From The Course Books
Terraforming is the practice of converting uninhabitable worlds into habitable ones through artificial manipulation. This can include modifying their orbits, changing atmospheric and surface compositions, and the creation of an ecosystem.
Terraforming is an extremely lengthy and expensive process, so that the cost of a given project and actual monetary rewards become incalculable. The timeline for a project is also well beyond the scope of a given government. Generations upon generations of work go into making a world habitable, so that entire nations may rise and fall between a project's inception and completion.
Terraforming is known to have existed in Antiquity, though the methods and technologies were then employed are now lost.
WorldCraft Terraforming Firm
Conceived and planned in the early part of the Golden Age, WorldCraft was a company creating suitable worlds for human habitation.
History of WorldCraft
The first fleet was completed by A.Y. 1557, and was employed to repair worlds left uninhabitable by the Mage Wars.
By the Second Age, WorldCraft had begun the first attempts to terraform never-before-inhabited worlds. The first new world was ready for colonization by A.Y. 2557, the one thousand year aniversary of the commission of the fleet, though as an entity the firm had existed three hundred years prior. This time had been used to develop the necessary technologies and techniques, as well as construct the very large ships.
By the Third Age, WorldCraft had outgrown its original fleet, the technologies for terraforming having advanced until where it could be done much more efficiently, if the tools were available. The old fleet remained in operation, but the Foundation ordered the construction of a new fleet in A.Y. 315. It would take a thousand years.
An entire star system was set up as the factory floor. The Markhot System was chosen as it included sufficient natural resources and a population of able workers (two inhabited planets holding 10.4 billion people). For a millennium, the entire intellectual, technological, economical, and natural resources of the system were devoted to building thirty massive starships--the largest ever built (or at least formally acknowledged).
WorldCraft consumed one entire (uninhabited) planet, as well as all the rocky asteroids and three dwarf planets to build its new ship. During the first three centuries of contstruction, Markhot's population increased over fifteen billion to meet the demand for workers. This was a matter of grave concern at the time, as the two worlds in the system could only safely support populations around five-and-a-half-billion each, and had been stable before the project began. As construction neared completion, colonies were established. The new ships were completed exactly on schedule, in A.Y. 415. Their first act was to ferry nine billion people (in one trip) to colonize three new worlds in nearby systems.
Each new terraforming ship was able to replace the entire fleet by itself, allowing thirty times as many planets to be terraformed. FTL-capable, the ships were able to carry out operations on multiple planets at once (hopping between them as different stages of the projects progressed), allowing for an hundred-fold increase. Each ship were expected to last for more than ten thousand years, and, over its operational lifespan, to transform 180 lifeless rocks into habitable worlds.
The old ships were kept in operation until the mid Fourth Age (and some even later). Most were eventually taken to Colony Lun, though others were scrapped wherever their FTL drives finally failed. Two of the ships that made it to Colony Lun were kept sixty-percent operational (their FTL drives were allowed to fail) and used in operations there.
Types of Worlds
As one would expect, terraforming is hard. It took centuries just to figure out how to start, and an individual planet often took as much as 500 years to be ready for colonization.
Just adjusting a planet into the star's habitable zone and establishing water and other neccesssary elements was just the first step. Creating a working water cycle and ensuring proper gravity and the right day-night sequence all took decades of careful adjustment.
But the real challenge was life. In order to keep a planet livable, a complete, autonomous system has to be functional before human habitation can begin.
The first generation of fully habitable worlds were attempted by transplanted existing ecosystems from already stable planets. Plants, animals, and insects from these worlds would be scooped up and carefully cultivated, before transportation to the target world. This became especially challenging when it was clear that predicting the exact nature of a given environment before plants and animals had been added was impossible.
Ultimately Generation I ecosystems were unstable, and inhabitants of Generation I worlds very limited. Even given thousands of years to stabilize, most Generation I worlds could never support populations equivalant to their natural counterparts. Most were eventually abandoned or re-terraformed using later-generation techniques.
For the second generation, terraformers began cobbling the ecosystems together from many sources, selecting organisms with desirable traits and introducing them en-masse to let natural selection sort things out.
Life sciences being inexact and biologists not always knowing everything, these systems did not fare well. The plants and animals tended to interact in complex and unpredictable ways, causing many undesirable results.
Aside from local ecological breakdowns, some worlds suffered planet-wide catastrophies. This system also managed to produce a few remarkable oddities, such as the Sand Spiders of Umriel Terra, venomless and herbivorous.
Though there were failures, most Generation II worlds tended to be fairly hearty. Unfortunately they were also often dangerous, and contained large areas of uninhabitable land controlled by the bizarre creations of accidental hybrids.
With the third generation of terraforming, terraformers took a new tactic: genetic engineering. They would begin construction of the ecosystem similar to a Generation II world, but modified it either by retrovirus or the introduction of modified stock to the system.
