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Feasibility of a Single-Stage Electromagnetic Launcher of High Velocity Projectiles

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Home / Mission / Site-Directed Research and Development / FY 2023 SDRD Annual Report Index / Feasibility of a Single-Stage Electromagnetic Launcher of High Velocity Projectiles

Project # 23-121 | Year 1 of 1

Cameron Hawkins, Russell Howe, Juleigh Perona, Zach Shaw

Nevada National Security Sites (NNSS)
This work was done by Mission Support and Test Services, LLC, under Contract No. DE-NA0003624 with the U.S. Department of Energy, the NNSA Office of Defense Programs, and supported by the Site-Directed Research and Development Program. DOE/NV/03624–1903.


The Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research (JASPER) test facility has long been a vital component of the Nevada National Security Sites (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. In this feasibility study, we investigated the feasibility of an experimental platform that can achieve projectile velocities up to 8 km/s without the explosive and pressure hazards that exist with the current JASPER test facility. A solution would allow us to perform experiments at high velocities with good repeatability and quick turnaround while also allowing the facility to be located closer to the Mercury corridor.


NNSS personnel visited the University of Missouri in January of 2023. They visited lab space and discussed the ideas that are part of this feasibility study.

Technical Approach

We realize that there are concerns regarding the rail gun option and it is only discussed to point out why it is not a viable option. Including a very brief trade study upfront to compare pros and cons of several options would be beneficial. These options included:

  1. Railgun (contacting armature) electromagnetic launch
  2. A linear induction launcher (no contact, but low efficiency, and
  3. A two-stage gas gun with electric assist. The rest of the effort would go into the analysis of the launcher that is selected and in establishing the baseline and objective requirements.

We did discuss the requirements of the platform:

  • 28 mm projectile
  • 8 km/s or more velocity
  • No high explosive (HE) or gas propulsion
  • Little tilt to the impactor (uses barrel)

It is hypothesized that the latter option (a two-stage gas gun with electric assist) would most likely be the best option, but this would use gas as part of the system. It would be similar to the helical electromagnetic magnetic launcher (HEML) design that is being built for the third year of the electromagnetic launcher Site-Directed Research and Development (SDRD) project; it would just be bigger and stronger. The original purpose of this feasibility study was to get to a system that does not have gas or HE as part of the propulsion, but this system could get us, at the very least, to remove the HE portion.

NNSS planned to perform a trade study and is interested in researching the other options suggested above as well as a coil gun. We have the necessary software to perform any simulations that are needed on these other options to determine the feasibility of a non-gas/non-HE platform as an alternative to the HEML option.

Results and Technical Accomplishments

This feasibility study allowed us the opportunity to visit with the University of Missouri to discuss the feasibility of a single stage electromagnetic launcher, since they have a subject matter expert for the two-stage gas gun with electric assist (HEML) and it is postulated that this is quite likely the better of the options. A trade study and simulations done by the NNSS pulsed power team would provide some additional insight into the other available options. The full scope of the feasibility study as outlined in the proposal was terminated in part due to the departure of key NNSS personnel and in part to wait until the current HEML design at the C3 launcher is proven this year as part of the current exploratory research SDRD. It is planned that once the experiment has taken place, the team can then focus on the HEML design, with a stronger drive to obtain the necessary pressures for the two-stage gun.

Conclusions and Path Forward

The experiments conducted at the JASPER facility provide fundamental shock physics data to our national laboratories. A higher turn around platform could allow these experiments to be more frequent, adding to the data that is needed at a much faster pace (5x), as well as significantly reducing the cost of operation and keeping this platform up and running. Having an electromagnetic design may permit an increased frequency of experimentation, and permit location of a test facility/launcher nearer to Mercury Highway, which in turn could result in an order of magnitude reduction in annual operating cost for the JASPER facility (assuming it can be relocated to Mercury Highway with the stronger safety envelope provided by this new design).

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