14

Why does Babylon 5 have a fusion reactor and solar panels? The basic premise of fusion is nearly unlimited power given a sustainable reaction. We know from season 3 that if the fusion reactor was damaged by a terrorist bomb it would wipe out the entire station. Therefore the fusion reactor is presumably of a sufficient size to generate power for the station. It follows then that the solar panel looking things are superfluous if they are indeed solar panels.

4
  • 7
    Realistic spaceship/space station design usually have to incorporate heat radiators to get rid of waste heat generated by engines/power systems, it's harder to get rid of internally generated heat when you aren't in thermal contact with some type of heat sink like an atmosphere (the denser it is, the fast you lose heat--for example you lost body heat more quickly in cold water than in air at the same temperature).
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 4, 2023 at 20:00
  • 4
    Fusion reactors only supply "nearly unlimited power" compared to our own relatively meager power demands. It's not hard to imagine a setting where the bottleneck becomes the amount of fuel you can supply to the fusion reactors. Sunlight, on the other hand, is delivered for free.
    – chepner
    Jun 4, 2023 at 22:53
  • 3
    Just under 27 minutes in to s2e03 Geometry of Shadows, Sheridan mentions that B5 has "solar batteries". Therefore it does have some mechanism for collecting energy from the nearby star, even if the panels on the sides are not solar panels. I don't recall any mention of why this is the case, but a secondary power source capable of maintaining life support seems a good idea. It might also be useful for boosting power when you need to send a Centauri battle cruiser "straight to hell". Jun 5, 2023 at 16:27
  • they're just heat fins exactly like on any desktop PC. note that if the station was powered by rofl solar power, the solar panel farm would need to be thousands of MILES across.
    – Fattie
    Jun 6, 2023 at 17:57

2 Answers 2

32

Those gigantic panels aren't solar panels, they're there to help cool the station. Showrunner JMS refers to them as 'heat dissipators' or 'heat radiators'.

...those solar panels are wayyyyyyy to small for a station of that size...

They're not solar panels, they're heat dissipators.

J. Michael Straczynski on Twitter

and

...Are these solar panels or heat radiators for the fission reactor?

Heat radiators for the station.

J. Michael Straczynski on Twitter

and

...Then the design makes even less sense to divert the heat back towards the population/critical core of the station, and then up against it as well. They should be right off the reactor going as far away from the station, no?

No, it's to remove the heat from the populated areas where you have all these people generating heat, as well as the life support and other mechanisms. The reactor is a fusion reactor and has its own separate systems.

J. Michael Straczynski on Twitter

and

...Living quarters have climate control. Reactors generate the heat.

And the mechanisms to create that climate control put out a lot of heat, as do the people, as do the massive systems that turn the entire station to create gravity.

J. Michael Straczynski on Twitter


According to a post by JMS, the station did originally have a system of solar collectors, but these were removed from the final design

As for the B5 photo on the magazine...what you're looking at is a shot of the docking bay in the front of B5 Phase Two. The independent sections you see in a sort of grid behind it are the rotating sections that create gravity. At the sort of right-bottom corner, that corner of blue you see is part of a system of solar panels which have subsequently been dropped from the design. The ship (orange, which is actually sort of brown-silver in the video demo) in front is just sorta there, taken from another shot (which kinda throws off the perspective a little).

http://www.jmsnews.com/messages/message?id=21201

14
  • He also calls them "heat radiators" in this tweet
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 4, 2023 at 20:00
  • 1
    They sure look like solar panels. Oh well. Jun 4, 2023 at 20:07
  • 2
    The original intent before the series went to production was solar panels, which is probably why they ended up looking like that. Not sure when/why it changed.
    – Izkata
    Jun 5, 2023 at 14:10
  • 1
    I have a link to a source on solar panels here, plus one in-series reference that implies solar panels existing somewhere. Edit: Ugh, the link doesn't go where it used to, I think it was a thread view that included what I intended...
    – Izkata
    Jun 5, 2023 at 14:14
  • 1
    @komodosp - The radiator panels on the ISS don't particularly glow. They're not red/white hot
    – Valorum
    Jun 7, 2023 at 17:53
12

According to this technical diagram of the station, those are radiators, not solar panels:

A diagram of the Babylon 5 space station, with the panels mentioned in the question labelled as "Radiator fins".

Space stations need radiator panels such as those in order to reject excess heat out into space. The ISS has them too: they're the white panels, contrasting with the dark blue of the solar panels.

Part of the ISS' truss structure, with solar panels visible to the left and white radiator panels visible to the right.

3
  • 1
    What is the authority of that diagram?
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2023 at 19:58
  • @Valorum - someone claims here that "It was one of the illustrations for a Babylon 5 information bi-monthly magazine that had a DVD with each issue, that got started then cancelled back in 2006 – just around the time the Lost Tales was announced." However, the version they posted doesn't have labels for different parts including the heat radiators, so either they posted an edited version with labels removed, or the labels were a fan addition.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 4, 2023 at 20:02
  • @Hypnosifl - The reason I asked is because I've seen similar diagrams, but that are fan-made
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2023 at 20:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.