The Death Star was a highly evolved, highly technical space battle station and weapon used by the Galactic Empire to instill fear and terror throughout the galaxy. A battle station the size of the moon with the capability of destroying an entire planet. A structure so big, though, must have taken immense power to move and jump into hyperspace. Even keeping a craft that size out of the pull of a gravitational field would be a job.
How did the Death Star move? The Death Star, otherwise known as DS-1, had a number of ion drives and a series of 123 hyperdrive field generators that kept the battle station moving. Each hyperdrive was capable of moving an entire capital ship through hyperspace. When working together, they could create a hyperspace tunnel for the entire battle station to go through.
The Death Star is essentially a mobile platform for its main weapon—the Superlaser, and the reactor that powers it. A battle station housing a weapon large enough to destroy a planet also needs to be able to escape at a reasonable speed if the need should ever arise. Not only does it take a massive number of hyperdrives to make this craft mobile, but it also takes the work and organization of properly trained personnel and droids to keep the craft moving and working efficiently.
How Did the Death Star Move?
The Galactic Empire’s solution to order was the Death Star. It was the most ambitious space station project in Galactic history, and it was actually finished ahead of schedule per Darth Vader’s persuasion and ambition. Despite its size, the battle station was still expected to keep up with the other large space crafts in the galaxy when it came to speed. The Galactic Empire didn’t want to compromise in any area.
If this was going to be a weapon of intimidation, its very structure had to be intimidating. This included how fast the battle station traveled, as well as how strong its laser was. That said, the Death Star’s Superlaser was the strongest weapon in the universe, but it had utterly no defense mechanism if it was attacked directly. That’s why there were also thousands of military personnel whose only job was to defend the Superlaser.
Relying on military personnel to defend the Superlaser wasn’t good enough in Grand Moff Tarkin’s eyes, the brains behind the designs of the Death Star, that is why it was so critical that the battle station was mobile as well. To accomplish this, the Death Star featured a complex network of ion engines and hyperdrive field generators that allowed it to travel like it was any other spacecraft.
Although the battle station was 120 kilometers (approximately 75 miles) in diameter and divided into 24 zones for order in the working stations, the battle station was essentially made up of only four main components:
- Battle station
- Propulsion system
- Hypermatter reactor
It may come to a surprise, but the main challenges of the Death Star weren’t creating a cannon big enough to destroy a planet or building a battle station the size of a moon. The greatest challenges were powering a cannon big enough to destroy a planet and getting the battle station to move. Both of these problems were solved when they invented the hypermatter reactor.
The heart of the Death Star is, in fact, the hypermatter reactor. Like many of the ships in Star Wars, these reactors made it possible to travel through hyperspace. The Death Star just had a more elaborate hypermatter reactor than all of the other ships within the series.
The hypermatter reactor was a type of ship reactor that generated power from destroying hypermatter. The core was insulated with dominium metal and dolomite, a lava substance mined on Mustafar. This is also where the 123 hyperdrive generators were housed.
The hyperdrive generator was a propulsion system that allowed the Death Star to reach lightspeed. Because the battle station was so large, it needed 123 of these to accomplish a hyperspace jump successfully. It functioned by sending hypermatter particles from the hypermatter reactor to hurl the Death Star into hyperspace while also keeping its mass and energy profile.
The hyperdrive generators would not be able to function without the hypermatter reactor. If the hyperdrive generator stopped working or was destroyed during a hyperspace jump, the ship would be violently dropped back into real space. The Death Star didn’t want this to happen, so undoubtedly some of those 123 generators were kept as backups just in case an emergency arose.
It is also important to note that most of the ships in the Star Wars galaxy did not have a use for hyperspace jumps and therefore didn’t have hyperdrive generators or reactors. That said, though, it shows just how elaborate the Death Star was. Not only was it the biggest battle station and weapon in the galaxy, but it didn’t just move either, it jumped through hyperspace. The Galactic Empire really did not compromise on any details during its construction.
It is also notable that a collision between two ships in hyperspace was fatal. That is why it is incredibly important for ships with hyperdrives to plot their destination points to avoid collisions accurately.
