Notre Dame Launches Hypersonics Initiative

By Mandy Mayfield

Notre Dame photo

The University of Notre Dame kicked off a new effort to develop hypersonics technology and is working to create a number of new wind tunnels for testing.

Hypersonic weapons are a top research-and-development priority for the Pentagon. The systems are expected to travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, be highly maneuverable and challenge enemy air-and-missile defenses.

The Notre Dame effort began when Thomas Corke, professor of engineering at the university and director of the project, identified what he believed were 11 technologies critical for the development of hypersonic vehicles.

“I began to reach out to faculty throughout Notre Dame ... to bring their expertise to these 11 critical technologies and to focus on having them impact the hypersonic vehicle design,” he said in an interview.

A few of the issues Corke deemed as critical include thermal protection, flight control and propulsion.

As a precursor to the program, the university unveiled a “quiet” Mach 6 hypersonic wind tunnel in 2018, Corke said.

Quiet wind tunnels artificially flow air to measure the aerodynamic noise around objects. They are said to be able to more accurately simulate flight than conventional wind tunnels.

The Mach 6 “wind tunnel is designed to be able to simulate conditions leading to the transition from laminar to turbulent flow over the vehicle,” Corke said. “That is important because if the airflow is turbulent the heat rates to the skin of the vehicle are as much as five times higher than they are if the airflow is not turbulent.” Laminar flow occurs when an object or fluid travels smoothly in regular paths.

The tunnel allows the university to study if and where a flow becomes turbulent, which helps inform what thermal protection requirements vehicles should possess, he said.

The university is now taking a step forward and is partnering with Purdue University to develop Mach 8 and Mach 10 wind tunnels.

The Mach 8 and Mach 10 facilities will be installed at Purdue and Notre Dame, respectively, Corke said.

“We are jointly working together on the selection of materials for the parts of the wind tunnel,” Corke said.

Notre Dame has also reached out to a number of government labs and companies for partnerships, he said. Boeing is one major contractor that has been brought on board and will be helping with the design of the Mach 10 tunnel. The university also has an agreement to share information and research jointly with Lockheed Martin.

Topics: Emerging Technologies

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