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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Purdue set to break ground on hypersonics research building in bid to draw government and industry partners


By David Schwartz
Published: August 3rd, 2021

Purdue University is set to begin construction on a 65,000-square-foot Hypersonic Applied Research Facility (HARF) that will house two cutting-edge wind tunnels that will enhance Purdue’s already considerable capabilities in hypersonics evaluation and testing. The school hopes by offering the latest and greatest in terms of equipment and facilities, it will spur partnerships with both industry and the government.  

The $41 million facility will house the only Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel in the world as well as a hypersonic pulse (HYPULSE) shock tunnel. The tunnels recreate different scenarios such as spacecraft re-entry or missile flight through the atmosphere, as well as replicating unique engine conditions for extremely high-speed propulsion.

“Purdue’s rich hypersonics program includes both a broad bench of more than 40 experts and unique capabilities that allow the university to play an important role in the security of our nation,” said Theresa Mayer, Purdue’s executive vice president for research and partnerships. “This first-of-its-kind facility will further Purdue’s capacity to conduct research including tests and evaluations under real-world conditions for faculty, industry partners, federal agencies and other stakeholders.”

The new Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel more closely simulates flight and provides more accurate data than conventional hypersonic wind tunnels. The HYPULSE tunnel uses a shock wave of high-temperature air to recreate specific hypersonic flight conditions. It will allow flight simulations at speeds ranging from Mach 5 to as high as Mach 40. Purdue will be only the second university in the U.S. to offer HYPULSE test capabilities. It already had offered one of only two working Mach 6 quiet tunnels in the country.

Industry and the government have shown keen interest in hypersonics systems during the last several years. In fact, hypersonic vehicles are a top Department of Defense priority. These vehicles can travel more than five times the speed of sound and fly in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, significantly challenging an adversary’s ability to detect, track, target and engage. Hypersonics-related research spending by the federal government is expected to be $3.8 billion in FY2022, up by 20%, in President Biden’s budget proposal is approved.

The new HYPULSE tunnel was donated by defense contractor Northrop Grumman, and the plan for the quiet Mach 8 tunnel is being funded by a contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory. Collecting data at higher Mach numbers is critical to extending the understanding of flow physics, especially heat transfer and flight control effectiveness.

Purdue’s own recent investments in hypersonics help to position the university as a potential  partner for national defense projects from both industry and government. Hypersonics is a critical part of Purdue’s strategic plan.

“This investment by Purdue University demonstrates our commitment to advancing national security technology,” said Mung Chiang, Purdue’s executive vice president for strategic initiatives and the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. “Building the world’s fastest quiet wind tunnel and innovating manufacturing represent two more steps in creating America’s hypersonic engineering epicenter here at Purdue Aerospace District.”

Construction is scheduled to begin next month. The building will be located in Purdue’s Aerospace District, a university-affiliated aerospace business hub for public and private research collaborations. Tenants already include Rolls-Royce, Saab Defense and Security, and SEL Purdue (Schweitzer Engineering Labs).

In addition to the HYPULSE and the quiet wind tunnel, the building also will feature advanced facilities to the study high-temperature materials applications. Hypersonic flight can create air friction above 1,000 degrees Celsius, requiring unique processes and materials to withstand such conditions. The research facility offers the chance to design and test these new materials.

Scott Meyer, managing director of Purdue’s Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, said the facility would enable faculty to use advanced laser-based optical diagnostic measurement techniques as part of the quiet wind tunnel and HYPULSE testing. The techniques are able to make quantitative measurements at a million times per second.

“The diagnostic measurement techniques are almost going to make the Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel and HYPULSE like brand new tools to investigate the physics of what is happening in these conditions,” Meyer said. “Researchers will be applying the techniques at the same conditions that would occur on real systems in flight and enable measurements that have never been made before under these extreme testing conditions.”

Source: Purdue News

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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