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An Exploration of the Physics Behind Rail Guns

An Exploration of the Physics Behind Rail Guns

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Published by: megustalazorra on Apr 20, 2011
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An Exploration of the Physics Behind Rail Guns
Daniel LenordUniversity of Alaska FairbanksPhysics 212 Web Project, Spring 2003
Electromagnetic Gun
 The concept of a rail gun is simple: two parallel bars connected to a power sourceproduce an electric field. This electric field can be used to propel a projectile along thebars. If enough amperage is provided, the projectile can achieve velocities of up to 4km/s. The U.S. Army has been interested in the potential of electromagnetic guns forquite some time. In 1988 the University of Texas Center for Electromagnetics beganwork on a 9 MJ range gun, which would be designed to launch 2-4 kg projectiles atvelocities of up to 4 km/s. Design features of this range gun included up to 230 MJstored energy, 6 kV and 3 MA peak output ratings, and a 9 shot repetitive firecapability. In the early 1990's, the U.S. Army, along with the Marine Corps, showedmuch interest in the Cannon Caliber Electromagnetic Gun System (CCEMG). Thisproject seeks to demonstrate an electromagnetic gun system designed from asystem/mission prospective. The CCEMG showed a 3 times increase in energy andpower density over the range gun system.The U.S. Army plans to produce electric tanks by the year 2015 with electromagneticguns mounted on them. The all-electric tank would include electric vehicle drive andsuspension and electric armaments. In this concept, the flywheel energy can be usedas a flywheel battery to provide power for vehicle acceleration and regenerativebraking, and will also produce electrical power for the electromagnetic armaments.This is the perfect example of how physics is still impacting the world in which welive.
A rail gun in its simplest form is a pair of conducting rails separated by a distance Land with one rail connected to the positive and one the negative side of a powersource supplying voltage V and current I. A conducting projectile bridges the gap Lbetween the rails, completing the electrical circuit. As current I flows through therails, a magnetic field B is generated with an orientation dictated by the right handrule and with a magnitude governed by the following equation.B=NuI
B=Magnetic field strength (Teslas)
N=Number of turns in solenoid (1 in our case)
u=1.26x10^-6 (The magnetic permeability of free space, Henries/Meter)
I=Current through rails and projectile (Amperes)
Simple Rail Gun
 When a current I moves through a conductor of length L in the presence of a magneticfield B, the conductor experiences a force F according to the following.
F=Force on conductor (projectile, in Newtons)
I=Current through rails and projectile (Amperes)
L=Length of rail separation (Meters)
B=Magnetic field strength (Teslas)The direction of the force depends on the direction of the current through theprojectile and the magnetic field since the force is truly a vector with directiondictated by the cross product of the vector quantities I and B.
The speed of a rail gun slug is determined by several factors; the applied force, theamount of time that force is applied, and friction. Friction will be ignored in thisdiscussion, as it's effects can only be determined through testing. If this concerns you,assume a friction force equal to 25% of driving force. The projectile, experiencing anet force as described in the above section, will accelerate in the direction of that forceas in equation 1.(1) a=F/m
a=Acceleration (Meters/second^2)
F=Force on projectile (Newtons)
m=Mass of projectile (Kilograms)Unfortunately, as the projectile moves, the magnetic flux through the circuit isincreasing and thus induces a back EMF (Electro Magnetic Field) manifested as adecrease in voltage across the rails. The theoretical terminal velocity of the projectileis thus the point where the induced EMF has the same magnitude as the power sourcevoltage, completely canceling it out. Equation 2 shows the equation for the magneticflux.(2) H=BA
H=Magnetic Flux (Teslas x Meter^2)
B=Magnetic field strength (Teslas) (Assuming uniform field)
A=Area (Meter^2)Equation 3 shows how the induced voltage V(i) is related to H and the velocity of theprojectile.(3) V(i)=dH/dt=BdA/dt=BLdx/dt
V(i)=Induced voltage
dH/dt=Time rate of change in magnetic flux
B=Magnetic field strength (Teslas)
dA/dt=Time rate of change in area
L=Width of rails (Meters)
dx/dt=Time rate of change in position (velocity of projectile)Since the projectile will continue to accelerate until the induced voltage is equal to theapplied, Equation 4 shows the terminal velocity v(max) of the projectile.

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