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An electromagnetic railgun like the one in The Expanse could soon be blasting stuff from the moon

By Elizabeth Rayne
The Expanse railgun

Next to being the object of a race to see which country can put human boot prints on its surface first, the moon is a prime target for resources, but the U.S. Navy (which recently filmed hypersonic UFOs) is about to take that literally.

The Navy is coming up with a monster electromagnetic railgun — the kind of mega-shooter that you saw blasting projectiles through space on The Expanse — which could soon be firing from the lunar surface. If this seems like something that won’t be realized until a faraway, sci-fi future, the railgun being developed by The Office of Naval Research is actually going to be tested on board a warship soon. Then it’s shooting for the moon.

These weapons don’t play. Powered by just electricity with no chemicals required, railguns can fire projectiles incredible distances at even more incredible velocities. The Navy has already gotten it to send things streaking through the sky at Mach 6. That’s six times the speed of sound or 4,600 mph. That means the escape velocity from the moon will be 5,300 mph.

The Navy says that “the system charges for two minutes and fire sin less than one second” and “is shielded so as not to affect shipboard controls and systems. The electromagnetic energy released from this system is low and contained on the surface vessel.”

With a behemoth like this, is the Danger: High Voltage sign even necessary?

Besides potentially making your brain explode if you think about it too hard, that kind of speed is just on the edge of fast enough to launch payloads of iron ore and other lunar resources into space, where they will be turned into satellites and (eventually) habitats outside Earth. Moon water will also be in demand for fuel. Our satellite is loaded with water ice in craters that we could mine and then split into hydrogen and oxygen that could send rockets off to Mars and deep space.

Extreme tech that could hurl payloads from the moon was dreamed up way before The Expanse. The first scientist to propose making such a thing outside of science fiction was Gerard O’Neill, the brains behind those kaleidoscopic zero-G habitats humans someday could be living a Jetsons type of lifestyle in. The visionary conceptualized and prototyped a mass driver, or electromagnetic catapult, that would evolve into the railgun being tested now.

Just in case you see something randomly flying overhead, now you know.


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