Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'Star Wars' at Sea

US Navy ready to deploy laser system this summer; rail guns aren't far behind

Some of the Navy's futuristic weapons sound like something out of "Star Wars," with lasers designed to shoot down aerial drones and electric guns that fire projectiles at hypersonic speeds.

That future is now.

The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship later this year, and it intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within two years.

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A railgun is an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher based on similar principles to the homopolar motor. A railgun comprises a pair of parallel conducting rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail.

Railguns have long existed as experimental technology but the mass, size and cost of the required power supplies have prevented railguns from becoming practical military weapons. However, in recent years, significant efforts have been made towards their development as feasible military technology. For example, in the late 2000s, the U.S. Navy tested a railgun that accelerates a 3.2 kg (7 pound) projectile to hypersonic velocities of approximately 2.4 kilometres per second (5,400 mph), about Mach 7 .They gave the project the Latin motto "Velocitas Eradico", which is Latin for "I, [who am] speed, eradicate", but may have been intended as "Speed kills" or similar.

In addition to military applications, railguns have been proposed to launch spacecraft into orbit; however, unless the launching track was particularly long, and the acceleration required spread over a much longer time, such launches would necessarily be restricted to unmanned spacecraft. -- Wikipedia