If you are a fan of Hollywood action movies, you might know about this awesome, massive, and cool gun. What makes it different is its grand size! Though, onscreen this railgun has evolved so much with a lot of cool and fiery features. But unfortunately, in the real world, we are still struggling for a perfect handheld railgun officially. Still, in recent years, hobbyists have contributed and tried to develop similar functional guns.
I am going to talk about the features and technicalities of recently developed handheld guns. And take a look at the different railguns available around us. This massive gun is capable of destroying anything on its way. The speed and projectile features are crucial for any capable railgun. But before that, you need to know the whole basic things related to this ferocious beast.
What Is A Railgun
The basic understanding of a railgun is that it is an electrically charged launcher. Basically, it is an electromagnetic projectile launcher or a missile launcher. It runs on the mechanism of equal or constant electrical polarity or homopolar motors. The components of the railgun comprise a pair of rails. The rails are laid in a parallel orientation.
It also has sliding rotating coils of the electric motor. The rotating coils accelerate with the help of electromagnetic effects. The current passes through the rails into the rotating coils. And then the whole railgun begins to function. The railgun has two parallel metal rails. It is connected to an electric supply. To complete the circuit, you have to insert the projectiles between the rails. The electrons flow in the negative rail from the negative terminal of the power supply.
It flows through the projectiles and down the positive rail as well. The current creates an electromagnetic field inside the loop. The loop is formed by the length of the rails up to the position of the armature. The magnetic field circulates around each conductor. The magnetic fields create the Lorentz force that pushes the projectiles along the rails.
How A Railgun Works
The railgun is only effective when the components of the device are up to the mark and the configuration of the machine is correct. One of the major components of the railgun is the rotating coil of the electric motor or the armature. You can also configure it while 3d print. Yes, you can also make the handheld railgun with the help of a 3d printer.
You just need to know the basic configuration things. The configuration of the railgun is based on the linear homopolar motor. It does not use any extra field coils or magnets, unlike the traditional homopolar motors. Instead, it runs by a single loop of current. However, the augmented railguns contain currents through additional pairs of parallel conductors.
The railguns require a direct current power supply. In some of the railguns, the missiles or the projectiles are in-built. It saves from using conventional powder guns and light gas guns. If this technology becomes more perfect in the future, it will also reduce the total volume and mass of conventional propellants and explosive ammunition.
In this article, I hope you get the basic ideas about it. So that you can 3d print yourself a personalized handheld railgun. The customized configuration of the armature will boost the speed of the projectile. You can use both solid metallic and plasma armature for this purpose. The plasma armature is made from ionized gas. It pushes the solid non-conducting payload into the propellant. The hybrid armature combines both features as it uses a plasma interface to contact the metallic armature in the railguns.
History And Origin Of The Railgun
We have grown by seeing the types of railguns in science fiction movies or Hollywood actions. But the railgun traces its origin back to 1918. The French inventor Louis Octave Fauchon-Villeplee was the man who invented an electric cannon. It was like the prototype of a railgun.
The model had two systems of electrical conductors in a generating or receiving station on which power is concentrated for distribution. They were connected with the projectiles. It was placed in between a magnetic field. When the current passed through the electrical conductors or the busbars and projectiles, a force is produced.
It propelled the projectiles along the bus bars. This enabled it to fly higher. The first working railgun was made during the Second World War. However, due to a lack of power supply, the plans were not successful. In the 1950s, the world’s largest homopolar generator having a capacity of 500 megajoules, was created.
3D Printed Handheld Railgun
In recent years, we have come across several prototypes of the handheld railgun. The enthusiastic hobbyists have given their blood and sweat for this purpose. While most of them could not achieve the targets, few of them hit the news lines. They became successful in creating this massive beast with the help of a 3d printer. This 3d printed handheld gun is portable as well as lethal.
A person named David Wirth attempted to build this massive railgun. He was able to create a handheld railgun that is portable as well as lethal. He created the designs for building the parts of the railgun in pieces. All the parts were 3d printed at correct measurements. He has used several 3d printed parts, hardware parts, and electronic parts to build it. The 12V Lipo battery first stepped up to 120V by using a microinverter.
