One of the least developed areas of the Shadowrun world is the portion outside the manasphere. Travelling outside the Earth’s atmosphere is known to be unhealthy for magical beings, and there are some details on Zurich-Orbital in the Corporate Shadowfiles book. Beyond that, things are left mostly unspecified.

What’s Up There?

It is known that Space Station Freedom evolved into Zurich-Orbital and that Ares has the “massive” Daedalus space platform. The only manned mission to Mars happened in 2011–2. A post dated in 2053 in the Neo-Anarchist’s Guide to Real Life (p26) refers to “colonies and habitats”, and a subsequent post mentions the Aztechnology Spindle as an experimental habitat. In Native American Nations, volume 1, the Pueblo section remarks that there are regular “Vega flights to the various Skyport orbital stations in cis-terran space.” This suggests that there’s a respectable amount of humanity in space, and that it’s probably all in corporate habitats, since they’ve managed to keep the lid on anyone who has techniques to deal with magic in space, or that they have ecosystems good enough to make magic possible there.

There are a number of activities that are more easily performed outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomy becomes a great deal easier when you don’t have all that intervening matter in the way. Some aspects of manufacturing are much easier in microgravity environments. Gamemasters may wish to specify that especially high-tech materials require microgravity manufacture, as part of the accounting for high costs. (Delta-grade cyberware, for instance, might be impossible to create on Earth... except in rooms with Quickened antigravity manipulations...)

I doubt that there is any significant living presence on the Moon or Mars or anywhere else in the solar system; asteroid and lunar mining has yet to come into vogue.

Most of what you’ll find in Earth’s orbit is satellites. Low orbit is relatively crowded with satellites providing telecommunications and navigation information, and with sensing platforms for everyone from ecological management agencies to intelligence operations. Geosynchronous orbit will have a string of larger communications satellites in a ring around the Earth, hovering in their places above the equator.

The colonies and habitats are going to be relatively small and fairly new; there will be few, if any, children up there. The population will be based around industrial activities in space and supporting the infrastructure, with a small community of researchers and wealthy retirees. Dwarfs and Elves will be much more common than Orks and Trolls, simply because they take up less space and less resources.

Magic and Space

The best suggestion I’ve heard of for dealing with the effects of leaving the manasphere is the mechanics given in Target: UCAS for voids, areas of depleted mana. Space is much like a void of rating 10, and as such tends to inflict physical and mental damage on anyone foolish enough to attempt to connect to the Astral Plane. (Physical Adepts seem unaffected by such things, as long as they don’t try to astrally perceive. I would suggest that space is even worse than mana voids for spellcasting: add the level of the void quality to the Force of a spell for comparing to the caster’s Magic Attribute to see if they take Physical Drain.) It’s implied in the source material (especially the Tom Dowd story Hunter and Prey) that powerful mages can learn to cope with such circumstances through an Initiate ability resembling Centering. (I picked Centering since you can Center against the penalties imposed by the voids in Chicago. For dealing with magic in outer space, I would suggest something on the order of reducing the void level by one per degree of Initiation, so only a 10th degree Initiate with the proper training— possibly including a special Initiation with an Ordeal of submitting to the dangers of the void— can function well in space without a surrounding manasphere. Alternatively, the special Initiation Ordeal may be sufficient.)

Awakened beings have unAwakened offspring in complete mana voids, if conception and gestation happen in a continuous void. (If such beings goblinize, they will do so as normal whenever introduced to a manasphere.) They do not “ungoblinize” when outside a manasphere. (This is for game-balance reasons: having Orks and Trolls suddenly go into comas after a few days on a space station just isn’t fun.)

Creating a manasphere outside Earth can be done by putting enough living beings together— probably numbering in the thousands— but an integrated ecosystem should be far more efficient for the amount of biomass invested. Genetic engineering would be invaluable in adapting life forms to zero gravity and making them as useful as possible— starting with vines growing throughout space stations to help reprocess the atmosphere, and moving on toward more complex interactions. (An nth-generation space station might be mostly grown, rather than manufactured, with genetically altered trees soaking up solar energy through toughened leaves, absorbing nutrients from carbonaceous chondrite asteroids, and hordes of modified microorganisms, earthworms, and insects helping turn ground-up asteroid material into soil.)

I imagine that the ideal vessel for Awakened creatures would be an “ecoship”: a vehicle that contains its own functioning ecosystem. The higher the quality of the ecoship, the lower the void rating on mana, and dual beings would be able to survive getting around in them. Such vehicles would be the dirigibles of space, large, ungainly and slow, and might get around using big light sails (or possibly spell-locked acceleration manipulations). The ultimately macho version would be something like a Templar treeship from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, with magical barriers holding the atmosphere around the vessel.

An ecoship lander would be a truly impressive creation, probably a huge dirigible capable of making into the upper atmosphere, then into space on some other propulsion (magical or technological).

