The Midas Program is the first direct commercial exploitation of resources in outer space. Conceived in 1957 by an ageing Adrianus Orilla, the initiative involved building mining sites on celestial bodies to extract internal minerals. While an immensely ambitious undertaking, its success have proved to be the single most profitable endeavor over the whole course of human history.
In his memoirs, Emperor Raphael briefly discusses his later involvement in the project and why he made the decision to restart it. Translated, and reorganized, into idiomatic English, this is an excerpt :
"Considering several important facts about geology, this [the feasibility of asteroid mining] was easily predictable. Terra is made from coalesced stardust through a multi-billion year process. In its early years, our planet was nothing but a piece of floating magma and so materials were in constant flux within its structure. As any seasoned geological student of Alexandria knows, virtually all of the abundant ferrum formed at the end of stellar nucleosynthesis now resides within the Earth's core. Since this occurred in the early years, all "ferrum-loving" metals found themselves dragged down in the process. Obviously there is no known method to reach this rich source of material at the planet's center, even with today's technology. So how the Hades are we mining elements such as llecium and aurum? Well, as one of our own scientists discovered over a century ago, Terra has been struck by large stellar objects for much of its existence. Many of these meteors contained some amount of transferrum elements, and so it is them who we must thank for our noricum Testudos and aurum coins. Their seeding of our planet has allowed the wheel of progress to keep turning past the age of Bironzos and into the Ferrum age that our city was born in.
This knowledge, combined with what we've learned from projects that I funded, tell us that these metals of value were able to be, and have been, extracted from asteroids near our own via planitia. In fact, some of the largest ones we've exploited contain more of certain elements than can be mined by all the nations of this planet combined. Truly, no other Emperor has given our people such an opportunity. I believe that this single program shall be the driving force for most, if not all, of the advancements that this Empire shall achieve in the coming centuries.
The Midas Program ran from 1957 to 1998 after which time a new initiative in the area of asteroid mining was begun by present Caesar Cicero. Since its inception, Midas saw the colonization of 36 asteroids and minor planets and the creation of a network for interplanetary travel. Much as Raphael predicted, it was the primary cause of a Golden Age in the modern era. Many advancements in Roman infrastructure, both on this planet and many others, would have been impossible if not for the resources and economic stimulus provided by the Midas Program.
Adrianus came upon the idea of mining in space after news reached him of the discovery of virtually limitless quantities of Helium-3 on the lunar far side. This got him talking to astrophysicists and geologists about what lay within other celestial bodies and eventually led to him designing ships capable of interplanetary travel. As the father of the Roman space program (CCR), he easily gained an audience with the Caesar to discuss his plan.
Citing the sure knowledge that asteroids contained abundant minerals, Adrianus succeeded in swaying the opinion of the emperor. Unfortunately, the importance of the lunar city of Heliopolis and the media circus following the Maya attempt to land on Mars, pushed Adrianus' plan to the back of the budget, and left it in the dust when the brilliant man died of a brain hemorrhage in 1960.
When Caesar Raphael took the throne following his predecessor's assassination in 1967, he demanded to be briefed on all the fronts of scientific advancement in the Imperium. While his intense interest in science had no bounds, he was particularly excited about working alongside the CCR. So as soon as he was told about the plan of mining asteroids for materials, he knew he needed to make it a reality.
Having what the media dubbed "sanguis Nipponis", the Emperor set about finding a way to put this program in motion in the most frugal way possible. The idea he came up with was to spot mineral rich bodies through the use of Rome's many space based telescopes, send probes to determine the exact areas of the asteroids that would befit a mining site, and only then launch ships to build mining facilities.
Phase I of the program was completed in 1974 with 52 potential asteroids selected based on properties of terrestrial proximity, mineral abundance and stability. Quite pleased that the current cost was still less than a single flight to Mars, the Caesar felt more prepared to place extra resources into the program to accelerate its development. Phase II began in May of the following year with the launch of Midas I. This probe would visit 8 of the targets and was expected to validate at least 3 of them for exploitation.
Probe launches continued apace with the expeditions of Midas' II through X. The latter ceremoniously touched down on I Gordias (OTL 433 Eros) on the 1st of October 1979 to await the follow-up to this phase of the program.
In December of 1979, the Daedalus and Imhotep spacecraft set out with four specialized ships to the asteroid XII Gordias (OTL 16 Psyche) to build the first of many mining site. Arriving in January the following year, it started immediate construction at 11 of the 48 plotted out mining sites. So began the age of space mining.
I Gordias, or the OTL asteroid 433 Eros, was the second Near-Earth Object ever discovered, found by a Britannic astronomer in 1165 AD. From its discovery to 1372 it was considered the largest asteroid with a near-earth orbit, still holding second rank in that category. Upon completion of Phase II of the Midas Program, Gordias I was the it most promising site for a mining colony. Scans determined that it contained more aluminum, gold, silver and zinc than could be found over the entire surface of Earth. Essentially, control of this celestial body would grant its owner virtually unlimited economic potential in the geopolitical field.
In September of 1981, mining sites were finally established on the asteroid. At 8 locations, mining and processing facilities were built for the extraction of gold, silver and aluminum, with other waste materials left for later use. Once up and running, no human presence was required for their continued operation. The annual production from just these facilities was staggering. Over 10,000 tons of gold, 27,000 tons of silver and 210,000 tons of aluminum were being shipped back to Earth over the course of a single year, outclassing the production of nearly every world nation combined.
