For some time I've been working on a universe with non-instantaneous Faster-Than-Light travel, but I've decided to open a new universe with instantaneous travel. So I'm working on the differences that the two modes of transport necessarily enforce on the societies that use them.

The first question that occurs to me is this: If ever planet in the galaxy is effectively equidistant from Earth is there any point in colonising anything that's less than almost perfect?

In the four years it was working Kepler found that of the 200,000 stars it surveyed, that's roughly one one-millionth of all the stars in the galaxy, 50 had an Earthlike world in their Goldilocks zone. With instantaneous interstellar travel that puts 50 million Earths within easy reach, would we colonise star systems without easily habitable worlds or would those systems be left empty until we had packed the good worlds with people. Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet does a good treatment of what might happen to worlds colonised when slow FTL was the only option after the introduction of a faster travel option but I'm wondering about the impact on colonisation choices in a setting where there is no slow option.

Good answers should focus on reasons why there might be a push to colonise systems without Earthlike worlds at the same rate as systems with them. Assume that travel to/from every star system in the Galaxy to any other has the same cost in time, energy, materiel.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 18, 2018 at 4:40

13 Answers 13


You get The Commonwealth.

I highly recommend the Void trilogy

The Commonwealth in the saga of the same name is an Earth civilization that worked out Wormhole transit. Which is effectively instantaneous FTL.

There were limitations to how far they could connect two ends of a wormhole, but even with a near infinite distance, you still have a different problem: Finding inhabitable worlds.

Sure there are a lot of stars out there and they have a lot of planets, but you still need to spend time and resources surveying them and determining them safe for human colonization. This will slow your empire's growth. They'll likely start with the nearest systems and work outward.

In the Commonwealth there was effectively only one corporation that ran the wormhole networks and they only used a single wormhole to explore for new planets to colonize. If they used more, it wasn't too many more: most of the wormhole network was devoted towards providing transportation from planet to planet. As long as new worlds were being opened for colonization regularly, to keep up with increasing population numbers, there really wasn't a need for more.

Even so they didn't pass up "90% good" worlds, as provided that a population could move in and start building infrastructure immediately it was sufficient. That is:

  • Atmosphere isn't toxic
  • Any native life isn't overtly hostile
  • One planet depicted in the series was one that looked great, but later turned out to have carnivorous grass. They lost two explorers inside ten minutes before terminating the connection.
  • Any planet that can be terraformed for cheap ("eh, its got water, but no plant life. Steve, order up 400 billion tons of sod, would ya?")

It was generally seen that even if it took some effort to survive, that was fine, there were still folks who'd be up for moving in. Heck, some planets that were less "idylic" turned into manufacturing worlds where the toxic pollutants from less-than-clean industries couldn't really screw the place up. It was better than poisoning the atmosphere of an inhabited world!

  • $\begingroup$ Yes you would get something strikingly similar to the Commonwealth, only more so, I had considered this as a point of reference but not just how close the parallels were. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 16, 2018 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ The Commonwealth also has other aspects of society to consider (e.g. they created a sentient AI that just wanted to go off and do its AI things, but generally keeps a watchful eye on humanity and helps out from time to time. Or that they don't have Big Data and Corporate Advertising to deal with on their version of the internet. And they have rejuv, letting people live hundreds of years--no joke, Nigel Sheldon shows up in Misspent Youth in ~2040). But in terms of planetary expansion and colonization, it'd be pretty close. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ Also, Dan Simmons' Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion - a high-end residence would be in multiple star systems, and traveling from one to another would involve walking from one room to the next. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 21:52

Actually, this is a good question. I need to make an assumption:

  • Given that the cost (economic, energy, time, etc.) of colonizing any planet in the galaxy is for all intent and purposes equal, what would be the motivations for colonizing any particular planet?

So long as I'm not too far off-base with my assumption, the reasons people colonize vary according to the pressures motivating colonization.

  1. Resource developers are looking for the best bang-for-the-buck. The cost of getting there may be equal, but the cost of setting up operations and (for example) mining the planet for all its gallium is not. A planet rich in gallium with a toxic/acidic atmosphere may represent a lower value-to-cost ratio than a planet less rich in gallium but with a Mars-like atmosphere. Further, you can't just develop them all because too much gallium on the market lowers the price and makes the overall value-to-cost value really drop.

