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Faculty and students working on wind tunnel research

Hypersonic Research Gets a Boost

By David Goddard. Hypersonic lab photography by Sam Thomas.

With speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound, hypersonic flight holds promise as a way to improve a number of fields, national security among them.

The UT Space Institute in Tullahoma has been at the forefront of hypersonic flight for several years, and it just got a major boost to ensure it will continue to lead.

The Department of Defense (DOD) has chosen UTSI for a $500,000, 12-month award to help increase the speed at which hypersonic-related technology is developed and implemented. UTSI was one of only eight institutions so honored.

“Hypersonics is a top modernization priority for DOD,” said Mark Lewis, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, in announcing the selections. “We are mobilizing government, industry, and academia to provide real capabilities to our warfighters. That begins at the basic research level as exemplified by these exciting university activities.”

UTSI’s hypersonics efforts are largely led by H.H. Arnold Chair John Schmisseur, whose work in the US Air Force spanned 23 years, including his initial look at theoretical hypersonic flows in 1992.

This latest funding is the continuation of a string of successes that Schmisseur has had since joining UTSI six years ago, including two different US Air Force projects related to airflow generated by and materials used in hypersonic flight; and the development of the Tennessee Aerothermodynamics Laboratory, which has one of the largest wind tunnels in use in academia.

“Hypersonics is an area of research that is important to national security, yes, but it’s also important to our state,” said Schmisseur. “Aerospace- and defense-related work are the fourth biggest part of our state’s economy, so an investment in UTSI is also an investment in the state of Tennessee.”

Each of the eight universities selected will work on a different area related to hypersonic flight, with UTSI’s role being the development of a core curricula to help train a hypersonics-focused workforce, both for current professionals as well as future students.

It’s all part of the DOD’s plan to create a University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics, which it hopes to have fully functioning sometime this fall.