PowerLabs Rail Gun Current Research Progress!
This page contains all the tests
performed with the Rail Gun once it was built; here you will find results, my interpretation
of those results, and modifications resulting from knowledge acquired
through these tests. After a number of tests the barrel cracked, so the most
current Rail Gun page on this site is now the RailGun
2.0 page, where the construction effort of a new, improved Rail Gun is
currently being documented.
Hover your mouse over the photos for a description, or click on them for a larger version.
If you are looking for Rail Gun construction info go to the Rail Gun Construction Page.
Day-By-Day Project advances and current project status:
June 05 2004: Rail Gun Disassembled:
I finally got around to disassembling the gun and examining/photographing
its internals. A lot can be learned from how this design worked, and how
it failed, and this knowledge will be applied on a new, superior design,
which is being designed and built at the moment.
The rails held up surprisingly well; after 12 shots without any kind of servicing they were completely covered in black carbon soot. This carbon came from the adhesive in the aluminum tape used in the plasma armatures burning up. It was useful in evidencing the plasma blow by in the region of initial rail/armature contact.
After cleaning the rails show evidence of cratering and pitting; classic effects of electrical arc erosion. Significant amounts of copper have been removed, and a copper/aluminum alloy formed in the bottom of the craters. The amount of erosion was lower than expected given the number of shots fired and their energy level (over 150 000Joules were run through these rails). The insulators were also virtually undamaged by all the discharge, evidencing that Teflon is a very suitable insulator for this particular application.
Interestingly, a second arc crater formed 5.6 inches from the breech. I believe this was due to the armature not making contact with the rails until that point during a lower voltage shot. That, together with the extensive arc damage, evidence to the need for closer machining tolerances and a tighter rail/armature fit, both planned for the next Rail Gun.
April 7th: Discovery Channel show aired!
March 21: The Rail Gun is on Discovery Channel!
17th: I upgraded the Rail Gun charger with a new transformer and a
half wave voltage doubler. Just like the previous one, this assembly came
from a microwave oven. The voltage doubler allows me to charge up the
capacitor bank to a higher voltage, and to do it faster. This is done in
preparation for the Discovery Channel presentation I will be giving this
16th: I milled a Phenolic block and polycarbonate top to perfectly fit
around the machined rail / inductor connector on the Rail Gun. This block
serves as an insulator for the high voltage connector. With the inductor
now in a permanent mounting position it was time to attempt the first test
firings. These firings are significant in several ways: first of all the
gun now utilizes a much more accurate voltage monitoring system (+- 50V),
which will allow me to make much better calculations relating to
efficiency when I finally get the chronograph to work. Also, the injector
is now operating with Nitrogen. This reduces rail erosion and arcing, and
also, despite the lower pressure (the regulator on the tank will only go
up to 400PSI), should provide a slightly higher muzzle velocity due to
Nitrogen's 30% lower molecular weight.
The plasma armature shot was of course much louder. The Teflon projectile destroyed itself on impact unfortunately (those things are a pain to machine). Both shots produced significant muzzle flash and trailing sparks, indicating still significant erosion. The aluminum projectile had metal smeared on it from beginning to end; a big contrast from the initial non inductor shots which only eroded the very tip of the projectile; this means that pulse length is now indeed several times longer with the inductor. I plan on taking an oscilloscope to the gun and measuring exactly how much longer the pulse length is. The original (non inductor) test projectiles are show below next to the inductor-fired projectile for comparison purposes:
March 8th: The Rail Gun inductor is now installed! Now all I have to do is mill a phenolic block to house the custom made copper block connector so as to insulate it for safety purposes and the gun will be fired in its new configuration! Stay tuned, big changes are about to happen... Once this inductor has been used to measure pulse length increase I should be able to plug the values into my Microsim PSpice circuit simulation and design an inductor that will bring the pulse length into the 100s of mS, which will keep the rails under power for several inches of projectile travel and, if my theory is correct, allow the gun to fire at much higher efficiencies and velocities. I will also begin some serious work on getting the Chronograph shielded from the muzzle flash so I can produce efficiency comparison charts from real muzzle velocity readings.