These engines, also known as sublight drives and sublight thrusters, were engines that got the Death Star moving slower than the speed of light through real space. This is the type of engine that most of the smaller space crafts in Star Wars used to move through space. The fact that the Death Star had both hyperdrive generators and sublight engines showcases its versatility. The most common type of sublight engine was the ion engine.
Ion Engines, which are also called Ion drives and Ion thrusters, generated charged particles that blasted from the rear of the ship. This action from the engines is what produced its thrust. However, that doesn’t mean that these thrusters are limited to direct forward motion. The exhaust streams may be deflected to one side or another by the application of electromagnetic fields. There are also external devices called thrust vectrals that could achieve this as well.
These two engine systems are what kept the Death Star moving as well as protected. Don’t get me wrong, there were obviously other forms of defense for the biggest weapon in the galaxy, but the fact that it had a tremendous amount of energy dedicated to making sure it wasn’t a sitting duck in space also kept it protected from attack.
Just because the ship has these engines, though, doesn’t mean they will work. There is more to it than that, of course, like the military personnel and droids responsible for checking and fixing any issues that occur with the engines and hyperdrives. Not only this, though, but the fuel needed to power the engines and hyperdrives.
What Fuels the Death Star?
Yes, Star Wars in a sci-fi movie, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t necessarily happen in one form or another. In a sense, that is what science fiction is all about. That said, it’s hard not to think of every possible logical situation in regards to the movies. Specifically speaking, the logistics and physics involved in powering and fueling the engines and hyperdrives that get the Death Star moving.
There isn’t much information on fueling the ion engines and hyperdrive generators, but what we do know seems logical enough. The hypermatter reactor is a massive fusion reactor fed by stellar fuel bottles that line the perimeter of the main reactor chamber. The reactor had two lines that went out to power distribution nodes, as well as the main power generator between a pair of filtered power manifolds.
Leading down into the reactor was the energy exchanger, and the raw power manifolds below that. There were also two large cords. The largest of the two fed power directly to the Superlaser, while the smaller fed energy directly to the hyperdrive. There was a raw fuel drive that supplied fuel to the ion engines, hyperdrive, and Superlaser, which were connected using stellar fuel bottles.
As for the fuel itself, Tibanna gas was used to power and cool down the Death Star’s hyperdrives. Luckily though, there were many different outlets for obtaining this gas because, with the immense number of hyperdrive generators on the Death Star, it went through a considerable amount of fuel in comparison to other space crafts in the galaxy.
In comparison to hyperdrives, ion engines used a considerably less amount of fuel. That said, though, the Death Star still used more fuel to power its ion engines than other spacecrafts because of the number of engines it had.
These engines were typically fueled by power cells, liquid chemical reactants, onboard generators, or virtually any other device capable of providing sufficient power. The most common propellant used was Xenon. This was because it was efficient. The fuel would burn for 27 hours and only expend 10 ounces of fuel.
As much fuel has the Death Star took to keep it moving, there was an equal number of military personnel and droids working to ensure everything ran smoothly. This combined effort is really what kept the Death Star going. With over a million people aboard and everyone with a dedicated position and purpose, it is safe to say this weapon and battle station was one of the most thought out space crafts in the Star Wars galaxy.
The lineup of standard personnel on the Death Star at any given time includes:
- 265,675 Station crew members
- 52,276 Imperial gunners
- 607,360 troops
- 25,984 Stormtroopers
- 42,782 ship support staff
- 167,216 pilots and support crew
The station also carries:
- 7,200 starfighters
- Four strike cruisers
- 3,600 assault shuttles
- 1,400 AT-ATs
- 1,860 dropships
- A variable number of support, recon and assault droids
Source: Death Star Technical Companion
All of this effort from crew members and machines kept the Death Star is the best shape possible. This included making sure it was traveling at the most efficient speed possible.
What Fuels the Superlaser?
Throughout most of Star Wars, Kyber crystals are of some importance in one way or another, like powering a lightsaber, for instance. These crystals come in handy when fueling the Superlaser as well. According to legend, the ancient Sith used massive Kyber crystals when creating their superweapons.
