China Uses Giant Rail Gun to Shoot Smart Bomb Nine Miles Into the Sky

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China's navy has apparently tested out a hypersonic rail gun — basically a device that uses a series of electromagnets to accelerate a projectile to incredible speeds — but during a demonstration of its power, things didn't go quite as planned.

As the South China Morning Post reports, the rail gun test lobbed a precision-guided projectile — or smart bomb — nine miles into the stratosphere. But because it apparently didn't go up as high as it was supposed to, the test was ultimately declared unsuccessful.

This conclusion came after an analysis led by Naval Engineering University professor Lu Junyong, whose team found with the help of AI that even though the winged smart bomb exceeded Mach 5 speeds, it didn't perform as well as it could have.

This occurred, as Lu's team found, because the projectile was spinning too fast during its ascent, resulting in an "undesirable tilt."

Gun for Everybody

Successful or not, news of the test is a pretty big deal given that it was just a few months ago that reports emerged about China's other proposed super-powered rail gun, which is intended to send astronauts on a Boeing 737-size ship into space (NASA had begun building its own astronaut-shooting railgun in the 1990s, but had to abandon it due to lack of dinero.)

As with many space technologies, there's the propensity for some messy overlap with military tech. As such, news about the smart bomb rail gun test, which for the record did not make it all the way to space, could well freak out officials stateside.

Chinese officials, meanwhile, are paying lip service to the hypersonic rail gun technology's potential to revolutionize civilian travel by creating even faster railways and consumer space launches, too.

Despite the big promises of politicos, there are still lots of technical kinks that'll need to be ironed out before a giant rail gun is ready to shoot humans — or weapons — into space, not least of which the spinning and tilt issues demonstrated by the Naval Engineering University researchers in this test.

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