Getting there

The suborbital is the standard method of getting from earth to space. Essentially a plane with scramrocket engines, it can almost get to orbit on its own, and a set of strap-on fuel tanks and boosters will get all the way to low orbit and the space platforms there.

Another prospect is the space elevator, a classic (and very expensive) project with a cable reaching from the surface of the Earth all the way up to geosynchronous orbit and to whatever counterweight is needed to hold up the mass of all that cable. Some popular spots on the equator for one would include the Galapagos Islands and Sri Lanka. (I expect that Ares has the Galapagos in their pocket by now.) Elevator cars with their own ecosystems (ecoships stuck travelling on the cable) would be the only way for dual beings and enchanted items to travel from Earth to orbit. (Creating a suborbital with a good ecosystem on board would be incredibly expensive... though Lofwyr just might have one.)

Shadowrunning in Space

Access to space is expensive enough that few shadowrunners will ever find themselves getting any closer to it than a semiballistic flight. Sneaking into Zurich-Orbital to hobnob with the Corporate Court is a mythic feat for a shadowrunner, and the Daedalus space platform won’t be a lot easier. Getting into space is still expensive— probably at least ten times the cost of a single suborbital flight (????¥ round trip)— and accomodations will be vastly more expensive (since almost everything has to be trucked up from Earth).

The Future

Placing projects like these in the current Shadowrun continuity would require some severe revisionism, but these could lie in the near future.

Lunar and Asteroid Mining

The amount of useful material out in the asteroid belt is immense. A feasible asteroid mining program would have strong effects on the Earth’s economy, with a strong emphasis on moving workers and factories out into space where the materials are. Only an economic boom of this magnitude could justify the immense cost of a space elevator.

Terraforming Mars

Mars is not going to be easy to terraform, given its current state, but magic might make for a very different approach. The same fertility magicks that reforested the Amazon and Tir Tairngire might be applied in an ever-increasing area on Mars: terraform a small area enough to boost Mars’ manasphere to usable levels (itself a mighty feat), then using the stable environment created by this as a basis for further terraforming magicks. A combination of these magicks, genetic engineering, and a lot of comets being herded into Mars’ atmosphere to help boost the amount of available water might transform the planet in an amazingly small number of decades.
The canonical dates (according to Ehran the Scribe) on the ends of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth worlds are August 12, 3113 BCE (the fall of Atlantis), December 24, 2011 CE (the appearance of Ryumyo), and April 4, 7137 CE. This gives 5123-5125 years per mana cycle [1,871,270 days for the Fifth World’s duration, and 1,871,969 for the Sixth World’s]. The Mayan Long Count suggests 1.872M days, or 5125.36 years. It also seems that Ehran’s dates are a year late ( should be August 11 or 12, 3114 BCE— the astronomical year –3113) and a year early ( corresponds to December 21 or 23, 2012).

Given the sudden accident to the Mars mission on December 24, 2011 (detailed in Missions), magic is probably not just related to the cycles of a single planet. Whether it has something to do with stellar alignments or is a galaxy-wide phenomenon is a matter of some speculation; the date of the Awakening happens to correspond to the Sun coming into conjunction (on the winter solstice) with the point where the galactic equator and the ecliptic cross, as a function of the precession of the equinoxes (a 25,800 year cycle), but what relation this has to magic has yet to be determined.

If the cycles are a local phenomenon, I can easily imagine that there would be a great effort sometime around 6000–6500 CE to establish a migration of magical beings through the Galaxy, following the mana waves. This then suggests that someone else may have done this already— and that they might be showing up in Earth’s neighborhood as they travel. (The area investigated by Project Cydonia and Operation Discovery [see Missions] might have been a base or way station for such a fleet. Such beings might or might not have something to do with the Horrors.)

Alternatively, Mars may begin terraforming itself drastically without warning. Its previous inhabitants might have left a long-term magical apparatus in place to restore Mars’ biosphere and bring back vanished cities, much like Parlainth in Earthdawn. (And the Cathay dragons in Earthdawn are rumored to have come from the stars...)


Eventually, space-based battlefleets might come into existence as humanity develops a greater presence off-Earth. At the center would be the huge, ponderous ecoships where the mages work, capable of magically healing the wounded, while the rest of the fleet would be much more maneuverable and would not require ecosystems on board.

Recommended Reading

Deep Space, the space sourcebook for Cyberpunk 2020
Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise. The classic space elevator book.
Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion. A far-future society with artificial intelligences, genetic engineering, and brain-computer interfaces that Shadowrun technology could evolve toward.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. Terraforming Mars, space elevators, and lots of politics.
Heart of the Comet, by Gregory Benford and David Brin. People living in a comet and practicing radical genetic engineering.
PERMANENT has some good material on practical applications of space travel in the solar system.