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Sandia’s New Smart Bullet

by John Reed on January 31, 2012

In case you haven’t seen it, Sandia National Labs is working on a self-guided bullet for small arms that can hit targets a mile away. Kinda like a small version of the Army’s Excalibur smart artillery round.

The four-inch, dart-like round uses tiny fins and an optical sensor in its nose to follow a laser beam all the way to its target, similar to the way a laser-guided bomb finds its target.

Think you can build it, then Sandia’s two researchers who are developing the round, Red Jones and Brian Kast, want to talk to you.

Click through to watch a video of the round and read more on it from a Sandia National Labs press release:

Most bullets shot from rifles, which have grooves, or rifling, that cause them to spin so they fly straight, like a long football pass. To enable a bullet to turn in flight toward a target and to simplify the design, the spin had to go, Jones said.

The bullet flies straight due to its aerodynamically stable design, which consists of a center of gravity that sits forward in the projectile and tiny fins that enable it to fly without spin, just as a dart does, he said.

Computer aerodynamic modeling shows the design would result in dramatic improvements in accuracy, Jones said. Computer simulations showed an unguided bullet under real-world conditions could miss a target more than a half mile away (1,000 m away) by 9.8 yards (9 m), but a guided bullet would get within 8 in (0.2 m), according to the patent.

The prototype does not require a device found in guided missiles called an inertial measuring unit, which would have added substantially to its cost. Instead, the researchers found that the bullet’s relatively small size when compared to guided missiles “is helping us all around. It’s kind of a fortuitous thing that none of us saw when we started,” Jones said.Plastic sabots provide a gas seal in the cartridge and protect the delicate fins until they drop off after the bullet emerges from the firearm’s barrel.

As the bullet flies through the air, it pitches and yaws at a set rate based on its mass and size. In larger guided missiles, the rate of flight-path corrections is relatively slow, so each correction needs to be very precise because fewer corrections are possible during flight. But “the natural body frequency of this bullet is about 30 hertz, so we can make corrections 30 times per second. That means we can overcorrect, so we don’t have to be as precise each time,” Jones said.

Testing has shown the electromagnetic actuator performs well and the bullet can reach speeds of 2,400 ft/sec, or Mach 2.1, using commercially available gunpowder. The researchers are confident it could reach standard military speeds using customized gunpowder.

 

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