How much would (did) it cost to build the Death Star?

by on February 17, 2012 at 10:10 am in History | Permalink

Oh, and the cost of the steel alone? At 2012 prices, about $8,100,000,000,000,000. Or roughly 13,000 times the world’s GDP.

Here is more, via A. Gupta.

Brian Moore February 17, 2012 at 10:20 am

Right, but you can recoup the costs easily because now you have an easy method to “mine” the metal rich cores of planets. :)

Adrian Ratnapala February 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Yep.

Cost of steel in dollars is not the question, tonnes available is. An maybe a century or two we might well have a civilisation that treats asteroids like we treat islands. Such a civilisation would not only have a much bigger GDP than today’s world, it would also be one in which giant iron nuggets are a plentiful natural resource.

So Much For Subtlety February 18, 2012 at 6:45 am

The Earth is pretty much a giant iron nugget. Asteroid deposits are unlikely to be more concentrated than the Earth is.

So I have to say I don’t immediately see how having some more iron ore at least 150,000,000 kilometers away is going to do much for our economy.

Especially as the developed world seems to have all the iron it needs. Steel production is now mainly a Third World thing as their physical infrastructure is growing. The Developed world seems to get by just recycling what we have. Admittedly the Death Star was created “a long long time ago”, but an economy that advanced … well, does it need more steel?

ahow628 February 17, 2012 at 10:25 am

Meh. Coruscant is a planet that is one giant city. Estimates of its population is 1 trillion. That is only $8,100 per person on Coruscant. Add in all the people in the universe and it is far less.

Mark Thorson February 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm

$8,100! This would be cheap housing. In fact, that’s almost certainly what paid for it to get built. It’s a death star too, but it’s main purpose is low-income, government-subsidized housing. How else could you possibly get the support for this massive project both from the public and from inside government unless it combined these constituencies? Defense gets the first of a new generation of superplanetkillers, and liberals get their social safety net for the sick, poor, and elderly. And then a terrorist comes along and blows it up.

Brett February 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Coruscant’s population is probably more than 1 trillion, even when you factor in that parts of its surface are probably covered by factories/commercial buildings where nobody would live. It’s covered in several-kilometer tall towers, which allows for phenomenal population density – I’d put the population at over 1 quadrillion instead.

Donnie February 17, 2012 at 10:25 am

Well, yeah. You can’t expect one world alone to produce something like the Death Star. You need a coordinated galactic empire with many planets working together to produce something like that. Spread that cost over 1,000 plants, and it isn’t so bad.

Laserlight February 17, 2012 at 11:54 am

And if you did only have one planet, and you built something to blow up that planet…

Ryan P February 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm

“Why would we blow up the earth?……Where WE are?…right now.”

mkt February 18, 2012 at 12:17 am

Exactly, it’s a matter of scale. We don’t see countries like Cuba or Luxembourg building aircraft carriers or nuclear bombs … those are weapons systems for the big guys. Ditto death stars; you gotta be a multi-planetary empire to build something the size of a planet.

Wu February 17, 2012 at 10:28 am

By my calculation, with 4% growth over 250 years, GDP would be 13,000 times higher.

Pshrnk February 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm

But it was built long ago.

tkehler February 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm

… and in a galaxy far far away.

Urstoff February 17, 2012 at 10:29 am

And the Empire managed to make it before dissolving the Imperial Senate. That’s a bureaucracy that knows how to get stuff done.

Paul Zrimsek February 17, 2012 at 10:30 am

Only a Sith thinks in constant dollars.

Dredd February 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

Agnotology: it is not just for the Jedi any more.

rkw February 17, 2012 at 10:41 am
Andrew' February 17, 2012 at 10:46 am

It cost less than nothing because they built it during the First Imperial Recession.

angus February 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

+1

Abe February 17, 2012 at 10:54 am

well played sir… well played.

FYI February 17, 2012 at 11:46 am

Detroit loves Vader!

kiwi dave February 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm

It’s halftime on Coruscant. People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.

The people of Coruscant know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now the Galacitc Capital is fighting again.

I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.

All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win?

Coruscant’s showing us it can be done. And, what’s true about them is true about all of us.