It was further increased to 1550V with the help of a transformer. Such high voltage produces a lot of heat. So, Wirth added a heatsink on the outside of the railgun. It has a pair of parallel rails to accelerate a sliding armature bullet. This railgun can fire aluminum and graphite projectiles. The firing speed ranges from 250 meters per second. The handheld railgun contains six capacitors. The weight is around 20 pounds.
It delivers 1800 joules of energy per shot. It has parallel electrodes. An electromagnetic current flows through one rail into the armature. It then goes back into the other rail. The parallel electrodes fire armature bullets. David Wirth has added an Arduino Uno R3. It is used to monitor charging levels and temperature. The creator claims that his handheld railgun could fire copper-plated tungsten, aluminum, carbon, and plasma.
This 3d printed handheld railgun works similar to military railguns. But it is not that dangerous like military guns. It has a projectile range of 560 mph. The military guns’ projectiles range up to 13000 mph. Thus, it is still far from any official military usage. This railgun was tested on different metal layers. The graphite and aluminum projectiles were far less lethal than a regular gun. Only the aluminum bullet was able to put a half-inch dent in the steel-backed plywood target.
Materials Used In Making A Railgun
It is very important to use durable and strong materials to build a railgun. The best-suited material is semiconductors. Due to a lot of acceleration and the generation of heat, the material should be enough durable. It generates a lot of heat while launching the projectiles due to a large number of currents.
According to some researchers, the recoil force in the railguns can be eliminated. If the magnetic fields are not set properly, it can push the projectiles against the suggested ways. Thus, it is very important to mount it properly. Due to the flow of the electricity in the rails, it creates friction in the projectiles.
This creates a lot of heat. This can further accelerate the inner temperature of the rails. Excessive heat can damage the components. It can melt the equipment and affect the safety measures. Thus, the material used for building such railguns must be heat resistant. Otherwise, it would severely damage the whole setup. It can also threaten the surroundings as well.
The Helical railguns are a blended form of railgun and coilgun. They are multi-turn railguns. Due to this factor, they can reduce the currents of the brush and rails. The helical barrels contain two rails. It also has helical projectiles. Two brushes continuously slide along the rails. They are sources to supply power to the projectiles.
They also have additional brushes on the projectiles. They give power and direction to the helical barrel. Massachusetts Institute of Technology had tried to build a helical railgun in 1980. It needed a lot of power consumption. It had 2 meters of accelerating coil and 1 meter of the decelerating coil.
It was 3 meters long. It was capable to launch a glider or a projectile for about 500 meters. However, all of this is still in theory. There are no practical helical railguns available for use.
The plasma railgun is a linear accelerator. It is similar to projectile railguns. It has two parallel electrodes. These electrodes are responsible for the acceleration in the armature. The plasma railgun does not contain solid metals like the projectile railguns. The armature and projectiles are plasma-based. They consist of hot and ionized gas particles.
The plasmoid is accelerated down by a current pulse driven through one electrode. The other electrode creates a large magnetic field behind the armature. It is partially based on the Lorentz force. The scientific plasma railguns are not operated in the open air. Their operation is restricted to vacuum surroundings only.
They have terrific muzzle velocity. It ranges up to several hundreds of kilometers per second. They are used in laboratory astrophysics and as a plasma propulsion engine for spacecraft. These railguns can be linear and coaxial. The linear railguns have two flat plate electrodes. They are separated by insulating spacers and accelerate sheet armatures. They also place extreme demand on their insulators. They are necessary to withstand thermal and acoustic shocks.
The coaxial railguns accelerate the plasma armatures. It uses a hollow outer conductor. It also has an inner central concentric conductor. They require an insulator only at the breech. However, they are prone to malfunction due to the acceleration of current density. This reduces the efficiency of the plasma railguns.
The research is still going on to mitigate this problem. Various alternate options like exploding foils, gas cell burst disk injection, neutral gas injection via a fast gas valve, and plasma capillary injection have been tried.
