Hypersonic research brings new opportunities for innovation, students
Christopher Combs in the hypersonics lab.

Hypersonic research brings new opportunities for innovation, students

$1.5 million grant will help University of Texas at San Antonio study modeling and experimental measurements of hypersonic separation events.

October 26, 2021

University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)’s investment in a million-dollar hypersonic wind tunnel is returning results with another innovative research opportunity. Christopher Combs, Dee Howard Endowed Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the UTSA College of Engineering and Integrated Design (CEID), recently secured a two-year, $1.5 million grant to study modeling and experimental measurements of hypersonic separation events.

The grant comes from the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH) in collaboration with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office (JHTO). UTSA is part of a group of leading research institutions that was awarded funding to advance hypersonic research. Combs will be leading the project in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin, University of Tennessee, Southwest Research Institute, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Combs is also the director of the UTSA Hypersonics Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, which recently installed a 60ft Mach 7 Ludwieg Wind Tunnel. This technology enables UTSA to contribute important scientific findings on the effects of travel faster than the speed of sound.

Current computer models struggle to replicate the testing conditions in a high Mach number wind tunnel. UTSA’s Ludwieg tube wind tunnel will capture and measure the aerodynamic effects experienced by motor stages, boosters, or protective shrouds when they separate at hypersonic speeds. The findings from Combs and his student research team will help advance the design of aerospace vehicles traveling at hypersonic speeds.

“Separation events are such a complex part of the hypersonic flight challenge,” Combs said. “It’s exciting to use the state-of-the-art experimentation available in our Hypersonics Lab to build a database to help develop computational models that will improve vehicle design.”

The grant also provides for experiential learning opportunities at UTSA. One graduate research assistant position and two undergraduate research assistant positions at UTSA will be part of this project over the next three years, with additional students funded at the partner institutions.

“The neat thing about this UCAH research is that this will be student-centric, and this project will help us train the next generation of leaders in hypersonic research while solving real-world problems.”

“This research opportunity is another example of UTSA’s growing footprint in aerospace due to our investments in the Hypersonics Laboratory,” said, CEID Dean JoAnn Browning. “Under Combs’ leadership, UTSA will be in a position to attract additional hypersonic-related funding opportunities, along with attracting top students to be part of the program.”