From The University of Arizona (US): “$10M elevates UArizona hypersonics facilities to national prominence”

From The University of Arizona (US)


Media contact(s)
Emily Dieckman
College of Engineering

Researcher contact(s)
Alex Craig
Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

Jesse Little
Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

The funding will allow for upgrades to the College of Engineering’s wind tunnels, strengthening UArizona’s position as an academic leader in hypersonics research.

Alex Craig (left), assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, and associate professor Jesse Little with the 15-inch-diameter Mach 5 Ludwieg tube in the UArizona College of Engineering’s Boundary-Layer Stability and Transition Laboratory. New state and federal funding totaling $10 million will support a suite of upgrades for the university’s hypersonics facilities.

University of Arizona aerospace and mechanical engineering researchers have received $3.5 million in funding from the state of Arizona’s investment in the New Economy Initiative and $6.5 million in federal support through The Department of Defense’s (US) Test Resource Management Center to upgrade hypersonic facilities and related research infrastructure.

The funding positions the university as a leading educational institution in the hypersonics field, said Alex Craig, an assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering.

“We’re moving our wind tunnel complex into a more capable realm that you typically don’t see at universities, because it’s usually reserved for government facilities like NASA,” Craig said. “With these upgrades, we’ll be able to provide impactful ground testing services to DOD and its contractors, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (US), and emerging private ventures supporting space and commercial travel, while still fulfilling our educational mission.”

Wind tunnels blast air at high speeds past fixed objects, helping researchers better understand how similarly shaped objects, such as aircraft and missiles, behave in flight. Wind tunnel speed is represented by Mach number, with Mach 1 being equal to the speed of sound – about 761 mph at sea level.

UArizona is home to two hypersonic facilities and additional wind tunnels that permit testing from Mach 0 to Mach 5.

The Boundary-Layer Stability and Transition Laboratory, led by Craig, houses a 15-inch-diameter Mach 5 Ludwieg tube, also known as LT5. The Turbulence and Flow Control Laboratory is led by aerospace and mechanical engineering associate professor Jesse Little. Its newest addition is the Arizona Supersonic Wind Tunnel, which currently operates at speeds ranging from Mach 1.75 to Mach 4. The Mach number is changed by adding different nozzle blocks – 12 in total – which weigh about 1,800 pounds each.

The funding will support a suite of upgrades for both UArizona hypersonics facilities.

“The University of Arizona is a leader in hypersonics, and this new investment in our unique facilities will allow us to take this exciting research to new level,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “We are grateful for the support of this program from the Arizona Board of Regents, Gov. Doug Ducey and the state legislature, and the funding from the federal government will amplify the impact of Arizona’s investment in this important area of research.”

“As a developer of tactical and strategic missile systems, wind tunnel testing is a core engineering discipline that we employ on nearly every product we design,” said Roy Donelson, executive director and product area director of Strategic Engagement Systems, Strategic Missile Defense for Raytheon Missiles and Defense. “It often becomes a pacing item in our development programs due to a limited number of capable facilities, coupled with high demand across the aerospace industry. These upgrades will enable us to expand our relationship with UArizona to include not only accelerated product development, but also to grow the next generation of aerodynamicists through early, hands-on test experience.”

Mach 5 Nozzle

The university’s Arizona Supersonic Wind Tunnel, or ASWT, has a cross section that measures 15 inches high by 15 inches wide and is the largest of its kind at a U.S. academic institution. Most university wind tunnels of this type are 6 inches by 6 inches or smaller, with only a couple as large as 12 inches by 12 inches. ASWT also can run at six Mach numbers between 1.75 and 4. The new funding will extend its operating range to Mach 5.

In addition, Little recently received funding from the DOD’s Minority-Serving Institution Program to extend the wind tunnel down to subsonic (below Mach 0.8) and transonic (Mach 0.8 to Mach 1.2) conditions. This will enable subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic testing – transforming the wind tunnel into the Arizona Polysonic Wind Tunnel.