  2. Pharmaceutical developers are looking for the best bang-for-the-buck. They want planets with either very unique biomes or very diverse biomes. This does not necessarily translate into biomes suitable for general colonization. A diverse biome could develop in an atmosphere too harmful for humans (containing a toxin, or even a biological agent consequential to the biome itself).

  3. Colonists are looking for the very same bang-for-the-buck. But they want the planet that represents the highest chance for very-long-term survival with the lowest cost to survive. Sure, goldilocks planets are high on that list, but a less diverse biome is also suitable if the planet has all the other checkboxes in spades. Planets with a lot of wood/trees are more valuable than planets with very mountainous terrains. Planets with a high percentage of fresh water access compared to salt water are more desirable than planets with large seas, etc... And this depends on how many people want to colonize at any given time and what the rules for colonization are. If everybody is clamoring to get off Earth due to pollution, some will be willing to take less valuable planets simply because they want off, now.

So, I can easily imagine the following occurring as a consequence of all these pressures that may drive people to consider different kinds of "perfect."

Hunting planets becomes big business

The cost of transport to any planet in the galaxy may be the same, but we're still talking about hundreds of billions of stars. (Google claims 250 billion +/- 150 billion.) A single person needing a single second to hop from planet-to-planet, spending just a single second at each planet (assuming an average of 325 billion stars and just one planet per star), would need 20K years to visit them all. So planet hunting is a booming business. The race is on to find them, catalog them, and present them to the market because the commission for locating those best-of-the-best planets are enormous. Planet hunting would create an entire industry all by itself.

A planetary exchange

Today water, mineral, agricultural, and building rights are occasionally sold separately for the same parcel of ground. The value of the planet to the individual buyer who wants all of them is higher than to individuals that just want a part of the whole. Planets that are rich in all of them are the most desirable of them all.

The exchange would easily look just like today's commodity exchanges where people are bidding to take possession of each planet's key value or the whole. Exchanges would be frequented by megacorporations, colonization clubs, governments (as more valuable investments than bonds), etc...

Why is this important? Because there's always a cost

By removing the cost of transportation you've simply shifted the cost to something else. I predict that something else is the cost of acquiring and developing the world. Why would somebody settle for less than perfect? Because they can't afford it.

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    $\begingroup$ "Planet hunting will be big business" - Well, only if it's cheap. And even if the FTL costs are low, the planet hunters will need to be, effectively, in a working spaceship, with all the expense that entails. So, likely not that many companies will have the capital reserves to fund the effort. And once you find a "good" planet, what is the infrastructure investment required to start getting a return? Lots of unspecified variables, here. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2018 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast, if I had all the answers, I'd have a book to publish... :-) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 15, 2018 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ If the FTL drive is small, you just need a probe. With technology advanced presumably far beyond our own, a probe would need only seconds or maybe minutes to assess a planet and move on, periodically jumping back home to report its results. If you could send out a few thousand probes, you could examine millions of planets in a reasonable amount of time - assuming telescopes are good enough to find millions of good candidates. If you can also assume asteroid mining and self replicating autonomous manufacturing robots, it could be a simple matter to assemble and launch millions of probes. $\endgroup$
    – nasch
    Jul 16, 2018 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the probe idea - if the probes have the ability to self-replicate, you can visit every planet in the galaxy in a very short amount of time (starting with one probe, with no FTL, just travelling at 0.1c, the probe armada could visit the whole galaxy in about half a million years). This works because the number of probes increases exponentially. See von Neumann probe. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @UIDAlexD, I didn't address asteroids because that wasn't the scope of the OP's question. Whether asteroid mining is better than planetary mining would make an excellent new question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 16, 2018 at 15:04

The reason why people would colonize planets which don't have much atmosphere or gravity is because material can be lifted into orbit more easily. This makes it easier to use the planet's raw materials to build infrastructure in space. It's completely possible that people would want to build Dyson Swarms instead of just landing on an Earth-like planet.

The biggest advantage to using a Dyson Swarm is your ability to incorporate the entire mass of the planet into living space, instead of just using a thin shell on the surface (even if we build a full kilometer up and down everywhere, not even 0.1% of the Earth's volume will be used). This allows for taking a planet that could hold a few billion people and turning it into space structures which can hold trillions.

