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Colonization for Beginners
Almost any system body (planet, moon or asteroid; perhaps even comets?) can be colonized (gas giants are an obvious exception). In this tutorial, I'll assume you're colonizing a planet, although the process is identical for all system bodies. You don't need actual colonists to live there; a colony might consist of only a single Deep Space Tracking Station (DSTS) and serve as a listening post.
Before you can ship anything to a planet, you need to mark it as a new colony first. Right-click the planet on the map, then select "New Colony" from the populations sub-menu, or go to the System View window (F9), select a body and click "Add Colony". Your new colony will now appear in the Population window (you have to close and re-open it to see the change).
Different populations can co-exist on a planet. They could be aliens, or a genetically modified species under your control. The game treats them as two separate colonies.
Colonies can be abandoned at any time. Click the "Abandon Colony" at the bottom of the Population window. Everything you leave behind will be lost and cannot be recovered later.
If you haven't run out of precious minerals, you will do so, sooner or later. Time to dig for more.
First, conduct a geological survey of all the bodies in the system, then identify your most urgent mineral needs. In the Minerals tab on the System Map, you'll see all surveyed bodies, their mineral content and accessibility (1 means optimal mining rate, 0.1 is worst). Find one that contains a good and accessible amount of the required minerals (50 tons isn't worth mining), then designate it as a colony.
Also pay attention to distances. If you choose an asteroid several billion km from your industrial center, expect long travel times.
Now you need to ship some mines there. If it's a planet with a low enough Colony cost, you can use normal mines, like on your home planet, operated by colonists. But it takes time for the colony to grow and you'll have to build infrastructure for them. Also, most worlds are unsuitable for habitation. So build a few dozen automines that don't require workers and ship them there. You can do that yourself, by creating repeating orders for a group of your freighters, or let the civilian sector handle it (see Commercial Shipping).
Note that a mine or automine, like most installations, weighs 25,000 tons. They can be shipped in parts of 5,000 tons each, but that takes a lot of time (and fuel). Assembling and disassembling happens automatically.
The third option is Asteroid Mining, which is possible only on asteroids, not planets or moons, due to their higher gravity. You just need to build ships with one or more Asteroid Mining Modules and send them to the asteroid. No further orders are required. They will slowly mine all minerals and deposit them on the surface, where they themselves (if equipped with cargo holds) or other ships can then pick them up and ship them home.
Civilian ships transport your mines, but not the minerals themselves. To do so, select a freighter and order it to "Load X", where X is whatever Mineral there is available on the colony, and set a minimum amount of at least 1 ton. Then select "Load all minerals" as the next order. That way the freighter will wait until that minimum amount has been produced, instead of flying home empty. Select your destination world (most likely your homeworld) and order the ship to "Refuel at colony". Finally, check "Cycle Orders" so the ship will repeat the orders indefinitely.
Note that sometimes, the civilian sector builds mining complexes on its own. You can choose to buy their production (see the Civilian/Ind. Status tab in the Production window); you still have to ship the minerals yourself.
A final consideration is whether to build Mass Drivers. These things are used to automatically propel minerals from colony to colony without the need to send freighters. A Mass Driver can be built on your homeworld and then shipped to the colony, just like a mine. One is capable of launching 5,000 tons per year, or receiving an unlimited amount. In the Mining tab of the Population window you can set a driver's destination. Just don't forget to build one at the receiving end as well, or you will notice a sudden and rather drastic decrease in planetary population. Of course, you can always decide to target an alien colony with your mass drivers and send them high-speed mineral packets as a token of friendship. And if said colony doesn't have a mass driver installed - hey, that's not your fault.
Your ships cannot operate away from a base forever. Even with in-flight refueling, their need for Maintenance constantly increases, until the breakdowns become too numerous to continue the mission. And if your homeworld is 100 billion kilometers from the theater of operations, your fleet might be in need for an overhaul before it even arrives there. So let's build a colony and equip it as a naval base.
Ideally, the base is a populated colony, because you need people to operate facilities like factories and mines. That way you don't have to haul all facilities and supplies to the base; instead, you can build them right there. Having a source of Sorium on the planet or at least in the neighborhood makes life easier as well.
Keep in mind that civilian ships only travel a maximum of four systems when delivering installations or colonists. Also, don't choose a location in the system that is too far from the Jump Points you intend to use, like the outer worlds in some binary systems that can be many billion km from the JPs.
Installations recommended for a naval base:
- Fuel Refineries - use Sorium to produce fuel
- Ordnance Factories - produce missiles, drones, mines etc.
- Maintenance Facilities - maintain your ships
- Factories - build all other facilities as well as Maintenance Supplies and fighters
- Mines - to produce the required minerals
- Infrastructure - allows colonists to live there
- Deep Space Tracking Stations - provide early warning
- Planetary Defense Centers and Ground Troops - what? This is a wargame? And I thought it was an astronomy simulator...
Note that repairing damaged ships requires a shipyard. So build at least one as soon as you can afford to.
Stocks of missiles, fuel and Maintenance Supplies will have to be shipped in at first, before the base becomes self-sufficient. To build up fuel stocks, design and build a ship with lots of fuel tanks (a million liters isn't too much), mark it as a tanker (upper right in the design window) and send it on an auto-route ("Cycle Orders") from your homeworld to the base with orders to refuel at home and unload the fuel at the base. Just watch your stocks at home; you don't want to complete drain your homeworld.
Finally, remember that installations and populations emit thermal (TH) and electromagnetic (EM) radiation. If you don't want the base to be noticed by untrustworthy tentacled beings from Aldebaran, just build an unmanned depot and switch off your Active Sensors and shields. Still, an enemy survey ship might accidentally find you. Also, constant civilian shipping to the base might attract attention.