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An Electromagnetic Railgun Design and Realization for an Electrical Engineering Capstone Project

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Capstone Design in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Jeffrey Scott McGuirk Ph.D. United States Air Force Academy

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Jeffrey S. McGuirk received his BSEE degree in 1995 from the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, CO, and an MSEE degree from Iowa State University in 1996. From 1997-2000, he was with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base where he designed fuzes for weapons. From 2000-2003, he was with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center where he directed tests on satellite communication systems. He earned his PhD from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 2009 and again served in the Air Force Research Laboratory from 2009-2012 working on exotic materials. Since 2012, he has been a member of the faculty at USAFA in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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John G. Ciezki United States Air Force Academy

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Dr. Ciezki is an Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He received his B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E., and Ph.D. from Purdue University, West Lafayette in 1988, 1990, and 1993, respectively. Dr. Ciezki taught at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA from 1994 to 2002. In 2002, he joined the staff of the U.S. Naval Academy where he served as an Associate Professor until 2011. He then worked as an Advisory Power Electronics Engineer for Northrop Grumman Corporation in Sykesville, MD until returning to academia at the Air Force Academy in 2013. Professor Ciezki has conducted research in power system simulation, the development of power electronics-based distribution systems, the control of finite-inertia power systems, the mitigation of power quality issues in large motor drives, and is currently exploring topics related to micro-grids. He has taught courses in power systems, power electronics, electric machines, control systems, and circuit analysis. He has supervised over 30 Master’s theses, co-advised two dissertations, mentored three Trident Scholar Projects, and received the AY2006-2007 Raouf-Ali-Raouf Award for Excellence in Engineering Teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy. Dr. Ciezki is a member of the IEEE.

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This work reports on how a team of four undergraduate students at Anonymous University designed, built, and tested a desk-top railgun for a year-long senior design project. The objective of the design was to safely launch a small projectile at a muzzle velocity of 100-300 meters/second from an approximately 1-meter long barrel using capacitor-based energy storage limited to a maximum of 400 VDC. The projectile needed to be fired into a catch to facilitate demonstrations inside a laboratory environment. The project was also constrained by a $3,000 operating budget and access to parts available in the laboratory. The three electrical engineering students and one systems engineering student self-selected the project and decided how to divide tasks, structure and managed a schedule, planned budget use, and leveraged in-house machine shop capabilities. The paper describes how the cadets decomposed the project into a set of subsystems including: (1) the rail system and supporting barrel, (2) the armature or projectile, (3) an injection system to provide the projectile with an initial velocity along the rails, (4) a mechanical catch system to facilitate safe and convenient firing, (5) an electrical energy storage system, (6) a high-voltage circuit for charging the storage system, (7) a pulse-forming network (PFN) that interfaces the storage system to the rails, (8) timing electronics needed to actuate the PFN, (9) a measurement system to monitor muzzle velocity, rail current, capacitor voltage, and rail temperatures, and (10) safety elements and protocol to minimize the probability of shock, misfire, or accident. The paper then describes how the project evolved from a System Requirements Review to the Preliminary, Critical, and Final Design Reviews. This senior design project was especially notable for three factors: (a) the emphasis on an early implementation which facilitated multiple passes along the design spiral, (b) the close synergy between the evolution of the hardware and the simulation models, and (c) the inter-disciplinary nature of the design which provided opportunities for electrical engineers to consider items such as material properties, forces on the barrel, temperature effects, aerodynamic drag, rail ablation, and velocity measurements. In the process of the design, students were able to leverage their circuit analysis skills and build on their simulation experience in both Multisim and Simulink. The paper concludes with a section on lessons learned and recommendations on strategies for mentoring such a project.

McGuirk, J. S., & Ciezki, J. G. (2016, June), An Electromagnetic Railgun Design and Realization for an Electrical Engineering Capstone Project Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26578

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