The past century leading up to the time of Cloudsdale 3 has been something of an industrial renaissance. While the world has had its moments, there have been no major, Equestria-threatening disasters to stifle the advance of science. The Canterlot Academy of Sciences was established in the year 2028. headmastered by Princess Twilight Sparkle herself, the mission of the academy has been the advancement of magic and science for the betterment of ponykind. From the invention of the first self-contained magic engine to the Royal Canterlot space navy of today, they've come a long way in an impressively short time. Ponies as a government are just entering the galactic scene, but they've already struck their claim. This page provides an overview of a few pieces of kit that helped get them there.
Bear in mind one thing - the first rudimentary engines were only developed maybe 70 years or so ago. Pony tech is advancing, but it has a long way to go before it becomes commonplace. The technology you see all around you on Cloudsdale 3 is the pick of a litter that hasn't really had the time to spread out a whole lot. The day to day lives of ponies in places like Ponyville, Appleoosa, and so forth have been touched by modernization to a point, but isn't that much different from what you see in the MLP canon. Cities like Griffonstone and kingdoms like Yakyakistan have seen even less advancement, and some sapient races (dragons for example) barely care about the technological revolution at all - seeing fit to live their lives as they always have. The destruction of Cloudsdale 2 also set things back a bit - it took a few years before the Equestrian government was willing to try again. Now that ponies know about the convenience of the Equestrian sector as a hub between several populated regions of space, Cloudsdale 3 was designed to be bigger and much more versatile than its predecessor. In the end though, it is still functioning as a global weather station, in hopes of assisting planetside pegasi and the rest of the planet with control over weather patterns.
Magic engines are the keystone of pony technological advancement. Machines can be built from raw materials, but they still need a power source. That's where magic comes in. The idea of being able to create magical energy and then contain it, allowing it to be manipulated after the fact (as opposed to casting a normal spell, where the power dissipates once the act is complete) is what makes it all possible. The earliest space faring pony vessels were powered by more rudimentary engines than what exists today. They were restricted to sublight speed and were powered by a single control panel shaped for a unicorn's horn. A unicorn engineer was therefore required to be present to operate and maintain the device at all times. Such a task was very straining - ships usually signed on a dozen or more hardy unicorns simply to take turns operating the engines. More adventurous forays into the heavens sometimes resulted in death by overexertion, with the resulting powerless vessels set adrift until rescue or asphyxiation by total loss of power and life support.
Today, space travel is significantly less hazardous. Development of sturdier and more efficent containment allowed for engines that could contain more magic, avoid leaks that required the constant presence of a unicorn to replenish the power, and even self-renewing cycles to keep the power in a state of potency. Control panels are now designed with buttons that anypony can operate, and anypony with a modium of technical expertise can perform regular maintenance and repair. Today's ships can reach high warp speeds, provide enough power to run dozens of systems on multi-deck vessels, and even defend themselves through controlled release of specifically prepared magical energy in the form of beam weapons or contained in torpedo casings. The Royal Canterlot Navy is relatively small by comparison to worlds that have been on the galactic stage longer, but as they haven't expanded much beyond their own system, they are quite efficient at policing their borders. Throughout the years a number of sources - everything from wealthy ponies with a personal interest in space down to non-profit organizations looking to the exploration of the stars - have commissioned and developed private vessels. These are still readily bought and sold on various markets, and some have been mixed with alien technology to produce all sorts of effects. Even older royal ships are sometimes decommissioned, stripped, and sold for profit. Ponykind may still be centered around their world, but there are ponies up there in the heavens who have traveled far beyond. The magic engine is what helped them do it.
These days, smaller versions of the pony engine can be found in everyday devices as well. The one major drawback of the pony engine is production of magic power. Engines can contain magic power, refresh it, and manipulate it to produce desired effects - but magic engines cannot create the magic they require to function. Without a unicorn to 'fill er up' as it were, your engine isn't much more than a very curious looking breadbox. Once an engine is powered, however, the unicorn is no longer required - the power will remain contained and recycled indefinitely. Modern magic engines are designed to be magic-tight, but damage, extreme wear, or other unfortunate circumstances can cause a leak - that's when you're going to need to put into port and find a unicorn to replenish your supply. If you're planning on a long deep space voyage and don't have a unicorn along, make sure you have a lot of reserve tanks filled with backup magical energy and/or emergency backup engines - or a leaking engine could cause you to end up dead in space!
