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APPENDIX XLIX: Let’s Build a Colony

Note: Original Battletech Universe article was posted on Battletech.com Forums; it is converted here from its original form into Renegade Legion.


Let's build a Colony © 2011, 2012, 2016 Fireangel


The first thing we need to figure out is "what kind of colony do we want?" This is an important question, as different types of colonies have different needs.

Numbers given will assume a generally human-compatible environment, where extraordinary measures are not required for basic survival.

A "Drop Colony" is one that is "dropped-off" complete, on-site and expected to thrive and survive for a long time; while new colonists may be brought in, the basis of the colony is monolithic; there are no further waves of colonists and anything that was not brought in gets left behind. The essential part of this colony is to have A) a diverse gene pool; 10,000 colonists as an absolute minimum, preferably 30-50 thousand, with a wide range of skills and knowledge and the tools/supplies to survive at least a year without support while the first crops come in and food can be locally produced. This kind of colony requires a huge initial investment, but should remain self-sufficient afterwards. The down side? One bug can wipe out the entire colony; it does not even have to affect humans directly; an alien disease, fungus or pest wipes out the crops (plural; the year-long supplies are in case the first 1-2 crops fail); starvation is the result. Bad weather (the people who selected this world for colonization did not have enough data to realize that it was entering a cycle of draught or an ice age), natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, the ubiquitous sci-fi meteor strike, Ceti Alpha VI exploding) or biological catastrophe (does not have to be a bug) can potentially destroy the colony; for the most part, evacuation is not an option; colony ships don't grow on trees (well, maybe elven ships in a Spelljammer setting, but that is kind of extreme), so even assuming that word could get out of the disaster, a massive effort would have to take place to carry and feed that many colonist survivors.

A "corporate" or "industrial" colony is established to produce... something. It is basically a factory. It is not really a colony in the traditional sense, since its primary function is to produce material for export. It can be relatively small (the crew of a factory, with or without dependents), but it usually brings more people in; not just dependents, but support personnel who in many cases are employees of the company that establishes the colony. The colony can be built up in short, dedicated stages and may even produce material for its own needs, but imports and exterior contact will be frequent; anything that is needed will be brought in the next supply ship (which will take out the material produced so far). Self-sufficiency is NOT the goal of this type of colony, though in favorable conditions it can happen; medical response tends to be swift and if there is a major disaster, the company will usually either evacuate its personnel (at least key personnel) or bring in relief supplies for its people. If there is space, others may be evacuated too or extra supplies may be brought; letting entire colonies die is bad PR. Since these colonies are built in blocks, colony ships are not really needed; regular cargo and passenger transports can be pressed into service.

A "seed" colony is a different animal; its main purpose is to build up a colony in stages from the ground up. The initial wave of colonists numbers about 2,500 and does not need to be as genetically diverse (or as carefully selected) as a "drop" colony. They are dropped off with enough supplies for 4-8 months (until they can get at least one crop in; genetically engineered grains can be made to grow in as quickly as 3 months under the right conditions; selecting the right time of the planetary year to drop off the colony is critical to the amount of supplies left behind). They are left with enough equipment, grain and machinery to build a small colony and pave the way for the next wave of colonists by building the infrastructure of the colony; power, water, sewage, communications, roads, farms, housing, etc. While still vulnerable to disasters, a 90% loss of a 2,500 colony in its first year is not as bad as a 90% loss in a 50,000 drop colony.

The second wave starts arriving in 3-4 years and numbers about 10,000, but they do not all come in at once; every few months, a colony ship arrives with about 1,000-2,500 second-wave colonists; much like the first wave, but with more specialized equipment, materials and personnel. The second-wave's primary goal is to prepare the colony for the third wave of colonists; about 50,000 who will be start arriving about five years after the second wave. Some of the second wave's subgroups will be much like smaller-scale versions of the first wave, creating new sub-colonies (commonly known as "towns") away from the primary colony (commonly known as "the capital") and readying them as centers for farming communities. Other sub-groups in the second wave will be highly specialized; mining and refining operations (crew and dependents), more advanced factory components for building basic items totally (or primarily) on-world (like food storage and processing/packing equipment), rather than rely on imported parts.

