Launching a projectile at 15,000 km/h, the incredible science project of the American army

At Case Western Reserve University, based in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the largest and most renowned scientific research laboratories in the United States. Interesting Engineering is interested in one of the projects currently carried out in this center: the launching of a projectile at an hourly speed of 9,000 miles, or approximately 14,484 kilometers per hour.

The research team plans to use a propulsion device consisting of a light gas cannon with a length of 12.2 meters, which will be used to launch a projectile 18 millimeters in diameter. Target? A reservoir filled with water, 2.4 meters deep. The method implemented is similar to that used in space, to simulate the arrival of meteorites in the atmosphere.

To be able to precisely study the impact of the ball when it reaches the aquatic environment, the team co-directed by Bryan Schmidt, professor of mechanics and aerospace engineer, has planned an absolutely extraordinary capture device. The camera that will immortalize this moment can produce 200 million images per second – that’s 8.3 million times more than in the cinema, where the frame rate is 24 per second.

Do better than the Russians

A budget of 1 million dollars (921,000 euros) has been allocated to this project by the naval research office of the US Air Force, which then wishes to use the results of the study. The objective is to understand as precisely as possible what happens when an object launched at very high speed hits a target. Because the consequences of such an experience can be absolutely surprising.

This high-speed impact can in particular create a phenomenon of sonoluminescence, that is to say the emission of photons by the gas bubbles formed by the telescoping. But it can also lead to the formation of so-called exotic ice, a type of ice whose chemical constitution is different from those most commonly found on Earth and in space.

The speed of such a projectile will be about 2.6 times greater than the speed of sound in water, which is 3,500 miles per hour (about 5,600 km/h), and 11.7 times greater than the speed of the sound in the air (767 miles per hour, or about 1,200 km/h).

We are therefore talking here about hypersonic speed, which is of great interest to the American military sector, which is always looking for weapons capable of reaching very high propulsion speeds – especially since Russia, for its part, claims to have already deployed weapons of hypersonic combat.

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