Guns provide an inexpensive method of space transportation; however, most of them subject cargo to extreme acceleration. This does not mean that guns be restricted to the transportation of fuel and raw materials. Rather, it means that cargo must be designed to withstand the extreme acceleration. The task is not as difficult as it seems:
-Electronics, even vacuum tubes, have been used in artillery shells since the Second World War.
-Laser-guided Copperhead artillery shells withstand 10,000 G.
-Experimental circuits developed for railgun launch withstand 100,000 G.

Physical contact between the gun and a very fast projectile erodes the gun too much. A nylon sabot extends the maximum velocity to about 4 km/s, but at higher velocities the physical contact must be avoided either with the help of gas bearing, or magnetic suspension. Kryukov article describes a gyrostabilized, magnetically suspended projectile.

Conventional gas guns (
one stage
and two stage) are similar to handguns; the propellant flows in the same direction as the projectile. If the gun is infinitely long and contains an infinite volume of a propellant, the propellant pressure on the aft end of the projectile is:

P = P0 (1-(G-1)U/(2A0))2G / (G-1)

P0 is the initial breech pressure,
A0 is the initial speed of sound in the propellant,
G is the ratio of specific heat at constant pressure to that at constant volume, and
U is the projectile's velocity.
A thin disk can be accelerated in a lab to 5 times the speed of sound. The maximum practical velocity of a large, long projectile is the speed of sound, because the gas pressure drops exponentially with increasing projectile velocity.

Transverse gas guns, i.e., the

electrothermal ramjet, the ram accelerator, the vortex gun, and the ice gun, can accelerate large projectiles to a much higher velocity than the conventional gas guns. The flow of propellant in the transverse gas guns is transverse to the projectile movement.

Conventional gunpowder artillery is impractical above 2 km/s.

Electromagnetic guns (coilgun and railgun) are heavy and expensive due to the high cost of the electric power supply and switches. Refer to the January issue of IEEE Transactions on Magnetics in odd number years, from 1989 to 1997, for the proceedings of the Symposium on Electromagnetic Launch Technology.


Injecting hydrogen from the nose cone of the projectile into the adjacent air reduces the aerodynamic drag, noise, temperature of the nose cone and its ablation. Steel does not corrode in warm hydrogen, so it is a perfect material for the entire projectile.

Scramjet experiments have proved that hydrogen mixes poorly with air at orbital velocity. This is bad news for scramjets but good news for the guns, because a small amount of hydrogen will suffice to reduce projectile drag by at least one order of magnitude. The projectile flying through the atmosphere will experience deceleration on the order of several G; too small to harm fragile cargo or people. Hydrogen injection makes it possible to launch cheap, reusable gun projectiles at a grazing angle to the Earth surface. The apogee rocket motors are light-weight because the projectiles are launched at a small angle. Hydrogen injection reduces the aerodynamic drag in four ways:

  1. The initial velocity of injected hydrogen is the same as the projectile velocity. Air is pushed aside.
  2. Density of hydrogen is 14 times smaller than density of air.
  3. the speed of sound in hot hydrogen is so high that hydrogen expands before impinging on the nose cone, thereby reducing its density and drag. It also generates forward thrust by contracting on the tail cone.
  4. Some of the hydrogen burns, thus increasing pressure on the tail cone. (This beneficial effect is so small that it can be ignored.)


Hydrogen injection

Suspending the gun on balloons, or erecting it on a steep mountain slope further reduces the aerodynamic drag. The best mountain slopes near the equator are on the south side of Pegunungan Maoke mountain range on the island of New Guinea. The slopes are steeper than 10 angle degrees and longer than 10 kilometers. Most of the area is accessible only by helicopter and uninhabited, so no one will be disturbed by the noise.


If a terrestrial gun accelerates the projectile to a velocity lower than the escape velocity (11.2 km/s), its trajectory must be circularized by other means to prevent it from deorbiting (plunging back into the atmosphere). Orbital devices can be used for this purpose, but they are too massive to be used in the short term. A better solution is to use an apogee rocket motor ignited by a simple delay fuse, and spin the projectile like a gyro to avoid the expensive rocket control electronics.

The fuse consists of a glass capsule filled with concentrated sulfuric acid, a metal container, and an igniter made of silver nitrate powder, magnesium powder, and a binder. The glass capsule breaks at the moment of projectile launch and releases the acid into the metal container. One hour later the acid corrodes the container and is forced by the centrifugal force of the spinning projectile into the igniter which bursts into flame upon contact with the acid.