This Galaxy can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the blast of our gigantic planet-destroying lasers.

Yeah, it’s halftime Coruscant. And, our second half is about to begin

unblinkered February 18, 2012 at 1:19 am

Chuckle

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine February 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

The Empire is committed to rebuilding our great civilization’s infrastructure, which the previous administration ignored at all our peril.

Andrew' February 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

When the minority party questioned the wisdom of building a second Death Star The Emperor was overheard to say “you really think I forgot to include a manhole cover. Fiscal policy is all about expectations!”

kiwi dave February 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm

“Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that old Keynesian religion has not helped you conjure up GDP growth, or given you enough clairvoyance to choose an appropriate level of quantitative easing… ”

“I find your lack of faith disturbing ” [choke]

Andrew' February 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I’m glad Vader tossed The Emperor down the reactor shaft (he never did quite get the value of a bit of expanded metal). Can you imagine having Palpatine hanging around criticizing the New Republic Jimmy-Carter-style? Sad.

JasonL February 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

Financing is the biggest headache. You start out all optimistic because you got a decent rate on $8,100,000,000,000,000, then someone alters the terms on you. From that point, you just have to pray they don’t alter them further.

James February 17, 2012 at 10:56 am

$8,100,000,000,000,000 divided by 13,000 is $623 billion. I know we’re in a recession, but I don’t think we’re down 99%.

Jon Murphy February 17, 2012 at 11:54 am

You left off a couple of zeros. It comes out to $62.3T, not $623B

Paul Brassey February 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm

No, James has it right. 81 X 10 to the 14th divided by 13 X 10 to the 3d is 6.23 X 10 to the 11th, or $623 billion. So one of the figures is off by two decimal places. And I’m a music major!

cb February 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm

You are correct. The amount is only 129 times World GDP of $63T.

Jack Dawkins February 17, 2012 at 10:58 am

With or without the calculation of Wookie slave labor?

Dan Weber February 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

There’s two “e” in Wookiee, you racist.

Jack Dawkins February 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

My bad for the offensive, although “In early publications, the word Wookiee was often spelled as just ‘Wookie’.” http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Wookiee

OneEyedMan February 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

In an economy that has interstellar travel, metal asteroid mining is mundane, and metal
prices could well fall to far below those we face.

Rich Berger February 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Hey, they made it out of old plastic battleship models, so it was a lot cheaper than the estimate. They did use a lot of glue, however.

Mark Thorson February 17, 2012 at 12:09 pm

In a vain attempt to bring this discussion a little closer to reality, I’d like to point out that we currently have 11 supercarriers and are building the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new generation of supercarriers. Nobody else has these giant ships. Spain and Italy each have two small aircraft carriers; no other country has more than one. Who is the enemy we are planning to take on with this enormous fleet? The last time I checked, when the Imperial Japanese Navy was defeated, it stayed defeated. Even if the enemy is the entire rest of the world, we have more than enough naval power to handle the portion of the conflict that would occur at sea.

CBBB February 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm

It’s true though they’re completely unnecessary. I think in general the Navy is probably the most reasonable branch of the armed forces to maintain – you want to be able to protect sea-lanes. But 11-12 of these aircraft carriers – it’s literally just the defense industry being able to successfully lobby for more pork. The Pentagon also wants to be able to essentially bomb any point on Earth and hence you have a large carrier fleet plus an empire of bases.

The Other Jim February 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm

>The Pentagon also wants to be able to essentially bomb any point on Earth

Ah, so it’s pork that lets us “bomb any point on Earth.”

Pork: it does not mean what you think it means.

CBBB February 17, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Yeah but there’s no real REASON for it. The Generals, however know that if they keep pushing the defense industry’ latest gadgets then they’ll be well-rewarded with high paying lobbying jobs when they retire. This is why they continuously push for expanded capabilities even when it’s simply unnecessary.

Eric H February 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm

And yet 50-100 years from now, Progressives will be citing the technological goodies that came from this spending.

AndrewL February 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm

The only reason no one else has these giant ships is because we have them all. If we cuta bunch of them, other countries would respond bu building more of them. Soon, a lot of countries will have these similarly powered super carriers. Then what do you think will happen?

