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Electromagnetic Launch Modification to C3 Launcher for Improved Velocity

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Project #: 22-037 | Year 2 of 3

M. Cameron Hawkins,a Russell Howe,a James Majdanac,a Michael Blasco,a Sarah Thomas,b T. Greg Engle,c Seth Hartman,d Erik Timpsond

aNevada National Security Site (NNSS); bLos Alamos Operations (LAO); cUniversity of Missouri (MU); dKansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC)

Executive Summary

In this project, we present a novel solution that leverages demonstrated electromagnetic launch technology that will allow us to perform large bore experiments at high velocities with good repeatability. With our collaborators, we are developing a completely new design for a gas gun by creating a hybrid electric-gas launcher using pulsed power. This design will be incorporated into the existing C3 launcher gas launcher platform to prove the capability, with the possibility of moving this new capability to the Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research (JASPER) system in future endeavors to reduce operational cost and improve experimental cadence and repeatability.


The primary goal of this work is to create a two-stage gas launcher system that uses a helical electromagnetic launcher (HEML) component to compress a gas to a high pressure (~10 ksi) that in turn is used to increase the velocity of the projectile. The NNSS Building C3 launcher is an R&D platform suitable to this experimental addition and our collaborators from MU and KCNSC bring many years of expertise and are key subject matter experts in electromagnetic launcher (EML) technology.

EML systems use pulsed power drivers to achieve reliable, controllable electrical power to enable high shot-to-shot consistency. The helical driver will add an additional stage to the C3 launcher and, with adapter components, will seamlessly couple to the existing hardware of the platform and consist of three sub-systems: a driver stage, a pulsed power and pulse forming network to provide the specific electrical impulse, and a control system to operate the pulsed power unit, pressure system, triggering systems, and diagnostics.

The first two years of the project were dedicated to collectively (MU and NNSS) determining what EML technology was most suited to the launcher and in what configuration, pre-launcher or post-launcher. The NNSS team has been designing and modeling the C3 launcher adapter components as well as specifying and procuring low cost components, As part of this project, MU has modeled the full HEML design and fabricated one stage of the HEML for testing to confirm the estimated EML force generation and mechanical integrity for one of the armature-stator coil pairs of the HEML. This testing of the EML sub-systems assists in further refining the system design. At the conclusion of the second year, MU successfully completed testing with a maximum achieved pressure of 5 ksi with the unit. Several modifications were identified and will be implemented into the design to achieve the maximum pressure of 10 ksi during the third year.

Our collaborators at KCNSC funded through their Plant-Directed Research and Development (PDRD) program (providing a unique partnership and significant cost savings to SDRD), continue working on the development of the pulsed power and pulse forming network that will ultimately be paired with the C3 launcher. They have preliminarily designed the system and ordered components during year two of the project, but due to delays in receiving parts, the build of the system will be done in year three with preliminary testing in quarter one.

The NNSS team has worked to flesh out the design of components that the launcher would need to couple to the new HEML stage. These components are designed in such a way that they can adequately pair to the C3 launcher but also follow similar functions to that of JASPER, so that a seamless integration can be implemented on that platform as well. These components include the HEML pressure reservoir, barrel adapter, petal valve retainer, and petal valve. The team evaluated how these parts would pair together, considering O-ring sizing, bolt sizing, clearances, and necessary diagnostics such as pressure transducers and thermocouples. Also, under investigation is the needed wall thickness of the projectile for the higher pressure, as well as analysis of the increased pressure requirements on the existing barrel and diagnostic/catch tanks. A study was undertaken to determine adequate stoppage of the projectile in the catch tank.

In addition to adding new pressure components onto the C3 platform, it was also necessary to develop the proper system to supply the gas and vacuum lines to the system. We worked with a vendor, Swagelok, to develop this system and conducted a design review with final approval from our NNSS pressure safety personnel. At the end of year two, we have been in talks with our safety and work control personnel to ensure that the activity level work planned for year three is adequately addressed and documented for pressure and high voltage/pulsed power. This work will continue in year three of the project culminating in an experimental campaign.

Under development during year two, was the identification of signals that were needed for the control system.

The team coordinated with KCNSC and MU to develop a plan for a control system that would work for the entire platform. A controller and software were identified and will be procured during year three, with the software program being written after the pressure panel system is delivered.

Figure 1. Conceptual design of C3 Launcher with HEML
Figure 1. Conceptual design of C3 Launcher with HEML


In summary, the NNSS has collaborated with MU and KCNSC to further develop the design of a hybrid helical electromagnetic launcher on the C3 launcher. The NNSS team has designed the necessary pressure panel, control system, and adapter components for the system. Our goal for next year will be to finalize the designs, built the units, assemble all of the subsystems, and perform testing of the system. MU has completed testing on one stage (armature-stator coil pair) of the HEML and plans to make modifications to the design based on these test results so that the platform can reach 10 ksi in the third and final year of the project. KCNSC has created a preliminary design of the pulsed power and pulsed forming network that will support this technology and they plan to build this system during year three.

Mission Benefit

The JASPER test facility has long been a vital component of the NNSS scientific portfolio and a key contributor to our nation’s Stockpile Stewardship mission. However, the JASPER shot schedule is both expensive and infrequent, and this limits the number of experimental investigations that the NNSS can conduct for its customer. The C3 launcher could fill the gap by acting as a precursor to fleshing out prototype design changes for JASPER, as well as improving the capabilities of the C3 launcher to conduct non-actinide shots at increased cadence to JASPER. However, to serve as a comparable precursor platform, projectile velocities at the C3 launcher must be increased. A higher performance launcher could provide opportunities to pursue a wider range of weapons-relevant science, improve our ability to perform shakeouts on NNSS systems before delivery and use at other locations or laboratories for customers, as well as improve our ability to flesh out designs for our JASPER and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory customers. Our key partnerships with the KSNSC and MU Electrical Engineering laboratories will complement expertise at the NNSS and provide this project with the complete technical skill set required to execute its objective. This is a completely novel approach to two-stage gas gun operation and will position the NNSS as a clear innovator in this competitive and challenging field of study.

Publications, Technology Abstracts, Presentations/Posters

The C3 launcher facility hosts various tours throughout the year from interns to high profile tours. As part of these tours, we highlight the work we are doing on this SDRD as well as other SDRD projects that use the facility.

This work was done by Mission Support and Test Services, LLC, under Contract No. DE-NA0003624 with the U.S. Department of Energy. DOE/NV/03624–1617.

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