One more thing - There's a reason magic engines are designed to keep the power constantly cycling and flowing. Spells want to be cast. The engine's job is to keep the spell uncast until you need it, while at the same time keeping the raw power from stagnating and becoming chaotic. Stagnant power that ends up going chaotic is bad, Egon. See the 'Catastrophic Failure' section below.
A "Drop Suit" (to coin a phrase) is the pony equivalent of a space suit. Drop suits were developed around the time the first ponies were sent into space, and have seen a number of upgrades since they were basically nothing more than a full bodysuit a pony could use for very short exposure to the vaccuum of space, until the air inside ran out. Today's drop suits consist of a slightly baggy, flexible material that allows for protection from vaccuum conditions and full range of movement, topped with a transparent bubble helmet, a number of pouches for small equipment, and a small oxygen tank mounted on the pony's back. Drop suits were originally inteded for use by pegasi, and as such all come equipped with extra limb pockets for you to flap your wings - even if you don't have any.
Drop suits can be used by anypony and come in many sizes, but they were originally designed for pegasi, who were seen as the most efficient species for EVA work due to the extra push through space produced by their wings. You wouldn't think weight would be a concern in space, but drop suits are, all the same, designed with weight in mind. Oxygen tanks are small and not intended to provide air for more than an hour, if that. The reason for this abberation is also how drop suits got their name. On Cloudsdale 2, communication between the station and the planet was a less evolved science. Small packages and some messages were instead couriered by daring pegasi who quite literally 'leapt' from the station to the planet below. Drop suits are equipped with two small thrusters under each wing. These thrusters can be used for very short space travel flights, but they were not intended for that. Rather, their purpose was to manuver the pegasi courier into the gravity well of the planet, and then manage their approach through the atmosphere via a series of controlled burns. Once the pegasi reached the atmosphere proper, the engines were disengaged and the rest of the trip was completed via normal flight. Couriers are still a common sight on Cloudsdale 3 - not to mention private thrillseekers, and Wonderbolts putting on a show!
To accomplish what a drop suit was originally intended for, it had to be lightweight, so the pegasi would be able to fly once they entered the atmosphere. That meme hasn't worn off, so - small tanks, and small engines. Drop suit engines are often expensive to power, since they burn off the magic while being used in gouts of colorful, pleasant to look at 'flame'. The engines often need to be replenished after only one or two trips, and the power used must be of the highest potency by skilled unicorns, considering what it has to accomplish and still be so small.
The modern era has been advancements in the distance and quality of communications technology. The first such devices barely reached into orbit and were quite grainy, requiring early space exploration vessels to spend significant amounts of time out of communication range with Equestria. Those ships that were unable to maintain magic communication spells were sometimes never heard from again. Raw magic is still an option for communications, but technology has brought the ability outside of the realm of spellcasters and into the hooves of the masses.
On Cloudsdale 3, nearly every area has communications touchplates easily accessible. Anypony can hold a conversation with anypony else over public channels, with unprotected areas, or even with nearby vessels and planetside. Communications are theoretically possible over almost infinite distances, provided you're willing to wait for your message to arrive (a message sent to another quadrant of the galaxy could take decades to arrive, for example, and its anypony's guess who or what might receive it). Authorized station personnel can make use of secure, protected channels directly to the Canterlot government.
Communications are possible using hoof-held devices, and this technology is developing - but these are usually limited in range and best suited for ponies that aren't far from their ship or station. Wired touchplates are still the primary device in use.
Much as communications technology is developing into a more portable form, so too are a number of other devices. These devices, affectionately called "hoof-helds", usually come with a strap that can be secured around the pony's foreleg while the device either mounts like a wristwatch, or dangles freely unless rested in the pony's hoof. It is not uncommon to see ponies of all ages wandering around with small pouches or devices strapped to their forelegs for easy access and quick use. Even unicorns occasionally make use of such devices, if for no other reason than to not have to use their magic to levitate every item they want to manipulate.
Hoof-held scanners, chronometers, communicators, and in some cases even 'weapons' imbued with controlled blasts of unicorn magic are among such devices, but there are many more applications for hoof-held technology. Development continues.