Palpatine was inspired by these ancient Sith legends to make his own Kyber crystal powered superweapon. There is a reason for the galaxy-wise fascination with Kyber crystals, though. There is a theory that the crystals can provide enough sustainable energy to power planets across the galaxy. It was figured out that the Kyber crystal would submit to immense pressure up to a certain point before the output became impossible to harness.
Palpatine knew of this power one way or another and figured out a way to somewhat harness it into the Superlaser.
Granted, those that use the Dark Side of the Force, typically cannot find their own Kyber crystals. They simply will not appear for a Sith. They have two options:
- Steal the crystals from Jedi
- Create synthetic ones
When fueling the Superlaser, the Death Star mainly relied on a huge synthetic crystal to do the job.
How does it work?
If you are aware of the age-old science experiment of using the Sun’s rays and a magnifying glass to create a beam of heat hot enough to burn a leave, then you are on the right track when talking about fueling the Superlaser.
The Superlaser has a massive lens built around a huge synthetic Kyber crystal. The lens is known as “the Eye.” It is surrounded by eight tributary lasers, and four backup lasers just in case. All of the tributary lasers can be angled at a target. This is how the Superlaser is able to aim through these tributary lasers. This way, the entire battle station doesn’t have to turn just to aim at a target.
Then there is an amplification nexus where the main cannon and eight tributary lasers fire beams that converge. It is located at the outer perimeter of the Superlaser. This is when enough pressure and heat are forced onto the crystal, and a main beam then blasts the intended target. So in a sense, these lasers act as the Sun toward the Kyber crystal. The Death Star’s Superlaser derives power directly from the hypermatter reactor.
The full power of the reactor is converted by the tributary lasers to create the beams that are then shot directly at the Kyber crystal.
When it comes to the physics of creating a single blast powerful enough to destroy any remanence of a planet, that’s when things start to really get interesting. Aside from the uninhabited “test” planet, Despayre, Alderaan is the only planet that has ever felt the wrath of the Death Star’s Superlaser. Alderaan was a planet not so different from Earth.
The Superlaser destroyed Alderaan entirely in a matter of three seconds. That’s all it took. When talking about physics, that means the Death Star, a battle station the size of a small moon, was able to destroy a planet the size of Earth in a matter of three seconds.
The binding energy of the Earth is gravity. The gravitational pull of Earth is measured in Joules and measures to an incredible 2.24 X 10^32 Joules. This is the minimum amount of energy it would take to blast Earth to crumbles. For a little perspective, the energy output of the Sun is 3.8 X 10^26 Watts. That means with the Sun’s energy, and it would take an entire week’s worth of energy in a matter of three seconds to cause an equivalent reaction.
Each second inside the Sun, 4.3 billion kilograms of mass are converted into pure energy. The Death Star is able to create this charge once a day that is strong enough to destroy any planet. Not only that, but the Superlaser is able to scale back its energy as well. If a smaller target is within reach like capital ships, for example, the Superlaser can produce a scaled beam once per minute.
Operating the Superlaser:
A total of 168 Imperial gunners are in charge of directly operating the Superlaser. Each of the eight tributary lasers is manned by 14 Imperial gunners. The rest of the remaining Imperial gunners are assigned to other systems surrounding the Superlaser. Imperial gunners were tasked by the Empire for their skills with heavy artillery. These skilled gunnery crewmen operated with smooth, calm precision, even during the fiercest battles.
As members of the Imperial Navy’s Starfighter Corps, Imperial gunners were the most trusted artillerymen for the job. They possessed keen eyes, superior reflexes, and a rapport with specialized equipment. They were trained in handling and repairing engine equipment, as well as things like light laser cannons, light to heavy turbolasers, ion cannons, missile launchers, tractor beams, and of course, the Superlaser.
Some of their duties included:
- Tracking targets during combat
- Firing at targets
- Reloading ammunition
- Preventing overloads in the weapon systems
- Maintaining s careful balance of energy in the Superlaser
The key was to avoid the risk of either an overload of the titanic energies. Otherwise, it would risk huge internal explosions if the energies were imbalanced. Even out of all of the Imperial gunners, only the highest-ranked and best-trained of their peers would be accepted onto the Death Star to work with the Superlaser.
