For many years, miners relied on repurposed combat ships and a few specialized cruisers to harvest the vast asteroid belts of New Eden. These ships, while effective, suffered from numerous issues. Mining lasers required constant managing in order to maximize yield and small cargo holds meant only small hauls could be pulled in at one time. Mining frequently needed to be carried out in large teams; not only must there be miners and protective ships, but specialized haulers needed to carry the ore back to base.
ORE, a small but wealthy mining corporation based out of the Outer Ring, realized the deficiency of traditional mining vessels. Faced with a surplus of asteroids, particularly those rich in Nocxium, ORE had a shortage of manpower. In their effort to solve this problem, the corporation developed not only a new ship class, but an entirely new style of mining.
The corporation started with a design based on the industrial, with a sizable cargo hold at the expense of flexibility and defenses. They then augmented the design with specialized mining systems that increased the yield of mining lasers. The new design proved insufficient, however, with yields remaining below that of specialized cruisers, and many ORE captains preferred the old vessels to the new.
An abandoned technology proved to be the mining barge's savior. Strip mining technology had existed for decades, but because it relied on creating large chunks of ore all at once, it was incompatible with traditional mining vessels. The technology had been mostly forgotten, until ORE scientists rediscovered old blueprints, and realized they would be perfect for their new mining barges.
The strip miners were adapted and specialized to fit on their new ships. The result was a highly efficient, albeit slowly acting miner that could act as its own hauler. While it still needed protection, the elimination of haulers and their escorts meant that more captains could be tasked with mining, vastly increasing ORE's bottom line.
Though ORE guarded the design of their ships for many years, the growth of the capsuleer class and their soaring wealth eventually convinced the company to sell blueprints for a profit. The ships quickly caught on and are now found throughout New Eden.
Mining barges are industrials at heart, borrowing much of their core design from their elder cousins. They have very little in the way of weaponry and defensive capabilities, stripping out related systems for additional cargo space. Conveyor belts criss-cross the ship, carrying ore deep within the vast cargo compartments.
The most significant difference is the specialized systems designed to utilize strip miners. Strip miners are rather crude in execution, slowly shearing off large chunks of rock, but require advanced power and electronics systems to keep from rending the ore unusable. The lasers must be aimed precisely and utilize tremendous amounts of energy. Advanced computer systems keep the strip miners from reducing an asteroid to rubble, while a specialized power grid allows the ships' capacitor to feed the lasers energy needs.
Most of a mining barge's functions are automated, being related to simply moving large quantities of ore around. Thus mining barges have very sparse crew compared to their size.
Contrary to what most people assume, what crew a mining barge has tends to be highly technical specialists. They need to ensure that the very complicated power and computer systems are running properly and must diagnose and quickly repair any issues before a rich asteroid is reduced to so-much space debris. Only a small number of crew members are responsible for such menial tasks as cleaning, unclogging cargo tubes, and the like.