This technique allowed them to stablize the system much faster and remove undesirable effects with relative ease.
Generation IV saw the introduction of complete genetic engineering. Plants and animals were created and modified from existing templates as needed.
Generation IV worlds were the first true "paradise" planets, allowing exacting specifications. For the first time, terraformed worlds were distinct from natural ones, and Generation IV became very desirable for habitation.
Most Generation I, II, and III worlds were eventually re-terraformed into Generation IV worlds, with few exceptions belonging to planets with large human populations and those too remote to be desirable.
Once the Generation IV technology was perfected, a series of "systems" began to be perfected. These packages basically outlined the desired environments of a target world.
The systems evolved around four basic catagories: botanical, herbivorous, omnivorous, and carnivorous. Systems were then described according to which of these it contained.
System numbers went up by the complexity and diversity of the target environment.
Nicknamed the standard 'Eden' package, System One is pure botanical, single-system, and the simplest Generation I world-type. It uses a world with little geographic diversity and a wide series of planets and insects to create what most would consider a paradise. System One is the easiest to build, but not the most common.
Botanical/Herbivorous system with plants and some animals. Though the type implies only herbivores, insectivores are also present in System Two. System Two typically has less diversity than System One and is designed to be easier to construct and faster to stabalize.
Still Botanical/Herbivorous, System Three allows room for greater geographic diversity and holds a stronger system of plants and animals.
Botanical/Herbivorous/Omnivorous, sees the introduction of scavengers and a few small predators. At first these worlds were often feared, before potential colonists understood that nothing there was big enough to eat a human. Very few System Four worlds were created and most were basically experimental.
Botanical/Herbivorous/Omnivorous/Carnivorous, this system included real predators. Only one System Five world was ever created. Essentially a "proof of concept" world built to test the techniques, and is widely considered the first ever "complete" artifical ecosystem.
Botanical/Herbivorous, but with greater complexity than System Three. System Six is often called a "double Three" because it adds herbivorous fish to the oceans, while System Three had animals only on land. Though considered Botanical/Herbivorous, some System Six worlds did introduce small omnivorous and carnivorous creatures.
Botanical/Herbivorous, basically a step-up from System Six. While System Six had very limited diversity, System Seven allowed for a wide range of geographical variables, unlike System Five, which did not contain oceans and had few geographic regions. Also like System Six, System Seven had some omnivorous and carnivorous sea creatures, but these were mostly small, with none able to confront a human.
Botanical/Herbivorous/Omnivorous/Carnivorous, basically a System Five with the addition of oceans. System Eight also saw the first addition of large predators. System Eight worlds were conceived as a sort of genetic reserve, including high diversities of plants, animals, and habitats. The idea was to create an artificial world indistinguishable from the natural.
System Eight worlds were also created as "genetic repositories", hosting modified specimens from a large number of natural ecosystems and having the greatest diversity of any terraformed worlds.
A somewhat more "family friendly" version of System Eight, System Nine was designed to host a wide range of diversity, but lacked the large predators that made people afraid to settle on System Eight worlds.
Ironically, the worlds left by colonists bound for System Nine planets often contained the same sorts of predators found in System Eight.
Non-System or Pre-System
A handful of experimental worlds were created, either as test-platforms or for specific purposes. A few of the purpose-built worlds devised in the Second Age continue to be used.
Most famous of the purpose-built planets were the farm worlds. These planets were, from the ground up (literally) meant to be gigantic farms. First, the terraformers would smooth out the surface as much as possible. Then, the land was carefully graded to allow a massive, large-scale irigation system. Finally, instead of an ecosystem, crops were planted.
The planets were given a straight axis and a perfectly round orbit, giving them a year-round growing season. Massive reflectors were also constructed in space to provide 24-hour sunshine, allowing plants to grow in the dirt all day, all night, all year.
A single farm world contained up to 146,480,000,000 acres of arable land, each able to produce eight crops per year. Anually, each world could feed over three hundred-and-seventy-one-billion people, or the populations of roughly 37 planets assuming an average population of around 10 billion.
Though these specially-designed planets could produce food on a tremendous scale, the dangers of centralizing producition to such a degree were obvious. Distribution relied entirely on the GATE, a weakness the Foundation did not wish to expose.
By the end of the Second Age, the Foundation was making a move away from dirt-farming, with a food supply produced almost entirely by hydroponic or aeroponic techniques. These methods were easily able to supply local populations without the need of arable land. A single sky scraper with a footprint of one city block could feed 8-10 million people, or at least supply their agricultural needs. Different methods produced meat.
The farm worlds remained in service, but as a backup and supplemental system. The majority of food produced on these worlds is converted into non-perishables and distributed to strategic caches all over the Gudersnipe-controlled-space. It is invaluable for relief efforts, where entire worlds can be fed without placing a strain on the food main food supply.