May 4th — also known as Star Wars Day — is just around the corner. It’s a day for fans everywhere to make that “May the Fourth be with you” joke without shame. It also offers a great opportunity to break down some of the most interesting technologies from the Star Wars universe.
With the franchise’s newest iteration “Solo” headed to theaters on Memorial Day weekend, it’s worth taking a look at the fictional universe’s most popular ship and answering the question everyone eventually asks: Could the Millennium Falcon really fly?
Faster Than Light?
One of the fastest ships in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon flies at a faster-than-light drive, known in Star Wars as hyperdrive. As noted by Space.com, hyperdrives use “hypermatter particles,” which let spacecraft enter an alternate dimension, known as hyperspace, and exceed the speed of light.
Hyperdrive unfortunately doesn’t exist yet. Current science hasn’t found a solution to several critical problems. As you approach the speed of light, the amount of mass needed trends toward infinite, along with the amount of energy needed to move the Falcon. Ignition energy is also problematic. Space.com points out that starting the Millennium Falcon would require mass-energy on par “with the total mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.”
Potential solutions — such as the Alcubierre drive — postulate ways to “bend” space-time and effectively push ships faster than light. But they also come with their own issues. Blueshifting of microwave background photons could kill everyone onboard without some type of shielding in place, and crashing into an object like an asteroid or planet could put a quick end to any Kessel runs, according to Space.com.
Air on the Side of Caution
Even if we skip the idea of faster-than-light space flight, could the Millennium Falcon really fly in a planet’s atmosphere? It happens regularly during the movies — from Han rescuing Luke at the bottom of Cloud City to Rey jump-starting the defunct Falcon on Jakku. Once it’s up and running, the ship maneuvers nimbly through the skies, but is this really possible?
One theory is that the Falcon’s computers and engines are powerful enough to enable it to force its way through the atmosphere, even though it shouldn’t really fly. Business Insider, however, said that the clunky shape of the ship makes it less than optimal for non-space travel. It would likely be outrun by current fighter jets and lose its iconic radar dish at high speeds.
There’s also the wing problem. While not all aircraft have wings, they’re the go-to answer if you’re looking to generate lift. The Falcon’s design — a large, clunky circle — doesn’t offer much in the way of air efficiency or maneuverability. While advanced engines might let the Falcon stay airborne, real-life technology combined with efficient wing design makes current craft more than a match in-atmosphere.
Not the Ship You’re Looking For?
The Falcon isn’t real, but Mic notes you could build and maintain it (minus the laser cannons and hyperdrive) for $2.5 billion. Still, with Star Wars day on the horizon, it’s worth thinking about.
Here’s the bottom line: In the cold vacuum of space, some type of light-bending hyperdrive might give Solo’s spacecraft the Kessel Run advantage. As a typical aircraft, however, its maneuverability and speed are outpaced by emerging Earth technologies.
Search for positions at Northrop Grumman that combine real life technology with efficient designs to create things that might seem impossible.