Transportation routes form the backbone of our modern society. Every future society will need its own transportation network. Also, transport is divided into planetary and interplanetary.
Planetary Transport Edit
The development of transportation has started with the first rovers that visited Moon and Mars. When the settlers will come, they will also need transportation vehicles and routes. The development of transport will be strongly related with the development of future colonies and the need to move passengers and cargo.
Research Era Edit
Before terraforming a planet, scientists must come and take samples, analyze them and find the best ways to transform the dead world into a new Earth. Also, in case of a smaller body (like an asteroid), where terraforming is not possible, researchers will look for minerals and ores that can support Industrial colonization. At this step, scientists will use satellites to map the celestial body. They will travel long distances by flying through the air and outer space, but, they will also use rovers (manned or unmanned), to collect samples in the landing area. If rovers cannot reach their destinations, they might be forced to build unpaved roads. At this point, roads might be up to 100 km long.
Terraforming Era Edit
Terraforming a planet is a complex process that requires huge amounts of resources. First of all, there must be built at least one terraforming plant, a huge industrial center that will create greenhouse gasses, will add chemicals to counter some toxins in the air, water or ground and will transform many raw materials.
On Earth, transport is done by roads, railways, waterways and by air. However, on a planet that is undergoing massive terraforming processes, these options are limited. On Earth, roads require the use of asphalt. Without many natural organic molecules available, settlers will not be able to produce asphalt. They will rely on unpaved roads or at least they will use rocks for pavement. It is possible that some rocks might share similar properties with Earth-like cement, so we might see concrete roads. However, because of the huge amounts of materials required for road construction and the fact that unpaved routes have limited speed, roads will have a limited use.
On Earth, railways are excellent for cargo transportation. Many planets (for example Mars) have huge amounts of iron ores that can be used for rail construction. Terraforming processes will require huge amounts of ores to be extracted, smelted, transformed and used by the terraforming plant. Also, chemicals will need to be transported to the oceans or pulverized over the ground, to counter the effects of natural toxic materials. Since roads are hard to be built and air transportation requires too much energy, railways will probably be the best option. We can imagine a global (or at least continental) railway network covering a whole planet, transporting huge amounts of materials throughout the planet.
Air transport will also need to be developed. One of the best way to deploy seeds is by air. This way, plants can be inserted over wide areas. Air transportation is the fastest way to make people move from a place to another. During the terraforming era, engineers will have to travel fast, to take samples and to find the best technical solutions for each place on the planet.
Water transportation can be a good way to move cargo during the terraforming era. The problem is that oceans might not exist at first.
Early Colonization Edit
After the terraforming process ends, settlers will reach their new promised land. Their entrance point will be the bases used by the engineers, close to the terraforming plants. From there, they will be on their own. Settlers will have the advantage of an existing railway network. With an adequate train service, they will move by rail to the place they want and from there they can move with the help of ground vehicles to their future land.
During the early colonization era, we can expect the railway system to grow slowly. From existing stations, roads will develop, first unpaved, but later covered with concrete. At first, the transport system will have a central cosmic base (or more bases). The base will also be the central railway station. Roads will form isolated, unconnected networks, reaching rail stations.
Developed Colonies Edit
Slowly, as the settlements grow, there will be a need to improve transportation. Roads will grow faster then railways. Also, more and more people will have personal vehicles and will not need a public transport system.
Since we talk about the future, we need to imagine that transportation will improve. Our cars need rubber for wheels and fuel as an energy source. Without oil, these things are no longer available. In the future, people will look for other ways to travel. For example, we might see hovering vehicles. A hover vehicle no longer needs a modern road. It can travel over a field covered with grass.
If we look further away into the future, we might see flying vehicles, available at low price and fully automated.
Where Terraforming Is Not Possible Edit
There are many planets where terraforming is not possible (for example planets around Neutron stars. Rich in heavy metals, these places might be good destinations for industrial centers. Still, transportation must exist. In the Arctic, there are a few industrial towns, like Norilsk in Siberia, unconnected by roads to the rest of the world. People there rely on air transportation to move in and out, while cargo is moved by water. On an industrial planet, people will have only a limited road network around their and will depend on public transportation to move from a town to another. At least in the first centuries, until cosmic transportation becomes affordable for everyone.
