So our world you have wormholes, they aren't "tunnels", just "doorways" of sorts between two systems.

The network connects a small portion of our galaxy, some 500 solar systems in total.

Technology is ahead of ours but not too fantastically so, torch ships exist but they reach at most something like 10% of C, nobody can reach "true" relativistic speeds like 90% of C or so.

I did some calculations and seemingly it takes some 20 days or so to travel across a solar system the size of ours, travelling across the whole human space would take at most 3-4 years (assuming you are "dodging" the planets and just going straight for each system wormhole toward the next without stopping)

In that scenario, what kind of resources would people bother trading? Would be there anything you can't find in a singular solar system and need to go to another to find?

I am not talking about art, people, ideas, equipment, or ships, I am asking what resources are worth shipping.

To be precise, since I used the tag, I am asking what kind of materials you might find in one region of space that might be lacking in another, and would be useful enough for humans in general to be worth shipping.

  • $\begingroup$ It's all about cost. Goods move from point A to point B because selling them at B makes more money that making/growing costs and transporting/customs costs and marketing/distribution costs. In theory bottled water from Alpha Centauri is going to be saleable in otherwise sensible Liverpool, UK as long as they can charge enough money for it. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2020 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ This is far too broad. What wouldn't they trade? Humans traded (literally) everything from soup to nuts back when it took a year (or more) to make the trip. What people would trade has much more to do with what-do-you-need vs. what-do-you-have than it ever will the transportation technology. VTC Needs Focus. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 11, 2020 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ It's a very broad question. Generally they would not trade raw materials since they can mine them in space and would trade all sorts of artifacts: tools, industrial machinery, vehicles, works of art. Also immaterial artifacts could be valuable like music or philosophical concepts. Of course what may be valuable to one society may be worthless to another (e.g. music to a species with no hearing ability). $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2020 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ Pleas,e read the title of the question, pornography is not a resource, baseball card is not a resource, pets are not resources, art is not a resource either. Philosophical concepts, music and other immaterial artifacts are OBVIOUSLY NOT RESOURCES! READ THE TITLE! $\endgroup$
    – speeder
    Aug 11, 2020 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ What counts as a "resource"? Because apparently you consider that beautiful models willing to pose in suggestive photographs are not resources, knowledge is not a resource, artistic creations are not resources, objects of which there exists only a limited number are not resources, pedigreed animals are not resources... And as for "materials", the vaaaaast majority of useful materials are man-made, they do not exist in nature. There is no gasoline in nature, there is no steel in nature, no duraluminum, no high pressure polyethylene, no nylon, no optical glass, no acrylic, no fabrics... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 12, 2020 at 12:49

6 Answers 6



Peoples got to eat. Food and drink has been shipped around for as long as there have been ships. There are places that are good for making food and drink, and the people who live there are good at making it. There are other places where a person might want to live or work but with limited local food options, or the people there are too busy with other work to make their own food.

Some foods that are shipped are things that have increased value because of human manipulation like fancy cheese or wine. But there are others that I think fit what the OP is looking for as regards "resources"; the 4 categories of traded commodities are metals, energy, ag and meat. 2 of those are food. Wheat, rice, pork bellies etc. Bulk commodities.


Peoples got to drink. There are many places on earth where people live but where water must be shipped in because there are not local supplies or local tech is inadequate to treat the water they have. Examples include islands, deserts but also places where there is surface water but it is dirty. Water is trucked in and carried to homes.

A giant tank of water could allow a colony around it on a world otherwise waterless, or with water that was so contaminated that it was very difficult to use. Keeping the locals dependent on imported water is also a good way to keep them dependent on the external power who is bringing that water.


Much like earth's age of sail, the goods being traded are varied.

Products are resources if they can't be manufactured everywhere.
So your interstellar trade will be the latest iPods and gadgets, it'll be Genuine Havana Cigars (they're from Havana!)
It'll be Tea, Coffee, cabbage and potatoes.

If the soil on alpha-centauri doesn't have enough potassium, you're not going to get bananas there, but people like bananas, they'll get them shipped in if they have to.

If there's a star system out there with an abundance of platinum-group metals, then you'll see those being shipped to systems with less of that.
If one system has an abundant asteroid-belt, the ore from there will fuel the industries of other systems.

Nowhere has everything.
That's a reality of trade.

Your interstellar traders will be carrying whatever one group doesn't have enough of, and there's never going to be a shortage of customers.



Ressource trading only makes sense when a certain ressource - metals, water, whatever is more abundant and easier to mine in one system than in another.

