The US DoD announced funding of a University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH) to Texas A&M University’s Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) on 26 October. Annual contract value for the potential five-year contract is $20 million (€17.1 million).
“This first-of-its-kind consortium will be critical to advancing hypersonics research and innovation, a key priority of the Department of Defense,” observed Michael Kratsios, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “Importantly, through collaborative industry and academic partnerships, it will also accelerate technology transfer and strengthen workforce development to meet the nation's future warfighting needs.”
The UCAH, which is expected to begin operations over the next several weeks, will work closely with the military services, defence research agencies, and other government organisations, such as NASA and the Energy Department. The consortium also collaborates with small and large companies and other academic research centres to pursue promising basic and applied research and then transition that research into future systems.
One of the most important and game-changing aspects of the consortium is its strong focus on applied hypersonics research, modelling and testing, which will facilitate transitioning academic research into developing systems. The consortium will also work with the department to reduce system development timelines, while maintaining quality control standards.
“We often have difficulty transitioning department-funded basic research from universities through industry to operational applications,” stated Dr Mark Lewis, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernisation. “It is a particular challenge in hypersonics, where multiple disciplines must intersect precisely to move forward. The consortium will help us link a deeper understanding of our operational requirements to the exceptional research being conducted across the nation.”
In making the selection, the DoD Joint Hypersonics Transition Office sought input from academic institutions across the nation, commented its Director, Dr Gillian Bussey. “We had a highly competitive source selection process for establishing and managing this consortium with many high-quality submissions.” Today's announcement reflects the feedback of about 70 schools across 48 states, she said. “The leadership, enthusiasm and focus they provide will help ensure that the consortium will be effective and that our nation's best minds and researchers will be participating.” Bussey noted that the UCAH will be managed by Dr Rodney Bowersox of TEES, who is considered one of the nation's foremost hypersonic researchers.
While UCAH will be leading the research, their efforts will be overseen by an interim governing board of national experts from Texas A&M, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Arizona, the University of Tennessee Space Institute, Morgan State University, the California Institute of Technology, Purdue University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We are very fortunate to have the breadth of expertise and diversity of experience on the interim governing board, whose members are some of the world's experts in their area of hypersonics," Bussey declared.
Among other things, the board will help align team consortium members within and across disciplines through both technical area membership alignments and cross-functional teams, generating the collaboration needed to tackle tricky cross-disciplinary research problems. The board will also work to address how DoD can best engage with academic institutions, industry and the national laboratories to both transition ready technologies into operational capabilities and to develop the hypersonics workforce needed.
Collaboration will play a key part in hypersonics research, Bussey mentioned. TEES has already identified 41 institutions from at least 23 states that are committed to participating in the UCAH. Bussey said she expects this number to increase in upcoming months, to include additional institutions from across the US, as well as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.