LAS CRUCES — The US Department of Defense increased its hypersonic research budget to $3.8 billion in 2022 from $600 million in 2021 and has requested $4.7 billion for 2023. With the only aerospace engineering major in New Mexico and as a country and space scholarship institution, New Mexico State University College of Engineering stands poised to make an impact on scientific advancement and human resources development in this burgeoning technological field .
Hypersonic refers to a category of high-speed aerodynamic vehicles capable of traveling at speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5 (approximately 3,800 miles per hour) for extended periods of time. Commercial applications for air travel consider the Mach 5 range, while military applications need to push Mach 10 and beyond.
The study of hypersonic vehicles is not new, nor is it new to New Mexico. The first man-made object to achieve hypersonic flight was the two-stage Bumper rocket, launched from White Sands Missile Range in 1949. The rocket reached a speed of 5,150 miles per hour – approximately Mach 6.7. However, the vehicle burned out on atmospheric re-entry.
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“We are now seeing new concepts defined by mission scenarios for the Department of Defense such as: B. the development of hypersonic glide vehicles. The intention of the Department of Defense is to work quickly to surpass any perceived evolving threats. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are working on various independent or jointly deployed operational hypersonic systems,” said Jay I. Frankel, department chief, mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“In this area, heating effects due to friction and shock waves place significant demands on materials, structure and vehicle design. A holistic approach is required here,” says Frankel. “With hypersonic development, there are still many unanswered questions that can seriously affect performance, durability, reliability, safety, etc. In addition, there is an international race in weapons technology that involves rapid-fire capabilities. These systems do not follow a conventional or predictable ballistic path to a target. Offensive and defensive systems require scientific advances as their requirements can be different. These vehicles must be designed in an integrative manner that integrates materials, aerothermodynamics based on the mission scenario, guidance, navigation, controls, and other attributes.”
Faculty members in NMSU’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering have extensive expertise in fundamental and applied hypersonic problems. The growing department adds a shock tunnel and a high-power laser to its experimental facilities; Adding skills and expertise in Computational Fluid Mechanics; guidance, navigation and control; and materials. They are also developing a new class of thermal sensors for hostile environments. The faculty seeks federal funding that can fund undergraduate and graduate research assistants and provide advanced instrumentation and equipment for state-of-the-art small to medium sized soil testing facilities.
“NMSU fits into the national need for engineering and human resource development. Personnel development is necessary for a smooth handover to the next generation. The Department of Defense is expanding its ecosystem, and NMSU can play a significant role,” Frankel said.
The department is also adding new course offerings in hypersonics. An elective/graduate level hypersonic course for seniors in Spring 2022 had an enrollment of about 40 students, some of whom were already working in government positions. There are plans to add additional courses in hypersonic and to offer a certificate in hypersonic for professional development of working engineers. Hands-on hypersonic research experiences for undergraduate students and new course offerings can provide entry into graduate school or the impetus for students to pursue employment with an aerospace engineering company.
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“The key to eclipsing other universities working in hypersonic education is the nature and content of the courses. For example, small to medium-sized testing facilities can have regular graduate labs that actually walk the student through the entire process from design to instrumentation to data collection and data reduction,” said Frankel.
With close ties to the Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, which plan to hire thousands of engineers over the next five years, NMSU is extremely well positioned for workforce development in the state of New Mexico and the Southwest. In addition, NMSU is a good place to offer conferences, workshops, and short continuing education courses that encourage growth and a sense of ongoing engagement in the profession.
“Demand for engineers in general continues, but the best companies look for well-prepared and enthusiastic students who have experience with current instrumentation and equipment and a willingness to contribute and grow rapidly. This requires programs like NMSU’s that foster a sense of community among students, staff and faculty. This is accomplished through NMSU’s commitment to engineering as a profession. In addition to the Southwest, NMSU can and should impact the Midwest and Northeast, where many aerospace companies are based,” Frankel said. “That is our goal.”
EYE ON RESEARCH is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by Linda Fresques of NMSU’s College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]