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DOD Awards Applied Hypersonics Contract to Texas A&M University

Oct. 26, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Texas A&M University's Engineering Experiment Station, or TEES, has been awarded a $20 million per year contract to establish and manage a University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics, or UCAH.

The award, which was announced today by the Pentagon, has a base year and four additional option years of $20 million, with a total value of up to $100 million.

A white rocket launches at night.
Glide Launch
A common hypersonic glide body launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, during a Defense Department flight experiment, March 19, 2020. The Navy and the Army jointly executed the launch of the C-HGB, which flew at hypersonic speed to a designated point of impact. The Missile Defense Agency monitored and gathered tracking data from the experimental flight that will inform its ongoing development of systems designed to defend against adversaries’ hypersonic weapons.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 200319-N-NO101-0001M

"This first-of-its-kind consortium will be critical to advancing hypersonics research and innovation, a key priority of the Department of Defense," Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said. 

"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," he added.

The UCAH, which is expected to begin operations over the next several weeks, will work closely with the military services, defense research agencies, and other government organizations, such as NASA and the Energy Department. The consortium also collaborates with small and large companies and other academic research centers to pursue promising basic and applied research and then transition that research into future systems. 

B-52 lifts off carrying a small rocket under its wing.
Hypersonic Aircraft
The third X-43A hypersonic research aircraft and its modified Pegasus booster rocket leaves the runway, carried aloft by NASA's B-52B launch aircraft from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Nov. 16, 2004. About an hour later, the Pegasus booster was launched from the B-52 to accelerate the X-43A to its intended speed of Mach 10.
Photo By: Tom Tschida, NASA
VIRIN: 041116-O-ZZ999-1111C

One of the most important and game-changing aspects of the consortium is its strong focus on applied hypersonics research and modeling 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," Dr. Mark Lewis, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering and director of defense research and engineering for modernization, said. "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 department's Joint Hypersonics Transition Office sought input from academic institutions across the nation, said its director, Dr. Gillian Bussey.  "We had a highly competitive source selection process for establishing and managing this consortium with many high-quality submissions," she said.

A photograph shows a large piece of machinery inside a building.
Tunnel C
Tunnel C in the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. is used for aerodynamic testing at speeds of Mach 4 and Mach 10, speeds that hypersonic weapons would travel, March 12, 2020.
Photo By: Jill Pickett, Air Force
VIRIN: 200312-F-KN521-2004M

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 said.  

Two men in military uniforms stand on a ladder at the nose of an airplane.
Rapid Response
Airmen from the 912th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron secure the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 as it is loaded under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress during a hypersonics test, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 6, 2020.
Photo By: Giancarlo Casem, Air Force
VIRIN: 200806-F-HC101-1004M

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 the department 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, Bussey added.

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 U.S., as well as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.