Many people sent me versions of this story, and it's a highly significant one, particularly in the light of the space-related story I did yesterday, concerning Russia's buildout of its asteroid detection and defense systems, a project first suggested by Dmitri Medvedev about one month before the Chelyabinsk incident in 2013. It's in this "space and asteroid defense" context that I would like the following article to be viewed, for it forms the basis for our high octane speculation of the day.

The Pentagon’s electromagnetic ‘rail gun’ makes its public debut

Electromagnetic rail guns are an old idea, in fact, stemming from World War One when Norwegian and German engineers first proposed the idea, and some research was undertaken in both countries into their development, and the Germans continued this research under the Nazis during World War Two. Indeed, there have been persistent stories about Nazis developments of such a weapon, but the substantiation for it remains rather thin.

As the article points out, rail guns rely on electromagnhetic acceleration of a projectile which is more or less the modern equivalent of the old cannonball, a projectile with no explosive content, designed to do damage by the sheer kinetic energy of its impact, utilizing the old formular we all learned in elementary school, F=ma, force equals the mass times acceleration. In the railgun's case, the muzzle velocity greatly exceeds any conventional artillery piece and chemical propellant, imparting a great deal of energy on impact.

It is here we come to the relevance of the space context, and why I think we're looking as much at a story about space weapons systems as about naval ones. Given an adequate power supply and other factors, rail guns would be an ideal platform for asteroid defense; build them large enough, and base them on a space platform or even the Moon, and one would have a strategic offensive weapon that was non-nuclear. Indeed, there are some who maintain to this day that the recent chemical factory explosions in China were demonstrations of a space-based rail gun(a rather small one in fact), demonstrating the awesome destructive ppower of such weapons through the sheer kinetic energy of their impact.

How might one make such weapons large enough to destroy objects like a large asteroid (or other things)? Simple: Make the "barrel" a circular track to permit several revolutions in order to create such extreme "muzzle" velocities that the kinetic energy would grow. One wouldn't need a large "projectile." It would be the "railgun" equivalent of a particle accelerator, which is, if one stops and things about it, simple the same thing, but dealing with much smaller projectiles. Of course, all this is easier said than done, but the revelation of such technologies as the navy's new railgun, which it intends to deploy, is an indicator that perhaps other applications are already envisioned...

... or operational. Can you say, "Brilliant Pebbles"?

See you on the flip side...


  1. You don’t stop asteroids by blasting them to pieces. That is for movies. You change their course by applying a force on them that can speed them up or slow them down. Anything to change their intersection with Earth. This can be done with lasers to heat or if you have enough lead time strapping a small rocket to it.

    If you blow something into pieces those pieces will not be like a shotgun blast instead of a 50 cal bullet. Still a huge problem and now you can’t deflect it.

  2. The rail gun’s natural arena is in space. Without atmospheric drag and heating, projectiles can be extremely simple. As long as they can handle the g’s at launch, the sky’s the limit (aarrgghh) in shape. You could even structure a very long rail-gun to have low peak g’s.

    I believe it was in Heinlein’s SF novel, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” that a rail gun was used to bombard Earth from the Moon. Given sufficient energy reserves, the weak point of a rail gun is it’s magazine. With launch from the Moon, you would have an infinite magazine…

  3. Another possible use for railgun technology might be for launching long distance space probes or other craft. Imagine launching a small rail gun and probe at tremendous speeds to check out a neighboring solar system or our outer solar system planets. Then shoot the smaller loaded probe with the data from the smaller rail gun back towards our inner solar system to deliver back the data or asteroid collected if you shoot a collector of some type at an asteroid. To slow the probe or collector down for either for physical delivery or to place in orbit around a distant solar body built in thrusters could be activated once the probe or collector nears its target. I wonder what kinds of speeds could be achieved fired from outer space; near or possibly even light speed perhaps?

    1. Interesting thought Roger there has been experiments using lasers to propel spacecraft. Such a technology as a railgun propulsion would have speeded up the probe sent to Pluto. At least the use would have been benign instead of a new way to kill as usual.

    2. Could send a number of probes in time varied succession in order to relay messages in tandem. For that matter, one could probably shoot the munitions with such timing to induce specific pulse effects to cause greater destruction.

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