Smoothing out the kinks

With a $5 million grant from the US Department of Defense, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology are hoping to bring electromagnetic propulsion technology out of the research lab and into practical use.

With a $5 million grant from the US Department of Defense, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and several partnering institutions are hoping to bring electromagnetic propulsion technology out of the research lab and into practical use.

Electromagnetic propulsion, which can send an aircraft, satellite, shuttle, bullet or train zooming through the air or along a track, produces extreme temperatures and wear that create quite a challenge for researchers working to make devices that can be used consistently without becoming seriously damaged.

The heat and friction caused by electromagnetic propulsion is much different than traditional chemical acceleration (such as the explosion that propels a bullet from a gun) and is not yet fully understood. In fact, electromagnetic propulsion produces certain effects that currently defy scientific explanation.

To help solve this problem, researchers at Georgia Tech, Cornell University, North Carolina State University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will collaborate on a joint research program, based at Georgia Tech, dedicated to studying the effects that very high electromagnetic stress can have on electromagnetic launchers.

The diverse research group of 10 faculty members comes from the disciplines of tribology, physics, materials science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.

The $5 million, five-year grant will allow the researchers to begin research to understand what materials, lubricants and designs are needed to reduce the damage caused by electromagnetic propulsion, specifically in a railgun – a gun with the potential to be more powerful than existing guns that use electromagnetic propulsion to fire a projectile.

The grant was provided by the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative and will be administered by Dr. Peter Schmidt of the Office of Naval Research.

Dr. Steven Danyluk, professor and Morris M. Bryan Jr. chair in Mechanical Engineering for Advanced Manufacturing Systems and director of the Manufacturing Research Center at Georgia Tech, is the principal investigator on the project. Dr. Richard Cowan, engineering manager at the Manufacturing Research Center, is a co-principal investigator and program manager.

The research findings will be used to help the Navy develop powerful, yet reliable railguns that will be able to fire a projectile at six times the speed of sound, or up to 2.5 kilometres per second, for its next generation of battleships.

‘This particular project, though it includes technology that the US Navy and Army would like to have, can be used not only for guns, but also in electromagnetic launchers for satellites or the sliding of maglev vehicles,’ Danyluk said.