CBBB February 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm

You might want to see if Northrop Grumman has any lobbying positions available.

Mark Thorson February 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Huh? It’s not a zero-sum game. Our carriers don’t suppress carrier-building in other countries. If anything, they may encourage countries like China to get into the game.
I’d like to see the plans for the USS Gerald R. Ford leaked to the Chinese. Maybe they’d copy it. No reason we should be the only nation pouring money down this rat hole.

Adam February 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm

What do you mean may? They have, even if they did it in a way that isn’t too impressive.

AndrewL February 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm

That’s not how I see it. Right now, countries that are not hostile to US are just sitting back letting US handle the world peace thing. Where are they going to get the money to float those kinds of boats? If anyone acts up, they will just compain to the UN, and the US will swoop in with one of its 11 carriers and just tell everyone to cool it.

Now if US could not spare a carrier to sort out a region, those countries in the region will have to start taking their own defense more seriously, and after a while we may have an ocean full of carriers.

Now if the US is spending billions and billions to be the “worlds navy peace keepers, so everyone else does not have to”, those billions that other countries have saved by not floating carriers, what did they spend their collective billions on?

So Much For Subtlety February 18, 2012 at 6:50 am

Surely it is not true that American carriers encourage others to build. They encourage some people to build. The Chinese perhaps – but it is only a perhaps. We do not know if they want to challenge America’s control of the sea lanes just yet. Although they probably do.

Everyone else, and especially the Europeans and Japanese, are free-loading off the US Navy. As long as they trust the Americans to defend the sea lanes and keep them open, they will not spend on their own Navies. As they will not spend on their own ground forces or their own nuclear weapons programs. The US is there to take up the slack.

If America becomes a threat to their trade, we will see a greater Imperial Japanese Navy. Perhaps even a Royal Navy. In the same way, if America declines and the sea lanes become more dangerous, they will be forced to spend more and build more ships. Probably not carriers as they are mostly useless – too few planes on too big and expensive platforms. But something.

So America’s spend does deter other people spending.

Newt February 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Also note that aircraft carriers are completely useless in any modern war between great powers. China, Russia, the UK, and the USA have ballistic artillery technology that can sink any carrier within 2000km of our shores within 15 minutes.

The fighter jets that are allocated to carriers will be obsolete within a decade because cheap drones are rapidly improving and nearly able to take down the most advanced fighter jets already. The most advanced drones cost less than 1% of the price of a fighter jet.

The navy needed to fight the kind of war our navy was built for is an almost entirely undersea navy. Surface navy ships are only good to support police action against backward enemies. And we have many times too much force for dealing with the Iraqs and Lybias of the world.

The Galactic Empire, on the other hand, was continuously incapable to squashing a tiny and insignificant rebellion or subduing a trading monopoly.

So Much For Subtlety February 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

There are so many obvious problems with trying to hit an air craft carrier with a missile that I don’t think I am even going to bother. Presumably for a country like China you are referring to a missile like their Dong Feng 21. Which has about that range – and a CEP of about half a kilometer. So half the time the missile will hit within half a kilometer of where you aimed it.

But the carrier isn’t there any more. It has moved.

You can hit a carrier with a lot of things. No one has managed to do it with a ballistic missile yet.

anonymous... February 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm


The program from the Army-Navy football game of Nov. 29, 1941, showed the USS Arizona plowing through ocean swells. The caption read: “Despite the claims of air enthusiasts, no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs.” Eight days later, a Japanese bomb destroyed the Arizona at Pearl Harbor. The blast killed 1,177 sailors.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2001-05-21-carrier.htm

David February 17, 2012 at 7:58 pm

It would seem that you aren’t entirely aware of how naval operations work. The old rule of thumb until the 1980s was that you needed three carriers for every one you wanted deployed: one on station, one in transit, and one under repair or in a training mode. Those numbers got written down pretty severely and I believe that we now operate on the basis of a one-to-one ratio: one up, one back.

But as you can see for yourself, even with those ratios, 11 carriers means (at best) six forward-deployed on any given day. So by the time you put one carrier in Japan to keep an eye on the Chinese, one in the Med to keep an eye on the Russians (and the rest of the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean littoral), you’ve got basically 3-4 to do everything else. And at the moment, we’ve got basically all of those tied up in the Arabian Sea, doing air ops in Afghanistan and reminding the Iranians we’re still here.

