Railguns were first proposed over a century ago, but have not yet made their appearance on the battlefield. They are similar to regular artillery pieces, in that they fire a giant shell, but different in that they do so without the use of combustion.
Instead, railguns mount the projectile on two magnetized rails (hence the name), which then propel the shell out of the muzzle using electrical conductivity. This is different from the so-called Gauss cannon, which uses a magnetic projectile and magnetic fields to accomplish the same task. Either way, magnetic fields can accelerate a shell far faster than gunpowder, increasing the range and speed of the projectile.
General Atomics conducted the test in association with the Office of Naval Research, and plans on continuing testing through next year, when they will finally start launching "tactically relevant aerodynamic rounds".
I don't know what "tactically relevant aerodynamic rounds" are, but it certainly does sound bad-ass.
No video was released, unfortunately, but to substitute, check out this slow-motion test firing of a similar railgun last year--plus an explanation on why there's still muzzle fire from gunpowder-less shot.
[via General Atomics]
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.