The railway gun is also known as the railroad gun. It is used mostly used with naval artillery. It is so large that it is mounted on a specially designed railway wagon for firing. Though many countries have built railguns the most known railway gun is built by Germany. Germany has used such artillery during the First and Second World Wars. But they are not in use now.
The railway gun has some firing limitations due to its huge size and space constraints. It has to be moved side to side to aim. It heavily relies on railway track movements. It can traverse when an elaborate foundation is built with a center pivot and traversing rollers. The foundation design also limits the traverse amount to a certain extent.
It can also be placed upon a separate rotary body along with the rail car known as a top-carriage traversing mount. The gun is mounted on a central pivot which is separately mounted on the carriage body. The mounters also need the support of outriggers, stabilizers, and earth anchors. They help to keep them in place against the recoil forces. They are more suitable for smaller guns.
There are four recoil methods for railway guns. In the cradle recoil, the gun recoils backward in its cradle. It is stopped by hydraulic buffers. It returns back to its firing position by helical springs and a recuperator cylinder that is compressed by the force of recoil. This is mostly used in the lighter railroad guns.
In the top-carriage recoil, the gun is mounted in an upper carriage. It moves on wheels on fixed rails. Both the upper-carriage and gun recoil together. It is restrained by hydraulic buffers. It is not good for firing from high elevations because it cannot absorb much of the vertical component of the recoil force.
In the sliding recoil, the gun, car body, and trucks all recoil together. It has a car body mounted on wooden crossbeams. They absorb the friction of recoil force. They were non-traversing types and had to be fired from a curved section of track. It also took excessive time during the operation. In the rolling recoil method, the entire gun, mount, and carriage roll backward. It ranges between 30 to 50 feet. The cables are fastened along the track for easy firing. The rolling coil system is usually combined with a cradle recoil system.
In the rolling coil system, the springs of the trucks cannot withstand the vertical component of the recoil force alone. They are usually fitted with car traverse. They are also not suitable for small guns because of their mobility. However, the benefit of this model is that it requires minimal preparation. It can shoot from any suitable section of a curved track.
Countries like France, Britain, Russia, Germany, and America have already used such methods and developed their advanced versions. Some of the surviving railguns are preserved in their museums as well. Thus, the railroad gun traces its legacy since the First World War.
Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun
Railguns use electromagnetic fields to launch projectiles at speeds as fast as Mach 10. The Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Railgun is under observation by US Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. It releases the same amount of energy as Composition C-4. Their prototypes are made with combined features of advanced composites and improved barrel life.
The 32 Megajoule prototype rail gun delivers fire from up to 220 miles. This is 10 times better range than the standard ship-mounted guns. It has swift round-landing. It is a long-range naval weapon. It fires projectiles by using electricity. It does not use chemical propellants.
In the Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Railgun mechanism, high electrical currents create magnetic fields. They slide the armature between two rails to launch projectiles. The projectiles can range up to 5,600 mph. The generated electricity is stored in the ship over several seconds in the pulsed power system. Then, an electric pulse is sent to the railgun. It creates an electromagnetic force for accelerating the projectile.
Due to the extreme speed, it converts into kinetic energy. It has the potential to eliminate hazards on the way quite easily. This prototype can develop a projectile range up to 100-nautical miles in the future. Phase-I was launched in 2005. It achieved 32 mega-joule muzzle energy. It was focused on the development of launcher technology. It also centered upon the development of reliable pulsed power technology. This would decrease the risk for projectile firing.
Phase-II was launched in 2012. It is planned to advance the technology. It has focussed on the transition to an acquisition program. It is also concentrating on demonstrating a repeated rate fire capability. Both the launcher and the railgun will have a thermal management system. It is required for sustained firing rates.
Canon-Caliber Electromagnetic Gun Launcher
The Canon-Caliber Electromagnetic Gun launcher was developed by the US military in the 1990s. It was a rapid-fire railgun. The Canon-Caliber Electromagnetic Gun launcher was capable of firing three five-round salvos of 185-g launch packages. It fires at the velocity of 1,850 m/s with a firing rate of 5 Hz. It was 2.25 meters long.
