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USNA Capstone Team Develops Mobile Railgun System

  POSTED ON: Friday, May 20, 2022 1:20 PM by MC1 Jordyn Diomede

Seven U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen spent the last two semesters developing a mobile railgun system as part of their senior capstone project. The capstone project is a year-long design project, and ultimately, the culmination of each midshipman’s academic experience.

Modeled after the U.S. Navy’s railgun project, the system uses electromagnetic forces without the need for conventional gunpowder. The railgun fires a projectile at Mach 1, approximately 770 mph, and is programmed to shoot 30 shots in one hour with an automated reloading capability. 

Midshipmen 1st Class (seniors) Carlos Perez, Damien Stonhill, Anna Sewall, David Majd-Faridi, Dalton Harrelson, Bennett Moudy, and Lauren de Leon, along with their capstone advisors Navy Capt. John Stevens and Cmdr. Chris Martino, both from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, collectively spent more than 100 hours developing the system. 

“We have dedicated so much time, sweat, and tears into this project,” said Perez. “Many times we believed we would never be able to accomplish what we initially set out to do, but we wanted to ensure that all the hard work we had already put in would not go to waste.”

This is the fourth year of development on the project. Last year’s USNA Railgun Team managed to put the railgun together and fire it in a lab, while this year’s team took it several steps further. Together, they were able to condense the intricate circuit, find an alternate power source, and mount it on a 4x4 Polaris vehicle.

To Perez, this was more than just a capstone project.

“I have always been fascinated with the physics of a railgun since high school,” he said. “It was one of several reasons why I wanted to study physics and fought hard to be on this team overseen by the electrical engineering department here at the Naval Academy.”

Even with the highly motivated students and committed faculty working on this small-scale high pulse energy weapon system, its success would not be possible without the continued resource support from the Office of Naval Research and technical support from the Naval Surface Warfare Centers in Dahlgren, Virginia, and Philadelphia.

“This team has done an outstanding job on their year-long multidisciplinary design project,” said Stevens. “I've been coaching midshipmen capstone project teams for nine years, and this one is the most challenging in terms of scope, risk management, and operational testing. To put it in DOD acquisition terminology, this team carried their mobile tactical railgun from proof-of-concept (TRL-3) to a system prototype demonstration in a relevant operational environment (TRL-6) – a great testimony to the value of the partnerships between academic departments, resource sponsors, warfare centers, and midshipmen.”

At the start of the project in the fall of 2021, the team set out to achieve the objective of designing, building, and shooting a prototype railgun system for use as a tactical, crew-served weapon that is safe in an operational environment. At the end of their final year at the Naval Academy, these midshipmen achieved this objective. However, their achievements extend beyond their internal capstone objective, as the team recently earned the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department’s “Hagee Prize.” 

The Hagee Prize is named in honor of General Michael Hagee, a USNA graduate, class of 1968, former instructor in the Naval Academy’s Electrical Engineering Department, and former Commandant of the Marine Corps. It is awarded to the midshipman or the midshipman team whose capstone design project best addresses a significant threat to deployed Marines.

“Overall, this project developed each and everyone of us to be better future naval officers by teaching us not only the fundamentals of leadership and peer accountability, but also the endurance and strength of working long hours of strenuous manual labor in order to achieve the next goal and overall mission,” said Perez. “I learned a lot of things from this railgun project, and I am forever grateful for having been afforded the opportunity to participate and work with such amazing individuals.”

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Category: General Interest, People, Research, Midshipman, Academics