The third wave also comes in smaller groups over a period of time; less basic equipment is brought in (enough to continue to increase food production and other essential necessities to math projected demand by the time the fourth wave arrives) and more "supplemental" equipment and supplies, such as complex microprocessors for locally manufactured goods, metals and materials not produced locally (yet), like hard-to extract/process raw metals and alloys. A higher colonist-to-supply ratio is seen during this wave; a ratio that will continue shrinking with subsequent waves.

The fourth wave begins about 5-8 years after the third wave and consists of about 200,000 to 250,000 colonists, arriving in smaller groups over the course of the next 5-10 years; as well as additional mini-colonies to start up new towns and more specialized groups to exploit harder-to-work mines/refineries... jobs), more specialized personnel (and their families) start coming in. Local universities are established at this point (population can sustain such an institution and children born in the colony are coming of age; higher education of the children of the colony's earlier waves (if warranted by the local primary teachers and test scores) is performed either off-world or long-distance, through “correspondence” via P-comm or VLCA.

By the end of the fourth wave, 15-20 years have passed and the first "colony grandchildren" born from the first children actually born in the colony should be making their appearance. A fifth (and final) wave of colonists can be brought in at this point; the ratio of colonist-to-equipment ratio is smaller and the wave of about 500,000 colonists is brought in over the course of the next 10-20 years.

By the end of this fifth wave, the planet has a population of about a million people. Interestingly, the oldest first-wave colonists (assuming the first wave did not include 70+ "geriatrics", which it shouldn't) will start dying of old age. The colony is now (nominally) self-sufficient, with a broad genetic diversity, wide range of skills and self-sustaining educational system. Super-high-tech components and finished products might still need to be imported, but even without these imports, the colony can thrive at a lower tech level, eventually developing its own high-tech industry.

New colonists may continue to come in, but the native infrastructure is primed to expand as needed.

Also note that at any wave, the colonial influx can stop cold and it would not be a disaster; each wave is self-sufficient and equipped to handle a larger number of colonists from the next wave, so (barring agricultural catastrophe) famine should not be an issue and technological recuperation can take place sooner, rather than later... unlike what happens with drop colonies; if they did not survive the first year, chances of recovery if abandoned become increasingly slim as time passes. At a critical level, hunting and gathering becomes the only viable solution, along with primitive farming methods, which yields enough food for but a fraction of the original colonists after a big die-off, a much smaller group might be able to thrive at a substantially lower technological level, as happened in countless fictional colony worlds in settings ranging from Battletech to Asimov..

Note that this is in a relatively human-friendly world; if the flora and fauna are inedible, actively hostile or both, chances drop significantly. Low water supply, bad air, extreme temperatures make things even worse. If high technology is needed to merely survive (dome settlements), abandonment equals failure and death of the colony; the only question is how long they can delay it.


Other colony types exist, but most of these are variations on the others; ARK colonies have a small initial group, but carry the DNA of many other individuals to maintain genetic diversity; these colonies are generally very well thought out and bear many similarities with other successful colony types. "Wildcat" colonies are essentially small-scale drop colonies, sometimes well thought out with specially selected personnel, additional supplies and equipment; but just as often these wildcat colonies are ill-prepared, with poor survival/farming skills, poor supplies and/or extremely poor leadership.

There is also the "survivor" colony; usually unintentional after a disabling failure of the FTL drive; assuming it was not carrying an actual colony, the survivors must make do and survive; long term success (defined as reaching a point of self-sufficient sustainability) depends on many factors, including the number, gender and ages of the survivors, the compatibility of their DNA, supplies and equipment available, nature of the environment and skill/leadership abilities.


So who colonizes? Colonial efforts come in two basic flavors with several toppings each; the two basic flavors are sponsored and self-financed.

Sponsored colonies can be sponsored by government; either planetary, provincial (county), prefecture (grand dukedom) or "local"; originating from a single region/district from a single planet; or by a corporation, which for these purposes includes the military or individuals rich enough to count as corporations (and DON'T go to colonize themselves).

Self-financed colonies are just what they sound like: most often drop or wildcat colonies; the colony either raises their own funds or is funded by a corporation (or individual rich enough to count as a corporation) which DOES go to colonize with the group. This ranges from communes to logging/mining companies seeking new opportunities.

