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University of Tennessee Space Institute Campus

UT a Partner on $9.8M Hypersonics Development Project

A $9.8 million US Air Force Research Laboratory contract will team the University of Tennessee System; Purdue University; and the University of Dayton Research Institute on research and development of materials and structures for reusable hypersonic vehicles to travel at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound.

The University of Dayton Research Institute is the lead institution on the project.

At sea level, a speed five times the speed of sound translates to approximately 3,800 miles per hour— such extreme velocity that intense heat is generated by the vehicle. Understanding how that heat is transferred to the vehicle by the aerodynamic environment is critical to the vehicle design, according to H.H. Arnold Chair John Schmisseur, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering at the UT Space Institute.

“Understanding the origin and transmission of the intense thermal loads generated on a hypersonic vehicle requires identification of regions of significant local heating that are often the greatest source of risk to the vehicle surface,” Schmisseur said. “Fortunately, within the UT System, we have outstanding capabilities for just such a complex analysis.”

Schmisseur, lead investigator for UT’s role in the project, will head a team of 15 faculty researchers from UTSI; UT Knoxville’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering; and UT Chattanooga. The team will be performing both numerical simulations and experiments to guide materials and structure design performed by the University of Dayton Research Institute. UT researchers will conduct aerodynamic and thermal analysis of the vehicle and environment.

“When we consider the integrated technical capabilities of the three UT campuses involved in this project, we have a lot of intellectual firepower to bring to bear on this challenging problem,” Schmisseur said.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has recognized aerospace and defense as a significant contributor to Tennessee’s economy, and this hypersonics project is intended to foster development of UT system-wide partnerships to enhance research and innovation in support of the sector, according to Schmisseur.

“We are grateful for the critical support of Sen. Lamar Alexander and Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais in enabling this hypersonics partnership …. that facilitates collaboration across our UT campuses for the benefit of Tennessee and its aerospace and defense industries,” Schmisseur said. “The federal funding making resources available for this project is a strategic investment in national security and the advancement of research in Tennessee.”

Hypersonics is among multiple areas of emphasis in the UTSI research portfolio and long-range strategy, according to UTSI Executive Director Mark Whorton: “Through leadership in research in hypersonics, advanced propulsion, advanced materials, and system evaluation and testing, UTSI will be the gateway for aerospace and defense in Tennessee.”

Alexander voiced his support for the project and what it will mean for aerospace research in the United States.

“Congratulations to the University of Tennessee for being one of three universities selected to receive federal funding to research and develop hypersonic technology,” Alexander said. “This project, spearheaded by the UT Space Institute, will increase our nation’s defense capabilities by developing reusable hypersonic vehicles that can travel at five times the speed of sound. Tennessee has played a key role in scientific research for many decades, and with UT’s brainpower, our state will continue to play a key role in the development of our nation’s defense capabilities.”


University of Tennessee:

David Goddard,, 865-974-0683

University of Dayton Research Institute:

Pamela Gregg,, 937-229-3268