Tuesday, December 08, 2015 by Greg White
In 2013, the White House responded to a quasi-serious petition to build a Death Star – a mobile mega-structure and galactic super weapon used to decimate planets in the Star Wars trilogy. The Obama administration lightheartedly denied the request, because it “does not support blowing up planets.” Humor aside, is it possible to build a Death Star, and if so, at what price?(1)
A Death Star seems more feasible to build than constructing a replica of Earth. According to the Star Wars lore, the Death Star portrayed in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope had a diameter of 74 miles. That’s quite large, but not nearly as large as Earth’s 8,000-mile diameter. Based upon approximate density of an aircraft carrier, the mass of a Death Star is about a quadrillion tons, which is about one-millionth of Earth’s mass.(2)
But acquiring the material necessary to build a Death Star wouldn’t be easy. The world’s production rate of steel is about 1.43 billion tons annually. Conservative figures suggest it would take 800,000 years to acquire the steel necessary to build a Death Star. According to the U.S. government, the first Death Star would cost a staggering $852 quadrillion (a thousand million million), which is 13,000 times the world’s combined GDP.(3)
That’s just the tip of the galactic iceberg. Launch costs would be extremely pricey as well. Launching materials from Earth’s surface into outer space would currently cost thousands of pounds per launch. Furthermore, while there is enough iron in Earth’s core to build two billion Death Stars, the only plausible way to obtain materials cheaply is by mining them from the moon and asteroids.
Another challenge would be to figure out a way to meld a quadrillion tons of steel into a sphere with an intricate, internal network. This process would be extremely difficult but, in principle, feasible. Robots would be responsible for handling the majority of the work quickly and efficiently. Otherwise, space suited construction workers would have to be employed, and would take a millennium to complete the project.(2)
Earth-like gravity would also be necessary to live on the Death Star in the long-term. Without it, members on board the Death Star would lose bone mass and be subject to low blood pressure. Since gravity generators don’t exist, the galactic super weapon would have to rotate around its equator to produce Earth-like gravity through centrifugal force. Angled rockets could spin the Death Star at a rate on par with Earth’s gravity.
Because of these challenges, building a Death Star is not economically feasible for the United States. The construction costs would create major debt for the federal government. Furthermore, since the financial market would rely heavily on the Death Star, if the mega-structure were to suffer a major malfunction, the entire economy would collapse.
That doesn’t mean the United States can’t invest in more modest projects, however. For example, the United States could dole out money for a manned mission to Mars ($6 billion), a new high energy particle accelerator ($12 billion), or a base on the moon ($35 billion). If humanity started investing in these projects today, a project on par with a Death Star could be economically feasible down the road.(1)
Star Wars enthusiasts shouldn’t fret about the inability to build a Death Star right now, however. Other Star Wars-like technologies are currently on the horizon, including light sabers, bionic hands and even tractor beams. While humanity is light-years from building a Death Star in a galaxy far, far away, we can derive enjoyment from current technology, which is melding the world’s greatest movie franchise into a reality.