Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Free-electron Laser.

Thanks Brent for directing me towards this article. Now, I've blogged about the US Navy's Mach 8 railgun and that is inked to in this article. That would be this weapon:

 DAHLGREN, Virginia — There wasn’t much left of the 23-pound bullet, just a scalded piece of squat metal. That’s what happens when an enormous electromagnetic gun sends its ammo rocketing 5,500 feet in a single second.

The gun that fired the bullet is the Navy’s experimental railgun. The gun has no moving parts or propellants — just a king-sized burst of energy that sends a projectile flying. And today its parents at the Office of Naval Research sent 33 megajoules through it, setting a new world record and making it the most powerful railgun ever developed.

I've also blogged before about this free-electron laser, but there's much more about it in this article. What I didn't realize is that it can operate at multiple wavelengths (the white lasers in Line War anyone?).

And I also didn't realize this, which almost reads like fantasy:

Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.

You have to wonder if, maybe in ten or so years time, naval power will rise to displace air power until such a time as such power and accuracy becomes  lighter. Beyond that there is only one suitable rational response to this. Fucking hell!


Disco Stu said...

Velocitas Eradico....speed kills...very droll.

White lasers in Orbus as well.

So what difference do the various wavelengths make?

20 feet of steel is amazing never mind 2000.

Ryan said...

It will be interesting to see how this changes naval warfare. The FEL is huge and requires a large generator (this carrying it on a plane, tank or iPhone is unlikely) but would seriously beef up the defensive and offensive capabilities of a ship. With good radar and tracking it would be very hard for a missile or artillery to get close. On the flip side that same point defence could cut through an enemy ship like a blowtorch through butter, it's guna be another game changer for countries that can afford this

Graeme said...

Does it have a peaceful purpose, once we've vaporised, the commies, towel heads, drug cartels, slitty eyed fiends from the East, and anybody else that disagrees with democracy Goddammit???

If not then why not?

@ Ryan

How insane to sell it to other countries when in theory you can hold the whole worlds military by the short and curlies. What's the point of an arms race if you never intend to win it?

AngryMurloc said...

The railgun article makes me want to watch transformers 2 again :)

eddlemsg said...

Graeme asked if there was a peaceful purpose for this super laser, here is a link to an article on using lasers to launch payloads in orbit,
Much cheaper since the fuel is pure H2 and no oxidizer is needed, so more than half of the bulk and weight of 1st stage propellant is no longer having to be accelerated to high speeds.

Ryan said...

2000 ft of steel is nearly half a mile, perhaps as a really good mining tool? Or if we imagine this technology to be well developed over the next few decades we could build one in orbit with a VASIMR type engine to send off to fight killer asteroids in true hollywood style

As for holding the rest of the world hostage unless you go to war immediately before other countries also develop it you've lost your edge. The key point is that a FEL is going to be economically beyond the reach of most countries creating a further disparity between the developed world and the less developed. As a peaceful use maybe a peacekeeping fleet can be placed between two nearly warring countries to shoot down any missiles they exchange

Nuno said...

Graeme, an arms race is exactly what big countries are crazy about, it's been the best money-making machine for the last 60 years. Why wouldn't they want it? Military supremacy is great and a constant concern for the big players, but that kind of money... oh, that's irresistible.

D said...

It's amazing how the post has spread across the net and people now believe the navy has a laser that can go through 20 ft. of steel per second!

That's 10x the thickness of armor on a battleship or a main battle tank.

Of course, if you dig deeper, you find that the Wired article author didn't know what he was talking about.

It's the *particle accelerator* that pumps the laser can theoretically manage that intensity. But that's not the actual weapon. The actual ability to deliver laser power is probably going to cut through, oh, about an inch of steel per second.

The "2000 feet per second" final version is equally ludicrous. Laser penetration is not linear with energy - it's more of a square root or even cube root function. (For one thing, the material you blast away gets in the way of the beam.) Upgrade a thousand times and you get maybe 10-30x the penetration.

The megawatt level version would cut through maybe a foot per second.

2,000 feet per second? Hello, that's like "we'll burn through the earth in a few hours" or "we'll swing it for one second and an entire city will be melted."

Do people really believe this stuff?

Neal Asher said...

Well that one put us all in our place. Don't believe everything you read!

We're all dreamers here, D.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

regardless of integrity, take this Halliburton motto in with these developments of destructive technology:

Destroy the environment, create more jobs.

Graeme said...

Well thanks for that. Apparently the Beatles have split up.