Supersized Air Compression

Moving at thousands of miles per hour, the air rushing through the wind tunnel needs to be compressed and stored in specialized tanks before use. The new funding will allow the university to invest in a system to increase air generation by a factor of 10 and storage capacity by a factor of three. Additionally, the researchers plan to purchase a more sophisticated filtration and drying system, which is especially necessary for operation at Mach 5.

“At present, we can perform one to three 15-second runs per day in ASWT,” Little said. “The new air supply system will increase our capacity to eight to 10 30-second runs per day. This type of throughput is necessary to attract industry, and places us on par with some government facilities.”

Automation to Speed Up Testing

In the LT5 tunnel, which operates at Mach 5, the team can run about five tests a day. Between each test, an operator must reprogram the system to simulate new conditions such as pressure, temperature and model position.

The planned upgrades include a fast-opening valve and automation system that will vastly improve the lab’s efficiency. The system enables an operator to input several pieces of information at once before a series of runs, then have those factors automatically adjusted between runs.

“The automation process is the most exciting part of this, for me,” Craig said. “All of those things are putting us in a realm where LT5 can run 50, 60, 70 times a day with minimal operator input. Similar tunnels at universities can’t get close to that in this type of facility, with the exception of the Air Force Academy.”

Quiet Nozzle to Better Mirror Flight

The funds also will help support the installation of a quiet nozzle for LT5. Currently, the tunnel produces noisy flow, in which the velocity and pressure fluctuations of the air flow are considerably higher than what would be encountered in actual flight. The nozzle, also funded by the DOD’s Minority-Serving Institution Program, will allow the tunnel to create quiet flow, more closely imitating what flight is like in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The end result is a nationally unique pair of Mach 5 wind tunnels at UArizona offering both quiet and conventional testing at an industry-relevant scale,” Little said.

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

As of 2019, the The University of Arizona (US) enrolled 45,918 students in 19 separate colleges/schools, including The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix and the James E. Rogers College of Law, and is affiliated with two academic medical centers (Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix). The University of Arizona is one of three universities governed by the Arizona Board of Regents. The university is part of the Association of American Universities and is the only member from Arizona, and also part of the Universities Research Association(US). The university is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity”.

Known as the Arizona Wildcats (often shortened to “Cats”), The University of Arizona’s intercollegiate athletic teams are members of the Pac-12 Conference of the NCAA. The University of Arizona athletes have won national titles in several sports, most notably men’s basketball, baseball, and softball. The official colors of the university and its athletic teams are cardinal red and navy blue.

After the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, the push for a university in Arizona grew. The Arizona Territory’s “Thieving Thirteenth” Legislature approved The University of Arizona in 1885 and selected the city of Tucson to receive the appropriation to build the university. Tucson hoped to receive the appropriation for the territory’s mental hospital, which carried a $100,000 allocation instead of the $25,000 allotted to the territory’s only university (Arizona State University(US) was also chartered in 1885, but it was created as Arizona’s normal school, and not a university). Flooding on the Salt River delayed Tucson’s legislators, and by they time they reached Prescott, back-room deals allocating the most desirable territorial institutions had been made. Tucson was largely disappointed with receiving what was viewed as an inferior prize.

With no parties willing to provide land for the new institution, the citizens of Tucson prepared to return the money to the Territorial Legislature until two gamblers and a saloon keeper decided to donate the land to build the school. Construction of Old Main, the first building on campus, began on October 27, 1887, and classes met for the first time in 1891 with 32 students in Old Main, which is still in use today. Because there were no high schools in Arizona Territory, the university maintained separate preparatory classes for the first 23 years of operation.


The University of Arizona is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. UArizona is the fourth most awarded public university by National Aeronautics and Space Administration(US) for research. The University of Arizona was awarded over $325 million for its Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) to lead NASA’s 2007–08 mission to Mars to explore the Martian Arctic, and $800 million for its OSIRIS-REx mission, the first in U.S. history to sample an asteroid.

