Star Wars Deflector Shields are Possible to Make with Real Technology

The deflector shields featured throughout the Star Wars franchise are possible in theory, and the technology to make them exists right now, according to a group of final year physics students from the University of Leicester.

The students, who published their findings in the Journal of Special Physics Topics, found that by making the shield out of heated plasma and holding it in place using a magnetic field it could in theory be made to deflect lasers.

The research, which was timed to coincide with Star Wars Day on 4th May, also found that the denser the plasma used the higher the frequency of laser that would be deflected.

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However, while the technology would work fine on lasers, it would be useless against projectiles such as bullets, making it pretty unhelpful in warfare unless weaponry goes through some major changes.

It would also need a powerful energy source; while the magnets needed to hold the shield together are possible to make, they require a lot of juice to keep going, resulting in very little free space in your X-Wing fighter.

The shield also doesn’t just block lasers – it cuts out light, which means that it would be entirely inappropriate to protect vehicles. The team, however, has a solution to this. By using a UV camera, someone inside could view the outside world at a light frequency that is missed by the shield.

The principle behind the shield’s design can be seen in our own planet’s atmosphere.

In an interview with Phys.org, paper co-author Alexander Toohie said:”The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of several distinct layers, one of which is the ionosphere. The ionosphere is a plasma, and extends from roughly 50km above the surface of the Earth to the edge of space.

“Just like the plasma described in our paper, it reflects certain frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, in this case radio frequencies. Radio communications and RADAR can be beamed upwards toward the sky where it will be reflected back down toward the Earth. This method can be used to send communications over the horizon where radio transmissions would not normally be capable of reaching, much like using a mirror to look around a corner.”

The team believes that the technology’s true potential lies as a cage rather than a shield.

“Another possible application of this principle may be for trapping radiation inside a shell of plasma rather than excluding it,” explained Toohie. “This may be useful for applications that require incredibly high temperature environments, such as experimental fusion reactors.”

The Journal of Special Physics Topics is run as a module at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Course tutor Dr Mervyn Roy said: “The aim of the module is for the students to learn about peer review and scientific publishing. The students are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday.”


Star Wars screenshots via Wookieepedia.


Break the Ties: Why Ending Reliance on Earth is Vital to the Mars Mission

Ending the reliance on Earth for resources during space missions is essential for the success of the manned Mars mission, according to Sam Scimemi, NASA’s director of the International Space Station.

Introduced as “Mr ISS” this morning at the final day of the Humans 2 Mars conference in Washington DC, Scimemi explained how several logistical and technological issues needed to be tackled and tested before such a mission could take place.

“There are no flowers on the road to Mars,” said Scimemi, adding that parties with a vested interest in the Mars mission needed to be careful about what they wanted from it.

“If the goal is getting to Mars, and eventually getting to the surface… how we actually do that is a matter of how much money we have and what are our technical and human health risks,” he added.

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At present we are “earth reliant”, meaning that all space missions are tied to the earth for communications, crew supplies, hardware, emergency return on crew and, of course, rubbish disposal.

“The simulations that we do on station are all reliant on these things,” explained Scimemi. “And we’re trying to learn how to break these connections to the earth in our simulations, in our research, in our technology development.

The aim is to go from a situation where we are “car camping in space” to a scenario where the only connection the spacecraft has to earth is a communications link with a delay of up to 42 minutes.

The key to breaking this reliance is the research and development being undertaken at the International Space Station.

“The two major things we have going on is our life support system, and the upgrades to that to be able to build the next Mars life support system, and our crew health research and our crew performance systems development,” said Scimemi, adding that crew support activities and vehicle activities such as rendez-vous and docking were also being researched, alongside Mars simulations.

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From here, NASA is looking to break the chain of logistics and, as a result, reduce the day-to-day reliance on Earth. This should mean that the time spent out of communication with Earth should grow, which in turn should enable further distances to be travelled.

The challenge of maintaining crew health and performance is essential to this. In particular, issues such as food supplies and health assistance need to be addressed carefully, and NASA needs to develop an effective system to provide emergency care if it is required.

Other factors include the development of reliable and low-maintenance life support systems and ensuring adequate performance from the crew throughout the mission time.

For Scimemi, all of these factors must be resolved before a Mars mission can be tackled.

He believes the best way to ensure that the space agency is ready for such missions beyond low-earth orbit is to combine the technologies and solutions developed to break ties with Earth in a shakedown cruise: a  test run in cis-lunar space (the area the moon’s orbit covers) where any issues can be safely resolved.


Featured image courtesy of NASA.
Body images screenshots from Humans 2 Mars Webcast.