Navy's New Railgun Shoots at Mach 7, Can Hit Targets 100 Miles Away

By Jennifer Welsh | December 13, 2010 3:58 pm

Last week the Navy took its best shot–and it was a doozy. The shot, fired on December 10th, broke the world record for the most powerful shot, as the 23-pound aluminum projectile rocketed out of the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun at a reported speed of Mach 7, or seven times the speed of sound.

Today’s 33-megajoule shot–powerful enough to launch 33 Smart cars at 100 mph–means the Navy can fire projectiles at least 125 miles, keeping military personnel at a safe distance from their targets, according to the Office of Naval Research. [Popular Science]

Normal guns use explosions to propel bullets, but railguns use electromagnetic currents to accelerate conductive bullets along two parallel rails. The Navy has been working on this project since 2005. The new test of the gun broke the Navy’s previous 10-megajoule record for railgun firing set in 2008.

“The 33-megajoule shot means the Navy can fire projectiles at least 110 nautical miles, placing Sailors and Marines at a safe standoff distance and out of harm’s way, and the high velocities achievable are tactically relevant for air and missile defense,” [Rear Adm. Nevin Carr] added. “This demonstration moves us one day closer to getting this advanced capability to sea.” [Navy press release]

One of the project’s goals is to reduce the need to carry gunpowder and other explosives on Navy ships, making them less vulnerable. The big barriers to implementation now include figuring out how to power the gun off of a ship’s batteries, and how to protect the gun parts themselves from the incredible energy released when it’s fired.

The eventual goal is a ship-mounted railgun that can fire a projectile more than 200 miles at speeds of more than 8,000 feet per second. A kinetic energy warhead would eliminate the use of hazardous explosives on ships and on the battlefield, the Navy says. [Popular Science]

To reach those distances and speeds, the Navy will need to develop a  railgun that can shoot at 64 megajoules. Navy researchers hope to reach that goal and have a gun ready for on-ship use in 2025.

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Video: YouTube / usnavyresearch

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology
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