February 27th: In order to obtain valuable data from Rail Gun test firings, it is very important to know the amount of voltage in the capacitor bank. The original Rail Gun design employed a Simpson 10kV probe in the power supply, which, divided the voltage by 20; as well as being inaccurate, and requiring a calculator for reading the values, this probe was also behind the charge current limiting resistor (400Ohms) and so it read a voltage that was always greater than the real capacitor bank voltage. Finally, if the bank was shorted out, the probe would read zero, when in fact there could be some charge in the bank. All these problems have been taken care off by the addition of an internally assembled Fluke 80K6 6-kV probe. The probe provides high accuracy real time /1000 voltage readings for my multimeter and represents exact capacitor bank voltage across the bank's end terminals, regardless of what resistance is at the rails. Of course, this means that the voltage dividing resistor has the full 20000J available to it, and as such everything is located inside the bullet proof capacitor bank box.
20th: I finally got a Nitrogen tank for my lab. The tank is charged to
3000PSI and has a 0-400PSI gas regulator on it. Using Nitrogen Gas for the
Rail Gun projectile injector will increase muzzle velocity (due to the
fact that N2 has a lower molecular weight) and also protect the rails from
oxidation by purging oxygen.
I finished machining the copper connectors for the Rail Gun inductor. The connectors are solid copper, one bolts on to the capacitor bank inside the case directly to the end bus bar (thus avoiding exposed HV-carrying parts) and the second one to the rails through a machined solid copper billet.
New Sponsor!: Below is a photograph of 12 neodymium N45 grade supermagnets each 2x2" base with a 2x1" top and one inch high. These are the strongest magnets I have ever seen; in one word, they are Dangerous. Strong enough to crush fingers, drive metal objects through soft wood, or explode on impact when two are released together. I will be employing their fantastic field strength as external field augmentation for higher efficiencies in Rail Gun 2.0. They have been sponsored by Engineered Concepts; the cheapest and best magnet supplier on the 'net!
February 18th: A film crew from Discovery Channel is coming here
this Saturday to film the Rail Gun for The Daily Planet and I decided to
upgrade the gun with pulse shaping inductors for the show. I'm somewhat
worried that I'm gambling with too many unknowns so close to a major
presentation but at the same time I am now thoroughly convinced that the
gun does need extra inductance; the pulse length is simply too fast at
63uS; my projectile scorch marks on the rails are under one inch in length
and I can't see any real high efficiency acceleration coming from that
short a travel under power; the smallest research RailGun I've seen to
date was one meter long (granted, it also fired at 200kJ stored) and I'm
assuming it used all 100cm of it to accelerate the projectile to 2km/s.
I'll lose a lot of magnetic force by lowering the current but right now
given current results I am convinced it is worth it. The inductor mounts
are almost complete.
February 11th: More plasma shots, and new discoveries!
I fired off two more plasma armature shots yesterday; possibly my last
two before the rail gun disassembly for the pulse lengthening inductor and
improvements to the capacitor charge voltage monitoring system.
The Rail Gun was set up in the back of the laboratory firing across it into a trash can full of various materials, from foam to rubber, cloth and wood. Charging and firing was done remotely from a test stand.
The first test involved a specially shaped projectile: the
triangular tip aims to improve aerodynamics and allow the projectile to
move faster. The back is shaped inwards, with the intent of causing the
propellant pressure to open it up and thus seal it better against the
sides of the barrel. I believe a better seal may prove beneficial in
obtaining higher velocities from the plasma armature, and I know from
observing the first plasma propelled projectile that the plasma armature
is overtaking the projectile (blowby) and causing efficiency losses as it
continues to accelerate on its own.
The second test was an attempt at increasing projectile mass; a
sharpened tungsten spear was placed inside a tapered Teflon projectile.
Two layers of aluminum foil were crumpled behind it in order to study the
effect of having a greater mass of aluminum to produce a denser plasma
armature. This shot yielded very surprising results:
February 6th: Rail Gun Plasma shot!
Click on the picture to download video. The video is approximately
50 seconds long, 10MB. It shows me bypassing the safety fuse on my power
supply, charging the Rail Gun air tank to 450PSI, and loading an aluminum
backed Teflon slug into the barrel. The first shot is aimed at an apple.
