We crunched the numbers to calculate how much energy it would actually take to power up the iconic weapons and ships from the Star Wars universe. So…just how many batteries does it take to power Star Wars? We will cover your Star Wars favorites like lightsabers, blasters, X-wings, and yes, even the Death Star.
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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were lightsabers, there were blasters and there were ships. But all this cool stuff needed power. Lots of power. Let’s check out the power needs of some of your favorite Star Wars tech and what it would take to power up the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
To better understand power terminology, we took a look at the common energy usage of things in the world around us. One AA alkaline battery contains 3.9 watt-hours. A car battery contains 722 watt-hours. The new Tesla Powerwall has 7 kilowatt-hours. A nuclear reactor yields 1,000 megawatts or 22,000 megawatt-hours per day on average. One barrel of oil is equivalent to 1.7 megawatt-hours and 19 gallons of gasoline. The Earth consumes 104,426 terawatt-hours per year.
Lightsabers are powered by high-output Diatium power cells, which are capable of recharging naturally. The blade neither radiates heat nor expends energy until it comes into contact with the solid item it is striking. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn used his lightsaber to cut into the thick blast doors of Nute Gunray’s bridge. The doors were 2.35 meters tall and over a meter thick. Qui-Gon’s lightsaber cut a circular area approximately 0.9 meters in diameter. In order to melt 0.87 cubic meters of conventional steel, it would require approximately 1.69 gigajoules of thermal energy.
1.69 gigajoules is equivalent to 469,482 watt-hours, slightly more energy than one lightning bolt. One lightsaber yields enough energy for 120,380 AA batteries, which is 6,000 pounds of batteries or 250 gallons, enough to fill a kiddie pool. That’s also 650 car batteries, which would be 26,000 pounds — exceeding the 20,000-pound weight of a single-axle semi-trailer. 1.69 gigajoules yields the same amount of energy as 67 Tesla Powerwalls, one nuclear reactor, 0.28 barrels of oil (5.5 gallons of gas), or 0.000000000475% of Earth’s power needs (enough for 12 people for one day).
According to Han Solo, ancient Jedi weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side. Firing bursts of focused particle beam energy (bolts), a blaster gets its power from two main components: energy-rich blaster gas from a cartridge and a replaceable power pack.
The blaster bolts carry no heat themselves but materials struck by them deform and fuse like when Princess Leia blasted a hole through a metal grate using an E-11 blaster rifle while escaping from the Death Star. A hole was blasted big enough for Chewbacca to pass through, probably about 3 feet wide. An estimate on the mass of the grate is approximately 54 kilograms. Roughly 6.34 megajoules is needed to vaporize 1 kilogram of iron, so the blast yielded approximately 342 megajoules. This is equivalent to 24,360 AA batteries, 132 car batteries, 14 Tesla Powerwalls (which would weigh as much as two cows or half a Tatooine Bantha), one nuclear reactor for three blasts a second, 0.06 barrels of oil (at today’s gas prices, $2.29 a shot) or 0.000000000091% of Earth’s power supply (enough for three people for one day).
It’s one of the most menacing ships in the galaxy. In Empire Strikes Back, we see an Imperial Star Destroyer blasting asteroids out of its way. If we approximate the standard asteroid mass as 32,965,759 kilograms with a heating capacity of iron at 447 J/kg·K, then we could calculate that it would take 30 terajoules (8,333 megawatt-hours) to melt the asteroid. That’s 2.1 billion AA batteries (in the United States, 2.9 billion AA batteries are thrown away each year), 11.5 million car batteries (16 million cars were sold in the U.S. last year), 1.2 million Tesla Powerwalls, 10,000 nuclear reactors for a blast every three seconds, 4,901 barrels of oil (at 35 mpg, you could drive around the Earth 130 times or take six round trips to the moon) or 0.000008% of Earth’s power supply (enough for 207,000 people for one day).
It would take 250 terajoules (69,400 megawatt-hours) to vaporize that asteroid, which is 17.8 billion AA batteries, 96 million car batteries (71 million cars were sold globally last year), 9.9 million Tesla Powerwalls (enough to have three for every apartment in New York City), 270,000 nuclear reactors to fire once every second, 41,000 barrels of oil (enough to drive a third of the way to the sun) or 0.000066% of Earth’s power supply. A turbolaser must yield approximately 3,750 terawatts of power, releasing energy four times that of the Little Boy atomic bomb.
Sometimes it isn’t always about the size of the ship in an intergalactic fight as long as you are packing the right firepower. In A New Hope, when a blast from Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter struck the surface of the Death Star, it created a blast likely powerful enough to have vaporized at least one cubic meter of armor. Conservative estimates put the output of the four X-wing cannons at approximately 60 gigajoules of energy, which equals 16.67 megawatt-hours. That’s 4.3 million AA batteries (which could be stacked to reach space twice), 23,000 car batteries, 2,381 Tesla Powerwalls, 60 nuclear reactors for one blast a second, 9.8 barrels of oil or 0.000000016% of Earth’s power supply (enough for 408 people for one day).
Speaking of the Death Star, remember when the first incarnation of this formidable battle station destroyed Leia’s home planet of Alderaan? Utilizing a beam formed by several beams firing from its Concave Dish Composite Beam Superlaser, the Death Star was able to destroy an Earth-sized planet with a binding energy of roughly 2.25 x 1032 joules, which converts to 6.25 x 1028 watt-hours. That’s 1.6 x 1028 AA batteries (stacked end to end, these batteries would measure 84.5 billion light-years, almost enough to stretch across the observable universe), 8.6 x1025 car batteries (80% of the mass of Jupiter), 8.9×1024 Tesla Powerwalls (150 times the weight of Earth), 2.6 x 1018 nuclear reactors to fire once every 24 hours (each blast would require an amount of uranium equal to the mass of Mercury), 3.7×1022 barrels of oil (enough to satisfy the Earth’s oil consumption for 1 trillion years) or 598 billion times Earth’s power supply.
Comparatively, our sun produces roughly 3.8 x 1026 watts. How could one moon-sized battle station produce that much power? Using a ‘hypermatter’ reactor, of course.
We can’t forget about the droids that inhabit the Star Wars galaxy. They need power to function also. We don’t have droids as complex as R2D2 and C3PO just yet, but we do have ASIMO, “The World’s Most Advanced Humanoid Robot” developed by Honda. ASIMO, which is an acronym for “Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility,” is 4’3” and capable of walking, talking and helping people. Honda’s robot is powered by a rechargeable 51.8-volt lithium ion battery that only lasts for an hour. That’s equivalent to 132 AA batteries or one car battery.
Aside from powering up the Death Star, hypermatter particles allow a ship to jump to lightspeed without changing its complex mass and energy. We’ve seen the Millennium Falcon make the jump to lightspeed several times. According to physicist Miguel Alcubierre, a warp drive could manipulate space-time, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics to move 10 times faster than the speed of light. To make a warp drive, it was initially estimated you would need a minimum amount of energy almost equal to the mass of the planet Jupiter. More recent studies have reduced the energy requirement to be about the mass of the Voyager 1, approximately 700 kilograms. Using E=mc2, 700 kilograms is equal to 62,913 exajoules, which is 15,000 tons of TNT explosives or 17,475 terawatt-hours. That’s 4.5 quadrillion AA batteries, 23 trillion car batteries, 2.5 trillion Tesla Powerwalls, 770,000 nuclear reactors, 10 billion barrels of oil (1% of the total oil ever produced) or 16% of Earth’s power supply.
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