Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Helion Commerce and Transport Authority

The HCTA is the system's largest publicly traded corporate interest with stations across all three planetary bodies, on a number of colonized moons, and in orbit throughout the system. Its capital budget is larger than that of the Heran Navy, and it employs enough people to occupy Nike's fifth-largest continent. The HCTA began as a consortium of governmental and private organizations tasked with the construction of two Gates, one at either end of the heliosystem's habitable zone, in stationary orbit around Helios. The first gate was constructed on the same orbital plane as Nike, the outermost planet, while the second was stationed in close proximity to Hera, the innermost. The effect was to decrease the travel time from Hera to Nike from three months to just under one minute, and the travel time from Tyche to Hera from 65 days to two-three weeks. Note that travel is not directly between Gates--they are not connected. Instead, the Gate acts as a catapult that sends ships a pre-determined distance: in this case, within the proximity of the sister Gate.

Upon completion of the project, the HCTA assumed management and operation responsibilities for the Gate system specifically and the resulting intrasystem traffic generally. Today, the Transport Authority's operations are divided into five main divisions: Planetary Traffic Control, System Traffic Control, Gate Control, Security, and Ancillary Operations.

Planetary Traffic Control operations are monitored and maintained by the HCTA for Nike, Tyche and Hera. Ships are given orbital and sub-orbital clearance via Authority comcast, and flight-lines are monitored by stations located in geosynchronous orbit above the polar regions of each planet. Additionally, satellites, anchorages and construction platforms fall under the Authority's prevue where movement is concerned: docking is handled by the respective installation, but initial approach vectors must be filed and approved by HCTA controllers. Once sub-orbital clearance has been received, flight paths must be approved by appropriate national planetary authorities--the HCTA's jurisdiction ends when the atmosphere starts. Docking fees, paid upon arrival on-planet, typically include a hidden HCTA orbital tariff. These fees are collected by the Authority from the national governments based on relative traffic-weight.

Before leaving planetary orbit ships must file a flight-plan with HCTA System Traffic Control and must remain in contact with controllers via Authority comcast for the duration of their voyage. Ships are required to broadcast an IFF transponder at all times, and to maintain their electromagnetic and thermal emissions are kept above the minimum civilian threshold to ensure ease of detection by the HCTA/DCSF RASUS nets. From towers located at both Gates and aboard monitoring platforms stationed in orbit outside established space lanes to mitigate time delay owing to relativistic distances, all spacecraft movement is orchestrated by System Traffic Controllers.

The two Gates located at either end of the habitable zone are limited capability FTL catapults that, due to limited power-generation capabilities and design, cannot provide transport outside the heliosystem. Under extraordinary circumstances, the Gate's range and destination can be re-tasked to take part in long-distance, intrasystem rescue operations and military exercises. Due to the Gate's importance in interplanetary commerce and transportation, all commercial and military ships must abide by certain design restrictions with regard to materials, dimensions and atmospheric displaced volume. Hence while ship size and design varies, larger vessels--particularly DCSF and HCN destroyers--share common dimensions as the reach Gate limitations. Traffic is managed by Gate controllers, who queue outgoing ships into clusters that depart at regular intervals. Departure is only granted upon registry confirmation and payment of HCTA Gate Operation Tariffs. Incoming ships are required to file updates flight plans before they are integrated into the system flight-lines. Both incoming and outgoing ships are under the exclusive purview of the HCTA, and are subject to boarding, search and seizure at any time.

Security, at the Gates, in planetary orbit and along shipping lines, is provided by a fleet of HCTA patrol frigates armed with medium-grade ion cannons capable of disarming the electrical systems of most civilian transports. A limited number of fast-reaction missile frigates are available to respond to greater threats, including pirate elements EM shielded civilian transports. Normal practice is to demand a ship heave-to and prepare to be boarded via HCTA comcast. failure to comply will result in the disabling of the ship's engines and, if necessary, life support systems with a subsequent evacuation of the ship's crew under DCSF marine guard. Pirates routinely attempt to hijack transports and civilian liners in order to salvage the ship's hull for scrap metal and ransom the crew. As criminal vessels are often armoured and run with low-intensity EM and thermal signatures, they are subject to summary execution by HCTA/DCSF patrols. However, an option of surrender is provided, for subsequent trial in HCTA law-courts.

Ancillary Operations include management of transport and storage services, short-term habitation and ship refurbishment aboard HCTA Gates, orbiting and space lane anchorages, and other aspects of corporate affairs. HCTA shares are publicly traded on the Helion Commerce Exchange, with profits distributed amongst shareholders, many of which are ship captains and owners. Revenues from tariffs are largely directed into ongoing capital expenses, including refurbishment, upgrades and new projects. While the volume of traffic results in gross revenues far in excess of most planetary government budgets, operating costs are high. Nonetheless, revenue from ancillary operations results in significant profits, as does the HCTA's relatively recent foray into off-world mining.

In short, many private individuals, companies, and governments have made and continue to make significant money via the Commerce and Transport Authority.

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