It fails in that the aluminum backing does not form an electrical
connection with the barrel and thus the projectile "only" reaches +-
600fps from air alone before blasting the apple to pieces against the
backstop. The second shot is performed at a much lower 100PSI and with a
starting velocity of around 70m/s the projectile is now further
accelerated by a plasma armature, leaving the barrel with the sound of a
rifle shot and proceeding to perforate the backstop and embed itself into
a catalogue. The muzzle blast is a lot cleaner, with no sparks and nothing
but a concentrated 5 - 6 feet long purple plasma "flame" leaving the
barrel. The gun is also (not too surprisingly considering the extremely
high temperatures and resulting pressures of a multi megawatt plasma)
much louder with the plasma armature. Still no chrono readings but I
am now thoroughly convinced that a pulse shaping inductor is in order.
Details for the shot: 100PSI, 2.2KV.
This is the projectile after being fired with an aluminum armature. Notice the massive amounts of plasma blow by which scorched it and left it with black marks on all sides. This plasma blow by is an efficiency loss that must be corrected.
January 30th: Pictures of my new laboratory:
I think I've figured out how to mount the inductor. I will use an internal connection and a lathe made (by myself of course) massive copper plug/jack assembly. Machining begins tomorrow.
22nd: I am back from my co-op as a Systems Engineer at Vermont Yankee
Nuclear Power station, and there have been many changes to the Rail Gun
project. First of all the Advanced Space Propulsion laboratory where I was
currently working received a new vacuum chamber, which now takes up all
the available space. My research has thus been moved to the Sub Basement
of the Mechanical Engineering building at Michigan Technological
University, at the Internal Combustion Engine and Dynamics Research
Laboratory. It is a much larger lab, where I have my own desk, table and
storage space. On January 20th the gun was moved to its new location and
set up, and on January 21st it was fired for filmed presentation for TV6,
a local news station. It performed well. I'll upload the video when I get
June 17th: Today was my safety review day; had my
advisor and a pulsed power professor from the EE department look over all
my schematics and gun wiring and make some suggestions before I begin
firing the gun in the University. The required modifications are as
June 16th: After a series of tests with the rail gun injector I obtained a more accurate plot of the velocity imparted to the projectile at 6 feet from the muzzle versus the pressure present on the injector air tanks at the time of firing. It is very interesting to note that the curve follows what appears to be a logarithmic plot; I.E. doubling the pressure in the air tank will quadruple the amount of energy stored in it and make a lot more noise during firing but will not at the same time double the injection velocity; it appears as though after a certain point increasing the pressure substantially will not result in very substantial velocity increase. Currently the injector is firing at 150m/s, with a variation of +- 2m/s between shots. This injector is also able to fire a Teflon projectile at 195m/s (634.5fps, 696km/h, 432.6mph). It is important to note that when power is applied to the projectile it is only halfway through the rails and therefore not traveling as fast as the ultimate injection velocity, but these will be the values used for calculating the gun efficiency. I plan on making a chart of injector pressure vs. kinetic energy to see if that is more linear. Current kinetic energy for the gun is 67.5Joules prior to injection. This is quite insignificant when compared to the 20 000 that is being applied electrically to the projectile during firing.
June 13th: Thyrathon switched Rail Gun? Maybe not: this is
L-3 electron devices had to say about my idea:
A spark gap, huh? Considering how loud the one on my Tesla Coil was while switching .5joules, I think I will pass on a 360 megawatt spark. Looks like I will just have to build my own thyrathon... I practiced some oxyacetylene metal cutting today. Next week I will work some more on the muzzle flash suppressor and on some gun documentation for the safety review on Tuesday.
12th: Finished wiring the power supply, installed the air tank,
hydrostatically tested it to 600PSI. It appears as though the extra
pressure is not all that beneficial to muzzle velocity: the gun right now
is clocking around 500fps with 500PSI in the tank.
A quick note about Rail Guns: The muzzle flash that occurs when the gun is fired is unavoidable and a direct byproduct of their operating method (sliding electrical contact). The flash and sparks are seen every time the gun is fired and although they represent a power loss, they are an unavoidable one. I find it somewhat sad that certain jealous individuals need to repeat over and over again on a message board that my rail gun shoots sparks as though that was some kind of defect.
