Automated forward stations are part of the initial wave of exploration or colonist deployment. They contain valuable resource caches for explorers to resupply, repair stations for vehicles, and ground-penetrating sensors to identify mineral deposits. Their presence improves the chances of a planet being considered viable.
When a planet is seriously considered for settlement or a survey is ongoing, forward stations are seeded into orbit via automated barges. Once summoned to a designated zone, forward stations descend and anchor themselves on the ground, becoming valuable landmarks. Most scout rovers have forward station connectivity, allowing them to be summoned to the stations.
Current resource constraints mean that, in theory, only Pathfinders have official sanction to call down forward stations. In reality, reports show that enterprising colonists or unscrupulous scavengers have been known to hack the signals to raid the stations for supplies.