Any freely spinning object will change its axis of rotation until it rotates about an axis having the greatest moment of inertia. The slender projectile fired from a gun cannot spin like a gyro in the vacuum of the outer space. To stabilize the spin it must change its shape. For example, it can open like an umbrella. Aerodynamic forces keep the projectile closed during atmospheric flight. Above the atmosphere the aerodynamic forces diminish, thereby enabling the centrifugal force to open the projectile.


Closed umbrella projectile


Open umbrella projectile

The minimum velocity increase during apogee motor burn

The minimum velocity increase during apogee motor burn (reproduced from

Pearson's article)


A. E. Seigel, "The Theory of High Speed Guns," AGARDograph 91, May 1965.

A. E. Seigel, R. Piacesi, and D. N. Bixler, "Wall Friction, Heat Transfer and Real-Gas Propellant Effects in High-Speed Guns," Fourth Hypervelocity Techniques Symposium, Arnold Air Force Station, TN, November 1965, pp. 352-378.

A. E. Seigel, "Theory of High-Muzzle-Velocity Guns," in "Interior Ballistics of Guns" eds. H. Krier and M. Summerfield, Vol. 66, AIAA Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1979, pp. 135-175, ISBN 0-915928-32-9.

Harry Fair, "Hypervelocity Then and Now," International Journal of Impact Engineering, Vol. 5, 1987, pp. 1-11.

Alexander C. Charters, "Development of the High-Velocity Gas-Dynamics Gun," International Journal of Impact Engineering, Vol. 5, 1987, pp. 181-203.

William F. Weldon, "Development of Hypervelocity Electromagnetic Launchers," International Journal of Impact Engineering, 1987, pp. 671-679.

Harold E. Gilreath, Robert M. Fristrom, and Sannu Molder, "The Distributed-Injection Ballistic Launcher," Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, Vol. 9, No. 3, July-September 1988, pp. 299-309.

Ludwig Stiefel, (ed.) Gun Propulsion Technology, AIAA, 1988, ISBN 0-930403-20-7.

Gerald V. Bull and C. H. Murphy, Paris Kanonen -- The Paris Guns (Wilhelmsgeschuetze) and Project HARP, Verlag Mittler, Bonn, 1988.

Harry D. Fair, Phil Coose, Carolyn P. Meinel, and Derek A. Tidman, "Electromagnetic Earth-to-Space Launch," IEEE Transactions on Magnetics, Vol. 25, No. 1, January 1989, pp. 9-16.

Lewis A. Glenn, "Design Limitations on Ultra-High Velocity Projectile Launchers," International Journal of Impact Engineering, Vol. 10, 1990, pp. 185-196.

M. R. Palmer and R. X. Lenard, "A Revolution in Space Access Through Spinoffs of SDI Technology," IEEE Transactions on Magnetics, Vol. 27, No. 1, January 1991, pp. 11-20.

I.I. Glass and J. P. Sislian, Nonstationary Flows and Shock Waves, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994.

Robert Frisbee, John Anderson, Jurgen Mueller, and T. Pivirotto, "Evaluation of Gun Launch Concepts," AIAA Paper AIAA 94-2925, 30th AIAA/SAE/ASME/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Indianapolis IN, June 27-29, 1994.

Alexander C. Charters, "The Early Years of Aerodynamics Ranges, Light-Gas Guns, and High-Velocity Impact," International Journal of Impact Engineering, Vol. 17, 1995, pp. 151-182.

John A. Morgan, "A Brief History of Cannon Launch," AIAA 97-3138, 33rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, July 6-9, 1997, Seattle, WA.

Andrew J. Higgins, "A Comparison of Distributed Injection Hypervelocity Accelerators," AIAA-97-2897, 33rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, July 6-9, 1997, Seattle, WA.

Pavel V. Kryukov, "Review of Investigations Under Way on the Large-Scale TsNIIMASH Ballistic Facility," Ballistic Technologies Scientific Venture, Box 92, Korolev, Moscow Region, 141070, Russia.

The following guns can be used as a means of Earth-to-orbit transportation:

  6. ICE GUN

Curator: Al Globus
If you find any errors on this page contact Al Globus.
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