During the last decade of the 22nd century, the five regional governments on Earth started offering grants to help their citizens purchase starships and gain a foothold amongst the stars. This move was unpopular with the mega-corporations as it allowed private individuals to operate in territories which they viewed as being rightfully theirs for the taking. Political pressure from several influential companies forced the end of the Starship Enterprise Scheme, but the seeds of private space travel were sown and reputations already begun.
Enterprising individuals began to band together to run cargoes from Earth to the colonies of the First Region in blatant competition with the corporate cargo-haulers. The nature of the shipping contracts allowed these first privateers to prosper and grow their fleets. The larger fleets were eventually put out of business by cartels operated amongst the corporations, although even to this day there are a sizable number of contracts fulfilled by privateers.
In the spaceports, the crews tend to act within the law, but out in the vast emptiness between star systems, lawlessness and piracy are commonplace. It is rumoured that some corporations operate a “black fleet”, so called because they are rarely glimpsed and, if they are, it usually results in a space battle and the destruction of the private vessel. The black fleet vessels are heavily armed warships, almost invisible to mass-scans because of their needle-like profile. In comparison, the average privateer’s vessel is a often just a huge hangar with some engines and a crew compartment strapped on.
Due to the extended amount of time that they spend together travelling between star systems, starship crews are a tightly knit bunch. Sometimes crews from two or more starships will band together if they have a common enemy, although usually they will treat each other with suspicion.