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Adorable Tugboats... In Space! The Science of The Expanse, Episode 4

We explore how real the science in the science fiction is. 


The Expanse has been painstakingly crafted to be as scientifically accurate as possible, so we'd be doing the whole universe a disservice if we didn't call out all of the minutiae that make the show the most realistic look at the future we've ever seen. We sat down with Daniel Abraham, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, the co-creators and producers (Daniel is also 1/2 of the team that wrote the book series the show is based on)  to get the lowdown on the insane level of detail and intricacy they put into the science we see in the show. But how real is it? Nerds, read on.

Q:  If used as a battering ram, could a vessel the size of the Nauvoo actually alter the course of an asteroid the size of Eros?
Daniel Abraham:  Well, it could certainly alter it.  The mathematics on throwing something into the sun are really complicated.  It's incredibly difficult to throw something into the sun; the problem is you have all of the acceleration and velocity in orbit, so the closer you are to the sun, the harder it is to throw something into the sun.  You can deflect it, but ultimately what you’re trying to do is slow it down enough so that the gravity of the sun pulls it in. They’re in a very complicated situation.
Mark Fergus:  It's getting the right trajectory at the beginning and then letting the gravity take it. So, Miller comes up with this crazy idea and then Tycho and the best of the best, they compute the trajectory accurately.
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Daniel Abraham:  And it all depends on how powerful the Nauvoo’s engines are and how fast it’s going when they make the connect. There’s a certain amount of wiggle room of what the parameters are for that [LAUGHS]. We took advantage of that by saying very, very smart people figured it out on Tycho, and they’re really, really good.  Those guys on Tycho, they’re smart.
Mark Fergus: We’re not saying they’re punching it and it’s giving Eros a kiss. We’re using a giant battering ram that over the long journey it takes to get to Eros will have enough speed to affect a shift in direction.
Q:  When the Nauvoo actually takes off and accelerates towards Eros, there are these little accelerators that come out…
Daniel Abraham:  The Tugs! They're so cute.
Q:  Can you talk about those and what they are doing?
Daniel Abraham:  Well, they're the Tugs.  They're little tugboat drones that are repositioning the Nauvoo so that it is in the right orientation and the right distance from Tycho, so that when the engines come on it doesn't melt Tycho into slag.  One of the points that tends to get overlooked with the Epstein drives is that all the drives that are pushing these ships are also weapons. The energy that's coming off the back of those could do a tremendous amount of damage.  You need to be able to move things around locally so you don't hurt yourself.

Catch up on The Expanse here.