Oh, and penal colonies? The ones intended to eventually thrive on their own tend to be closer to a seed colony pattern, but with less equipment and a longer wave group interval; the ones intended to be all-punishment tend to be closer to the wildcat pattern with periodic influx of "volunteers"; either prisoners, their families (who may choose to go with their loved ones in some cases) or actual volunteers who seek a new economic opportunity.


Where were we? Colony types. For the most part, colony groups tend to be made of like individuals from the source financing the colony; if it is a planetary region (like say, India or Scotland), most individuals will be from that region in all waves; if it is a broader area, like Planet Earth during the original colonial expansion), each distinct group will generally be mostly homogenous; first wave is from Texas (or thereabouts); second wave (of 4-5 groups) might be a group from Kentucky, one from China, one from across the US and one from across Europe. If it is well planned, the groups will be more homogenous for the sake of the colonial harmony.

Corporate-sponsored colonies might be more culturally diverse, particularly with multi-national corporations, but generally will reflect one or two primary cultural influences (Japan-USA, or Kenya-UK or France-Egypt, or India-Argentina) from which most senior executives and most skilled workers come from.

Self-sponsored colonies range the gamut from entire villages that decide to pick up and relocate to religious leaders taking their followers to "the promised land" to multi-national enterprises to get investors to a new world.

Who gets chosen? Interestingly enough, for well-planned seed colonies, the first few waves must be quite skilled individuals with their families, which may or may not also include skilled individuals, but will include unskilled labor ready and primed for training (i.e. children). The first wave includes skilled farmers, construction workers, surveyors, butchers, carpenters, mechanics, power plant techs, plumbers, teachers and at the very least one medical team (doctor and assistant). If the colony is to be successful, you can't just get warm bodies off the street, shove them in an FTL ship and drop them off on a planet expecting them to thrive! Farming is hard work. Construction is hard work. Yes, you will need several tiers of skill accomplishment; highly skilled ("doctors"), skilled ("nurses"), semi-skilled ("candy stripers") and unskilled ("orderlies") (Don't slam me: it's just an example; each tier has its own requirements and all have their own requirements and functions), this is the same in every field; architects/project managers/specialists/builders, for example. Preferably, each group in each wave gets a chance to know each other and take some education/training together before shipping. It would be only in the last waves that able-bodied unskilled/semi-skilled labor could be introduced in small groups, but usually to meet specific needs in the established colony.

Colonies that are not as successful don't select as carefully and could end up with critical holes in their skill roster or duplication of function in rarely used skills (like lawyers or CPAs; yes, they are needed, but can you imagine a first wave seed colony with 18 lawyers? I'm a lawyer and the idea makes me want to slam my head against a wall). Without careful screening, individuals unsuited for space travel or colonization might be included.


So why go? Space. Literally. Earth has about 7 billion (7,000,000,000) people living in it today; by the early 2040's it is expected to be 9 billion. There might also be profit to be made out there. And peace. And freedom. And life, liberty and... You know the rest. It is also seen as a grand adventure, even if it is back-breaking HARD work to start a colony. The promise of land or power is also an incentive for the ambitious. But when all is said and done, space is the single most important motivator for colonization. In other articles (appendices) of this work we have seen that the average planetary population in TOG space is over one billion; if we assume an overall population of two trillion [the minimum required for the plural ‘trillions’] the average planet will have between two and four million inhabitants, who are canonically encouraged culturally to have many children. Knowing that Earth’s resources have a breaking point somewhere between 10 and 20 billion and that most planets out there are not as hospitable to humans as Earth, population crunches force emigration in waves to increasingly less hospitable planets… and that soon (likely within the next 50-100 years) a population crunch will force TOG to aggressively seek habitable planets from the other primary races of the galaxy.

Where to go?

