Monday, March 20, 2017

What is this Epstein Drive of Which You Speak?

This past week I had great cause to celebrate. The news came out that The Expanse was being renewed for a third season on the SyFy channel.

Break out the champagne and the Billins, everyone, the party is on!

Redecorating the Roci
SyFy's The Expanse Television Series
As you might know from some of my past blogs, I LOVE THIS SHOW! The Expanse has everything a great space drama should have--realistic adventure, a difficult quest, fabulous characters, intricate politics, amazing dialogue, science-based world-building, the gunship Rocinante...and even a touch of romance.

In fact, the last episode included a declaration of love between two of the characters. Being a SFR fan, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) romantic sub-plots throughout the story arc really cinch this as one of my favorite SF(R)s on television...ever!

If you've been living in another galaxy far, far away and haven't heard about The Expanse, you might want to check out some of my previous blogs (okay, raves) about the show. You can find them here:

The Expanse: Seven Reasons Why You Should be Watching This Show (Feb 2017)

Rewatch: The Expanse SyFy Series (Aug 2016)

The Expanse: (Truly) Quality Sci-Fi Returns to Television  (Jan 2016)

The basic premise is that about 200 years in our future, mankind will have colonized the asteroid belt and the moons of the Outer Planets (note shameless promotional banner of my upcoming novel inserted here for effect....and because I needed more graphics) primarily to reap the rewards--water and minerals. Earth and the Moon are under United Nations jurisdiction, Mars has established itself as an independent colony of considerable military strength and no friend of the Earth/Moon, and everyone else is relegated to the outlier places in our solar system are collectively referred to as "the belters."

But how do they get around these huge, well...expanses...of space in a timely manner in the future?

Two words. The Epstein Drive.

What the heck is that?

There's actually no clear answer. That's where the "fiction" part comes in for this science fiction drama, although its far from mere hand-waveum.

Although the drive system isn't explored in great depth in the TV series, many fans have drawn their own conclusions from the books that it's a type of propulsion system used in this future--purely fictional and not entirely detailed--but believed to be a magnetically contained fusion reactor system that uses steam as a propellant.

Described as "magnetic coil exhaust acceleration" on a Wiki page, it's super efficiency allows ships to "burn" halfway to their destination (continuous acceleration) then perform a flip and burn at approximately the halfway point (to counteract the thrust and begin deceleration) until they reach their destination. (Flip and burn is shown in one scene of series when they change direction to intercept a distress signal, but "flip and burn" as a standard part of flight isn't really explored in detail in the series.)

Sol Epstein, inventor of the Epstein Drive
SyFy's The Expanse television series
The Epstein Drive is invented about 50 years from now--or about 150 years before the events in The Expanse--by a man from Mars named Solomon "Sol" Epstein, hence Epstein Drive.

If you're a viewer, you may have already watched the episode Paradigm Shift that includes a portion derived from Drive, a prequel short story by the James S. A. Corey writing team that explores the development of the Epstein drive by Solomon. (The series has a history of tying in some of these short stories into the overall story arc that's quite brilliant and the past-future analogies in this episode are particularly poignant.)

You can read the prequel Drive free online here:

What I love about the Epstein Drive element is that it's generated some vigorous debate and hypotheses between those well-versed in science. (Maybe a bit like the communicators on Star Trek inspiring Marty Cooper to invent the cell phone, is it not?)

If you're one of those SF(R) fans who has a genuine interest in reading thoughts about the actual science (raises hand), there's quite a lively comment string about the Epstein Drive that can be found here:

May your week be powered by magnetic coil exhaust acceleration. (Have a great week.)

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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.