With a bang, Navy begins tests on electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher

Feb 28, 2012
This photo illustration shows the 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator, built by BAE Systems, top, which arrived at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division on Jan. 30, 2012, and is the first of two industry-built launchers to be delivered to the Navy. General Atomics is building the second launcher, bottom, scheduled for delivery in April 2012. ONR previously relied upon laboratory-built systems to advance the technology. Credit: US Navy Illustration

Engineers have fired the Navy's first industry-built electromagnetic railgun (EM Railgun) prototype launcher at a test facility, commencing an evaluation that is an important intermediate step toward a future tactical weapon for ships, officials announced Feb. 28.

The firing at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) kicks off a two- month-long test series by the (ONR) to evaluate the first of two industry-built launchers. The tests will bring the Navy closer to a new naval gun system capable of extended ranges against surface, air and ground targets.

"We are starting our full-energy tests to evaluate the barrel life and structural integrity of the ," said Roger Ellis, program manager of the EM Railgun, part of ONR's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. "It's the next step toward a future tactical system."

The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph.

A high-speed camera captured the first full-energy shots from the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher that was recently installed at a test facility in Dahlgren, Va. The test shots begin a month-long series of full-energy tests to evaluate the first of two industry-built launchers that will help bring the Navy a step closer to producing a next-generation, long-range weapon for surface ships. The new launcher brings advanced material and high-power technologies in a system that now resembles a large-caliber gun. Credit: US Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released

The 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator, built by BAE Systems, arrived at NSWCDD on Jan. 30. One of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph. The prototype—which now looks more like a naval weapon compared to previous lab-style launchers—is the first of two industry-built launchers to be delivered to the Navy. General Atomics is building the second launcher, scheduled for delivery in April. ONR previously relied upon laboratory-built systems to advance the technology.

After installing the BAE Systems launcher and outfitting it with a comprehensive suite of sensors, high-speed cameras and measuring devices, engineers fired successful low-energy test shots to prepare it for the evaluation. The team will conduct tests at 20 megajoules and 32 megajoules, shooting test projectiles similar to what was previously fired through NSWCDD's laboratory launcher.

"The test series will characterize the gun's performance by shooting several rounds through the barrel at various energy levels to fully exercise the capabilities of the prototype," said Ellis.

When fully developed, the EM Railgun will give Sailors a dramatically increased multimission capability. Its increased velocity and extended range over traditional shipboard weapons will allow them to conduct precise, long-range naval surface fire support for land strikes; ship self-defense against cruise and ballistic missiles; and surface warfare to deter enemy vessels. The Navy's near-term goal is a 20- to 32-megajoule weapon that shoots a distance of 50 to 100 nautical miles.

Gary Bass, left, and Jim Poyner, from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, take measurements after a successful test firing of the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher that was recently installed at a test facility in Dahlgren, Va. The test shots begin a month-long series of full-energy tests to evaluate the first of two industry-built launchers that will help bring the Navy a step closer to producing a next-generation, long-range weapon for surface ships. The new launcher brings advanced material and high-power technologies in a system that now resembles a large-caliber gun. Credit: US Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released

To achieve this, the Navy is moving ahead with the EM Railgun program's next phase: to develop thermal management systems for both the launcher and pulsed power to facilitate increased firing rates of up to 10 rounds per minute. Toward this end, BAE and General Atomics have been contracted to begin concept design of a next-generation thermally managed launcher.

"The next phase of the development effort is to demonstrate the ability to operate at a firing rate of significant military utility," Ellis said.

Additionally, ONR awarded contracts through Naval Sea Systems Command to General Atomics, BAE Systems and Raytheon Co. to develop a pulsed power system capable of meeting the firing rate goal.

Various new and existing ship platforms are currently being analyzed for future integration.