And at last, what you were all looking for: The Rail Gun >9KJ Test Fire Video!; air at 500PSI and >9000J on the capacitor bank. BTW for comparison purposes the injector is imparting approximately 80J of kinetic energy into the projectile right now. I will need a better camera than my Sony digital camera to capture more frames of the muzzle flash but this gives a good idea of what the firing looked like live. Look forward to more powered testing as soon as I build a more effective way to shield the chronograph!
June 11th: Finished wiring and building the temporary high voltage power supply. It is pretty crude, made from wood an without too much engineering behind it but as the name implies it, all I want it for are some preliminary tests. I got around the safety concern of using wood by having all the connections inside the power supply being made from high voltage rated wire. The PSU is grounded and a 1:20 high voltage probe is being used to monitor charge voltage. I charged up the Rail Gun today to 2000Volts (about 7KJ) and discharged it through its discharge resistors. Everything is working well but I might in the future reduce the size of the discharge resistors and the charge resistor so as to make everything charge/discharge faster.
I also got around to painting the new injector and the temporary power supply box. Glossy black enamel of course; my favorite color for weaponry :)
June 10th: Threaded the 1/2" brass valve connection in
place, glued it with 6 hour metal epoxy and filled the CNC machined 1/2"
polycarbonate valve connection piece with two part epoxy for added
strength, finished gluing everything. Tomorrow the tank will be painted
and the old one will be removed. Hydrostatic testing will hopefully take
place on Thursday, with test firing possibly occurring the same day.
June 9th: Glued the PVC elbows, end caps, pipe and tee together and screwed the brass elbows and brass tee together with teflon tape. I drilled and tapped a hole on one of the end caps for the brass filling system to go into and filled the cap up to 1/4 inch depth (6mm) with metal epoxy so as to strengthen the plastic pipe that had been weakened by the threading. I also CNC milled a precision flat end cap for the middle of the tee where I will thread the valve attachment. Tomorrow hopefully I will paint the completed air tank and it will be ready for hydrostatic testing on Wednesday. I will probably hydrostatically test it all the way to 650 or even 700PSI due to the extremely dangerous nature of the high pressures that this tank will hold.
June 7th: The parts for the new 500PSI Rail Gun injector
arrived today. The new ball valve and pressure gage attachment will allow
me to charge the gun up with air at a very accurate pressure and close off
the tank, which would make it possible to take the charged injector to a
remote place where testing could be performed without a source of air. The
1 1/4 SCH 80 PVC looks very strong, and I would most definitely feel safer
around it at 500PSI than I did around the 1 1/2 SCH 40PVC at 300.
Lets just hope the 300 PSI solenoid valve feels the same way I do.
June 05: I spent most of my day practicing some MIG welding for the Junkyard Wars show I'm going to be in on 37 days, but I still found some time to test the temporary Rail Gun charger and build more of the box that will house it. I also got a high voltage test probe from one of the electricians here, so as far as parts go I'm all set! I charged the gun up to 200V today and everything works beautifully.
June 04: Non metals centre still closed (they are
re-varnishing the tables there and so no dust can go into the room). I cut
a polycarbonate square for the rectifier bridge, helped a friend clean his
motorcycle engine and built an entire coil gun so as to have something to
do for the afternoon. The new coil gun will have its own dedicated page
some time soon; stay tuned.
June 03: The non metals centre was closed so I could not work on the charging power supply box. I gave the projectile injection issue some more thought and decided that the current injection velocity would require a very significant amount of inductance to be placed on the circuit, which will produce a lot of undesirable oscillations and thus make it very difficult for a solid state switch to be implemented into the circuit in the near future. In order to lower the induction requirement I quickly designed a new, intermediate pressure injector by designing an air tank made from 1 1/4 inch SCH 80 PVC as opposed to the current 1 1/2 SCH 40 PVC. This changes the working pressure of the air tank from 330PSI to 520PSI, although it will involve over loading the solenoid valve a certain amount. The gun injector should be operating at 500PSI and having accurate pressure monitoring built into it starting next week. Below is a list of the materials that will be used for the conversion. Doubling the air pressure inside a tank quadruples the energy stored, therefore the new injector should be firing with perhaps 60% higher velocity, maybe more when Nitrogen is used. I am still working on the final design, for the second Rail Gun to be built which will employ 3000PSI valves and should achieve supersonic velocities.
