Tennessee develop mach 4 wind tunnel and then upgrading to hypersonic mach 5

University of Tennessee Space Institute developing mach 4 wind tunnel and then will upgrade to hypersonic mach 5 wind tunnel

The Hypersonic Research Initiative is a large concept within the walls of UTSI, and the institute is looking to bring on a new field of study — never before seen at the institute.

Currently, researchers are using wind tunnels capable of Mach 2, or two times the speed of sound, to study different flow features and aerodynamics.

Soon, UTSI will be equipped to produce Mach 4, a supersonic speed, inside the largest wind tunnel in the academic world. While this ability will bring large amounts of research opportunities, the institute aspires higher, aiming to reach Mach 5, or hypersonic, at five times the speed of sound.

Recently, hypersonic aircrafts have become a popular topic throughout the nation. The U.S. Air Force announced plans to invest a large amount of resources into hypersonic aircrafts in hopes of beginning testing within the next five years.

In addition to the applications for hypersonics within this hemisphere, Schmisseur hopes the initiative will help extend space access by producing satellites for orbit or safely bringing astronauts home.

Overall, the multi-phase research plan will focus around detailed research on the fundamental aspects of high speed flows. Through this research, complex flow and shock wave studies will partner with experimental studies on high Mach speeds.

A new tunnel will be installed to produce Mach 4, with a focus on transferring to Mach 5 soon after. The transfer will not come easy.

“Once you get above Mach 4, the temperature drops and liquefies the air,” Advanced Research Labs Director Joel Davenport said. “To heat the air poses a much more difficult process.”

From Mach 4, researchers will study and learn the various aspects and mannerisms of the tunnel to prepare for Mach 5 and beyond.

There are several technological problems in designing and constructing a hyper-velocity wind tunnel:

  • supply of high temperatures and pressures for times long enough to perform a measurement
  • reproduction of equilibrium conditions
  • structural damage produced by overheating
  • fast instrumentation
  • power requirements to run the tunnel

Simulations of a flow at 5.5 km/s, 45 km altitude would require tunnel temperatures of over 9000 K, and a pressure of 3 GPa