When the first Star Wars (or Star Wars, as the first trilogy was translated in Spain) hit theaters in 1977, many of its elements became icons. From the lightsabers (light sword in the dubbing of the original trilogy) to the Millennium Falcon. And also the dreaded Death Star, whose appearances in the film saga have been several.
The Death Star… Something like our moon, but in a space station format, with hundreds of soldiers, employees, ships and weapons. And also carrying the ultimate weapon, a world annihilating ray that by the way would already be theoretically possible to build. But speaking of that, of building, How much would it cost to manufacture the ‘technological terror’ of the Empire, as defined by Darth Vader in Ep IV? Let’s calculate it.
The cost of building the Death Star
A decade ago, in 2012, the Centives blog on Economics from students at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, USA, wanted to answer this, and several of those students tried to make an approximate cost using real scales. And it is that “Building a massive space weapon is all very well, but you have to find the materials to build it. It’s easy to say “sure, the Death Star would be expensive”, pero ¿is there really enough iron on Earth to make the first Death Star? Centives decided to find out.
The first thing is to start by seeing the size of the Death Star. It is said that the first, the one from the first film in the saga (A New Hope, 1977) is 140 km in diameter and It looks like it’s made of steel. But how much steel? The study authors decided to model the Death Star “as if it had a steel density similar to that of a modern warship. After all, they’re both essentially floating weapons platforms, so it seems reasonable.”
Establishing a comparison, we have that the American aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious has:
- Volume: 28.591.2 m3
- Time: 22,000 tons
To the scale of the Death Star, this is about 1.08×1015 tons of steel. 1 with fifteen zeros, which looks like a colossal massbut the students calculated that just over 2 million Death Stars could be made from Earth’s iron: “Earth’s crust may have a limited amount of iron, but the core is mostly our favorite metal and is both very large and very dense.”, and this is where most of our death star iron would come from.
Therefore, the Death Star would be:
- Volume: 1,440,000 km3
- Time: 1.08 x 1015 tons
thousand trillion dollars
The problem would be extracting the steel from the core, something that could be dangerous. And also, at the current rate of steel production (1.3 billion tons per year), it would take 833,315 years to produce enough steel to start working. So using the Earth as a source of materials, 800 millennia would pass before the construction of the Death Star could begin. By comparison, it takes less than an hour to get the steel for HMS Illustrious.
Oh, and the cost of the steel alone? At 2012 prices, about $852,000,000,000,000. Or roughly 13,000 times world GDP. But if we adjust the IPC index to the current date, to 2022, we have 1,001,950,000,000,000. In other words: more than a billion dollars to build the Death Star.
The first Death Star is a gray spherical station with a diameter of about 160 kilometers, divided into two hemispheres, which in turn were subdivided into 12 zones with control bridges. The station’s main armament is located in the northern hemisphere, with a high-powered superlaser cannon. The interior is organized in 84 independent levels, each of them divided into 257 operating sub-levels.
Five billion years to assemble it
In the film, the station has 628,628 crew members, 27,048 Imperial officers, 167,216 pilots, and more than 730,000 armed troops, stormtroopers, artillery, and support personnel, not including the 400,000 droids. It may seem like a huge amount, and yet according to physics professor Rhett Allainfrom the University of Southeastern Louisiana, on the Death Star could have inhabited more people than currently live on Earth.
According to the story told by Star Wars, the space station was built during the start of the Galactic Empire, and took 20 years to complete due to supply issues, union disputes, and design issues, which were later corrected.
Scientists from the aforementioned university calculated how long it would take to assemble the Death Star once we had enough steel -without quadanium- using only automated transfer vehicles (ATVs) with a payload capacity of 7,200 kg per vessel, similar to those used to transport cargo to the International Space Station. The results are surprising: to finish the job in 10 years they would have had to launch four vehicles to the station every second. If they were to send out one ATV a month, it would take 5 billion years to complete the job, which would mean launching the station after our Sun has gone out.
Obviously, on Earth today, using only our world as a supplier of raw materials, building the Death Star would be as expensive as it is dangerous and extended over time -800 millennia to have the steel, 500 millennia to assemble it. But in the rules and universe of Star Wars, in which there are entire mining planets to extract resources from, things change. And besides, we are talking about a wonderful fantasy universe whose day we celebrate today, so…
May the 4th be with you.