On Earth, it is difficult to raise matter up into space because you need to use big, expensive rockets. With smaller planets that don't have any atmosphere, you can launch matter up into space with a railgun for a lot cheaper. Our Moon is perfect for that purpose as it has a lot of mass, but no appreciable atmosphere (it technically has one, but it's atmosphere is as thick as an industrial-grade vacuum chamber), so there is nothing to stop us from launching metal off the surface to build orbital infrastructure.

Another advantage to this method is that you can make your environment as Earth-like as you want. With an O'Neill Cylinder, you can replicate, the air, gravity, temperature, etc. as well as you want, or you can pick other values as you wish. With settling Earth-like planets, you might have to suffer with 27 hour days, freezing temperatures everywhere, 1.3 G's of gravity, or other slightly annoying differences. With space habitats, you can pick the temperature, the spin-gravity strength, the day length, etc. however you want.

So, in the end, the push actually could be for colonizing, not systems with Earth-like worlds, but systems with worlds like our Moon.

And for those who argue that we can do this with asteroids: the entire asteroid belt has about 4% of the mass of the Moon. You'll have a lot less matter to work with if all you can use is the asteroid belt.

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    $\begingroup$ Until we truly understand the mechanics of closed systems, it may be preferable to use a planet with its enormous inertia and multiplicity of feedback loops in order to ensure long term survival. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jul 16, 2018 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Thucydides Yes, but that will come with technological advancement, which is also necessary for any colonization in this scenario. Even if we had a free instant teleport from LEO to low orbit around any other planet in the galaxy, we would still not be able to colonize the other planets at our technology level. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides Humans are already capable of overwhelming some of Earth's feedback loops. By the time we start colonizing world in hundreds, I'd assume our technology would be beyond what natural ecosystems can handle. So either we learn to deal with a variety of closed systems (each planet would probably have its own special things), or we all die. $\endgroup$
    – Alice
    Jul 16, 2018 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ If we've got instantaneous intergalactic transport, but it's still difficult to lift things into orbit around an individual planet, I'd want some seriously good world building to explain why that tech gap exists. $\endgroup$
    – Jontia
    Jul 16, 2018 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Jontia It will always be significantly easier with our current idea of the laws of physics to lift into orbit around the Moon than around the Earth. Something like the Epstein Drive from The Expanse might make the difference negligible, but there is no known physics which allows for it and I'm trying to stay in known physics aside from what the OP specified. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 17:02

Colonization means permanent inhabitation. There is only one reason why your people would colonize less than ideal systems: they are pushed there by others of their kind.

Lots of people commute in to work in the city even with a non-instantaneous commute. The easier you make it the more people would do it. If the commute to NYC were instantaneous and easy, why would anyone with a choice live in the city? People would live at a distance where it is green, cheap, cool and clean, zap into the city to work, then zap back out when the day is done.

So too your people. They can live in places that are nice, then commute in for shifts. Maybe they would stay for days or weeks, like the crew on a fishing boat. No fishermen live on the boat all the time. They might sleep there when they are working but they live on land somewhere that is way nicer than the boat.

As regards your systems with no earth like worlds: a person will choose to live in a less than ideal environment because it is the best choice, or because they have no choice. There is more to a living situation than the weather. Maybe like the Mormons were, your colonists are persecuted for their differences. Maybe population pressure and lack of places to live in the nice worlds have driven them out. Or the authorities have forced them out and into a suboptimal environment of the authorities choosing, like the US government did when it moved the Cherokee from green Georgia to Oklahoma. It does not matter how fast the trip back and forth is because these people can't go go back. Refugees of this sort will colonize suboptimal territories out of compulsion or necessity and then go to work improving their circumstances as best they can.


Companies would explore to find suitable planets because they would own the right to any discovered planets and sell tracts of land as well as charge migration fees to settlers. Big groups of settlers might buy the rights to a planet so they control who can come and go and effectively own their own planet. Religions like Scientology would love to own their own planet would pay billions for the right.

I would imagine that companies would map out suitable planets using robotic probes. The first probes will just jump into a system, take a snapshot and basic measurements and then jump to the next system and repeat. The probes will return home to transmit the data when they need to refuel. A probe might only have to spend a few seconds in a system to get the basic data needed.

Once a possible planet is found, a second scientific probe is sent to scan the planet. It would map out weather, geological features, possible colony sites, mining sites as well as testing for possible life that might exist.

