The sun gun or heliobeam is a theoretical orbital weapon, which makes use of a concave mirror mounted on a satellite, to concentrate sunlight onto a small area at the Earth's surface, destroying targets or killing through heat.
In 1929, the German physicist Hermann Oberth developed plans for a space station from which a 100-metre-wide concave mirror could be used to reflect sunlight onto a concentrated point on the earth.
Later during World War II, a group of German scientists at the German Army Artillery proving grounds at Hillersleben began to expand on Oberth's idea of creating a superweapon that could utilize the sun's energy. This so-called "sun gun" (Sonnengewehr) would be part of a space station 8,200 kilometres (5,100 mi) above Earth. The scientists calculated that a huge reflector, made of metallic sodium and with an area of 9 square kilometres (900 ha; 3.5 sq mi), could produce enough focused heat to make an ocean boil or burn a city. After being questioned by officers of the United States, the Germans claimed that the sun gun could be completed within 50 or 100 years.
The Scottish mathematician John Napier proposed such a device. In his book Secrete Inventionis (1596), he published details of a giant mirror to burn enemy ships by focusing the sun's rays on them.
Uses in popular culture
In the film Die Another Day, the twentieth installment in the James Bond series of films, the primary antagonist of the film, fictional British billionaire Gustav Graves (in reality the alias of the assumed-to-be-dead North Korean Colonel Tan Sun-Moon), constructs an orbital sun gun code-named "Icarus" for the use of cutting a path through the Korean Demilitarized Zone and allowing North Korean troops to invade South Korea. The device was disabled after its control console is destroyed.
A similar concept is used in the Resident Evil: Revelations video game. In the game, a special satellite code-named Regia Solis is used to provide a city with clean energy but at full capacity it is powerful enough to destroy the city or other targets.
In the TV series Scorpion episode "Sun of a Gun", Walter O'Brien's fictional alter ego and his team are sent alongside their friend Sylvester Dodd's estranged father to an African dictator's country to investigate his discovery of a Nazi World War II sun gun project.
In the Star Wars Legends book Wedge's Gamble, Rogue Squadron commandeers an orbital solar reflector (used for power generation) is used to boil ocean water in an effort to generate a large enough storm to knock out power on the planet (Coruscant) below.
In Wolfenstein: The New Order, there is a similar mechanism called the “Sonnengewehr” that is featured in the newspapers.
In the science fiction novel by René Barjavel The Ice People (French: la Nuit des temps) the doomsday device build by the gondas looks mostly inspired by the concept of the sun gun.
In an episode of Futurama, one of these is the result of a failed attempt to reverse global warming with a giant mirror.
- Archimedes heat ray, a purported device from antiquity which weaponized the sun's rays
- Concentrated solar power