The Death Star might be one of the most terrifying weapons of mass destruction ever created, but it’s clear that the moon-sized space station wasn’t the most well-thought-out venture. After all, what good is a planet-destroying weapon if it can be taken down by one measly little X-Wing? As it turns out, the Empire totally overlooked a faster, cheaper and more effective design: it could have simply build the Death Star around an asteroid.
The biggest problem with the Death Star (aside from that pesky exhaust port blasted apart by Luke Skywalker) is that building it would have been monstrously expensive. Not only is it as big as a moon, but it was built from scratch (not to mention that the Empire also created a backup that it stashed in orbit around Endor). To build two massive space weapons in such a short period of time would have wrapped up such a huge amount of money that their destruction likely decimated the Galactic Economy overnight, Matthew Braga writes for Motherboard. In fact, Zachary Feinstein, an economist and associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, did the math and found that destroying the Death Star might have been Emperor Palpatine’s final revenge against the Rebel Alliance; even as the good guys celebrated their victory, the loss of the Death Star would send them struggling to prevent a galaxy-wide economic depression.
“We found that the Rebel Alliance would need to prepare a bailout of at least 15 percent, and likely at least 20 percent, of [Galactic Gross Product] in order to mitigate the systemic risks and the sudden and catastrophic economic collapse," Feinstein wrote in a new paper published to the arXiv preprint server, a publication for papers that have not been peer-reviewed "Without such funds at the ready, it is likely the Galactic economy would enter an economic depression of astronomical proportions."
“If one wanted to build a Death Star, you didn’t build it by launching a bunch of stuff off a planet,” Muirhead says in a video for Wired. “You went and got yourself an asteroid and built it from that.” In addition to the stability an asteroid core would add to the Death Star's structure, Muirhead says that it would also provide all the assets a Sith Lord would need to realize his evil engineering vision: raw metals, organic compounds and even water for the future space station.
Surprisingly, this isn’t just a thought experiment for Muirhead: it’s his job. Muirhead is a chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is actually in charge of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which aims to send a crewed mission to land on a deep-space asteroid by 2023 and drag it back to Earth orbit.
While NASA isn’t planning on building its own Death Stars any time soon, the Rebel Alliance should consider itself lucky that Muirhead doesn't work for the Empire.