Knowing my interest in military tech, a friend of mine sent me a news story the other day about the Pentagon’s efforts to develop a rail gun. It’s a nifty technology that has been under development for years, but the military is now ramping it up with an eye to having working versions by 2017.
Railguns are so named because they shoot projectiles magnetically along rails inside the gun. The effects are pretty staggering – not only are such weapons potentially safer to use because they don’t use explosive propellents such as gunpowder, they can also be considerably more powerful. The gun under development can shoot its ammunition more than 100 miles at seven times the speed of sound. Here’s a demo:
So how might this technology be applied in the non-military world? According to HowStuffWorks, there are at least two big potential uses. One is as a potential space launcher – since most of the danger in launching shuttles has historically come from their highly combustible rockets, rail guns could effectively eliminate that risk by literally shooting people into space.
The other possibility is that rail guns could be used to initiate nuclear fusion by shooting fusible materials at each other, which could potentially unlock a huge source of energy.
As futuristic as this sounds, many people have already experienced an early consumer application of rail gun technology. If you’ve ever been on the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Ohio, or any other roller coaster that uses electromagnets rather than simple gravity, you’ve had a small taste of the rail gun. The Dragster’s 120-mile-per-hour launch may not be seven times the speed of sound, but it’s hard to tell the difference when you’re on it.