Planets with life already on it wouldn't be allowed to be settled on. Either human borne viruses and bacteria would wipe out that life or aliens viruses and bacteria wipes out Earth born life. The risk would be too great and only scientific robotic probes would be allowed to land (mostly never to return). That said, life bearing planets would be worth big money to the company that found them.

With suitable dead planets, they would have to terraform them. This would involve dropping specifically engineered lifeforms on the planet to create a human sustainable atmosphere.

Once terraformed, what you would find is people would colonize those planets as quickly as humanly possible. You wouldn't find people waiting until a planet is full before moving.

Firstly there are people who don't like being close to other people. They will move just to have nobody else around. They're quite happy building their own homes, generating their own power and growing their own food. There is a good chance these people make up the terraforming crew.

Next you have the people wanting to build wealth. Land on an empty planet isn't worth anything until people start turning up. The more people turn up, the more the land is worth. If you arrive early and claim large tracts of the best land, your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will end up very wealthy.

Finally you have the dispossessed. These are the people who have no reason to stay. An overcrowded planet may not have the work and owing a home is impossible. Perhaps discrimination is forcing you to move? War? Famine? These people will move because they have to. They move now on Earth even though they might not have anywhere to go. If they can go somewhere where they can live in peace they will leave.

Basically as soon as a suitable planet is found, people will move there.

  • $\begingroup$ While the argument for corporate driven space exploration seems compelling on the surface it hasn't happened yet to spite the potential profits. I really don't see why or how that would change, history suggests that companies exploit they don't explore. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 16, 2018 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash, there hasn't been much corporate-driven space exploration because there aren't, aside from satellite delivery, potential profits in the near term. Unlike, to use an example, the people nattering on about asteroid mining, anyone who does the economic modelling and knows something about metal extraction and refining realizes there isn't any money there as yet, and that is true for other potential industries. You need a space presence before you need a space-based industry to support it. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison The sales numbers for near earth asteroid capture missions are staggering, more product output in a month than the world steel industry makes in a year but no-one's willing to try it, and that's the very cheap high profit side of space industry if it doesn't get the corporate interests moving nothing will. Space-based industry can supply the bottom of a gravity well much more easily than vice versa you don't need a space market to make space based industry profitable and you never have. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 16, 2018 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash, and that's exactly what I mean. The sales numbers are "staggering" if one ignores costs such as that required to locate an appropriate (iron) asteroid, develop the technology to move it, field the technology to move it, move it within a reasonable timeframe to get an actual return on investment while the investors are still alive, the tech to process it in orbit, the tech to get the material down from orbit (people would be hesitant to allow a mass-driver aimed down), and so on. Unless the final delivery costs are less than (today) $90/ton, it can't compete. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2018 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison We've clearly been paying attention to very different viability studies, I'll simply agree to differ. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 17, 2018 at 10:12

The temptation will great to colonize the best Earthlike planets first especially distance, time, energy and materials costs will be the same. Certainly there were those who do so with a vengeance.

The most Earthlike planet in the entire galaxy is seventy thousand light years away. Not a problem. It is just as easy to get there as that less Earthlike habitable planet tidally locked around red dwarf star only fifteen light years distant. The answer seems obvious, but is it the best choice?

The answer is probably not. The more Earthlike a planet is the more there will subtle problems like allergies, all that alien protein in the form of pollen floating around, and organisms that are likely to have sufficiently similar biochemistries that humans are either edible fodder or excellent host for infection. In fact, the more Earthlike planets can be the more problems like this will multiply.

OK, so it's got a breathable atmosphere, seas you can swim in, but if you're constantly wheezing, sneezing and coughing with hay fever and other allergies or afraid to go in the water of hungry marine behemoths where's the fun in that?

If you have to always wear an environment suit for protection you might as well have colonized a planet with a poisonous atmosphere and have done with it.

There is an even better reason to colonize non-Earthlike or less Earthlike planets and especially this in orbit around red dwarf stars. Stars similar to our Sun will move off the main sequence in roughly one billion years or less while red dwarf stars remain on it for around a trillion years.

Any canny colonizer with an eye for the long-term will know sooner or later, what's only a billion years between friends, will have to move from their all tto Earthlike planets when their primary star goes red giant and eventually white dwarf. Also, while the numbers of Earthlike planets is relatively small there are huge numbers of planets waiting to be settled in orbit around red dwarfs.