June 02: 7 hours of work today. The day started off bad when, after building a full wave bridge rectifier for the high voltage charging supply my volt meter caught fire during a low voltage measurement (cheap radio shack piece of ...). I did get a current measurement though, but it was off scale for the meter (>500mA). After dinner my allied electronic order for HV connectors had arrived, as had my shooting chronograph, and so I decided to go back to the Advanced Space Propulsion lab and do some more work. I removed the old coaxial power connectors from the capacitor bank, re-drilled the connector feed through hole, along with 8 more bolt holes for securing the new connectors, bolted down the two new MHV 5kV connectors in place and wired everything back up, including the last 8 bleeder resistors and the capacitor bank end terminals. I ended up crimping the bleeders on to the end terminals so next time the gun is open I will do a more professional job and drill holes at the capacitor bank end bars so they can be bolted on, but for now THE GUN IS COMPLETE AND READY TO FIRE! As soon as the capacitor bank charging supply is built testing will resume.
With the gun ready and more powered tests imminent, it was
time to start getting some muzzle velocity measurements. I set up a gun
chronograph 6 feet away from the gun barrel with multiple cardboard sheets
and wood as a backstop and fired several rounds through the chronograph.
At 300PSI, the gun consistently fires a 1x1x.25" (25x25x6mm) 6 gram
aluminum slug at over 450feet per second (137m/s), with a top muzzle
velocity of 482.5fps (147m/s, 529km/h, 329mph). This amounts to 64J
kinetic energy, although on these tests the entire 2 feet length of the
injector + rails is providing acceleration: on a powered test after 13
inches the electricity starts to provide more acceleration, and so the
actual projectile injection velocity is a value significantly lower than
the ones quoted here. The primary function of the injector is to simply get the
projectile moving so that it does not weld in place inside the rail gun
barrel, and as such any moderate velocity should suffice. However, even at
147m/s with the measured 63.4uS pulse length the projectile will move only
9mm under power if we assume no electrical acceleration. I find it
unlikely that this gun is going to work with a metal armature until I
design and implement a pulse lengthening inductor into the circuit, but
before this happens I first plan on obtaining data for muzzle velocities
with metal armatures and, more importantly, plasma armatures.
I am also currently designing a new injector for the gun. Given the one foot (30cm) barrel length limitation on this gun it seems likely that the new injector will run at very high pressures, possibly 1000PSI - 3000PSI. Ideally, the goal would be to inject the projectile at supersonic velocities and increase its velocity further by another mach number or two.
May 30th: Ordered new high voltage connectors (MHV Military grade 5kV connectors, $22.50 a pair) for the capacitor bank and a Chrony F1 gun chronograph, 30 - 7000fps range 99.5% accuracy, so that I can start gathering some hard data on muzzle velocities and efficiencies. Today I officially begun work on the power supply, buying a panel ammeter and an analogue voltmeter. I put the variac and transformer together and obtained some voltage measurements from the combo. The transformer is a 1:20 current limited (shunted) step up transformer and put out 1000V at 50V input from the variac. Monday I hope to assemble a full wave bridge rectifier for it and start work on a power supply box. I still need a voltage divider so that I can measure the actual capacitor bank voltage as it charges up, all the way to 3600 Volts, but my advisor may be able to help me with that.
February 5th: 4 hours of work: Fine tuned the rail spacing on the gun, milled some Teflon ammunition for it and did some tests with the new ammo. Teflon shoots FAST! Low weight and a low coefficient of friction should allow it to be injected at near supersonic velocities.
February 3rd: 3hours of work: Polished the rails, first with 400grit sandpaper, then with Brasso, a mildly abrasive ammonia based metal cleaning product. Looks pretty good; I could have made it better but I don't think it will matter too much after the first couple of shots turn the mirror like finish of the rails into a mixture of metal oxides, blasted holes and molten metal droplets... The gun is now once again re-assembled, but I still need to adjust the exact spacing on the rail insulators since the rails are now exactly 1/100th of an inch thinner.
I also finally got around to installing the bleeder / charge equalizing
resistors; Each one of the 40 resistors had to have its terminals
individually bent and than have a terminal crimped in place on it (80
terminals). Than I had to disassemble the capacitor bank, unbolt all the
capacitor terminals (64 in total) and re-bolt them with the resistors in
place. I got 4 blisters on my hand from doing that. Still have 8 bleeder
resistors to go: these will go across the last row of capacitors when I
install the end terminals. Right now the capacitor bank will have to
remain open though because my advisor will not allow me to use coax
connectors on the bank and therefore I have to find a supplier for High
Voltage connectors and have those fitted on the capacitor bank. Finding
High Voltage (4kV 1A) connectors is proving to be far more of a challenge
than I originally expected.
