Unlike Star Trek, The Expanse has no phasers, warp speed, holodecks, or transporters. Instead, the Amazon sci-fi series’ technology is far more realistic in scope. Based on the novels of the same name by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse initially aired on SyFy before being canceled and picked up by Amazon.
Set hundreds of years in the future, the human race has colonized the solar system but forced Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt into a bitter cold war. That is until a detective chasing after a missing woman discovers alien technology that shifts the delicate power balance and could eradicate the entire human race.
Here’s a peek at six fascinating technologies in The Expanse universe that may one day become a reality.
The Epstein Drive
Named after its inventor Soloman Epstein, the Epstein Drive is a fusion drive that allows humans to travel between the inner planets, the asteroid belt, and outer planets. The Epstein Drive thrusts spaceships towards their intended destination using magnetic coil exhaust acceleration. At the halfway point, the drive flips and begins to decelerate. The fantastical science behind this drive has some real-world ramifications in that the acceleration of the spacecraft is akin to a high gravitational field.
During a test flight, a malfunction occurred on Epstein’s private spaceship, causing it to accelerate past the point at which humans could survive. Sadly, Epstein died, but the specifics of his journey into space were logged on his wife’s computer, who later sold the technology to Mars for a hefty sum. Rather than hoard the information, Mars, a colony of Earth, decided to share it with the United Nations of Earth in exchange for its independence. The two planets could then colonize the asteroid belt and outer planets together.
While they appear to be advanced smartphones, those transparent handheld devices are hand terminals.
Smartphones and hand terminals carry out many of the same functions: video calls, personal data management, remote control device, and access control key. However, while a smartphone relies on memory, computing power, and cellular infrastructure owned and operated by large corporations, hand terminals in The Expanse are more of a ‘smart screen’ than anything else.
In the vastness of space, hand terminals rely on local computer networks. For example, onboard the Rocinante, the protagonist James Holden, communicates with the ship’s network. When the Rocinante is docked at a space station, Holden can then use his hand terminal to interface with the station’s network. If an individual were to travel from Earth to Mars and finally, the belt, their hand terminal would connect and sync with local networks subject to security limitations.
There are no pew-pew lasers in The Expanse universe. Instead, electromagnetic railguns are the weapon of choice for competing factions, including the United Nations Navy, the Martian Congressional Republic Navy, the Outer Planets Alliance, and the Protogen Corporation. Using electroconductive rails and electromagnetic force, these superpowered cannons harness mass and speed to send a dense metal slug barreling through the ships of opposing forces. Relying on fusion, railguns must charge briefly before each shot. The size of these weapons varies significantly, with lighter models firing off smaller slugs at accelerated rates and heavier ones doing the opposite. Interestingly, the U.S. Navy has tested similar technology for its own artillery.
Goliath Power Armour
The Martian Marine Corps is known for its advanced power armor. The armor has a built-in multi-barrel minigun that fires off explosive 6.25mm incendiary-tipped caseless ammunition. Even deadlier, the suit’s exterior contains rocket-propelled grenades, which can be remotely targeted. Not just anyone can pick up this equipment and use it in battle. This is because the armor is DNA-encoded and assigned to specific military personnel.
In reality, scientists have successfully connected a robotic exoskeleton to a neural interface. A man who lost his foot and the lower part of his leg could control the prosthetic with his thoughts. Overall, combining man with machine continues to be a promising pursuit. In 2010, Raytheon’s wearable robot XOS 2, powered by the human brain, was able to lift two to three times more weight than an unassisted human. Meanwhile, Trek Aerospace developed the Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle, an exoskeleton with a built-in jetpack that could fly upwards of nearly 113km per hour and hover, without motion, above the ground.
The Coriolis Effect
The Coriolis Effect describes how asteroid stations or ring space stations spin to create artificial gravity. In a spaceship, without gravity, people will be weightless. For gravity to reign, weight must be created. To do this, a spacecraft must accelerate and generate force that also accelerates the humans onboard. This is similar to what happens in an elevator. In The Expanse, Ceres Station circles the asteroid of the same name, which Tycho Manufacturing sped up to give it a gravity of 0.3g. On the station lives six million permanent residents. The physics behind the technology has a strong basis in reality and could one day be used to develop the conditions necessary for similar human colonies.
Imagine turning a barren rock into the Garden of Eden. This is the idea behind the concept of terraforming an alien world inhospitable to human life so it can harbor our species. In The Expanse, before the discovery of The Ring, Mars championed the technology, aiming to bring an Earth-like atmosphere, flora, and fauna to the red dwarf planet. The Mars Terraforming Project spanned the entire globe and would take more than a century to complete, with many residents dying before seeing its completion. However, once other habitable worlds exploded into existence later in the story, the project lost its vitality, and Mars, its labor force, with many jetting off-world in a gold rush.
In the series, Martians can gaze upon their own Aurora Borealis, which would be impossible in real life given that the planet has no magnetic field. Such a field is necessary to protect humans from deadly cosmic rays and charged particles. In a 2021 paper, researchers studying space physics argued that the colonization of Mars would require a long-term human presence on the planet and extensive resources. The proposed solution is to create an artificial charged particle ring around the planet, similar to a radiation belt. To create this, matter could be ejected from one of Mars’s moons using electromagnetic and plasma waves to drive a net current, the result of which would be a magnetic field.
As the final season of The Expanse airs on Amazon, the audience can look to this possible future- but know that some of the tech in the show is coming close to being realized.