By the time the First Galactic Empire is well and truly established the vast majority of inhabited planets will around red dwarfs, therefore, this means this is where the greatest mass of the galaxy's population will be. They will have the voting power. Meanwhile the descendants of those impetuous colonists who rushed to take over what they thought were the best and nicest, but definitely Earthlike planets will be left in smaller numbers of galactic citizenry, with less voting power, wheezing and sneezing in their handkerchiefs.

It will be those with a view to the long-term who will see the advantages of colonizing and settling the less Earthlike planets. Programs and organizations administering the colonization of the galaxy will run parallel schemes for settling both the Earthlike and the less to non-Earthlike planets. The two schemes will be of equal size and scope because they will be planning for the long-range future.


Lots of good points have been made already, however here's some more point that hopefully will also inspire someone.

There's more to it than Earth-likeness.

Why forego a perfectly liveable planet for some lifeless rock? When there are other parameters in the equation.

The first and foremost answer is because you aren't the only one in the universe. Other civilisations beat you to the punch and already picked some choice planets for themselves. You aren't in a warmongering mood, and besides there are other planets to be had. But it means that maybe you'll have to settle for a second rate neighbourhood.

Rules and regulations are also an universal buzzkill. Imagine any plant life or animal life is protected, and killing those might be bad for your public image. Damned space-liberals! In these conditions, and since there is a planet that fits your needs and also doesn't make you look like an evil corporation, you'll sooner start mining asteroids or pump fuel from gas giants than risk angering the space-EPA or the space-UN.

Or maybe you look for a cool planet, maybe one with ice volcanoes or rings or with a pink sun. It isn't particularly practical or beneficial, nor is it particularly impractical or detrimental. It might make for a good photo-op at the very least.

Last thing to consider is some people might purposefully look for the least practical planet to settle, either for the challenge or because they believe in hardship, or in cases like the military to make sure the troops are capable to sustain anything.

In the end, organisations will push towards different directions to suit their needs and limitations. They'll still look for the most favourable conditions available, but that doesn't mean picking only Earth-like planets. "Almost perfect" is highly subjective after all.

Scarcity, and lack thereof.

Now for the consequences. I should preface, this is only one possible scenario.

There will be a drive toward space travel, and the cost of it will lower. You will eventually reach a point where going from planet to planet is cheaper than taking a taxi to the airport. In fact, more people will travel through space than by taxi. Practically, you'll have immediate access to infinite resources at a cost so ridiculous low it might be as well be free.

The free market economy doesn't like infinite supplies because that means prices tend towards zero. You will need to reinvent the economy plain and simple.

Then I can envision two extremes: the corporations fall, or the governments fall.

Scenario one is the old economy falls. Companies go ounder, jobs disappear, so does wealth. But from the ashes rises a new society, a society where the state provides for everybody, where you get everything you need, and where everything is awesome. Think Star Trek, that would be the most hopeful example of a post-scarcity universe I can think of.

Scenario two is people start a revolution, heads roll and governments crumble. Corporations are free to act without regulation and the law becomes their to dictate. Parliaments are replaced with admin boards, ministers with executives. Corporations become micro-states, they'll own planets, healthcare, armies, and ultimately people. Welcome to cyberpunk hell.

  • $\begingroup$ The TV show Dark Mater shows an outcome like described in last paragraph, as one example to the opposite of a Star Trek universe. $\endgroup$
    – Seserous
    Jul 17, 2018 at 0:05

When new planets are opened up, they are effectively colonized, and the rules of the interplanetary civilization imposed on them. These may not be agreed on by everybody, for example the beautiful planet of Maui-Covenant in the Hyperion series is immediately turned into a vacation spot, which ruins its ecology within fifty years. To a Capitalist society, this is good and right, because lots of money was made.

The only way to avoid this is to live somewhere that isn't interesting to colonize, not even with the possible slave labor of its inhabitants. The place needs to be sufficiently hostile that no one wants to vacation there, it needs to be poor enough in natural resources that it doesn't make sense to strip-mine it, and the population needs to be largely illiterate so any colonizers would not find local clerks for their administration and would have to bring lots of expensive off-worlders expecting a high standard of living in the colonies as well as hazard pay.