Now, if you want metals, just park a wormhole or three in the asteroid belt and the other ends near your heavy industry.

You need water to terraform mars? One wormhole in mars orbit, one out in the kuiper belt to catch comets. Actually I don't know where the best source for water in the solar system is.

You need huge amounts of energy? place solar power array in an orbit as close to the sun as managable, with it's own wormhole to whereever the energy is needed (transporting energy by charged batteries or fuel for fuel cells or antimatter or whatever is surely more convenient than microwaving the power across the solar system).

What I'm getting at are two points:

  • When you have any form of interstellar travel, a single star system practically becomes a point
  • In most interesting star systems everything a civilization needs is there, things don't get more convenient to mine than asteroid belts and the like

P.s. Quite possibly point 2 is wrong and someone with more astronomical knowledge can prove it - I'd love to read this answer!

  • $\begingroup$ Manufacturers aren't generally in the business of mining their own raw materials, and energy-hungry industries don't usually have their own power plants. I fail to see why wormholes would suddenly vertically integrate every industry to the point where trade became unnecessary. You're suggesting that no one will trade space bananas because... everyone has their own space banana plantation that they can easily visit? Just because resources are effectively physically nearby doesn't mean they're not owned by different people. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2020 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ wormholes will phsically integrate manufacturing, just like intermodal shipping physically integrated manufcturing. It's nowhere waid that the ownership structures also need to integrated. I'm not saying there's no trade, I'm saying there's no trade between stellar systems $\endgroup$
    – mart
    Aug 13, 2020 at 6:03

Finished goods.

Let's say you have two planets. Planet A has been settled longer, and has a lot of industrial infrastructure built up. They can do precision metallurgy, they can do complex polymerization, they can build computer chips through vapor deposition. There are a million and one factories dedicated to every kind of production process you can imagine. And all these factories know each other, they have working arrangements, and they have a supply chain all worked out to provide finished goods efficiently.

So from the perspective of someone on Planet B who needs, say, a carbon fiber rod to fix their grain thresher, or a load of computer chips to upgrade their household robots, or a thousand tons of duraluminum to build new prefab dwellings, they have two options:

1: build up local production of these goods, starting from resources found in nature (metal ores, raw hydrocarbons, organic feedstocks) and moving up a complex hierarchy of processing, or

2: pay to import them from Planet A.

Each option is likely to make sense in a certain set of cases; maybe it makes sense to import the parts for one car (or even the whole car ready to drive) whereas supplying a million of them is enough to fuel local production. No doubt over time the local industry on Planet B will grow more capable and produce more diverse goods, further reducing the incremental cost of adding another link to its supply chain; eventually, it may be able to supply goods to other, less developed planets in turn. But for a time after first colonization, it will be totally dependent on Planet A for anything more sophisticated than its own factories can make.


Probably rare mined resources or medical supplies.

While it's entirely possible to send products back and forth, and depending on the size of the gates (are we talking Stargate? bigger/smaller?) The likelihood is that the planets connected would already have some sort of life support system in the form of food, air, etc. Since we can assume that sending perishables would quickly overload the shipping/gate system, we can assume that what is needed are items that require specialized equipment, expertise or environment to produce. Similarly to how products are traded today on earth when supply lines are limited, huge shipments of specialized goods, usually non perishable, are the most effective exports cost-wise.


The most realistic answer is information (entertainment, art, etc). Yes, I know you asked about resources, but that's not likely. Even if a particular planet is a bit short on some resource on its surface, the rest of the star system is bound to have it and it would probably be cheaper to have some asteroid mining setup locally, especially if robot mining is in play.

Star systems are not likely to have unique unprocessed resources. Even if a system has a lower abundance of one element or another, star systems are huge and will have enough of even rare ones spread among their asteroids, comets and other planets. For example, the average metallic asteroid in our system is estimated to have trillions of dollars worth of metals and be abundant in metals which are very rare on Earth, like iridium. Just one asteroid.

This might not be the case if the wormholes were on the surface and people didn't want to bother doing offworld stuff, but it sounds you have gates in space, so there's an incentive to have infrastructure in space anyway.

There is one type of Good that could be worth trading however, Authentic Goods. Sure, you can grow coffee on just about every planet, but there's only one place actual Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is grown by definition, as one example. I remember one sci-fi series where that stuff was legally restricted to royalty (Mote in God's Eye, was it?). Not every planet will have its own unique thing like this, but some will. Even if the stuff is not actually distinguishable from other versions in any objective way, there will always be those who place value on such distinctions.


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