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Provided by Office of Naval Research

4.5 /5 (20 votes)

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Martian
4 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2012
Science and the military; like PB&J.
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
If rails erosion is the problem, make them with disposable liners, like cartridge shells. Have a stacked arrangement them with mechanisms to replenish and eject the worn out ones.
El_Nose
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
the rails are fine its the barrel that takes damage every firing -- this project is almost over ten years old
javjav
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
5,600 mph is a respectable speed. I am wondering if this rail gun could be scaled up in order to send fuel capsules to low orbit and collect them later.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
At least one group built a "coil gun" that could put an object in orbit, but the maximum size was about that of a 2 liter bottle. That didn't leave much room for a rocket engine, needed to circularize the orbit, or a payload. Thus, the tests were limited to shooting objects into the air, at reduced power, to test the principles.

So, yes, one could be built to launch payloads, but it would be a very large gun, and cost a LOT of money. For relatively small objects that can survive very high accelerations, like a fuel canister, it would work.
Xbw
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
5,600 mph is a respectable speed. I am wondering if this rail gun could be scaled up in order to send fuel capsules to low orbit and collect them later.


It can be done but it would require a much larger cannon and a massive amount of energy. Remember, these rounds are fired at an arc. Firing straight up would require a speed of roughly 25,000 MPH to escape Earth's gravity. http://en.wikiped...pace_gun

It's been theorized.
Xbw
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
I saw a mildly interesting thing on the SciFi channel a while back where they proposed digging a huge hole in the ground, filling it with explosives and random metallic scrap. The explosion would propel the debris like "shotgun pellets" into space. It was some theoretical scenario on how to fend off alien invasion. Good scifi but bad science.
Lurker2358
5 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
Xbw:

Yeah. The aliens are smart enough to cross the universe, but they fear a few rocks and shrapnel.

Reminds me of the series "V" in which the aliens attack Earth to get the water, but they seem to not be aware that there is actually far, far more water on Jupiter and Saturn's moons, as well as the other outer planets and dwarf planets.

Heck, they even blow up an ice moon while testing a super weapon, and don't seem to realize it!

Don't worry boys, if the aliens are that stupid, we should mop them up in 1 hour or less, minus commercial breaks...
javjav
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
Remember, these rounds are fired at an arc.


Yes, it seems to be be biggest problem. But what if:

1 - Fire a second shot at a different angle. The first one going higher, the second one at a lower amgle.

2 - Do it with the proper angle, speed, and time between shots, so both capsules will meet at the desired orbit height, when the second one is still going up, while the first one is coming back on its way down to earth

3 - When they meet, one of them will extend a strong network to catch the other. As a result, they will start rotating against each other, but if their speed vectors and masses where correct, the center of mass will be already following the preferred orbit.

4 -The rotational momentum can now be used as a kinetic battery, for example by using a coil to convert rotation into electricity for communication systems, or to pump fuel to an inflatable globe in the center of mass to reduce excessive rotation for when the capsules are collected.
Sonhouse
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
I would put the money for space launches with rail guns into developing the space elevator. Develop nanotubes thousands of miles long in one piece and so forth. Now we make a few cm at a time.
Skepticus
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
the rails are fine its the barrel that takes damage every firing -- this project is almost over ten years old


Hi El Nose, can you clarify how and which part of the barrel that takes damage?
As I understand it, the rails are essentially the barrel, between which the projectile rides. Humongous current are dumped to the rails and the projectile. The resulting hot plasma from vaporizing rails and the projectile is the erosion. Apart from the need for conducting metallic rails, there is no reason that the support structures around the rails can't be protected by insulating refractory materials, similar to which that is being used in arc furnaces for decades, so i fail to see your point.
socean
not rated yet Feb 29, 2012
"One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph."

Suppose then, that instead of projectiles, we launch cars.

Seriously, little hopper commuter transports that shoot up and glide down. Put robotic engines in them as a fail-safe.

Xbw
1 / 5 (1) Feb 29, 2012
"One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph."

Suppose then, that instead of projectiles, we launch cars.

Seriously, little hopper commuter transports that shoot up and glide down. Put robotic engines in them as a fail-safe.



I'd love to see my crappy car launched out of a cannon.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 29, 2012
he rotational momentum can now be used as a kinetic battery, for example by using a coil to convert rotation into electricity

WTF? You failed physics hard, didn't you? This is the most ludicrous hare-brained scheme I've read in a while.