Photograph taken from a high-speed video camera during a record-setting firing of a seven-pound bullet fired from a truck-sized electromagnetic railgun at seven times the speed of sound and sent a visible shockwave through the air before crashing into a metal bunker filled with sand.
UPDATE: New article written on using railguns for space launch. This system already would be able to launch projectiles with enough speed for lunar based space launches.
Hypersonic vehicles could carry railguns as weapons or too launch into space above most of the atmosphere with smaller railgun systems that use less shielding for the projectiles. The MHD version of a hypersonic plane would be ideally suited for powering railgun and laser weapons.
Hat tip to reader Scott: the U.S. Navy has demonstrated World's Most Powerful Electromagnetic rail gun (EMRG) at 10.64 Megajoules
An electromagnetic catapult, or railgun, is on track for deployment on U.S. warships around 2012, according to the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
The Navy's latest test made history with the world's fastest muzzle velocity of 5,637 miles per hour--generating a record 10.6 megajoules of energy (1 joule = 1 watt-second).
If the Navy decides to deploy the railgun, it plans to have a final design in place for approval by 2012. Initial prototypes will probably shoot a single projectile, but plans for rapid-fire versions are already on the drawing board.
The final design specification calls for a muzzle velocity of 5,760 mph for a weapon that is capable of launching a projectile in a parabolic ballistic path 94 miles high. It must strike targets within six minutes at 3,840 mph.
Initial tests showed that targets can be obliterated by the kinetic force of the impact with pinpoint accuracy without shrapnel, which is the most common cause of collateral damage when using high-explosive munitions.
At full capability, the rail gun will be able to fire a a 40-pound 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 nearly 13 miles. The high velocity projectile will destroy its targets due to its kinetic energy rather than with conventional explosives.
The safety aspect of the rail gun is one of its greatest potential advantages, according to Dr. Elizabeth D'Andrea, ONR's Electromagnetic Railgun Program Manager. 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.
Science and technology challenges met by ONR in the development of the rail gun include development of the launcher, pulse power generation and the guided projectile design. The program's goal is to demonstrate a full capability, integrated railgun prototype by 2016-2018.
MIT Technology Review also covers the rail gun
Nov, 2007, I had reported on a 32 megajoule rail gun delivered for testing.
BAE Systems has delivered a functional, 32-megajoule Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun (32-MJ LRG) to the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va. Installation of the laboratory launcher is currently underway, and according to BAE, this is the first step toward the Navy’s goal of developing a tactical 64-megajoule ship-mounted weapon.