Purdue to build $41m hypersonic research facility

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Purdue University is set to construct facilities that will help engineers to conduct advanced hypersonic research.

hypersonic research
Students work during the summer with Purdue’s Mach 6 quiet wind tunnel. A more advanced Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel will be part of the new hypersonics research building to be constructed at Purdue. (Purdue University/John Underwood)

The planned $41m Hypersonic Applied Research Facility (HARF) will house two wind tunnels, including the only Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel in the world as well as a hypersonic pulse (HYPULSE) shock tunnel. According to Purdue, the tunnels recreate different scenarios such as spacecraft re-entry or missile flight through the atmosphere as well as replicating engine conditions for extremely high-speed propulsion.

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“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 Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel and the HYPULSE tunnel will offer controlled environments to research several facets of high-speed flight. The new Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel more closely simulates flight and provides more accurate data than conventional hypersonic wind tunnels.

The HYPULSE tunnel will use 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 – which already offers one of only two working Mach 6 quiet tunnels in the US - will be only the second university nationally to offer HYPULSE test capabilities.

Construction on the hypersonic building is scheduled to begin in September. The building will be located in Purdue’s Aerospace District, a university-affiliated aerospace business hub for public and private research collaborations on research and commerce. Tenants in the district 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 that will enable the study of high-temperature materials applications. Hypersonic flight can create air friction above 1,000oC, requiring unique processes and materials to withstand such conditions. The research facility offers the chance to design and test these new materials. It also will create space for Purdue researchers to further capabilities to design, build and test hypersonic systems.

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 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 in a statement. “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.”