28 July 2004
Electromagnetic propulsion about to take off
One hundred years of electromagnetic propulsion research is enough, it is now time to begin some practical use, researchers say.
Electromagnetic propulsion, powered by electricity and magnetism rather than fiery chemical reaction, is a reality though not yet ready for government or commercial production, and researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and its partners will use a $5 million grant from the Department of Defense to get the ball rolling.
Electromagnetic propulsion, which can send an aircraft, satellite, shuttle, bullet, or train zooming through the air or along a track, produces such extreme temperatures and wear that it creates a challenge for researchers working to make devices they can use repeatedly.
The heat and friction caused by electromagnetic propulsion is much different from traditional chemical acceleration (such as the explosion that propels a bullet from a gun) and is not yet fully understood. Electromagnetic propulsion actually 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 research group comes from the disciplines of tribology (the study of friction, wear, and lubrication in surfaces in motion), physics, materials science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.
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 on the project.
The research findings will 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 kilometers per second, for its next generation of electric battleships.
But the project's findings can apply to any electromagnetic device, including launchers and vehicles.
"This particular project, though it includes technology that the U.S. 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 (magnetic levitation) vehicles," Danyluk said.
For related information, go to www.isa.org/manufacturing_automation.