Meet China's new 'Force' gun that can move things from afar

Chinese scientists have apparently developed a new kind of magnetized coaxial gun that can generate magnetized plasma rings to move stuff at a distance without physical contact.
Christopher McFadden
You can bet it will be weaponized ASAP.

Andrey Suslov/iStock 

Chinese scientists are working on a device that uses plasma rings to move objects at a distance. Touted as possibly being used for contactless satellite recovery, delivery, or space object deflection, the team behind the program is confident the device would work in principle, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

Likened to the "Jedi" abilities of 'Force Push' and 'Force Pull' in the science fiction franchise 'Star Wars' (though possibly closer in concept to an actual 'tractor beam'), the device could prove revolutionary for many industries if proven viable.

Use the Force!

But, unlike the make-believe of 'Star Wars', the team behind the research believes that manipulation of objects over a distance could be possible by manipulating magnetic forces. A sort of "real" telekinesis, for want of a better term. However, until now, using magnetic forces to pull off such a trick has proven impractical.

According to the researchers, SCMP reported their 'force gun' device works and has a surprising range of up to 0.6 miles (1 km). Moreover, it can even move distant objects within "minutes" of activation. It is also capable of pulling small objects, like a small satellite, towards the device.

“The design and experimental verification of a prototype is underway,” the team, led by associate researcher Zhang Yuanwen, said in the paper published in the Chinese peer-reviewed journal Systems Engineering and Electronics on August 16.

Meet China's new 'Force' gun that can move things from afar
Research diagrams showing how the magnetised coaxial "force" gun generates a high-speed plasma ring.

The prototype 'force gun' device's main component is a magnetized coaxial gun, which can produce waves of high-energy gas that are hot and full of electrons. These plasma rings are torus-shaped and contain charged particles (ions and electrons) that are free to move in response to electric and magnetic fields. The discharge current of the plasma ring creates a magnetic field, which induces a current in the plasma. This, in turn, generates a magnetic field that opposes the initial magnetic field.

This process continues until the magnetic field lines become "frozen" in the plasma, allowing the magnetic force to be "projected" far away by the plasma ring. The researchers claim the prototype can shoot eight plasma rings per second, each at a target of 10,000 meters per second - 30 times the speed of sound. The researchers explained that when the plasma rings approach the target, the ring's magnetic force is such that it can influence the target's motion as desired.

Zhang's team has suggested that using plasma rings for manipulations in space is more advantageous than using robotic arms or other manual equipment. This is because there is no physical contact required for the desired motion, which reduces the risk of accidents and collisions. This device is highly versatile and can effectively handle various types of space debris without the need for specific attachment points or interfaces.

Could it be weaponized?

Although the research team does appear to have links to China's defense industry, it is important to note that the focus of the paper was on the scientific and technical aspects of the technology. To this end, they focussed on the potential applications in space exploration and satellite operations rather than military use. But, ultimately, if armed forces see a potential offensive (or defensive) use for it, you can bet your bottom dollar they will.

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