By low-tech I don’t really mean low-tech of course, it’s high compared to where we are today, just low compared to jump-travel and interstellar operations.
A lower technology level can help to create a tighter campaign and one based around what could, potentially, be the next, great, expansionary and colonial era of mankind (albeit without any inconvenient indigenous populations to get in the way).
Some people question whether humanity will ever reach out to the planets and stars, given the poor state of most national and international space programs these days. China looks promising and private enterprise seems to have a few ideas but these are relatively uninspiring and small in scale. Still, some people have some more optimistic views.
The main problem that stops space travel and solar system colonisation seeming viable is the payoff and the cost/benefit problem is largely down to the huge energy cost of moving things into orbit and the time involved just to crawl across our own solar system even to a neighbouring planet like Mars which, even with nuclear rockets, would still take something like four months. A long time to be cooped up in a ship, even if it’s less than the 200+ days associated with chemical rockets.
Nuclear rockets are unlikely to become acceptable, let alone Orion-style bomb launches. The only likely solution, then, is going to be fusion powerplants which should give nuclear-style thrust at an – eventually – affordable price (at least compared to current launch processes).
If it becomes financially viable to do so some of the large, multinational companies that exist are likely to try and exploit space tourism and mining opportunities. If fusion does become viable then He3 mining on the moon could well become a very important energy industry – the other main source being deep underwater.
Asteroid mining is potentially very viable and as sources of rare minerals – and even common minerals – become harder to come by this is only going to become more viable. Mined asteroids could also well become ready-made habitats or even secure and relatively radiation-proof slow-ships.
Adventure In the Solar System
An expansionary period could well provide plenty of opportunities for adventure. Rival companies vying for access and claim-staking to asteroids and areas of moons. Colonisation efforts – particularly focussed on Mars.
A second wave, where travel and action becomes more viable for smaller companies or independent traders, fulfilling private contracts to supplement the corporate and national space corps.
Opportunities along the lines of a sort of ‘Serenity/Firefly’ vibe, at least in terms of the lawless frontier, if not the whole pseudo-western feel. The Chinese, being the only ones taking space particularly seriously as a manned endeavour at the moment are likely to have stolen a march on the rest of the world and have a lot of influence, so that aspect may be correct as well.
Piracy is unlikely, at least in space, but at stations and on the ‘ground’ ship theft may be possible. The real problem is that reports travel at the speed of light while ships are slower and whatever passes for local authorities are bound to be waiting. The only possible hope for theft would be licensed corporate or national piracy.
Adventures are likely to be survival, message carrying, crime, unusual passengers and filling in assorted corporate contracts.
I may develop some of these ideas a little more and write them up as a setting, if there’s any interest.