Moisture Vaporators, Death Star Construction and Other Real Star Wars Tech

Remember that time an X-Wing fighter flew past the International Space Station? Or when R2D2 saved the ISS crew?

OK, yeah, those things didn’t really happen, but since the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, there has been a lot of technology developed that mimics the science and tech from the sci-fi blockbuster films. Of course, we now have real robots in space (Robonaut), drones are now everyday items, there are actual holograms (Voxiebox and Fairy Lights) and DARPA has been developing prosthetic limbs that Luke Skywalker would totally use, called the Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET). Plus, Boeing is building blaster guns that will use “pew-pew” sound effects from Star Wars. Seriously. The lasers are silent, and so they need to add sound to know for sure they’ve been fired.

Since we all certainly have Star Wars on the brain today (The Force Awakens opens tonight), let’s take a look at a few recent space-related developments that hint of inspiration from the movies:

ESA Exomars robot
ESA Exomars robot

ESA has announced some of the instruments that will be on board the 2018 ExoMars rover. One of them will work akin to the Skywalkers’ moisture vaporators on Tatooine. The Habitability, Brine Irradiation and Temperature package (HABIT) will will investigate the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere of Mars. According to one of the researchers leading the instrument, this proof-of-concept instrument will take water out of the atmosphere to produce liquid water. If it works, it could be used to create water for future astronauts on Mars. And if it works really well, it could work on a larger scale to support Mars exploration… perhaps making enough water to allow for farming.

“HABIT can be easily adapted to ‘water-farms’ for in-situ resource production,” Javier Martin-Torres from Lulea University of Technology in Sweden told New Scientist. “We will produce Martian liquid water on Mars, that could be used in the future exploration of Mars for astronauts and greenhouses.”

If it does work out, future Mars astronauts might need to watch out for Sandpeople tracks that are side-by-side.

The Death Star under construction in 'Return of the Jedi.' Credit: LucasFilm Ltd.
The Death Star under construction in ‘Return of the Jedi.’ Credit: LucasFilm Ltd.

Death Star Construction

So, just how do you build something the size of a Death Star out in deep space?

Instead of hauling all the materials long distances, the best way to build a Death Star is to construct one out of an already-existing asteroid, says Brian Muirhead, chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It could provide the metals,” he told Wired. “You have organic compounds, you have water—all the building blocks you would need to build your family Death Star.”

Muirhead is working on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will attempt to move a small asteroid in orbit around the Moon.

Watch the full video and interview below, it is really great:

The Aero-X hovercraft. Credit: Aerofex.
The Aero-X hovercraft. Credit: Aerofex.

Speeder Bikes

Who hasn’t dreamed of riding a speeder bike like the ones in Return of the Jedi? Instead of just dreaming about it, Mark DeRoche from a company called Aerofex has actually done something about it. His company is working a “low-altitude tandem duct aerial vehicle” called the Aero-X. According to the company’s website, the Aero-X is a “hovercraft that rides like a motorcycle – an off-road vehicle that takes to the air. Designed for low-altitude sport and utility, the Aero-X bridges the gap between light aircraft and all-terrain vehicles.”

It can carry two (smaller) people 10 feet (3 m) above any surface at airspeeds up to 45 mph (72 km/h). It can carry a total of 310 lb (140 kg), and can be customized for specific applications and aerial tasks such as agriculture, disaster relief, search and rescue, and patrolling borders and game parks.

See it in action below:

Or if you need to go a little more low-tech, you can make your own giant light sabers (3.66-meters/12-feet long), like one Star Wars fan did:

And so you can fully prepare for the awesome power of the force, here’s the official trailer for The Force Awakens:

Lead image caption: X-wing fighter flies by Earth? Actually, it is the ATV2 (Johannes Kepler) as it departs the ISS in 2011. Credit: NASA/Ron Garan