JUST IN: Purdue Funds New $73 Million Hypersonic Propulsion Lab

By Shreeya Aranake

American StructurePoint illustration

Purdue University has approved a plan to build a second propulsion lab on its West Lafayette, Indiana, campus to expand testing capabilities for hypersonic technologies, the managing director of the new facility said April 13.

The university-funded $73 million High-Speed Propulsion Laboratory will provide testing capabilities at the extreme pressure and temperature conditions experienced in actual hypersonic flight, according to Scott Meyer, managing director of Purdue's Zucrow Labs. It is expected to open in November 2024. The new lab will complement and expand on the capabilities of the university's High-Speed Propulsion Laboratory, Meyer said.

“Our existing capabilities are in very high demand,” Meyer told National Defense. “We are maxed out in terms of the physical space in our test cells to get any more throughput, and there's still more demand.”

The military has heavily invested in the development of hypersonic weapons, which are defined as traveling at speeds higher than Mach 5 and are highly maneuverable. The Biden administration's 2023 budget proposal totaled $7.2 billion to fund hypersonic technology development across the services, according to a Pentagon release. Both China and Russia are said to be ahead of the United States fielding hypersonic weapons.

Unlike similarly equipped government or industry facilities, the lab will be available to a broad set of researchers interested in working with Purdue to test their equipment, an April 8 press release said.

The current lab is experimenting with subscale rather than full-scale systems, Meyer added. The new lab, however, will give engineers the opportunity to work with some full-scale systems such as smaller jet engines or a scramjet missiles.

“With this new laboratory building, it’s going to give us the capability to run much larger, very high flow rate experiments,” Meyer said. “But it will also leverage the general infrastructure of our laboratory to improve our throughput dramatically.”

The Purdue University Board of Trustees approved a design of the new lab April 8, Meyer said. The plans incorporated input from aerospace and defense contractors about the “types of work that are needed to speed up and improve the design of their systems,” he added. It will sit on a 24-acre plot of land at the west edge of campus.

Zucrow labs has existing government contracts with NASA and the Department of Energy, as well as “large and small aerospace contractors,” Meyer confirmed.

However, Meyer was quick to point out that testing maneuverable missiles, which is a key attribute of hypersonic technology, is not the goal of the new lab. “What we’re trying to work on with hypersonics is an engine, whether it’s a scramjet or some type of propulsion device, that can operate continuously to make something fly a long distance at hypersonic speeds,” he said.

As the lab continues to help develop hypersonic-capable propulsion, that will then open the door to eventually creating a maneuverable vehicle, Meyer added.

Purdue is going all in on hypersonic technology. Some of its other upcoming projects include an Hypersonics Manufacturing Technology Center — focused on developed materials that can withstand high temperatures — and a Hypersonics and Applied Research Facility, which will feature a Mach 8 wind tunnel.

“By harnessing Purdue’s expertise, capabilities and capacity for advancing hypersonics R&D, we can help to give the U.S. a competitive advantage against our near peer adversaries,” Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnerships, said in the press release.

Topics: Emerging Technologies

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.