In case of an asteroid, ground vehicles have a major problem. Because of the low gravity, they will find hard to stay on tracks. Drive too fast and you find yourself on orbit. Cargo transportation will require something different. A funicular line might be useful. Another idea should be a special railway, where trains can hold tight to the tracks.
Small, personal vehicles, will find it very easy to move. Because of the low force needed to liftoff, a space car can departure from an asteroid, move along an orbit and land back. In case of a planet with many small moons, space cars will be able to move from a satellite to another.
Interplanetary Transport Edit
Without interplanetary transport, terraforming and space colonization will never be possible.
Landing Bases Edit
The first bases will be built from the research era. They will be platforms where scientists will land and conduct their research.
During terraforming era, bases will need to grow, in order to receive all equipment, materials and personnel needed for the job. Bases will be located close to terraforming plants. Workers will form the first towns on the planet.
When terraforming process will end, the bases will be there, with all the infrastructure needed to receive the new settlers. For a period of time, there will not be needed to upgrade them. But, as population and industrialization grow, bases will need to be enlarged. At some point, it is possible that local communities and private companies will request the construction of new bases on other locations on the planet.
Far into the future, when space vehicles will develop to a new level, there will be a less need for bases, since everybody will have a personal ship and will park it in the backyard.
Orbiting Stations Edit
Liftoff and landing on a planet require both beating the gravity and atmospheric contact. It might be more efficient to develop large, complex spaceships to do the interplanetary (or interstellar) travel and to make other, smaller ships, to transport staff from an orbiting station to the surface of a planet. In case of a planet with a small moon, the station can be created in or on a satellite.
For the Solar System, Mercury, Venus and Earth will need an orbiting station. For Mars, Phobos or Deimos can be used. Colonies on the moons of Jupiter, of Saturn, of Uranus and of Neptune, can use a single, central base, for each giant planet, on the surface of a small moon.
Medical Stations Edit
During the exploration of Antarctica, special bases have been constructed, where food, medical staff and equipment has been deposited. The first settlers might find useful to do the same. For example, if the Phobos base on Mars is on quarantine, a spaceship can be diverted to the backup, unmanned station on Deimos. There, they can find frozen food, water, oxygen, medical supply and fuel.
Interstellar Stations Edit
Interstellar travel requires extreme speed and special spacecrafts. Ships designed for interstellar travel probably will have engines powered up by antimatter, fusion or nuclear fission. In all cases, fuel is extremely dangerous. Interstellar environment is dominated by extreme cold and ionized gas. Inside a solar system, there is a higher risk of impact. These ships must be protected from impacts and from solar heat (since they are adapted for the extreme cosmic cold). Bases also must be protected from terrorist attacks, since they will host some of the most dangerous types of fuel.
In many places on the Earth, we see a large international airport, also used for local flights to smaller airports. It might be a better idea to set a central interstellar station for each solar system and link it with interplanetary stations. In the case of Solar System, we might place a station on a small asteroid, at the orbit of Jupiter or beyond.
Space Vehicles Edit
For the moment, spaceships use chemical engines to depart from the surface of a planet. There are other theoretical engines, but as for now, NASA has not used any of them. For a large planet like Earth or Venus (or even a Super-Earth), to break the gravitational pull is the hardest part. This is why the largest part of a space rocket contains fuel to send it on orbit. In case of Mars, Moon or the large moons of Jupiter, the amount of energy required is far smaller. For smaller objects, like the moons of Uranus or the asteroids in the main asteroid belt, there is even a smaller amount of needed energy.
Landing on a planet with no atmosphere requires the same amount of fuel as departing from it. Landing on a planet with atmosphere needs less fuel, but the spacecraft must resist the high temperatures created by atmospheric breaking and must have a parachute.
Interplanetary travel requires less amounts of fuel. Both NASA and ESA are using gravity assists from nearby planets, in order to send a probe to the outer planets. Also, other technologies are available, like ion engines and solar sails.
As for now, space transportation is highly expensive. Sending an object to Mars costs many times the weight of that object in gold. We have to hope that future technologies will make space transportation more affordable.