So, the perfect planets are basically air-conditioned shopping malls, and living space for the richest, with resources pulled in from other planets in order to conserve the rich forests serving as hunting grounds. Less than perfect planets house clerks, workers and light industry, and mining and heavy industry are relegated to places with lots of resources and low gravity. And there'd be the "uncivilized" places, where all the interesting stuff happens.


Already lots of great, in-depth answers here, just wanted to add another explanation for colonizing non-ideal planets: some colonists might settle sub-par worlds for political and ideological freedom. To avoid disturbance by a certain establishment, they might pick planets that no one else would care for, that no one else would try to eject them from. This is similar to the exodus of Puritans, who set out to colonize Plymouth Rock for cultural independence, because who else would want to move to a garbage state like Massachusetts?


Since you didn't exactly specify the parameters of your instantaneous travel, for my answer I assume the following:

You can travel to a location instantaneously, if and ONLY if you were there before, setting up infrastructure for instantaneous transport. That would be something akin to a pair of star gates, you need gates at each end to be able to travel.

This would mean you first need to FIND your perfect planets. You figure out a planet is in a Goldilocks zone. You use non-instantaneous FTL travel to reach this planet, you see it works, but unless you actually visit EVERY OTHER potential planet, you never know if you are perfect, just if it's good enough, or better than previous colonies.

Obviously you could in a way automate setting up infrastructure, but this would take a very long amount of time. An example of this in fiction would be the the seed ships in Stargate Universe, taking million years to install stargate infrastructure. Would YOU want to wait millions of years for the ideal colony?

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting first answer. Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jul 17, 2018 at 9:55

Why do they want colonies in the first place?

It's likely true that for colonies with the purpose "Earth is too crowded, lets go somewhere else!" they would pick planets very much like Earth, or even better if they find one (I suspect the planet entirely made of beautiful sandy beaches and perfect weather would be popular). However, there are very many reasons to visit a place other than "I want to live there forever!". Some examples:

Natural resources

Earth-like planets are, naturally and intentionally, very much like Earth and fairly likely to have similar limitations. On the other hand, there could be quite a lucrative business opportunity if you lay claim to the planet made entirely of diamonds. Or, since diamonds aren't incredibly intrinsically valuable so much as kept in intentionally restrictive supply, substitute some other rare material that people want more of. The actual difficulties involved in your instantaneous travel might affect what is economical here, but I would be surprised if there's NO planet that can supply some material more cheaply than terrestrial sources. When one is found, claiming it could require a permanent garrison to dissuade others from doing the same.

Vacation spots

While there might be some particularly good locations for permanent residence, there are probably other locations that are really cool for a few days but not really inherently comfortable. The previously mentioned planet of diamonds probably has some interesting views that make for a good postcard, but with such little diversity of local materials I suspect absolutely everything you can get there would be ludicrously expensive (with the exception of tacky souvenir diamonds) so it's mostly popular as a luxury vacation spot. Maybe some moderately wealthy family could afford an annual trip to a different exotic planet each time, but naturally they prefer the "exotic" be safely on the outside of comfortable climate controlled domes and exciting guided tours; in other words, a thriving industry of "colonies" on various planets based on "interesting" rather than "can sustain a lasting population".


While current space travel hasn't reached the point where resource mining is more than a pipe dream, and space tourism hasn't passed the "I swear we'll find a way to do it!" stage, we've been sending scientific missions to many extraterrestrial bodies for decades; with every planet we can find available, I can't imagine we would stop. We have semi-permanent science missions in Antarctica despite it being a truly inhospitable location, because SCIENCE; I suspect Mars would be the same if we had better GTFO plans and less time needed to get there.


Planets like or almost-like Earth would probably be popular for true colonization (motivated by crowding or independence or whatever), but other planets much less like earth could still have interesting and desirable traits that would encourage a permanent settlement regardless.

  • $\begingroup$ We all know that planets made of diamond are really too dangerous to want to colonise though. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 16, 2018 at 17:13

If ever planet in the galaxy is effectively equidistant from Earth is there any point in colonising anything that's less than almost perfect?

Because there is value in colonising something now instead of waiting. You bet that if there are now some known planets which are "good enough", they will be colonised -- even if in the future it's bound to find something "almost perfect". Space is a big place. The almost perfect place may be quickly reachable -- that only has value if you know where it is.

