System Survey: A system survey involves bringing a starship into a star system, and conducting a variety of surveys to evaluate and map out a star system, its sun, its planets, and other astrographic features of interest.
- In order to maintain up-to-date information on the Imperium and the regions surrounding it, The Imperial Interstellar Scout Service and other Explorer Services conduct surveys on an ongoing basis. Although all systems are surveyed, not every system is surveyed to the same degree of detail.
Survey Classifications: The Scouts divide their system surveys into five classes:
Class I (Simple System Survey)
These surveys are the most brief, usually taking four to eight hours to complete. Probes and landing parties are almost never deployed. The Scouts reserve Class I surveys primarily for the survey of a new system.
Whenever an unsurveyed system is first encountered, the Scouts have a standing order: Perform a Class I survey from interstellar range on the new system as soon as possible. A Class I survey may be conducted from as far away as one to two parsecs—close enough to allow the determination of basic stellar data and the possible presence of gas giants. The key goals are: chart the precise location of the new system, determine the system ecliptic, note stellar data, and establish the presence of large gas giants, if any.
Class II (Standard System Study)
This kind of survey takes an average of four to eight days, and may use probes at the commander's initiative. Landing parties are rare. Class II surveys are usually used as the first in system survey of a new system or as a special survey to determine only a limited amount of information. The survey ship is sent into the system for a specific purpose, and leaves as soon as the question has been answered.
In a Class II initial system survey, all planetary bodies over 800 km in diameter are noted, as well as any planetary satellites over 200 km in diameter and the density of asteroid belts and rings are measured.
Class III (System Habitability Study)
These surveys, which are the most common, take four to eight weeks, including the deployment of probes into the habitable zone. Landing parties may be used at the commander's initiative.
The scouts perform physical profiles of all significant bodies, and do an ephemeris of the bodies' orbial motions. An orbital map of the main world is made. Using orbital examination, the Scouts determine a preliminary UWP.
As the commander's discretion, the UWP may be augmented by some on-planet observation and exploration.
Class IV (Intensive System Study)
A class IV survey takes up to a year. Probes are sent into the system's habitable zones, and landing parties visit the habitable zone's worlds.
The most common Class IV survey undertaken by the Scouts is the intensive study of the main world. The world's surface is accurately mapped. Explorers examine the basic geology of the world and collect organisms so as to type the indigenous biology.
Native sophonts are studied, but not usually contacted.
Class V (Colonization System Study)
These surveys take five to 10 years. Probes and landing parties are sent to all surveyed bodies. In most cases, an extensive Class V survey is performed only when requested by the surveyed system's government or by the Imperial military.
A common reason for a Class V survey of a system is as a precursor to colonization. The Scounts undertake many detailed and time-consuming studies; they model planetary dynamics (including atmosphere, oceans, solar, volcanism, and major migratory patterns), and the measure the stability of the climate. Basic resources necessary to sustain a colony are identified.
A superficial examination of resources useful in economic exploitation is made, and native sophonts, if any, are contacted.
Almost all interstellar spacefaring sophont societies who manage to expand beyond their home star system must learn to survey a star system for habitable worlds, resources, and astrographic phenomena. The Ziru Sirka did it, the Terrans did, and most likely the Ancients did as well.
Technological Overview of System Surveys
TL:1-3 sophont societies often have keen interests in the stars and can create sophisticated star charts, astronomy sciences, and expansive knowledge of astrophysics and the universe, all without leaving the gravity well.
TL:4-6 sophont societies can develop sophisticated optics, electromagnetic theory, and planetary observatories. A few even develop rockets, very early radio spectography, and long range star system evaluation methods.
In the TL:7-9 tech epoch, radio telescopes and long range probes tend to do surveying of the stars. Few mid-tech societies can reliably launch interstellar starcraft, let alone large probes. Probes tend to be small, and extremely slow by later NAFAL or STL standards.
By the TL:10-12 technological epoch, successful sophont societies learn to send out scout ships, beagles, drones, and a vast variety of technological resources searching out valuables within unexplored star systems.
By the TL:13-15 tech epoch, advanced starfaring sophont societies have generally developed relatively professional and very capable exploration institutions such as the IISS, Solomani Scout Corps, or other Explorer Services. High technology gravimetric sensor technologies can do much from afar, but ultimately a comprehensive survey of a star system and mainworld candidates still requires orbital surveillance, world probe drones, and away teams.
A number of new technologies are being developed for the TL:16-18 technological epoch, and it is expected that these newer technologies will greatly expand the capabilities of future star system surveying efforts.