I don’t often explain the details how armor in Aeon 14 works, and why characters choose different armor at different times, and what purposes it would serve. So, I’ve put together this article on how the armor in the books works, what properties it has, and why I describe it and depict it the ways that I do.
It’s also worth noting that the armor I get designed for the covers and art is just that: art. Alas, I do not have one billion dollars to properly devise 90th century combat armor, and we don’t even know the details of how most of this tech will work, so conjecture over specifics, is just that: conjecture. Not that its bad to do so, but we can’t really speak definitively about any of this.
So, let's start with the first problem every space Marine faces and constantly worries about. Hint: it's not getting shot.
It's Chief Garth's good friend: Cold Vacuum.
20th century EVA suits are bulky, and difficult to move in. If you watch videos of what those astronauts go through, it’s pretty rough. The reason for this is because the suit is inflated. On top of that, it has fixed joints that only pivot (mostly) in one directly.
Although EVA suits are only inflated to one half an atmosphere, but astronauts still describe it as exhausting to try to maneuver in, because it’s very rigid, especially when compared to the zero-g, zero friction environment of space.
The suit is inflated, because the human body wants pressure pushing on our bodies. As I write this, we are all undergoing (depending on your altitude) about 15 pounds per square inch of pressure on your skin. A lot of bad things can happen at very low air pressure and astronauts go about as low as is safe to do for long periods of time (this is related to both pressure on the skin, and for oxygenation).
Research I've done shows you can get down to 15% for shorter periods and be OK as well, but you’ll have to go oxygen rich, or have a seal around your neck (mouth nose will work if you over your ears and eyes too). However, you’d get a WICKED headache from the blood pressure differential, so equal pressure across the body is best.
New EVA suits are being developed that are skintight, and not inflated with air, because a material that is supple and flexible will allow more freedom of movement, and less joints to worry about leaking. Also, the pressure and restriction on the body actually promotes muscle and bone retention.
Remember, the 'feeling' of gravity we all experience is really from when our feet hit the planet. It pushes back on us. Without the ground, we'd just fall forever (well, not really, but you get the idea) and it would feel weightless (more so if there was no atmosphere).
So as far as our bodies are concerned, gravity, and all the benefits it gives to our muscles, bones, etc...is observed as a force felt on your feet (or you butt if you're sitting in a chair right now).
So, a tight suit that pushes on your feet (and conversely pulls down on your hips and shoulders, because in zero/low-g you need equal and opposite forces) will replace many of the effects of gravity. This tech is all in development now.
From there we look at how much work that base EVA suit can do.
All armor ‘base layers’ in Aeon 14 are EVA suits with additional capabilities. Combat on a space station inherently runs the risk of breaching the station's hull, so it’s a must.
However, you need to be able to move, so you pack as much tech in that base layer as possible.
We already have technologies for kinetic energy dispersion (aka kevlar and the like) and that will be improved upon, and miniaturized. Active materials that can sense and respond to kinetic impacts are already in development. The thinner the better, because you don't want to restrict movement.
Most base layers in Aeon 14 are about as thick and restrictive as a 3mm wetsuit, but better designed to allow for better flexibility.
The next thing they need to do is to handle energy weapons. Here we're talking about lasers, electron beams (to a degree) and other non-relativistic-particle energy weapons. Here your big need is heat dispersion. Also, reflective abilities will work too. If you can disperse the heat from a laser, or if you can reflect its energy back (or refract it) then you have a good defense.
Next up is the need to mask EM signatures, and heat signatures. The base layer would do this as well, but in combat those systems would become less effective as the armor needs to bleed more heat.
Since its skin-tight, and only a few millimeters thick, it has nowhere to dump this heat. Obviously smart people would work out ways to store it, and possibly radiate it in bursts in some fashion. But the enemy would also develop weapons with capabilities to overcome these issues.
I often gloss over this stuff in the stories, because reading a technical manual in the middle of a firefight tends to slow down the action, but I do think about it.
So, depending on the level of tech, we've come toward the end of what the base layer/flow armor can do for you. Then we move on to more active armors. These I usually describe with shorthand labels of light, medium, and heavy armor.
Light armor is not powered. This is to say that it is not heavy enough to require mechanical assistance to move around in. An example would armor that Tanis is wearing on the new Outsystem cover.
So what would light plates of armor offer us. Well, if our base layer can harden to handle kinetic impacts and disperse the force across our body, what more would partially coverage from plates do?
The first answer is obvious. They're ablative. This means the enemy has to wear them down (or aim where they’re not). That's an important thing to keep in mind: they're not designed to withstand all impacts, they're designed to burn away, because then the energy can be transformed into other mediums (like carbon ash) and not have it sitting against your body reflecting/absorbing energy.
But having your armor just sit there and take the hits isn't ideal (especially since its ablating). What you really want are active armor solutions. Like a tank's active armor that explodes outward and blasts incoming shells away.
This would be one of the main features of light armor. Rather than sucking up a concussive pulse blast (which would still knock someone in a base layer/flow armor over), the armor's defense package would emanate an opposite waveform and cancel out the enemy's pulse wave.
What would then happen in warfare is that enemies would work with different frequencies or use harmonic frequencies that would amplify one another's shots. The tech and refinements would escalate to keep adapting to one another, and compromises would be made, just like they are today. The end result, though is that you’d probably rather have the light armor’s systems than not.
This armor would also have the ability to store heat more effectively, so the base layer could actually transfer heat into the light armor, and even funnel it into heat pods that get ejected.
Clever armor designers would even make it so that it could use techniques like double slit diffraction (by firing its own countermeasure lasers) to create areas where the light is cancelled out. It will also create areas where the light is intensified, so the armor would have to be linked with your team, so you didn't diffract laser fire onto them.
The light armor would also have less than 50% coverage, because its meant more to provide flexibility and the active systems than full body ablative covering.
Medium armor is just more of what light armor does, with more ablative covering, and more room for batteries and heat dispersion. Additional power to active reflective/refractive/deflective systems would be in the mix as well. The heavy end of medium armor would become powered, as that armor would be too heavy to move in easily without at least full joint support up to the hips.
From there you move up into heavy armor, which would always be powered. Heavy armor would have 100% ablative covering, possess huge batteries to handle reflective/refractive/deflective systems, and also many other types of active countermeasures.
At this point you also get warriors who can carry heavier weapons, and heft more ordnance, but there is a huge penalty to mobility.
Heavy armor wearers in the future will be the main battle tanks of combat, they're the ones in Iron Man's hulk-busting armor.
So when you see Tanis wearing armor that barely seems to cover her at all, or wearing a base layer, such as the purple one that Jessica wears most of the time (if you'll recall it was a TSF soldier's base layer that she picked up on Gaia Station), remember that base layer is already a serious defensive system that the other armor gets layered onto.