Another skill thought only to be available to the magically inclined, teleportation technology was born and has advanced in a similar vein to communications. Modern pony vessels are often equipped with "transporters" (often just called "teleporters"), but matter energy transport is still in early development. The shorter and more easily mappable the distance, the more stable the teleporter - especially if the subject is being transported from one teleporter to another. The teleporters on Cloudsdale 3's Central Access area only move between different, well-mapped points on the same station, where a teleporter is both sending and receiving the signal. As a result, C3's teleporters are very safe and stable - the chances of an accident occuring during normal operation is extremely slim. It is possible to transport from the station to the planet in relative safety, but the increase in distance reduces recommended transportations to only occur between two teleporters - and right now there are only a few such devices operating over the entire planet. Magic engine-powered shuttlecraft and drop suit "diving" are still effective means to get around (though the latter is still considered dangerous and not recommended for the unskilled). Pony Express transport vessels operate on a daily schedule to and from the station from several cities in Equestria, and these are by far the most popular means for civilians to go back and forth.
Vessels do tend to have their own teleporters, and teleportation from one ship to another is considered safe. Be warned, though - push those teleporters too far or into too much uncertainty, and your atoms could be irreparably rearranged, scattered all over the cosmos...or worse. Yes, it can be worse.
Ponies do not have food replication technology like you see in Star Trek. It is possible to order food from a wall mounted kiosk in your apartment by typing in your order and never speaking to anypony, but such meals are usually prepared by somepony on the other end and then wordlessly shunted to you via tubes or lifts (this is partcularly common in the Everfree Complex). It's safe and effective, but it doesn't have the panache of going out to eat, and thus restaurant establishments are still very popular in the market district of the Grand Concourse. The Canterlot Academy of Sciences has been examining the concept of synthesis through bulk matter manipulation, but this is in more of a theoretical stage.
For ponies, however, the question isn't when -- it's why. Food related technology is unique in the Equestrian renaissance due to the social stigma associated with it. Oh sure, some ponies are forward-thinking sorts. Anything is better when technology makes it more convenient, no? So, fill those veggies full of growth hormones, distill that wine so nobody gets plastered, and synthesize those meals!
Replication technology isn't really like that, but try telling that to a grizzled old apple farmer who's family has been working the land for generations. There's something about Equestrian society that just tends to favor fresh produce to things that have been pasturized and processed, and this mentality sometimes extends to technological advancement. Whether this is an informed, biased, or paranoid view is up for interpretation, but nevertheless, some ponies will still be stubborn enough to want to know where every sugarcube came from - particularly earth ponies, who know the value of the hard work that goes into food. This mentality isn't absolute - most ponies who've gotten their space legs understand that a starship that carries only fresh fruits and veggies isn't going to get very far without frequent resupplying. As often as not, though, you'll find those among any given crew who eat reconstituted or previously frozen foods simply because they feel they have to, and look forward to a home-cooked meal when they can get it.
Ponytech has opened new vistas and fantastic horizons for a naturally curious, ever expansive race to explore. It has made lives easier, and it has taught the new generation that the sky is no longer the limit.
But what happens when it all goes wrong?
Machines fail. It's an inevitability of working with technology. But when a wheel falls off your wagon, you can usually get a replacement and be on your way. At the worst, you lost a few apples in a mud puddle. When the shielding around the reactor core of your space station is disrupted, the resulting chaotic release of unchecked magical energy could very likely sweep out at lightspeed in the form of a single soliton wave, and infuse every single thing it touches with enough chaos magic to instantly kill, destroy, or warp it into some horrible abomination that would have been better off dead.
It has happened before. The theory behind the destruction of Cloudsdale 2 is that some malfunction of the older style tech got out of hand. Nopony really knows what happened to the previous station, since there's nothing left hanging there in space except for a quantum singularity. Is there something inside there? Are the station personnel still alive - still going about their days? Are they trapped in a single, agonizing moment in time just before the end, or were they vaporized in an instant and thus spared the pain? Chaos, by nature, is unpredictable, and everypony knows that uncontained magic power in sufficient quantities can cause unknowable disastrous effects. There's a reason magic engines are designed to keep cycling the power around - keep it moving, keep it active...and not allow it to stagnate and thus become chaotic.
Whatever became of the few ships that went out into the sea of stars and never came back? Will Equestria ever see them again, and if they do...will they wish they hadn't? One thing's for sure, if you hear the evacuation order? Get out now.