The O’Neill Halo at the Earth-Sol L5 point was one of humanity’s most impressive constructs, and is now one of its largest mass graves. A monument to the skill and drive and intelligence of the United North American polity, and a warning that some dreams came at too high a price.
When the true leap to space came, it went to the places that most people expected; Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and (to a lesser extent) the Galilean moons. But once the flags had been planted and the long process of building began, new opportunities and needs came into focus. One of them was the inherent danger of using mass drivers to ship ore back to Earth. A missed pickup or poorly plotted intercept would be a catastrophe that beggared all others. Instead, asteroids were diverted to the Earth-Sol L4 and L5 points for processing. At first resources were then slow-shipped to Earth or Luna, but the value in building completed products at the L4 and L5 points was easily apparent.
The L5 point was where United North America (the UNA) decided to build their primary orbital bases in the age before warp points and interstellar travel. As they had “lost” the overall race to claim the more habitable parts of the Sol system, the UNA government decided to invest instead in orbital colonies. While more expensive, they did not require the extensive terraforming and acclimatization that Lunar, Martian, or Jovian colonies did. Over the years nine O’Neill stations were constructed, each of them eight kilometers across and over thirty long, home to upwards of ten million people in a single station. By the time warp points were discovered, the finishing touches on a new “Super O’Neill” station were being done. Ten times the size, it boasted a theoretical “comfortable” population cap of almost one hundred and fifty million inhabitants. The discovery of habitable extra-solar planets brought new O’Neill station construction to a standstill, but a wide selection of smaller recreational stations, work shacks, and industrial nodes continued to be built at the L5 in order to take advantage of the ready supply of skilled labor and resources.
Broadly, the industrial base of the colonies was centered on two major markets: production of technology that required microgravity or zero gravity assembly and materials processing, and supporting the UNA Space Navy. The latter was one of the biggest single employers in the entire halo, and was centered on O’Neill Station “Norfolk”. This same station also had in-house design and subcomponent production; virtually everything a ship needed was built on-station, which helped preserve the UNA’s technological edge. While some ships were manufactured at the much larger TABK works in Mars orbit or the out-system yards at Sudbury, the best and most cutting edge systems were built at Norfolk Station. In the years leading up to the Collapse War, TABK built hulls and life support systems, but the ships were transferred to Norfolk Station as barely functional hulls so they could have their proprietary systems installed.
The Collapse War was the end for the O’Neill Halo. As a major military nodal position it was subjected to repeated raids and high-velocity passes meant to cripple production without committing wholesale murder, but they only caused slight damage that was easily repaired. It took a full EU battlegroup (comprising almost 40% of the EU’s total naval power) to destroy the UNAN’s defending 3rd fleet and cripple Norfolk Station. In the battle two other O’Neill stations, Texcoco Station and Beaure Orbital were also critically damaged, causing millions of casualties and leaving the stations with cascading failures that made them completely uninhabitable in months.
Without Norfolk Station, the remaining O’Neill colonies discovered that they were suddenly without a critical supplier of parts and logistics needed to keep them viable for the long term. Over the following three years the stations were slowly abandoned as the population took advantage of local cease fires and evacuation corridors to return to Earth. By the time the Collapse War ended only a few holdouts remained on stations that were best described as death traps. Vengeful remnants of the Chinese Space Forces did target practice on the ruins, destroying the last habitable components that remained and killing the last residents that had clung on with sheer stubbornness.
Now, it is nothing more than a monument to the once powerful United North America.
I had wanted large orbital colonies for a couple reasons. One, they’re cool. Two, I had a nice throw-away line about how “billions died as the O’Neill halo was wiped clean”, and while the numbers would change… well, I liked the line. Three, the Starfire system didn’t really embrace the kind of massive orbital platforms you see in other universes, and I wanted them in my universe almost as a poke in the eye.
That the UNA were the builders fitted rather nicely overall.
Also, for those curious, the rough population density on one of those O’Neill colonies is somewhere in the neighborhood of 13,000 people per square kilometer. That sounds like a lot, and it is! But one thing that’s worth noting about that number is that’s also the same approximate density as Tokyo (with all of its wards taken together and averaged). It’s also somewhat the same as New York’s whole density (including various all the various boroughs and towns/etc). What’s interesting is that some neighborhoods in New York and Tokyo have almost double that density, whereas others have barely a quarter. Gives you an idea of what living in one of those colony stations might be like…