And even after "almost perfect" places have been found, there will always be people picking the lesser places. The "almost perfect" place will be prime real estate: expensive, and crowded. There will always be demand for cheaper and quieter places.


You need to present a whole lot more information.

How does the transporter work (operationally)? Do you dial in a range and distance? Do you specify "coordinates", and if so, how are they determined? Is this a "magic" transporter which will automatically find a level spot on a planetary surface and deposit you there (with zero relative velocity)? (Note that I find that one preposterous, but you're the author.)

For interstellar transportation, it's clear that you're talking about a single-station transporter, a la Star Trek. More conservative send/receive booths won't do, since you have to get to the destination the first time the hard way, and that just won't work for galactic-scale travel.

What, exactly, is the cost of a jump? Not only in energy (and its associated economic factors), but things like computation time? How do you handle relative motion? If you jump into space near a body you will be accelerated in some direction. If you reverse jump, what happens to the speed you've built up? This could make recovery operations just a bit tricky. Different parts of the galaxy (even neighbor stars) have wildly different velocities - how does a traveller handle the difference when she appears in a different star system?

If it's not "magic", a planet-finder needs to be in a spaceship. In general, we don't know the distance to any star, let alone its planets, with any great precision, so presumably it will take quite a few jumps to fine tune a location. Furthermore, the ship needs to be of good size, since (among other things) it needs to be able to actually find a planet once it's in the star system. And that's not necessarily a quick process, since it effectively requires mapping the star field over a period of time and looking for apparent motion. If you don't jump into the system well above the plane of the ecliptic, you'll also need to be prepared to map twice, the second time after you've jumped to the other side of the star. The spaceship does not, in principle, need a lot of maneuvering capability, since it can always jump near the star, build up velocity, then jump to a point chosen so that the transferred velocity vector is a stable orbit. BIG NOTE - If you can do this cheaply you've got the makings of a perpetual motion machine or over-unity generator, and this has other issues.

But also note that, unless operation is essentially (operationally) instantaneous, the ship is vulnerable while a new jump is being computed. If such computation takes appreciable time, you can't have "panic button" which permits recovery from a jump into a Bad Place, like too close to a target star.

So you've found a good planet and you're in orbit around it. Now what? How do you get down? On earth, LEO has an orbital velocity of about 8 km/sec. If you attempt to jump down to the surface, what happens to that velocity? If you have to get down the hard way, you'll need reentry vehicles. The more capable the RVs, the more expensive the main ship, and the fewer the number of companies in the business.

So now you're on the ground, the atmosphere is breathable and the temperature is OK. What now? How long before you're comfortable that the local fauna and flora won't find you crunchy and good with ketchup? Diseases? Allergies? It would be pretty mind-boggling to find that the local biochemistry is both compatible and friendly. But let's finesse that one.

What, exactly, does the end-user (as opposed to the explorer) get out of a new planet? If it's just expansion of a country, the exploration effort will be carried out by a governmental agency, not a private one. And unless the jump cost is really, phenomenally dirt cheap, shipping new infrastructure to a new settlement is going to cost out the wazoo. The settlers can do it, in time, but it's chancy. Take fuel, for instance. Do you have any idea of the effort required to find oil deposits? Or the sheer amount of materials that go into a refinery? Unless you postulate a bootstrap process, the amount of stuff that needs to be shipped is mind-boggling, and a bootstrap process is going to take decades. Lots of prospectors (many of whom will die) over a large area. Minerals found, maybe - but maybe not, stuff is where you find it. Small-scale extraction. Small-scale transport. Build-up of scale. Meanwhile, everybody has to be fed and clothed, and without the infrastructure (and working in a new biosphere which is sure to have unpleasant surprises, especially if it's compatible) agricultural productivity will be low, so you'll need lots of farmers who don't live all that well. Plus, of course, once they do get up and running they may well take the position that they'd rather keep what they have rather than sending it "home". Remember, it's been decades and their kids think that the local planet is home.

Send in robotic factories to exploit rich mineral finds? Sure, but if you've got robotic factories, why not use them at home?

It goes on and on. Unless the transporters are really, really cheap, it's hard to see why anybody other than the desperate poor or the ideologically insecure would take plunge. And with this sort of customer base, it's hard to see how it would become big business.


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