Bench-top Railgun

Project Type: Directed Energy

Project Information

Project Description:

The task is to design, build, and test a bench-top-scale electromagnetic railgun.  The power source can be either a solid-state distributed system or a single pulse forming network, as described in the References.  In either case, the injector starts the projectile down the rails at about 90 m/s using compressed Nitrogen.  By applying electric power, the projectile is further accelerated to a maximum velocity of 900 m/s (~ 2,000 miles/hr.)   Diagnostic devices will be built to measure projectile velocity vs. energy stored in the power system.  The railgun and diagnostics will be operated remotely and located in an appropriate enclosure strong enough to withstand projectile impact or possible gun failure.

Level of Difficulty: high


Lorentz force, injector, magnetic flux density, pulse forming network, equivalent series resistance (ESR), equivalent series inductance (ESL), skin effect, specific heat


“A Bench Top Railgun with Distributed Energy Sources,” J. Mankowski, et al., IEEE Transactions on Magnetics, Vol. 43 (1), p. 167, Jan. 2007.

“Design, Fabrication, and Testing of an Electromagnetic Rail Gun for the Repeated Testing and Simulation of Orbital Debris Impact,” Jeff Maniglia, et al., California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA., American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, June 2011,

Team Roles

Electrical Engineer (2) – Electrical Engineers on the project are responsible for the design and construction of the power supply and energy-storage network that accelerates the projectile using electromagnetic forces.  This electrical system will be equipped with diagnostic devices to measure voltage and current; a safety system to remove residual energy; and a means to operate the network remotely.

Mechanical Engineer (2) – Mechanical Engineers on the project are responsible for the design and construction of the railgun, injector and projectile design.  The railgun assembly must be built to withstand the tremendous magnetic forces that work to separate the rails.  Additionally, the MEs also design the projectile injector that uses 2000 psi of Nitrogen to quickly accelerate the projectile’s entry into the railgun breech.  The railgun will be equipped with diagnostic and safety systems to facilitate remote operation.

Physicist (2) – Physicists on the project are responsible for the measurement of the projectile’s velocity and the target that it will destroy.  The disposable target will include diagnostic instruments to measure the moment of projectile arrival and the relative penetration force of its impact.

Computer Scientist (2) – Computer Scientists on the project are responsible for the remote operation of the railgun and the diagnostic system that records the machine’s data at a safe location.  Extra care must be taken to avoid contaminating the diagnostic signals with unwanted electromagnetic interference (EMI) from the railgun’s normal operation.

Designer (2) – Designers on the project must work closely with the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers to produce a railgun system that is extremely strong and properly integrated to withstand extreme forces; operate remotely with positive control; fail safe in an emergency; and built with precision.  Designers will use CAD illustrations to guide the design and construction of the railgun system.

Journalist (1) – The Journalist documents the project’s progress on the website, communicates with the local media, and is responsible for a final report to the principal sponsors and Power Mountain Engineering.  The whole project is your project.

Multimedia Artist (1) – The Artist also documents the project’s progress on the website and works with the Journalist to maintain the project’s presence on social media.  In this case, the Artist is in charge of the high-speed video cameras used to measure the projectile in flight.  The whole project is your project.

Business Manager (1) – The Business Manager is responsible for reporting the project’s progress against a predetermined schedule, determines critical path items to completion, and tracks project spending to assure that costs remain within a fixed budget.  The Manager works with all team members to identify problems early and resolve them quickly.  The whole project is your project.

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