by Jim Nintzel
"First of all, the scale of what we're able to build in real life versus ‘Star Wars' is completely different," says Roberto Furfaro, an assistant professor in the UA's College of Engineering and director of the Space Systems Engineering Lab. Furfaro currently works as a systems engineer on NASA's latest New Frontiers mission, OSIRIS-REx.Read the whole thing here.
As of now, the International Space Station is the largest man-made object in space. It weighs nearly a million pounds and is as long as a football field.
More than an acre of solar panels power the ISS, while a made-up "hypermatter reactor" is the primary power generator aboard the moon-size Death Star. Fair enough, Furfaro says. The energy requirements of a spacecraft the size of the moon would be huge, and it could be that the Death Star was not close enough to a star to collect substantial solar energy.
Hypermatter power, which functions something like fusion power, isn't itself too problematic. Although currently we aren't able to generate power via fusion, "it can, in principle, be conceived," Furfaro says. The real problem is heat. The more energy you create, the more heat you build up. How the engineers of the Death Star chose to deal with that heat was lazy, "terrible" design, according to Furfaro.
"A spacecraft is an extremely complex system," he says. "A good space engineer would do a thermal analysis, starting by studying the mission. Where are you going? What is the thermal environment there? Everything on the spacecraft has a minimum and maximum temperature that it can operate at, so you have to create a thermal design that allows each individual element on the spacecraft to still operate."
Poking holes in the Death Star to exhaust heat was a gross shortcut, and they paid the price.