Premium Access is designed to unlock higher level content for players who are deeply immersed in the game. It is not required at all until you are quite ways in.
The idea is that Premium is optional for experiencing the game (up until colonies) and is only really of benefit once you're well and truly into the game. This is so that you can explore the game thoroughly for free via the web client before spending a cent on anything.
Premium is used at the moment to help cover the cost of running the game servers. Everything you do in game has some impact on the servers, and the theory is that those players who use premium access tend to be the heavy users responsible for most of the load, while new players don't have big cities or starbases, so it's quite fair.
Each premium is available individually for $.99 US per month or in a bundle for $2.97 US per month.
Premium Planets - Allows access to the remaining 6 of 8 planets in the Apollo Sector for farming and mining.
Premium Industry - Allows more than one Starbase Ring and the ability to use industrial modules (e.g. mining beams) above Class 5
Premium Combat - Allows the use of combat modules (e.g. axial, broadside and turret beams, shields) above Class 5
With out premium access:
You still have unrestricted access to production on Vulcan (iron) and Ceres (grain)
You can still build up to six modules on a single ring of your private Starbase
You can still be quite effective in combat. A player has used around 50 class 5 beams to defeat a class 10 pirate Mammoth. However, to date nobody has been able to complete the first Combat quest line without Premium Combat
All three classes of premium also provide Stellar Credits at a rate of 100 per month. Stellar Credits are required for owning a Colony in the new star systems (outside the Apollo Sector) making this the first gameplay activity that absolutely requires premium access.
Q. How many do we get when we first purchase premium?
Q. How often and how many more do we get?
Daily, 100 per month per premium pro rata
Q. How often and how much do colonies take away?
Daily, 80 per month pro rata for ground colony. 40 per month for an unlinked Outer Star Base (OSB). If you link an OSB to a colony, it is free.