Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seems an Odd Design Choice

Ok, I fully admit that I'm a nerd and that I often times overthink the technical details shown in movies. It's especially hard for me to overlook computer-related gaffs in movies, given my profession. That said, this is more of what seems to be an architectural gaff in the Star Wars universe. Specifically, the design of the Deathstar.

In the "New Hope" (i.e., the real first Star Wars movie ...that came out when I was seven), the interior structure of the Deathstar was never really clearly spelled out. Yeah, where the Millenium Falcon gets drawn into the docking bay, it seemed to show that at least parts of the Deathstar were oriented in the stereotypical, lazy sci-fi, "there's a universal 'up' direction". However, they never really explicitly stated that the entire station was laid out in the same orientation. It's as logical to assume that the docking bay was oriented that way for functional reasons and that the rest of the Deathstar (at least, 'the rest' that wasn't also docking bays) might be laid out differently.

However, in "Revengeturn of the Jedi", it becomes fairly clear that the entirety of the Deathstar is laid out with a similar orientation:

Deathstar from Return of the Jedi

Looking at the picture, you see that it appears that the interior is made up of stacked, horizontal layers and that the layers are stacked parallel to the equatorial trench. Basically, given a spherical outer shell, the interior structure is stack-upon-stack of circular deck plates oriented along a central, virtically-oriented axis. That is, it's a giant layer-cake design with a spherical outer shell.

Now, to a hack sci-fi writer like George Lucas, this kind of layout might make sense. As a hack, you don't think about things like "how does one put artificial gravity into this kind of structure" (after all, you're too busy trying to imagine what energy-beam weapons sound like in the vacuum of space). To someone like me, and you wonder "how do people stay anchored to the deck they're moving about on?"

With the above type of design, I can only think of a couple ways that the occupants are able to stay anchored to the deck-plating an walk in a way that approaches "normal":

  • There's some gravitic-force at the bottom-most part of the Deathstar that exerts a pull all the way to the top-most part of the Deathstar.
  • Each deck-plate has a gravitic material that has a very localized effect, but is sufficient to keep deck-occupants walking relatively normally
  • The deck plates are made of ferrous materials and everyone's shoes have magnets in them.

Each of the above seems a pretty silly supposition and a horribly thought-out design choice.

  • The problem with a gravitic force rooted at the bottom of the Deathstar is the diminishing force of gravity, the further you get from the gravitic source. One would expect that, with such a design, gravitational pull would be highest in the lowest decks of the station and nearly non-existent in the topmost part. I guess that makes a sort of sense if you're using the upper reaches of the station as machinery or docking space for space ships. However, the scene with the Millennium Falcon demonstrates that at least some of the hanger space is at the station's equatorial region. The drawing above also seems to indicate that the upper reaches of the station doesn't contain the kinds of voids one would expect in a region used for the docking of spacecraft.
  • The problem with per-deck gravity generators is "how does one limit the direction of the gravitational effect". What I'm saying is, if I've got a gravitic force in my floors and a (presumably equal) gravitic force in my ceilings, how am I not being pulled towards the ceiling just as much as I am the floor? How are the forces not canceling each other out, leaving me suspended equidistant from my floor and ceiling. As far as I'm aware, gravity is a force that acts equally in all directions from the gravitational source. While there are theories about monopole magnets, their existence hasn't been proven, yet, and I don't know that there's an equivalent theory for gravitational directionality.
  • Of the three, the ferrous deck-plates is about the only thing that makes any kind of sense. Your anchoring force is very localizable and is easy to make consistent throughout the entire station. Down-side is, with magnetic shoes, I gotta think you still suffer the whole gamut of physical health problems you do with extended deployments on real life space stations (bone loss and muscle-mass loss and the like).

Maybe there's other anchoring technologies I'm not thinking of (beside the "it's some kind of wondrous alien technology" reason that a hack would use to defend his "art").

To me, a more logical design for a spherical Deathstar would be some kind of "concentric shells" design. Basically, a design reminiscent of an onion. That way, you could have a gravitational force at the station's core. Alternatively, you could simulate gravity by way of the station's rotation (this really only works for wheel or ring-style structures, however). It would fit with the whole central reactor core design. If you had some kind of artificial singularity (which, given the kind of power you'd need to be able to generate a planet-annihilating beam-weapon, makes sense), that could act as your gravity source. A gravitational core would also make sense given that "spherical" is the natural shape of celestial objects that have sufficient mass and gravity. It would probably minimize the demands to evenly distribute structural loading (whereas,with a bottom-sourced single gravity source "layer cake" design, creating a sphere shaped station would be a purely aeshtetic play. The location of the gravity source would tend to make exert a non-uniform pull across the station meaning that you'd have to put a lot of complex engineering in place to maintain a spherical shape and not make the station "fragile").

Bleah. Yeah. I overthink this shit.

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