January 26th: 4 hours of machine shop work today; I replaced all the SS bolts on the capacitor bank top for Nylon bolts and milled off 1/100th of an inch from the rail surfaces so as to remove the damage caused by the previous 2 shots. I still need to install the charge equalizing/bleeder resistors and replace the charging high voltage connectors (as per my advisor's recommendations) and the gun will then finally be ready for testing in the University labs!
12/21/02: I finally obtained a high voltage charging supply for the Rail Gun Capacitor bank: The charger consists in a Samsung Inverter Tecnology Microwave Oven Power Supply: 1.5kW continuous, 4kV adjustable. I also bought 20 1inch^2 1/2inch thick grade N38 Neodymium Supermagnets. These are STRONG! The kind of magnets that will explode into pices with the impact of letting two come together. They will be employed on my second Rail Gun prototype as soon as testing is complete with the first prototype.
11/17/02: The bleeder / charge equalizing resistors have arrived ($140, from allied electronics). They are rated at 10W, 50kOhms, 5% tolerance, wire wound. Now I have to sort out the 32 best ones from the pack of 50 (best meaning closest to the value of 50k), solder end terminals to all of them, connect one across each individual capacitor in the bank, re-drill and re-tap the holes on the capacitor bank top for Nylon bolts, and re-assemble the gun. Work resumes Monday.
11/01/02: In order to
fire the gun in the University some safety features are required by the
building safety committee; namely high voltage rated connectors and
bleeders. At the moment I am still waiting for the bleeder resistors so I
can resume testing at the University. I will also be presenting it for
some University Physics classes. Since I don't have any machine shop work
to do until the resistors arrive I have been working on some mathematical
models for the gun. On the Rail Gun page you
will find the PSpice schematic I am using to simulate the gun. It
incorporates measured values for capacitor ESL and Capacitance as well as
calculated values for Rail and circuit resistance. I hope to have some
simulation snapshots up soon.
10/21/02: Got around to opening up the gun today...Very interesting! As expected the rails erosion took place on a similar length to that at which the projectile was damaged. This further confirms my hypothesis that the pulse was short enough that the projectile didn't even get to be fully injected into the rails before all the energy was gone. I was however very satisfied at how well the spacers and the rail insulators took the discharge: There was absolutely NO damage to either and the residue that accumulated was not excessive and very easily removed. Looks like the gun should be able to fire several times before I have to take it apart for cleaning.
The heat of the discharge was so intense that it blasted everything at the moment the pulse took place. After the pulse was over molten aluminum bonded and distributed itself along the rails. Finally copper oxide coated everything, but came off without much effort. Looks like a simple brush should be able to clean the entire gun without the need for disassembly. I may have to mill that blasted pit though. Its color seems to indicate that the two metals have been alloyed.
10/20/02: Just back
from the Wisconsin Dells Teslathon. Thanks for everyone who showed up!,
and a big thank you for D.C. Cox for hosting this fantastic event! It was
well worth the 14 hour drive! Showing the Rail Gun to the public was quite
an experience: My project generated a lot of interest and I found myself
explaining over and over again its principle of operation to countless
interested High Voltage enthusiasts. I also got to discuss the more
technical parts of the project with some of the highly knowledgeable
people there, which gave me several new and interesting ideas to try.
Even at very high powers the gun still fired at subsonic velocities.
Looking at the video and projectile it becomes obvious that the greatest
part of the energy delivered at the shots was spent transforming the
armature and rails into a plasma, but this only occurred at the tip of the
projectile: The muzzle velocity for a 150PSI shot from the injector is
somewhere around 100meters per second. At that velocity, a pulse length of
100uS will only apply power to the projectile during its first 1cm travel
on the rails: I.E. Before the projectile had even fully entered the gun
the pulse was already over; since the magnetic field never got behind the
back of the projectile, acceleration was negligible.
|All videos are .MPG format. The gun has been fired two times to date:|
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Last updated 11/02/10
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