And of course, that all means no strategic reserve in case something goes pear-shaped in, say, Venezuela, or the Argentine, or the Baltic.

In any event, in peacetime the primary purpose of carriers is not to actually fight: it’s as a subtle reminder of our existence and our capability to project power anywhere on the planet. Deterrence may not be as sexy as defense, but it just might be more important.

If you really want to cut, you should cut in areas that aren’t nearly so useful: attack subs, let’s say, or some of the Army’s European forces. Cutting carriers is fundamentally counterproductive, the more so that they take forever to build, and we aren’t in the position we were in during WW2, when we could afford to get the snot kicked out of us at Pearl, knowing that we could basically rebuild our entire Navy within a year or two.

What will be possible presently is for us to go to a smaller carrier concept (basically a modified LHD) that we could base STOV/L aircraft on. They’re doing some amazing stuff now with the naval version of the F-35: but of course, then you have to build more of them, too.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine February 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm

The trick was to be long steel futures in my personal account.

MichaelB February 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm

“I am sensing that it was a good thing to have purchased comprehensive Fully Operational Battle Station insurance for the first Death Star.”

“Yes, my master.”

Attorney at Flaw February 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Too bad Alderaan was the galaxy’s big hub for excess and surplus lines insurers.

zbicyclist February 18, 2012 at 1:09 am

… leading the the Imperial bailout of the Alderaan Insurance Group (AIG).

The Other Jim February 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Death Star steel: $8,100,000,000,000,000

A single, competent Quality Assurance Engineer to point out that there is an open straight-line vent between the surface and your critical reactor core: Priceless.

MichaelB February 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm

From: DS QC Manager
To: Other Jim

After reviewing the issue, we find that targeting the 2m vent opening you identified is impossible. Even for a computer.

Sincerely,

Norman Pfyster February 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

DS QC Manager is obviously not familiar with the (admittedly obscure and juvenile) practice of bulls-eyeing womp rats back on Tatooine.

Mark Thorson February 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm

That’s not what QA does. QA ensures conformance to a specification. QA is concerned with meeting dimensions, strength of materials, quality of welds, etc. If the specification calls for a 2m vent between the core and the surface, QA ensures that it is 2m +/- 5% or whatever the specification calls for. If somebody thinks the vent shouldn’t be there, talk to design, not QA.

David February 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I actually have a theory about this, based on the fact that the Death Star’s main weapon (the planet-buster ray) is clearly some sort of phased weapon with multiple projectors.

The Empire did the prototyping using a single projector. Then they modeled the phasing and maybe built some more projectors to demonstrate it.

Unfortunately, they didn’t consider that, in the actual Death Star, the projectors would have to be tightly packed due to the physical limits of the Battlestar architecture, and that the power plants would similarly have to be tightly packed. So–in order to bleed off the excess heat–they had to add a thermal vent at the last second, at great expense and inconvenience, and in the rush, they forgot to get the engineering change signed off by the safety engineers…

Eric H February 17, 2012 at 9:54 pm

That’s right – he meant Reliability Engineer.

Mark Thorson February 17, 2012 at 11:37 pm

No, identifying a vulnerability to a novel attack is not the job of a reliability engineer. A reliability engineer is concerned with the ability of a system to perform its specified function over its specified lifetime and the management of that performance in the face of the probabilities of failure of individual components. If there’s a flaw in the specification of the function, that is an error of the design engineer, not the reliability engineer.

zbicyclist February 18, 2012 at 1:14 am

It was the job of Sum Othergii, who works in another area. He was downsized.

joshua February 18, 2012 at 5:28 am

The builders didn’t want to leave such a hole, but a competing contractor owned a frivolous patent for “Reasonable Protection of Reactor Core.”

joshua February 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm

“We decided to model the Death Star as having a similar density in steel as a modern warship”

Couldn’t the Death Star’s density be much less than a modern warship? The thickness of the outer steel on the Death Star surely does not need to be equal to (the thickness of the outer steel on a warship) * (the scale) right? And the insides of each have lots of air, right? Of course I suppose there could be other variables that greatly shift these calculations, as I am not well advanced in the knowledge of either.

anon February 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm

http://youtu.be/8r1CZTLk-Gk

Everything is amazing … and nobody’s happy.

