90° – A/2260(White Sun)r25m7
- Station 2d, Kalidasa +120° – A/2260(White Sun)r25m8
- Station 2e "Sygnus", Kalidasa +150° – A/2260(White Sun)r25m9
- Station 2f, Kalidasa +180° – A/2260(White Sun)r25ma
- Station 2g, Kalidasa -30° – A/2260(White Sun)r25mf
- Station 2h, Kalidasa L5 – A/2260(White Sun)r25me
- Station 2i, Kalidasa -90° – A/2260(White Sun)r25md
- Station 2j, Kalidasa -120° – A/2260(White Sun)r25mc
- Station 2k, Kalidasa -150° – A/2260(White Sun)r25mb