For over two centuries colonies established themselves across the solar system at a snail’s pace. Humanity traveled across Sol with a magnetoplasma rocket, or VASIMR drive. Most star ships in use operated with two reactors: a high-power thorium fission reactor for powering the VASIMR drive, and a low-power RTG for powering all other systems. With this design, most freighters could complete the journey from Mars to Earth within 70 to 125 days.
Many designs for both antimatter reactors and drives had been proposed. Three proposals were built and live-tested around Earth orbit. Only one model of ship was manufactured and could complete a round trip between Earth and Mars in as little as 39 days when the pair of planets were closest.
Antimatter ships were almost never used as the cost of producing the fuel was nearly prohibitive. The few ships commissioned were solely kept in reserve for emergency supply missions. And unfortunately, without antimatter ships, Humanity’s fleet was too slow to reach beyond its home system of Sol.
A grand project of a scale only dreamed was to be attempted to resolve exactly that problem: a massive 14 square kilometer solar array orbiting above Mercury and facing the Sun. The entire space station was a solar array and heat pump to convert the energy of the Sun into antimatter.
The station could produce 12 micrograms of antimatter a minute when initially activated and could later be scaled to just over 30 micrograms a minute at full operational capacity. A week of production would be enough fuel for a tenth of all space travel between the system’s stations and mining operations for a month.
The generated antimatter would be collected into packets of about 30 nanograms each, and rapidly accelerated through electromagnetic railguns to an impressive percent of the speed of light towards Earth. At Earth a wide “net” of satellites would perform slight course adjustments for any payloads that deviated by more than a few hundred meters. Whatever made its way to the receiving station would be collected into magnetic traps for safe distribution to ships.
On a clear night on Earth’s surface, one could look up and see a cosmic spectacle: a faint shimmering line of “pearls” where packets of antimatter collided with the occasional dust particles and micrometeorites across the vast distance between Earth and Mercury. Such a captivating sight, however, wasn’t enough to keep the eyes from wandering to the stars above.