Researchers will shoot a projectile at 9,000 miles an hour for science

The study is being funded by the U.S. Army and Air Force.
Ameya Paleja
9000-mph ballistics tests into water tank
9000-mph ballistics tests into water tank

The Daily  

Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University in the U.S. are currently working toward an experiment that will record something that has never been captured at such a resolution before; the moment of impact when a projectile traveling at 9,000 miles (14,484 km) an hour hits a wall of water, a press release said.

Research of this nature has been done earlier, but that was nearly eight decades ago. Back in the 1940s, the U.S. military conducted such studies to gauge the impact of shockwaves from underwater explosions on boats and submarines.

Bryan Schmidt, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Case Western Reserve University, expects that the upcoming experiments will be twice as fast as what has previously been studied, and the recording equipment is far superior now.

What the study hopes to capture

The researchers plan to use a 40-foot (12.2 m) long piece of equipment known as the two-stage light gas gun to propel a 0.7-inch (18 mm) projectile into an eight-foot (2.4 m) deep tank of water.

The two-stage propulsion used by the system will enable the projectile to reach higher launch speeds, something scientists use to simulate meteorites hitting the atmosphere. However, all this effort would end up being nothing more than a loud bang and a big splash of water to those witnessing it.

To capture the impact, Schmidt and his team are deploying a special high-speed camera that can capture 200 million frames per second. This is a huge improvement over the 300 frames or so that a smartphone can capture and the 30 frames per second that the human eye can see.

The research is supported by a million-dollar grant being provided by the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research due to its applications in national defense.

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How it can help the U.S. defense?

Images from the high-speed camera are expected to help the researchers understand what exactly happens when something traveling at such high speeds hits a target. Outcomes are likely to be ice formation, cavitation, and/or sonoluminescence.

Predictions from the 1950s state that such an impact could lead to the formation of "exotic ice," which is any ice formation other than the six-sided ice mostly found on Earth or in space.

Cavitation, or the formation of vapor bubbles inside the liquid due to its acceleration to high velocities, is something that the researchers expect to see during the experiment. The sudden collapse of liquid as a result of the sound wave could also lead to the creation of light called sonoluminescence, something that could even help in making a waste-energy source.

The speed of sound is 767 miles an hour in the air but closer to 3,500 miles an hour inside water. The experiments are therefore expected to shed light on hypersonic speeds, an area of increasing interest for militaries around the world as they look to make weapons that can travel at these speeds.

The U.S. is lagging in this space, having conducted test flights, while Russia claims to have already deployed its hypersonic weapons on combat duty.

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