The overall mass of the launcher was 273kg. It relied on the system’s directional preloading mechanism or flat jacks. Flat jacks were located between the main and augmenting rails of the railgun. They applied pressure to the main rails and countered the electromagnetic currents.
The filaments were made mostly of graphite fibers. It also added fiberglass. It reacted to the preload and provided stiffness to the launcher in the axial direction. The rails were made of chromium copper. They were very durable and had strength. It was also a good conductor in less price range. This launcher was developed to study and test the viability of electromagnetic weapons.
The Research and Development departments of many developed countries are now more interested to develop such railguns to boost their military power. They are also focussing on the railguns that could be easily held by hands. Most of the prototypes are fitted to the top of tankers and other high stands. They are best suited for heavy weaponry. The bulkiness and economic aspects have prevented them to become a major part of the military force.
Due to growing innovations and technological breakthroughs, some of the major improvements can be seen now. They are more powerful than conventional guns. They can fire and damage more accurately and powerfully. They are also very effective for distant fire ranges. The increased terminal velocity converts into kinetic energy. The kinetic energy of the railgun is as much destructive as the bombshells. The military railguns have a range of 2000–3500 m/s with muzzle energies of 5–50 MJ.
They are also in heavy demand for space operations. They are seen as an important tool to send the spacecraft into orbit. This could be a very innovative approach if these railguns achieve the intended targets. However, due to the long hours’ process of launching of the spacecraft and the longer distance requires much developed and advanced railgun. Thus, they are restricted to unmanned spacecraft only.
They can be used as weapons with projectiles. But these projectiles will not contain any explosive materials. It is the extremely higher velocity that converts into kinetic energy. This makes it far more superior than the conventional guns and bombs used in World War II.
By developing railguns for weaponry, it would lessen the size and weight of explosives. It also has a better firing range. They do not easily drift in the air and have a faster target mechanism. They can also become a crucial weapon for offensive as well as defensive purposes as they are far better than traditional guns.
They can also be used for nuclear fusion. They are capable to create fusion by firing plasma continuously inside rails. Due to high pressure, it will rupture the diaphragm. It will trigger high voltage for ionized gases. This ejects the plasma at a very higher rate of velocity.
They can produce controlled jets of different densities. It can also vary in velocity power up to 200km/s. This can be possible with proper configuration. They are popularly researched for magnetically confined fusion for disruption mitigation and tokamak refueling.
Highspeed-controlled jets can be used to understand astrophysical phenomena such as solar wind, galactic jets, solar events, and astrophysical plasma. They will also help in astronomical and satellite observations.
The railguns require a lot of power consumption because of their mass size. It also makes it very expensive. Due to economic constraints, they are not in regular use or the least concerned weapon in any of the world’s military. However, in recent years we have come across major technological advancements.
The US Navy has developed and tested a 7-pounds railgun in the 2000s. The railgun has a terrific speed of approximately 2.4 kilometers per second. The hypersonic velocity of the railgun earned its name as the “Velocitas Eradico”. For the last few decades, US Army has spent millions developing sophisticated handheld railguns for the army and navy. This venture is still going on.
The railguns are much-researched devices in the last few decades. Several countries are exhausting their resources to build a more viable railgun. This will boost the army and military strength. However, one can also 3d print this awesome handheld railgun by using appropriate configuration and materials. Railgun is an electromagnetic projectile launcher or a missile launcher.
It runs on the mechanism of equal or constant electrical polarity or homopolar motors. The rotating coils accelerate with the help of electromagnetic effects. The current passes through the rails into the rotating coils. The railgun has two parallel metal rails. It is connected to an electric supply. The railguns require a lot of power consumption because of their mass size.
Most of the prototypes are fitted to the top of tankers and other high stands. They are best suited for heavy weaponry. This massive gun is capable of destroying anything on its way. But unfortunately, in the real world, we are still struggling for a perfect handheld railgun officially. Still, in recent years, hobbyists have contributed and tried to develop similar functional guns.