Currently, with updated facilities, annual production exportation rates off Gordias I are:
- Aluminum : 16,400,000 tons
- Iron : 11,900,000 tons
- Zinc : 7,320,000 tons
- Silicon : 2,600,000 tons
- Magnesium : 430,000 tons
- Silver : 61,000 tons
- Gold : 24,000 tons
- Platinum : 320 tons
- Rhodium : 48 tons
Resources from mines spread across the Solar System have launched Rome into an illustrious Golden Age with which there can be no historical comparison. Helium from the Moon could provide virtually unlimited fuel for the fusion reactors on imperial soil, leading the Imperium into a post-scarcity economy for energy. Once mines were established on the first ten asteroids, Rome could have entered an entirely post-scarcity economy.
From a commercial perspective, however, this posed problems. Prices for the resources being mined would plummet and the world economy would certainly crash. To prevent such a catastrophe, the Senate placed heavy restrictions on the flow of minerals from the Midas Program. The exact amount of any resource that is injected into the national and international markets is precisely controlled by an average of recommendations from three committees staffed by economists, engineers and scientists. Only a fraction of total output is sold. All the rest of what is extracted is kept the Senate, and wielded as a free good for its own projects. Knowledge of how much is mined must be kept secret for fear of speculation or other socio-economic phenomena.
Approximate Annual Production of Extraterrestrial Mines :
- Iron : 24,000,000,000 tons
- H2O : 18,200,000,000 tons
- Hydrocarbons : 16,500,000,000 tons
- Nickel : 8,400,000,000 tons
- Silicon : 900,000,000 tons
- Aluminum : 500,000,000 tons
- Titanium : 420,000,000 tons
- Manganese : 150,000,000 tons
- Magnesium : 1,400,000 tons
- Cobalt : 200,000 tons
- Silver : 190,000 tons
- Gold : 90,000 tons
- Platinum : 50,000 tons
The major asteroid mining sites are I Gordias (OTL 433 Eros); IV Gordias (OTL 1036 Ganymed); XII Gordias (OTL 16 Psyche) and LII Gordias (OTL Ceres).
A serious obstacle to extracting minerals from extraterrestrial bodies is the need to transport them to Earth or its colonies. Of immense cost are both the fueling of ships for the long journey and the lift-off from a planet's surface. Although the invention of space elevators and plasma engines made this technically feasible, it was wasteful for Rome and hampered potential profit from the Midas Program.
Originally, only four ships were tasked with both establishing the mines and bringing back what was extracted. While their number increased by one or two per year, the frugal Caesar had no intention of maintaining such costly measures. In their stead, he envisioned a program that would not only cut costs but revolutionize space travel.
At the outset, four specialized interplanetary vessels were designated for the job of both setting up new facilities, and bringing back the materials. Even though the number of ships increased by one each year, it was still costly and the frugal Emperor had no intention of keeping it up. In its stead, he had a plan in the works that had the potential to not only save money in the program, but also to revolutionize space travel as a whole.
In 1982, the emperor proposed to his engineers that ships should be launched by mass drivers from point to point in the Solar System, just as they were launched from the surface of extraterrestrial bodies. His knowledge of astronomy extended to the existence of orbits that are stationary relative to a planetary system. These Punctum Agravitas (Lagrangian Points) were suitable as stable locations for mass drivers. The emperor's theoretical Portantia Network was received well by his associates and billions soon went into its realization.
Locating the mass drivers at these points would allow their positions to be constant relative to the Sun and a single planet, dependent on the planetary system to which that PA is related. Selected for the network were two points in the Earth-Sun and Mars-Sun systems. Each had complimentary drivers in orbit around the relevant planet such that it always faces the Sun. Eight more mass driver stations were put into the same orbit at equidistant points between Mars and the asteroid belt. This tertiary circular network connected to both the Martian and Terran networks, acting as a mediator of transport between orbits.
Every mass driver was part of a satellite powered by rechargeable nuclear batteries and photovoltaic cells. There were back-up fusion reactors in the unlikely event that the batteries were insufficiently charged by the solar panels to operate the satellite facility. This high-power reactor could only work in short bursts to recharge the batteries.
When using the network, a ship is like a bullet that is accelerated at one station and caught at the next one. In order to use the system, any ship need only have a special coupling device that would allow it to act as the "bullet" in this massive space rail gun. All ports are able to easily accommodate ships of all sizes currently in use by the Roman Empire that do not already have their own dedicated interplanetary drive.
The existence of asteroid mining facilities is known to the citizens and governments of only four nations: the Maya, the Japanese, the Romans and the Inca. This consists only of members, both permanent and observing, of the Alliance of Earth. Still, only select members of the Roman bureaucracy know anything about the actual productions numbers. If it were otherwise, there would be an indirect effect on the resources values from a change in the expectancies of both suppliers and consumers.
Due to the benefit of these materials, especially because of the Romans' way of using them, the Mayan and Japanese Empire have made many tries at ameliorating their international relations with the Roman Empire as much as possible. As previously mentioned, this attachment has led to positive develops in the infrastructures of the Mayans and Japanese while simultaneously strengthening the Roman power base on all continents.
Indirectly, this program has helped cause the downfall of the Platonist Confederacy, the stabilization of Sub-Saharan Rome, the further unification of all space colonies, and the successful containment of an increasingly militaristic Mongol Empire.