Electromagnetic railgun

Electromagnetic railgunThe NRL goal during this period was to investigate the science behind high power railgun projectile launch. This work focused on the development of long-lived barrels and launch packages that can withstand pressures, accelerations, and currents that are well outside of conventional engineering comfort zones. The technical contributions of the railgun group made this possible. Many of the 1000 shots taken on the Materials Testing Facility railgun have been designed to test different barrel designs and to quantify damage generated during high power launch. The innovations and understanding generated by NRLs' S&T program have been fed directly into the Office of Naval Research's Electromagnetic Railgun program and transferred to full-scale tests conducted at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, VA.

The NRL Railgun program began in 2003. Since that time, the NRL program has become a critical element in the Navy’s thrust to develop hypervelocity electric weapons for long range fire support and ship self-defense. When the Navy deploys its first hypervelocity electric launcher sometime in the next decade, its success will be partially due to the efforts of the NRL Railgun Group. It has required a broad range of expertise brought together and focused on the problem. Scientists, engineers, technicians, and support personnel from three Divisions have made contributions to the program. Pulsed power and plasma physicists from the Plasma Physics Division, Materials scientists from the Chemistry and Materials Science and Technology Divisions, and Modeling and Simulation scientists from the Materials Science and Technology Division have all contributed. The program has been centered on the 5000 sq foot MTF laboratory which houses a 6-m, 1.5 MJ kinetic energy railgun. This launcher was built in 2007 and in 4.5 years has fired 1000 times, most at full power and 2.5 km/s launch velocity. Some of the contributions made by the group include: development of new rail geometries that minimize barrel erosion; new launch package designs that resist transition to arcing contacts; introduction of interfacial lubricants to decrease barrel wear; detailed ex situ analysis of materials leading to better understanding of launch physics; new models of wear mechanisms; and development of advance computer modeling techniques. The technical contributions of the railgun engineering and operations staff have made this possible. The science staff has designed experiments, gathered data, and analyzed results. Materials scientists have dissected the components of the system after launch, revealing information about the conditions present during launch. Modelers have analyzed rail, armature, and containment designs and developed codes that can model launch conditions and assist in the interpretation of data. Support personnel have made it possible to perform these tasks. The success of the program comes from the many and varied contributions of the entire group.