Hypersonics technology has disrupted the world. It has created never-before-seen opportunities and challenges in aerospace, aviation, national security, and other areas. These challenges and opportunities are being addressed as research conducted at Purdue University, through one of its Next Moves strategic initiatives, integrates these technologies into our everyday lives. Hypersonic flight in the atmosphere occurs when speeds exceed Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. That’s 1,715 meters per second. At that speed, a person could complete a marathon in under 25 seconds or run around Earth’s equator in about six and a half hours. Hypersonic speed isn’t a 21st-century phenomenon. Yuri Gagarin was the first person to achieve hypersonic flight, in April 1961. Alan Shepard became the second person and first American to achieve it, in May 1961. Gagarin reached the milestone during the first piloted orbital flight; Shepard did so during a suborbital flight. All intercontinental ballistic missiles reach hypersonic speeds at their maximum velocity. However, speed isn’t the technology’s only key attribute; hypersonics technology’s value also lies in the ability to maneuver craft or missiles at different altitudes at which they fly.
Purdue University, one of the foremost research institutions in the world, has a well-established reputation in hypersonics research. What makes Purdue preeminent in this area? The university has many dedicated resources in the field, including world-class facilities.
Hypersonic Ground Test Center
The HGTC is the first facility of its kind in the U.S. to test hypersonics technologies; it is scheduled to be constructed in the Discovery Park District at Purdue, adjacent to the Purdue University campus. It was announced on Aug. 9 during a two-day Hypersonics Summit hosted by Purdue and the National Defense Industrial Association. It will be a central shared utility that supports multiple test cells and laboratories. “At Purdue, we’re committed to research at the very frontiers of science, especially when it can contribute to the national security of Americans,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said at the August announcement. “Becoming home to the nation’s premier hypersonics facilities can make such a contribution while providing enormous new opportunities for our researchers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and job-seeking graduates.”
The HGTC will be administered by a nonprofit consortium of national defense industry partners that will manage capital and operational costs. Rolls-Royce North America is the first aerospace industry member of the HGTC consortium. Other national industry partners and potentially interested government entities are being recruited. The HGTC facility will house two separate testing streams; partners can conduct tests in the 3.5-5.0 Mach range or the 4.5-7.5 Mach range. Multiple companies can undertake work simultaneously on-site while being ensured full protection of intellectual property and sensitive work. These facilities will be available for long-term lease to allow guaranteed, timely access for contractors to conduct tests at their preferred schedule and duration. Purdue University and Purdue Research Foundation will fund the construction of the HGTC. Brian Edelman, PRF president and CEO said, “Building the Hypersonic Ground Test Center would not be possible without a recent multimillion-dollar investment to further expand facilities in the Discovery Park District at Purdue. That investment from Rolls-Royce, the university, and PRF, along with support from the state, West Lafayette, Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County, laid the foundation for creating the HGTC.”
Boeing/AFOSR Mach 6 Quiet Tunnel
This wind tunnel is the only one in the world that runs quietly while operating at hypersonic speeds. Funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, and the Boeing Co., this one-of-a-kind Mach 6 quiet wind tunnel was built in 2001. Additional funding was received from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and Sandia National Laboratories and through a gift in memory of Kenneth Hobbie.
Hypersonic Pulse Shock Tunnel
This tunnel was donated by Northrop Grumman Corp. Once it is installed, Purdue will be only the second university in the U.S. to offer such a test capability. The tunnel will allow flight simulations at speeds ranging from Mach 5 to as high as Mach 40. It will be available to researchers from academia, industry, and government for testing.
Mach 8 Quiet Wind Tunnel
Purdue is developing the first quiet Mach 8 wind tunnel in the world with major support from the Air Force Research Laboratory. It will be the first facility of its kind capable of collecting data at speeds greater than Mach 6.
Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories
Founded by Maurice J. Zucrow in 1948, Zucrow Labs is the largest academic propulsion lab in the world. Its research facilities occupy a 24-acre site adjacent to the Purdue University Airport. Its research capability encompasses aerodynamics of turbomachinery, aeroacoustics, combustion, measurement and control, computational fluid mechanics, particle flow heat transfer, and atomization processes.
Purdue’s industry, government, and academia partners
Along with the industry and government partners working together on the HGTC and other on-campus wind tunnels, Purdue has established other strong working partnerships with national leaders in academia, government, and industry. These partners include the Air Force Research Laboratory, Army Research Laboratory, Dynetics, General Atomics, GE Additive, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Naval Sea Systems Command, Northrop Grumman, NSWC Crane Division, Sandia National Laboratories, and University Center for Applied Hypersonics.
Purdue’s faculty expertise
The most important factor in Purdue’s preeminence in hypersonics is the women and men who conduct the research and hone the innovations that will impact hypersonic flight through the 2020s and beyond. In the Fall 2020 edition of its “Aerogram” magazine, the Purdue School of Aeronautics and Astronautics showcased faculty members who conduct hypersonics research. Jonathan Poggie was recruited to the university in 2015 and was named the hypersonics lead at the university’s Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation.
Poggie’s responsibilities include assembling a multidisciplinary team of Purdue researchers with an interest in hypersonics. The team now includes nearly 40 researchers. The group’s expertise includes navigation, aerodynamics, aerothermal effects, propulsion, autonomy, system engineering, high-temperature materials, and manufacturing. The aim is to assist the government and industry in laying the groundwork for developing the next generation of high-speed vehicle capable of flying at Mach 6 — more than 4,000 mph — and beyond. The story, titled “The Dream Team,” outlines key milestones in Purdue’s hypersonics research timeline up to that point, including federal contracts and academic partnerships. It also summarized some researchers and their research areas for certain projects. This research has led to the discovery of many innovations, several of which have been disclosed to the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, which helps to protect, market, and license and commercialize the university’s intellectual property.
Purdue: a preeminent leader in hypersonics
Bringing together hypersonics experts in its faculty; developing relationships with industry, government, and academia; and establishing and maintaining dedicated facilities and resources like the Hypersonic Ground Testing Center has made Purdue University and Purdue Research Foundation preeminent leaders in this field. As hypersonics technologies impact national security, industry and commerce, Purdue will lead the effort to swiftly and intelligently incorporate them into our lives.