The first phase in the building of a colony takes place months, years or decades before anyone even decides to establish a colony: exploration vessels locate a planet suitable for colonization; right gravity parameters, correct oxygen percentage in the air, no (or easily avoided) toxins in the air or soil, no deadly bugs, no "hunter's paradise" syndrome (all animals are carnivore predators; no herbivores) right seasons. When these worlds are found, they are tagged for further survey; some time later, a survey ship uses sophisticated instruments to map and measure the planet; determine day length, year length, seasons and (more importantly to many sponsors) resources. This may be done in various ways which are not mutually exclusive; survey craft, satellites, landing and outpost. The survey may take a few days (perhaps leaving a survey satellite in place to continue surveying) or it may take years; either continuous (with a manned outpost on-world or in orbit) or through periodic visits. This established the basic knowledge of the planet and helps determine the best location to establish the capital (i.e. the fist wave's landing site) for maximum survivability and convenient access to resources.

Either after the survey is completed, or while the survey is still taking place, the actual planning for the colony takes place; recruiting, funding and if necessary, chartering the ships (which might need booking months or years in advance. In many cases, extensive terraforming is required, which may take anywhere from a few years to hundreds of years. Once the planet is deemed suitable, colonization can begin in earnest.

The RL universe has hard, built-in limits on the distance FTL ships can travel due to tau shimmer, namely, 725 hours, or one standard terran month (don’t believe me? 735/24 = 30.208 days); in this time an FTL ship can travel as far as 10,000 LY; actual distance is not as important as the time spent in transit, though when nearing the 10,000 LY mark, “staging world” colonies should exist in order to provide rest and supplies while the FTL ships, crews and colonists shed their tau shimmer – or else the ship will drop out of t-space and coast in normal space at near-entry velocity for a month before re-engaging the FTL drive. Because of this limitation, few colony ships will carry more than three months worth of supplies. Let’s use that number; assuming that anything not consumed in-transit will be used for long-term survival.


So let's get there. What do we need? An FTL ship obviously. Duh. But in order to determine the size of the ship we need to determine exactly what is going to be carried, how it will be carried and why it needs to be carried.

Let's start with the colonists themselves. Let's assume this is a seed colony, since it is the type that usually has the most planning involved for long term success; the first wave is 2,500 people. How do we carry them? Leviathan construction rules assign 10 tons per passenger. 2,500 x 10 tons = 25,000 tons.

25,000 tons in quarters.

How much do they consume? Standard rule in Battletech (rules which have been extensively analyzed and have proven sound) is 1 ton = 200 man/days. Since we are calculating for a 100-day journey (3 months plus a safe margin… besides; it makes math simpler), that is a half ton per colonist; 1,250 tons.

We also have to supply them for when they reach the colony; supplies enough to keep everyone hale and hearty at least until the first crops come in (dropping them off during the right time of year; i.e. the "planting season" is critical); since genemod grain can grow frighteningly quickly (about 3-4 months; some real-world grains actually do that). A well-planned and organized seed colony will plan for two failed plantings; about six months of consumables, for our purposes, 200 days, or 2,500 tons.

That is a total of 3,750 tons of consumables.

But what about the stuff they will actually plant in the ground? OK. Here things get a bit complicated and you'll have to trust me on the numbers, which are approximations based on current real-world yields. The first thing you need to understand is the concept of seed. Traditionally, seed is the amount of grain that you reserve after the harvest so you can plant again the following season. In the modern sense, seed is treated differently; it is sprayed with pest repellents and weed-killers and all sorts of things that preserve and protect it in order to maximize its output yield. It can even be coated with micronutrients so that it can help make its own fertilizer in bad soil (the tech exists today; you can buy it at your local garden-mart in little fruit and vegetable seed packets). How much product is produced from seed is termed "percentage of seed output"; in other words, the percentage of a crop that is reserved for seed; currently, it stands at around 5-10% depending on crop; given high tech in RL, let's keep to the minimum of 5%.

As an aside; in modern industrial farming, often no grain is reserved for seed; instead, entire crops of grain for seed are grown and sold to other farmers for planting; this may eventually happen in the colony, but for the most part, seed will have to be saved from crop to crop.

So how much seed will be needed? First, understand that several types of grain will be carried; we will assume (for simplicity's sake) that they all have about the same seed-to-yield percentages (wonders of modern technology). So whatever the output we need, we will need 5% of that amount for seed. Twice. Two crops, remember? So 10% of what is required for the yield must be carried as cargo. But we still don't know how much we actually need!


