In Brief

Happy Star Wars Day! What Would It Take to Build a Death Star?

It would take four launches a second to build the Death Star with Europe's cylindrical ATV spacecraft.
A European Space Agency ATV robotic space cargo ship nears the Death Star in this artist's illustration. (Image credit: Death Star: Lucasfilm Ltd. © & TM. All Rights Reserved. ATV: ESA)

Hello space fans, and May the 4th be with you! In honor of Star Wars Day, physics professor Rhett Allain of Southeastern Louisiana University took a look at just what it would take to the build the Empire's Death Star using only the Automated Transfer Vehicle robot cargo ships built by the European Space Agency. The answer: We'll have to wait a LONG time for anything like the Death Star.

According to Allain (you can read the full post here), if humanity collectively turned to the Dark Side and opted to build the Death Star in 10 years, it would take four ATV launches EVERY SECOND to do it. If we launched one ATV a month, it would take more than 5 billion years, Allain says. So basically, the sun (and likely Earth) would be ancient history before our Death Star would be ready to take out the Rebel Alliance. The ATV is one of several cargo ships supplying the International Space Station. They are large and cylindrical and can carry about 7,200 kilograms (15,873 pounds). The next one, ATV-4 Albert Einstein, is launching on June 5.

I encourage any Death Star fan (the book by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry is worth reading, by the way) to check out Allain's full post. He went through a lot of math to figure launch rates for Death Star ATVs. He also has a nifty calculation for exactly how many people there would be on a Death Star (hint, it looks bigger than the population of Earth). Studying a real-life Death Star is not new. In January, the Obama Administration officially responded to a petition that urged the U.S. military to build a Death Star by 2016. The short answer: "The Administration does not support blowing up planets," an official said. [Read the full post at ESA's ATV Blog]

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.