Navy funds research on electric rail gun

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., 6 Jan. 2006. Albuquerque-based TPL Inc. has received a $1.5 million federal contract to, in effect, imitate the power of lightning for a new class of weapon-launcher that doesn't require explosives.

Jan 6th, 2006

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., 6 Jan. 2006. Albuquerque-based TPL Inc. has received a $1.5 million federal contract to, in effect, imitate the power of lightning for a new class of weapon-launcher that doesn't require explosives.

Under the appropriation, TPL will provide power supply components to the Navy for a prototype rail gun -- a device that uses a massive electrical charge to launch a projectile.

The funds are part of the $391 billion Defense Appropriations Act signed by President George Bush last week. They were secured by Congresswoman Heather Wilson, R-N.M.

In a 10-year cooperative project with Sandia National Laboratories, TPL has developed small, high-energy capacitors -- essentially temporary batteries in which a huge electrical charge is built up and released in an instant. In practice, thousands of these fist-size capacitors would be located under a ship's gun, where they would, on command, instantly release millions of joules of electricity -- an amount of energy comparable to a bolt of lightning.

The electromagnetic charge, applied to opposing rails inside a gunlike barrel, could propel a 44-pound projectile 20 times as far as conventional explosives, without the danger and cost of storing and moving consumable explosives, according to TPL.

Wilson, in a Thursday news conference announcing the funding, compared the devices to small capacitors found in cameras, which gather a temporary charge to power a flash. "They need to get a lot of energy in a small space and then use that energy very quickly," she said.

Such devices could eventually be used for a wide range of electric power needs, from heart defibrillators and hybrid vehicles to military computers and weapons such as grenade launchers.

"The needs from the American military for power will increase exponentially over the next 10 years," Wilson said.

TPL president and CEO Hap Stoller said the company would immediately hire about four people to work on the project. If tests are successful, and such capacitors go into mass production, that manufacturing, which is now outsourced, could be brought here, where it would provide additional jobs, he said.

"Our long-range objective is to bring all those (component manufacturers) into one central facility in New Mexico," he said.

TPL developed the technology and has been testing it with the help of Sandia Labs, which is working on similar weapons technology, such as electromagnetic coil guns.

Bob Turman, manager of Sandia's magnetic propulsion and beam applications program, said such technology could eventually be adapted to launch satellites and other space vehicles for far less cost than rockets.

TPL employs 75 in Albuquerque and at an office at Fort Wingate, near Gallup, where it has a contract to decommission weapons. For more information, see www.tplinc.com.

Source: The Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

More in Power