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A reseller's guide to the Star Wars galaxy

Have you ever thought about reselling X-wing starfighters? Or what your value add might be in the lightsaber market? Sean McGrath takes a look at making Star Wars tech a reality

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: January 2016:

Have you ever thought about reselling X-wing starfighters? Or what your value add might be in the lightsaber market? Of course you haven’t, because despite our childhood dreams, these Star Wars technologies still do not exist. But maybe they could?

For many of us, a seed was planted by the Star Wars franchise, which ultimately grew into our love for technology. In honour of the highly anticipated next chapter, The Force Awakens, we thought it apt to take a break from enterprise IT and instead focus on Star Wars tech and whether it could become a reality.

The Death Star

The Death Star, also known as the Death Star I, First Death Star, DS-1 platform and previously known as the Ultimate Weapon and Sentinel Base, was a moon-sized deep space mobile battle station constructed by the Galactic Empire after the defeat of the Separatists in the Clone Wars. It boasted a primary weapon with sufficient firepower to destroy an entire planet with a single shot. ~ Star Wars Wiki

So, could we really build a Death Star? In 2013, the American public decided to find out by utilising the "We the People" website. The site offers a petition system by where if 25,000 signatures are gathered, the administration will issue an official response. A total of 34,435 people signed a petition insisting that Obama’s administration ‘secure resources and funding, and begin construction of the Death Star by 2016’.

The White House responded with a detailed explanation of why the project would not go ahead.

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defence, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon,” said Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget. “The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.”

He went on to raise a few more good points, for example, ‘the Administration does not support blowing up planets’ and ‘why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?’

The $850 quadrillion price tag might be enough to put some off (if large scale IT contracts are anything to go by, the figure may well be 2 to 3x as much), but lets say we ring fenced the budget for the project. Could it be done? Paul J. Kostek, senior member of the IEEE, says it would take an international effort.

“It would take the combined efforts of the national programs – US, Russian, Chinese, India and French along with the commercial launch companies – Space X, ATK and Orbital Sciences,” Kostek commented. “Unless there is a worldwide effort to build a Death Star and agreement on what we would do with it, we shouldn’t expect to see one in work anytime soon.”    

TIE Fighters

The TIE/LN starfighter, commonly known simply as the TIE fighter, was the signature starfighter of the Galactic Empire, with a later model being used by the First Order. They were instantly recognizable from the roar of their engines and carried locator beacons enabling them to be found by the Empire. Designs for the TIE fighter were partly based on the Eta-2 Actis-class interceptor ~ Star Wars Wiki

Ion propulsion, the technology behind the Empire’s TIE fighters, is very real and has been since around 1979. It is used on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft and is one of the leading candidates to power a manned mission to Mars. Xenon atoms are hit with electrons to form ions, which are used as a means of propulsion. Using ion propulsion, the Dawn spacecraft can travel at 24,000 miles per hour.

However, there is a slight snag? Ion powered spacecraft don’t accelerate particularly fast.

“If the Twin Ion Engine fighters were built today they would be much slower and take two days to accelerate to the speeds in the movie,” explains Kostek.

“They can move a vehicle through great distances, but not for high speed combat.”

The engineer added that both the TIE fighters and Y-Wings would need shielding to allow them to enter and exit the earth, and other planets, atmospheres.

“What this weight would do to the performance is unknown, but it would likely slow the fighters.”

Lightsabers

The lightsaber, sometimes referred to as a laser sword, was a weapon used by the Jedi and the Sith. Lightsabers were powered by a kyber crystal in Jedi weapons or a Sith crystal in Sith weapons, and emitted from a metallic hilt.[5] It was a weapon that required skill and training, and was greatly enhanced when used in conjunction with the Force. ~ Star Wars Wiki

As Obi-Wan Kenobi said, this is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age. Say what you will, I’ve never met a man, woman or child who hasn’t felt that their life would be enriched by owning a lightsaber.

For most of us, laser technology might seem like the go to answer, but experts have ruled out this route. Don Lincoln, senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and adjunct professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, said that lasers do not carry the necessary characteristics to make a half decent lightsaber.

“Lasers don't have a fixed length, as you can determine using a simple laser pointer. Further, unless the light is somehow scattered, a laser is essentially invisible as it passes through the air. Neither of these characteristics describes a lightsaber,” he pointed out.

Instead, he postulated that plasma has a better chance of making the Jedi’s primary weapon a reality.

“Such a material is created by stripping a gas's atoms of their electrons, a process called ionization. This stripping causes the material to glow. A plasma is a fourth state of matter, after the familiar three states of solid, liquid and gas.”

Plasma can be manipulated by magnetic fields and therefore could, theoretically, be maintained in a lightsaber shape. However, because two plasma beams would pass right through each other, ruling out epic battles with wrongdoers, the saber would also need to have a core.

“One possible material would be ceramics, which can be brought to very high temperatures without melting, softening or distorting,” suggested Professor Lincoln. “But a solid ceramic core doesn't work: When not in use, the hilt of the lightsaber dangles from the belt of a Jedi, and the hilt is maybe 8 or 10 inches long. So the ceramic core would have to spring out of the hilt much in the same way plastic toy lightsabers work.” 

So there you have it folks. A resellers guide to Star Wars technology. It might not make it on our 2016 trend report, but it’s good to know that very clever people around the world are taking time out from their busy lives to consider what is really important to us.

May the sales force be with you.

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