Once on the Death Star, the gunners were trained as a group and also spent months calibrating weapons and running through countless scenarios with battle plans devised by Tarkin’s staff. They also went through thousands of different simulated fleet battles against the Rebels. Without barely a thought or single emotion in their minds, the Imperial gunners could select a target, aim, power up and fire the Superlaser with synchronized precision.
Each gunner group was in charge of their own tributary laser that would then send the precise energy to the Superlaser itself. This is when the captain of the Imperial gunners, Tenn Graneet, would come in and complete his task of pulling the lever to fire the actual Superlaser.
Tenn Graneet was the master chief gunnery officer in the Imperial Navy during the Galactic Civil War. He served in the Navy for thirty years and served in the Clone Wars as an Imperial gunner. He was a lifelong military man that enjoyed his career and got his big break when he was asked to be captain of the Imperial gunners on the Death Star, manning the Superlaser.
When he was first asked to join the others on the Death Star, he was ecstatic. He couldn’t wait to be a part of a cause that would be considered the biggest project in the Empire’s military history, and he would be the one in charge of it all, right down to pulling the lever to fire the Superlaser. This was the most important responsibility for his entire career. He began by familiarizing himself with the superweapon.
He learned the ins and outs of the Superlaser, including how it was built, the material used, the purpose for the superweapon, and so on. That is when he began questioning whether any person was capable of wielding such power wisely. Without receiving any real answers, he rationalized his fears by telling himself the Superlaser wouldn’t be used to the full power, that it would only be used to blast uninhabited planets, moons, and other bodies.
It wasn’t until the Death Star set out to target Despayre. The destruction of the planet took three shots, and he pulled the lever each time. The first shot killed every living thing on the planet and cooked its surface. The second caused further tectonic stress, and the last obliterated what was left. This was when he realized just how powerful the Death Star was and began to question his decision to join the battle station.
A guilty conscience:
Although Graneet was working for Palpatine, it didn’t mean he himself lacked a moral conscience. After the destruction of both Despayre and Alderaan, Graneet began to see himself as the largest mass murderer in galactic history. Even though he was only following orders. Despite this, he knew that if the Rebel Alliance were to win the war somehow, he would be tried and executed for his crimes.
Even the people aboard the Death Star that knew he was the one that fired the Superlaser at Despayre and Alderaan started acting differently towards him. He wasn’t sure how to handle this. When the time came for him to once again pull the lever at Yavin 4, he froze. Graneet then ordered his team to standby. He didn’t/couldn’t get himself to execute more people, and he wanted so desperately to be saved from this position.
That moment is when Luke Skywalker was able to destroy the Death Star, killing Graneet and many other of the Empire’s most valuable people along with it. Graneet was saved from his guilt, and the people of Yavin 4 got to live another day.
What Was the Death Star Made Of?
Some of the earliest plans for a mobile, planet-destroying superweapon dated back to the ancient Sith, and it was these legends that greatly influenced how the Death Star was designed and came to be. As far as materials go, though, those weren’t as ancient.
The entire Death Star was entirely man-made. It was built in orbit of Geonosis and supported by a complex logistical network of bases. It was almost 100 miles in diameter and featured 357 internal levels. A vast, central cylindrical atmosphere-processing unit ensured the air inside the station was regulated.
It also featured several modular artificial atmosphere stations, and water-recycling tanks were placed throughout the station’s levels for the creation of air humidity. If the docking-bay doors were opened, it didn’t matter much to the atmosphere because magnetic seals and an atmosphere-containment projector kept the station’s internal atmosphere stable.
The entire project was done in secret, so the plans and materials were kept away from the public as much as possible. There were some leaks that got out, and the Empire’s military was constantly shutting them down, but this only seemed to delay the building process. This ensured the ultimate protection from enemies. When it was all said and done, the main material used throughout the Death Star was Quadanium steel plates.
So many people are a fan of Star Wars and have been for the past forty years. So much so that people often wonder what it would take to actually build some of the weapons and space crafts that are featured in the films. The British energy supplier Ovo actually calculated how much it would cost to power the Death Star for just one day. They stated it would take approximately 7.8 octillion dollars to do this.
Not only that, but Forbes also estimated the total cost of building the Death Star to be around 825 quadrillion dollars.
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