Military

The electric cannon delivers shells over 200 miles at Mach 5

The first firing of the railgun in January 2008, was an historic and spectacular occasion
The first firing of the railgun in January 2008, was an historic and spectacular occasion
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The first firing of the railgun in January 2008, was an historic and spectacular occasion
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The first firing of the railgun in January 2008, was an historic and spectacular occasion
Artist's impression of a future Destroyer equipped with an INP Railgun
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Artist's impression of a future Destroyer equipped with an INP Railgun
The actual 32 megajoule EM gun in Minneapolis
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The actual 32 megajoule EM gun in Minneapolis

February 18, 2009 Think of the electromagnetic railgun as an electric cannon which uses electrical energy instead of chemical propellant to launch projectiles at hypervelocities. First conceived nearly a century ago, the concept was investigated by Germany during WWII, but has really only stepped out of science fiction and into reality in the last 12 months. With shells travelling at Mach 5 on impact, and accurate to within five metres at a 200 mile range, such weapons maximize the damage they do through kinetic energy, and hence don't need explosive payloads. Accordingly, they are ideal for naval warfare as they minimise the risk to warships which do not need to carry explosive warheads or propellants. Earlier this week, the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) awarded a USD 21 million 30-month contract to BAE Systems for the detailed design and delivery of an Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) Railgun. As previously warned, if the Daleks don't get here soon, they'll have a serious fight on their hands.

Under the contract, BAE Systems will develop advanced Railgun technologies including a composite launcher (barrel) that will be demonstrated in 2011. BAE Systems has partnered with IAP Research, and SAIC to develop the Railgun.

One of the greatest potential advantages for the Railgun program is the safety and logistics aspect.Safety on board ship is increased because no explosives are required to fire the projectile and no explosive rounds are stored in the ship’s magazine.

The technology uses high-power electromagnetic energy instead of explosive chemical propellants (energetics) to propel a projectile farther and faster than any preceding gun. At full capability, the rail gun will be able to fire a projectile more than 200 nautical miles at a muzzle velocity of mach seven and impacting its target at mach five. In contrast, the current Navy gun, MK 45 five-inch gun, has a range of about 13 miles.

30 comments
poidog
Someone please explain to me why this rail gun is shooting out so much flame. Has the air ignited from the friction of the passing of the projectile? thanks, poidog
gknutson
The flames are most likely from the impact. Rather than focusing on just the weaponry aspect, perhaps outlining some of the more peaceful aspect would be good. Could this be used for launching satellites, etc.?
robroy05
The photo is taken at a very high frame rate, so the image you are seeing has captured the muzzle blast. When the armature leaves the bore of the launcher there can be a high level of electric energy remaining, causing the blast. Using electromagnetic launchers for space applications is truly still an idea for science fiction. You have to realize that an enormous amount of energy is used to launch a projectile that is maybe 30kg. To launch a satellite into earth orbit would require a massive energy source. That said, you scale up a electromagnetic launcher, put it on the surface of the moon, and then you could potentially launch payloads to Mars (still science fiction of course). BUT, also note that the accelerations that the projectiles (and payloads of the future) are subjected to on launch are extremely large and could cause damage to the contents.
Racqia Dvorak
The MAP(magnetically accelerated projectile) idea for launching satellites is quite feasible and i believe a launch facility is being built, though i can't remember it off the top of my head. However, pure magnetic acceleration to launch a satellite isn't very feasible. MAP designs to launch satellites use magnetic acceleration to build up centrifugal force inside a spiral track. So, as far as a rail gun goes, orbital launch isn't something that will be explored soon.
loegaire
From popsci.com: "The flames are from pieces of the projectile disintegrating; the 7-pound slug is jammed so firmly between the rails that when it's fired, pieces shear off and ignite in the air." http://www.popsci.com/military-aviation-space/article/2008-02/navy-tests-32-megajoule-railgun
wil9000
Peaceful aspect? HAH! Sorry to be cynical, but when have non-military applications ever come first? Do I smell a new arms race? Yes, yes I do!
Rubin
Not peaceaful at all... As for speed, load, etc - it's simple physics E=0.5*m*v(squared), so for E=12 MegaJoules, m=13.4 kg this is the theoretical payload for the gun in the picture. The actual payload would be considerably less. SATELLITE LAUNCHING - I don't think this would ever be feasible. Maybe in the future. Going from null speed to mach 7 over such a short distance means huge accelerations occur during the launch. This would likely destroy any equipment. Besides, a lot of heat would be generated while crossing the lower atmosphere. Even if the satellite would resist the acceleration and temperature, the enormous electromagnectic fields inside the canon would likely fry any electronics inside the satellite. Any ideas for a "peaceful" use for such a device?
chards
There is a few things going on behind that projectile. Rubin said a lot. There is so much energy that the air is...oxidizing, exploding. The materials: both the projectile and the weapons launcher are vaporizing (in part.) The object itself, as it travels, is part plasma; magnetized gas, superheated, and moving incredibly fast. Basically, its like getting hit by basketball sized mini sun moving at the speed of, well, the space shuttle...
PrometheusGoneWild.com
For launching satellites; A magnetic launch could work with rockets to get satellites into orbit cheap. One of the biggest problems with rockets is the diminishing return as more and more of the fuel is used to lift more and more fuel as the payload gets heavier..... With magnetic launch this issue can be avoided. It would also allow the rocket to be launched at a lower percentage of potential thrust. This would increase safety. Also, the magnetic launch apparatus could be connected to, but separate from the rocket and satellite. This would allow for launch without the strong electromagnetic fields produced interfering with rocket and satellite electronics. As for the magnetic launch being a short launch; scrap off the side of a mountain. One that goes up to 14 thousand feet..... It would probably cost as much as the crappy shuttle and all the peripherals they blew money on to keep it going.
robroy05
Dennis, the shuttle is not crappy, it happens to be one of the greatest achievements of our time. And you would not combine a rocket with an electromagnetic launch. The whole concept of using EM launchers for space launch is to remove the rockets from the equation. And saying that the payload is connected to, but separate from the payload is like saying that the shuttle is separate from the main booster. But yes, you could feasibly design a EM shielding for the payload. The accelerations are the issue. That and the enormous amount of current required to produce enough of a Lorentz force to move a payload the size of a satellite. And launch from a 14,000 ft mountain. Seriously? 400 miles = 2,112,000 ft. 28,000 miles = 147,840,000 ft. You really think launching from a mountain would help?
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