If you want to make a Death Star like the one in Star Wars, you don’t do so out of thin air, like the movie-makers claimed, but from asteroids, says Brian Muirhead, Chief Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
“The Death Star was the Empire’s ultimate weapon: a moon-sized space station with the ability to destroy an entire planet. But the Emperor and Imperial officers like Grand Moff Tarkin underestimated the tenacity of the Rebel Alliance, who refused to bow to this technological terror. . .”
Mr. Muirhead, who has worked on several technology and spacecraft projects since joining the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1978, including the Shuttle Imaging Radar-C and the Galileo mission to Jupiter, says the most effective way to build a Death Star would be to construct one on an asteroid – using the raw materials contained within it.
The Death Star, also known as the First Death Star, Death Star I, and DS-1 platform. It was previously known as the Ultimate Weapon and Sentinel Base. It was a moon-sized deep space mobile battle station that boasted a primary weapon with enough firepower to destroy a whole planet with a single shot. (Image: www.starwars.com)
Mr. Muirhead says he saw his first Star Wars film in June 1977. What he remembers best is the opening sequence, when an imperial-class star destroyer was moving across the screen. He remembers wondering what kind of society would be capable of building such a colossal and advanced machine.
Asteroid has all the ingredients to make a Death Star
In an interview with Wired, Mr. Muirhead said:
“If you wanted to build a Death Star, you wouldn’t build it by launching a bunch of stuff off a planet. You would get yourself an asteroid and built it from that.”
“It could provide the metals. You have organic compounds, you have water – all the building blocks you would need to build your family Death Star.”
Mr. Muirhead is an asteroid expert. He is currently working on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission – the first-ever robot mission to land on a large near-Earth asteroid, gather a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and redirect it into a stable orbit around the Moon. Once in orbit, astronauts will explore it and return to Earth with samples in the 2020s.
Brian Muirhead received his B.Sc. in mechanical engineering from the University of New Mexico in 1977, and an M.Sc. in aeronautical engineering from Caltech in 1982. He received NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal for his work on SIR-C, and the Exceptional Leadership Medals for his work on Mars Pathfinder and Constellation. In 2009, he was designated a Jet Propulsion Laboratory Fellow. He has co-authored ‘High Velocity Leadership’ and ‘Going to Mars’.
Although not the same as constructing a Death Star, it will still be quite an amazing feat.
The key technology today in getting a spacecraft out there to an asteroid is ion propulsion, which of course is the propulsion of sub-light spacecraft in the Star Wars series. NASA has four ion engines on any asteroid redirect mission.
The Death Star’s main weapon is so powerful it can destroy an entire planet with just one blast. (Image: starwars.wikia.com)
Our current ion engines are very low thrust, Mr. Muirhead explains. If we wanted to travel to the stars, we would need much more advanced power.
Star Wars is an American epic space opera franchise based on a film series created by George Lucas, an American filmmaker and entrepreneur. It depicts the adventures of several characters “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, mostly involving, but not limited to, the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader).
Video – How to build a Death Star
Mr. Muirhead explains how a Death Star, just like the one in the movie Star Wars, could be built.