The Expansion is the great plan of the Cybertronians of the Dead Universe. Their goal is to expand the Dead Universe to consume the living universe, where the Cybertronians will bring their greatness and govern all in a new order.
—The Expansion is upon us! No one can stop it! Not you or I!, Galvatron
IDW comics continuity
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The Expansion had its origin over 6.7 million years ago, during the reign of Nova Prime. Confident that the Transformers were the highest form of life, Nova believed that they should expand their influence across the cosmos. He commissioned the Ark under the pretense of exploration, secretly planning a conquest. However, Galvatron, one of the crew members, directed the Ark into the Dead Universe portal in the Benzuli Expanse. The full truth of their time there is unknown, but the Ark crew was driven to a state of living death, and Nova became the fearsome being known as Nemesis Prime. More significantly, the Cybertronians were only able to venture to the "living universe" for a short amount of time, or else they would would die. The only one able to avoid this effect was Galvatron, and they did not know how he was able to, let alone replicate the process. Needless to say, this added a wrinkle into the Expansion.
Millions of years later, after Cybertron was laid waste and Optimus Prime became leader of the Autobots, Nightbeat traveled to Gorlam Prime, where he was apprehended by Galvatron and others. Nemesis decided that it was time to prepare for the Expansion, having Straxus place a device in Nightbeat's cerebral chamber. He ordered Jhiaxus to prepare the Nega-Core, which would play a significant role in making the Expansion come about. He also sent Galvatron to retrieve Thunderwing from Hound's unit on Cybertron, killing Leadfoot in the process. After this, Galvatron was dispatched to Earth to prevent the Reapers from destroying it, as Earth was part of the Expansion.
When Jhiaxus finished the Nega-Core, Nemesis Prime dispatched Cyclonus to prepare it for activation, using Thunderwing as its guardian. Learning that it was almost ready, Nemesis Prime ordered his minions to prepare for the Expansion. Activating the implant in Nightbeat's head, Jhiaxus revealed to Hardhead that Gorlam Prime was part of his experiments in converting organic species to the Cybertronian form, as well as preparing them for the harshness of the Expansion to come. The resulting event was to be a merging of the existing universe with the strange lifeless realm of the Dead Universe, after which the Cybertronian elite would govern all.
Prompted by Dealer, Hot Rod recovered the Magnificence, which gave the Autobots much-needed information about the Expansion. However, Nemesis Prime used the Darkness to strike down Optimus Prime, who needed to be gone before the Expansion could occur.