This article originally appeared in Jump Point 6.06.
The MISC Prospector is the most famous (and possibly most tortured) project to come out of MISC High Industrial’s infamous Project Cold Boot, an engineering team organized to develop additional revenue streams from existing MISC assets using limited resources. Development of the Prospector began in 2910 as an outgrowth of a review of the Freelancer light transport project. Having already seen success modifying the base Freelancer for both survey and fire suppression missions, MISC was keen to study even more unlikely uses for the chassis. To that end, MISC’s management reluctantly agreed to write off nine Freelancers which were transferred to the Cold Boot team. Three were complete and space tested, while the others were left in various stages of construction and shipped alongside their intended components.
The Cold Boot team began by spit-balling potential roles for a purpose-built Freelancer variant, which ranged from ordinary combat support drones to fire suppression spacecraft. From nearly three hundred rough concepts, the team voted to divide into three design groups to pursue more advanced physical development of the top three options. The first was a business oriented design dubbed the ‘Freeminder,’ which was to be a secure data relay ‘brain ship’. The second project opted to angle for a military contract with an armored space-to-ground reconnaissance vehicle called the Observer. The third, and considered the most unlikely to go forward, was to be a dedicated mining ship nicknamed simply ‘The Miner’.
The mining ship was least likely to go forward for a very simple reason: in 2910 there were very few small mining ships. This was not for lack of technology, but rather both terrestrial and asteroid mining were simply considered to be large-scale propositions which could only be profitable when funded by major corporations. In a world where 400-meter mining platforms could strip small asteroids in a matter of hours, there was simply no thought that an individual operator would ever pursue mining. MISC was, essentially, co-opting the Roberts Space Industries ‘common man’ approach to ship sales with a ship that had no proven audience.
By 2914, the first two conversion attempts had petered out entirely. The Freeminder team proved unable to produce an effective prototype, with the Freelancer’s internal space unsuited to shielding the number of system blades needed for the project. The Observer concept had proven spaceworthy in simulations and a great deal of work had been done constructing the alternative, transparent nose cone for the physical build when word that the rumored ground reconnaissance contract had been withdrawn due to a shifting military budget. The incomplete prototype remained on display at MISC’s Los Arenas laboratory for years and was eventually scrapped. Although the Miner had proceeded to the physical prototype stage, its situation seemed equally dire. The first prototype, retroactively designated ‘Prospector Proof of Concept Demonstrator A-1’, was an unpleasant and ungainly beast. The team found themselves unable to budget for custom-manufactured mining equipment and was instead forced to adopt an off-the-shelf solution: the smallest size of a Daylan Kruz laser-head emitter, a component roughly the size of a Freelancer’s entire cockpit. Rather than being integrated into the design, the emitter was nano-welded tandem to the cockpit and attached via four metal booms. This created an unwieldy spacecraft without the aerodynamics necessary to function predictably in an atmosphere. Initial test flights were conducted via carrier spacecraft, with the prototype miner being dropped into space close to asteroid targets.
What the A-1 technology demonstrator lacked in looks or handling, it made up for in functionality. Over the course of twenty-six flights conducted by MISC test pilots, the A-1 racked up success in a number of areas considered necessary for the program to continue. These flights proved that the Freelancer’s stock drive could power a mining apparatus, that the hull could be modified to load ore and other materials while in flight and that, with some practice, a trained pilot could very effectively conduct more delicate, high-value mining operations using the ship’s thrusters. The prototype program continued with four of the Freelancer chassis ultimately being converted into increasingly advanced demonstrators (designated A-2, A-3, and B-1).
By the space trials for the final demonstrator, the B-1, the mining attachment had instead been integrated into a large sheath astride the underside of the cockpit. The result was a mechanism that the pilot could very effectively maneuver, giving him the ability to make the kind of delicate mining maneuvers for which larger ships had to deploy specialized surface craft. The management at MISC-HI was elated at the prospect of joining the ranks of spacecraft manufacturers producing lucrative mining ships and saw the potential for the ship to create a new market for independent mining crews (many of whom would lease these ships at extremely positive corporate rates of return). The board was ultimately so convinced that they removed the effort from Cold Boot entirely, funding the project and assigning a team of top engineers to develop it into a distinct design rather than a Freelancer conversion.
Over the next eight years, MISC-HI internal teams worked together on two projects: The prime design team focused on developing a unique Freelancer-inspired spacecraft hull that, while using many off-the-shelf parts, would be constructed ground up and organized to best support how they envisioned small-scale mining would be most effective. Meanwhile, a handsomely funded research and development team focused on the biggest technological hurdle to the project: miniaturizing a mining array to the point that it could be stored within a small ship’s fuselage while still giving it an effective energy output. To meet this task, MISC licensed the Daylan Kruz design and relentlessly cut down and miniaturized components in a painstaking, multi-year process.
The ship, now named the Prospector, began proper space trials in 2923 after an extended time in jump tunnel simulations. Live testing went extremely well with only limited teething difficulties resulting from a late-in-process software update. The base ship was ready for flight some six months before the first version of the drill was completed, so the initial test flights focused on handling and were flown with only a weighted simulation. Late in the year, the first mining assembly came off the line and delighted thousands of aerospace engineers by slotting into place aboard a Prospector hull and then immediately humming to life.
MISC unveiled the Prospector to the galaxy in what it called a ‘special preview showing’ at the 2924 Intergalactic Aerospace Expo. The crowd reaction was harsh, with reviewers praising the design but strongly (and often cruelly) criticizing the existence of the ship in the first place. No one, went the refrain, would ever need such a specialist spacecraft. As a result, there was almost no interest from buyers at the show and pre-orders for the next Freelancer immediately outshone the Prospector.
Although MISC’s management opted to continue the expensive planned 2925 model year rollout for the commercial model, many employees privately expressed doubts because of the media’s reaction. Where Roberts Space Industries was given carte blanche to ‘sell the dream’ with every new design, it seemed no one was willing to think of MISC in the same way. Sadly for MISC’s stock prices, the media reaction was prophetic; sales of the Prospector hit rock bottom shortly after launch and stayed there for two full years.
Then came the Chessex Lode, a massive discovery of previously ignored raw materials on Ferron II. News reports around the Empire reported on the lode’s discovery, the most valuable of the year, which had been made using precision instruments deep in a canyon of a planet that had been effectively ignored for years. Making the story all the more appealing was the fact that it was not Shubin Interstellar or another large mining outfit with the new mineral claim. Instead, it was Chloe Raznick, owner and operator of one of the first 2925 MISC Prospectors off the assembly line. She had made the legal purchase of several hundred parcels of former military ground testing area in the hopes of salvaging expended shells and claiming the small bounties on radioactive debris collection. In the process of surveying her lot, she discovered a deep chasm into which she navigated her Prospector. The rest was history and Raznick was an overnight sensation, charming the Empire and impressing trillions with her graceful entrance into a world of excess riches.
Within days of the discovery, Prospector sales shot through the roof as people rushed to try their hands at this new career. Just as the Cold Boot team once predicted, the Prospector had given rise to a new class of miner; and now their work had equipped those independent miners to take on the galaxy. Since 2925, MISC has made several iterative updates to the basic Prospector with two models (2929 and 2938) being considered the most significant. The 2947 model is planned to incorporate a completely reworked mining array and a new system for ore storage, which is significantly more efficient than the original.