From Janey Tracey at Outerplaces.com
Star Wars is often viewed more as a space fantasy than a relatively true-to-life speculative fiction in the vein of Star Trek (unless you want to accept that midichlorians are canon), but some of its technologies and species are more plausible than others. Tatooine’s binary suns, for example, often occur in real life, and scientists recently found what looks like a Sarlacc pit on a prehistoric worm. Now, a new chart from a NASA employee shows us all the similarities (and differences) between the Dawn spacecraft and a TIE fighter, and the latter is more realistic than we would have expected.
The chart, presented at Long Beach Comic Con’s Space Expo, was made by NASA JPL missions operations engineer Keri Bean, who is currently a science planner for the Dawn mission. It compares various aspects of the Dawn spacecraft and the TIE fighter, everything from its size to its navigation and avionics systems. Obviously, there are several notable differences between the two crafts; TIE fighters are destroyed constantly, so they’re necessarily smaller and more disposable. It also means that they are significantly less costly, and that they can only fit one pilot inside, while the unmanned Dawn has 40-plus engineers working on it at any given time.
Amusingly, there are also several ways in which the Dawn spacecraft is more impressive than a TIE fighter. Most notably, Dawn has been traveling in space without resupplying for nine years now, while TIE fighters need to resupply every couple of days. And while TIE fighters naturally have higher speeds and acceleration rates, Dawn’s longevity means it’s accumulated a much higher total change in velocity over the years.
But the most interesting sections of the chart are the similarities between the Dawn spacecraft and the TIE fighter. Dawn is the first spacecraft to use ion thrusters, which create thrust from the acceleration of ions, to enter/exit orbit around an asteroid. This allows them to reach the same speeds of chemical rockets while using much less propellant, which makes them more energy-efficient. Ion propulsion has been a sci-fi trope since the early 1900s, and of course, powers the TIE fighters in Star Wars.
And even better, Dawn was almost equipped with lasers, just like a TIE fighter. Where the TIE fighters have laser cannons to fight their space battles, Dawn almost had a laser altimeter, a scientific instrument that uses lasers to determine how far the spacecraft is from the surface of the object it’s studying. The instrument was proposed but not ultimately brought on board, which is a shame, because we would have loved to think there were a space laser hanging around Ceres.
This article originally appeared on Outerplaces.com