You’re in a Death Star! In space!

David Best February 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm

This is by far the most lucid comment in this whole discussion!!!

Joseph Ward February 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm

It wouldn’t have to have the same density as a modern warship if it was made of Rearden Steel. Who is Anekin Skywalker?

AndrewL February 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Leela: Depth at 45 hundred feet, 48 hundred, 50 hundred! 5000 feet!
Farnsworth: Dear Lord, that’s over 150 atmospheres of pressure.
Fry: How many atmospheres can this ship withstand?
Farnsworth: Well it’s a spaceship, so I’d say anywhere between zero and one.

Brett February 18, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Who knows? It’s made out of unrealistically strong alloys, called “Durasteel”.

Paul February 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I will certainly be asking this in an interview next week

Andrew' February 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm

What kind of programming job is it?

Nick_L February 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Realistically(!), wouldn’t you just take an asteroid/moonlet etc, hollow out the spaces you need, shape & smooth it a little and then cover it with white unobtanium. Looks just as impressive, and the public wouldn’t have to be told.

Andrew' February 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

A cardboard decoy might be good enough. Or just pay a marketing firm to send out e-mails saying “we totally just blew up a whole planet! Woot!”

Adam February 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Yeah, but what about the roofers who dies when the rebel alliance blew up the second death star, which was still under construction? How unfair was that.

Careless February 18, 2012 at 11:33 am

They made their choice

Joseph Ward February 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I think Paul Krugman’s last estimate of the output gap was ~$8,100,000,000,000,000… so perhaps this Death Star proposal is just in time!

niemand anders February 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm
vanderleun February 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm

“… roughly 13,000 times the world’s GDP.”

Yes, but if the Death Star could be calibrated to take out only Washington DC and Paul Krugman it would be worth it!

Eric H February 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm

D+

The aerospace industry would be surprised to find that they have to switch from aluminum and composite materials to steel. Go back and recalculate.

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 1:37 am

Why build a death star? Just give them internal combustion engines.

Or lawyers.

Or Justin Bieber.

Dan February 18, 2012 at 9:43 am

Why build a death star indeed? Why do you need to destroy an entire planet? Wouldn’t just wiping out all life on its’ surface serve the same psychological and political goal? And then you could strip-mine the dead planet to your heart’s content, leaving it a ravished wasteland, a perpetual, visible reminder of what happens to those who mess with the Empire. Sounds even better than blowing it up to me. Such destruction could be carried out with relatively low tech weapons (atomic bombs) launched from a relatively small ship. So why build a death star? Because Luke & Company need a big, really big, the bigger the better, seemingly invincible target to shoot at. As a weapon, the death star is a boondoggle. As a plot device, it is just the right size.

Brett February 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

The in-universe justification is that most inhabited planets worth anything have planetary-scale shields that turn starship assaults into sieges, since the fleets don’t have enough firepower to blast through the shield. Think of the rebels’ shield in “Empire Strikes Back”, except completely surrounding the planet (meaning that they not only wouldn’t be able to attack the base directly – they wouldn’t even be able to land troops). That makes it easier for them to defy potential assaults until they can force a political solution.

The Death Star’s weapon is strong enough to simply blow right through a planetary shield and destroy the planet, vastly tipping the strategic balance in the Empire’s favor.

David February 18, 2012 at 11:02 pm

You may as well ask why Iran, Pakistan and others “need” The Bomb. Surely if Iran wanted to destroy Israel, they could do it using conventional weapons? And if not, surely some combination of chemical and biological weapons?

It’s all about deterrence, and–in the case of the Death Star and similar large and impressive items–presence. If some uppity planet flips the Empire the bird and the Empire sends a few “normal” spaceships to deal with it, they may or may not get their way (see, e.g., the trade dispute from Episode I): if you’re the uppity planet in question and the Death Star shows up on your doorstep, it just might give you pause…

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