A thermal exhaust port was an outlet for dissipating the excess heat produced by the large energy reactors used on board starships and space stations or in certain ground-based structures. These ports drew excess heat energy away from the reactors and other equipment in a structure and expelled it into space or the atmosphere to prevent damage to systems or injury to the crew from heat build-up.
Thermal exhaust ports were notoriously vulnerable to damage or sabotage. An explosion in an exhaust port could trigger an explosive chain reaction that caused the main reactor to go critical and explode. For this reason they were often protected, either physically, or with ray shielding against energy weapons.
The destruction of the first Death Star at the hands of Luke Skywalker famously demonstrated how critically vulnerable and overlooked the placement of these ports could be. The Death Star's thermal exhaust port was a significant flaw in the design that the Rebels were able to exploit during the Battle of Yavin.
In another example, Imperial Robotics Construction Facility Ice Station Beta was destroyed by Kyle Katarn when he planted sequencer charges in thermal exhaust ports throughout the facility.
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