The LPL’s work in the Cassini spacecraft orbit around Saturn is larger than any other university globally. The University of Arizona laboratory designed and operated the atmospheric radiation investigations and imaging on the probe. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, a part of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. While using the HiRISE camera in 2011, University of Arizona alumnus Lujendra Ojha and his team discovered proof of liquid water on the surface of Mars—a discovery confirmed by NASA in 2015. The University of Arizona receives more NASA grants annually than the next nine top NASA/JPL-Caltech(US)-funded universities combined. As of March 2016, The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is actively involved in ten spacecraft missions: Cassini VIMS; Grail; the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars; the Juno mission orbiting Jupiter; Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO); Maven, which will explore Mars’ upper atmosphere and interactions with the sun; Solar Probe Plus, a historic mission into the Sun’s atmosphere for the first time; Rosetta’s VIRTIS; WISE; and OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. sample-return mission to a near-earth asteroid, which launched on September 8, 2016.

The University of Arizona students have been selected as Truman, Rhodes, Goldwater, and Fulbright Scholars. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, UArizona is among the top 25 producers of Fulbright awards in the U.S.

The University of Arizona is a member of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy(US), a consortium of institutions pursuing research in astronomy. The association operates observatories and telescopes, notably Kitt Peak National Observatory(US) just outside Tucson. Led by Roger Angel, researchers in the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at The University of Arizona are working in concert to build the world’s most advanced telescope. Known as the Giant Magellan Telescope(CL), it will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Telescope.

Giant Magellan Telescope, 21 meters, to be at the NOIRLab(US) National Optical Astronomy Observatory(US) Carnegie Institution for Science’s(US) Las Campanas Observatory(CL), some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high.

GMT Giant Magellan Telescope(CL) 21 meters, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s(US) NOIRLab(US) NOAO(US) Las Campanas Observatory(CL), some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high.

The telescope is set to be completed in 2021. GMT will ultimately cost $1 billion. Researchers from at least nine institutions are working to secure the funding for the project. The telescope will include seven 18-ton mirrors capable of providing clear images of volcanoes and riverbeds on Mars and mountains on the moon at a rate 40 times faster than the world’s current large telescopes. The mirrors of the Giant Magellan Telescope will be built at The University of Arizona and transported to a permanent mountaintop site in the Chilean Andes where the telescope will be constructed.

Reaching Mars in March 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter contained the HiRISE camera, with Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen as the lead on the project. This National Aeronautics and Space Agency (US) mission to Mars carrying the UArizona-designed camera is capturing the highest-resolution images of the planet ever seen. The journey of the orbiter was 300 million miles. In August 2007, The University of Arizona, under the charge of Scientist Peter Smith, led the Phoenix Mars Mission, the first mission completely controlled by a university. Reaching the planet’s surface in May 2008, the mission’s purpose was to improve knowledge of the Martian Arctic. The Arizona Radio Observatory(US), a part of The University of Arizona Department of Astronomy Steward Observatory(US), operates the Submillimeter Telescope on Mount Graham.

The National Science Foundation(US) funded the iPlant Collaborative in 2008 with a $50 million grant. In 2013, iPlant Collaborative received a $50 million renewal grant. Rebranded in late 2015 as “CyVerse”, the collaborative cloud-based data management platform is moving beyond life sciences to provide cloud-computing access across all scientific disciplines.

In June 2011, the university announced it would assume full ownership of the Biosphere 2 scientific research facility in Oracle, Arizona, north of Tucson, effective July 1. Biosphere 2 was constructed by private developers (funded mainly by Texas businessman and philanthropist Ed Bass) with its first closed system experiment commencing in 1991. The university had been the official management partner of the facility for research purposes since 2007.

U Arizona mirror lab-Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium?

University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, located in the Sonoran desert. An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

University of Arizona Landscape Evolution Observatory at Biosphere 2.