What is a rail gun snail

Satguns - Railgun on a satellite with alternative options

Your idea has an inherent problem: Railguns of any range and power are darn big! To give you an idea, here's an example of one real Proposal for a circulating railgun called "Have Sting", one of the various ideas that came up during the research phase of the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s:

Make Sting scale with Space Shuttle Orbiter.Illustration by Scott Loather

The enormous length consists in providing the correct anchor for the railgun itself. The cone-shaped object is a small nuclear reactor that provides "hotel" power when in operation and powers the large tracking arrays. The actual combat power was skillfully provided by having liquid hydrogen and oxygen on board. Several rocket engines can be seen that allow the platform to rotate and orientate towards the target. However, the burning H2 / LOX mixture also drove a large turbine which, when fired, provided megawatts of electricity for brief explosions.

Obviously, Have Sting would be highly visible in orbit and easy to track from the ground, but the Railgun projectiles would be devastating at a range of thousands of kilometers, so the Have Sting could theoretically provide its own self-defense and fire at missiles that Payloads climb into orbit with ASAT.

Now is your idea for "small" railguns in orbit. While even screws, nuts and bolts and even patches of paint can be tracked from the ground, a satellite the size of a "Cubesat" (10 × 10 × 11.35 cm cubic units) has a mass of no more than 1.33 kilograms per unit ) is much more difficult to track than "Have Sting" and can be built in large numbers.

1U Cubesat unit

Now the armature is very short and there isn't a lot of space for capacitors, tracking systems, or much more. Due to their small size and lack of consumables, micro-railguns like these would have a very short life in orbit and could be kept on the ground and launched in bundles of 10 to 100 at a time to be distributed in orbit when needed.

3U Cubsat.A weapon has to be at least that big

Such a Railgun satellite is only suitable as an "escort" satellite for a much larger and more expensive satellite that fires its single shot at unidentified satellites or spacecraft that are approaching, or as an "assassin" that comes in with a swarm of soldiers Using cubesats and trying to overwhelm an enemy spaceship with a multitude of shots to kill defending satellites and remove any armor protection. Since the orbital speed is 7 km / s, the amount of kinetic energy that even a ball-bearing round would have would be orders of magnitude greater than a bullet. Attempting to fire and hit a target by shooting against the orbit direction means the pellet will strike at the speed that the railgun + the 7 km / s at which the enemy platform is orbiting is transmitting.

So could tiny railguns that can fly in swarms are another means of fighting a space war, but the range, timeframe, and other factors will be extremely different from what we think today.

Nahshon paz

Sounds like a plan. I could do something with the space war idea, but what I really would like to know is: Can such weapons shoot something that is effective against targets on the surface of the earth?


No. For something like Project Thor need inert tungsten rods that are desorbed on ground targets. This was first investigated by Jerry Pournelle in the late 1950s. Project Thor would require projectiles that range from the size of a broomstick (tactical weapon for hitting tanks or ships) to the size of a telephone pole (hitting hardened bunkers or missile silos).

Nahshon paz

Thank you very much, you have given me a lot of useful detailed information. However, @Will's answer seems to give me an idea of ​​how to hit the floor to make it "more" right. A bit of a shame, I wish you guys brought this a bit more into the realm of crazy technological possibilities of the late 21st century.