A per capita sounds good. There are 2,500 colonists so we will need... hm... combining several statistics and taking some pretty dang liberal guesses with averages, we can say that (based on approximately a 150kg per capita worldwide combined consumption of wheat and rice) that approximately 15-20 kg (total) of (different types of) seed is required per colonist. 2,500 colonists = 37,500 kg (37.5 tons) to 50,000 kg (50 tons). Let's use the 50-ton figure to account for fruits, roots and vegetables.

50 tons of seed for the colonists.

What about fertilizer, I hear you ask? Like I said; for the colonists. They need livestock too.

Livestock; for simplicity's sake we'll assume a half-ton's worth of livestock for every human colonist (about a head of cattle [including milking cows], a pig (unless it is a halal or kosher colony), two sheep (more if kosher or halal), a bunch of chickens/other poultry and a bunch of earthworms and other assorted animals, including pets) - about 1,250 ton's worth; this takes up a little over 1,400 tons of cargo space in livestock pens.

1,400 tons of livestock cargo bays.

For average's sake (not wanting to calculate the individual needs of seed cattle [only about 1 in 10 of the cattle are bulls used for... seed], milking cows, sheep and chickens), we'll assume 50kg of consumables per day per ton; in this case, 62.5 tons per day; 300 days (100 in transit plus six months on the ground) is 18,750 tons. Oh... and all that feed... that's also fertilizer. Now you might understand why colony ships are not considered "sexy".

18,750 tons of livestock feed. 1,875 tons of seed for livestock feed.

Mind you, we are not saying every colonist will have a cow in their yard! Not at all; the livestock will be mostly in farms with the equipment required to process product (milk, cheese, eggs) and butcher the animals (meat) and store it. Every colonial homestead would be expected to keep a small vegetable garden for personal use, supplemented by more professionally cultivated produce.

Then we have vehicles; transportation, farming and construction; let's say 400 tons (packed as cargo) with another 600 tons of machinery, parts and repair equipment, along with basic fabrication machinery for working raw materials. Here we also include the basic fusion power generator for the colony. The vehicles of the first wave will more likely than not be fusion/solar/fuel cell powered (using the fusion plant to generate [crack water] the hydrogen used for fuel).

1,000 tons vehicles and equipment.

How about personal equipment, electronics, construction materials? That is the "plasticrete mix" or whatever, textiles and refrigerator, washer/dryer, trid set... an average of a ton per person seems reasonable; any additional raw materials can be easily obtained form the transport containers used to carry the... well, everything of the colony; these containers can be reasonably assumed to be come in 10-ton through 30-ton capacity, so there should be A LOT of them; most of the early homesteads and buildings will be "intermodal chic" in style.

So 2,500 tons of personal/home equipment.


Let's review before I lose count:

25,000 tons in quarters. 1,400 tons of livestock cargo bays.

3,750 tons of consumables. 18,750 tons of livestock feed. 50 tons of seed for the colonists. 1,875 tons of seed for livestock feed. 2,500 tons of personal/home equipment. 1,000 tons vehicles and equipment. 27,925


That's 26,400 tons of "quarters" and 27,925 tons of cargo; a total of 54,325 tons.

This can easily be accommodated in a single capital-scale corvette designed using Leviathan rules. Adding anti-grav would allow the ship to land easily, or using a few small craft could suffice.

What about weapons and defenses?


As a civilian transport, the colonial ships should not be armed at all; to arm the ship is to invite an attacker or raider to open fire on a ship loaded with civilians. No colony would ever be established someplace where the possibility of getting shot at during transport is likely. If pirate attacks are feared while in a dangerous area, fighters could be carried or a patrol carrier or corvette could be used as an escort; the colonial ship itself should never give an opponent an excuse to fire on it.


Second wave groups in the seed-colony model should basically follow the same pattern with a much smaller ratio of consumables and a higher concentration of other equipment.


As you can see, building a colony takes more, much more, than just loading a bunch of random people on a ship and shipping them out to a new world with some supplies! I hope this article inspires you to look at colonial operations in a new light and see the inherent possibilities in designing for this exciting venture!

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