Pourpoint leads Purdue's first NASA University Leadership Initiative

AAE Professor Timothee Pourpoint and a team of Purdue researchers and team members from other universities and industry secured a three-year, $3.2-million grant.

An AAE professor is the lead for Purdue University’s first University Leadership Initiative, a NASA program that gives the academic community an opportunity to support the agency’s aeronautical research goals and provide students with experience solving real-world technical challenges.

Timothee Pourpoint is the principal investigator for a team selected to receive a three-year, $3.2-million grant from the highly prestigious and competitive program. Purdue’s team is one of five led by university faculty chosen by NASA to explore innovations in areas of aeronautical research, including Advanced Air Mobility, electrified aircraft propulsion and hypersonic flight.

Purdue’s team will refine techniques and hardware associated with a particular set of optical and laser sensors that can be used in examining the surfaces and flow of a hypersonic vehicle in a way that can help that aircraft maintain control in flight. Hypersonic flight is flight at speeds of Mach 5 and beyond — more than 3,500 mph at sea level.

AAE Professor Timothee Pourpoint, who holds a courtesy appointment in ME

The team includes Purdue’s Christopher Goldenstein, Robert Lucht and Terrence Meyer, all professors in mechanical engineering who hold joint or courtesy appointments in AAE, as well as members from the University of Virginia (Chris Goyne and Chloe Dedic), Hampton University (Janett Walters-Williams and Qiang Le), Sydor Technologies (David Garand) and Innoveering, LLC (Robert Bakos).

“Our ULI team has a highly relevant and rich track record of teamwork with NASA, both in the aeronautics arena and the space arena,” Pourpoint said.

In parallel with the optical and laser-based sensors development, the team will use and continue to build its capabilities to test the sensor suite and demonstrate control in realistic flow fields. The sensors will be designed and evaluated over a range of experimental conditions and will be integrated into closed-loop feedback control systems for internal and external hypersonic flow paths.

The development and testing of the optical sensors will be co-led by Purdue and the University of Virginia. The heavy-duty data analytics as well as the denoising and filtering routines will be handled by Hampton University.

“With the inclusion of two established small businesses with proven track records in sensor development (Sydor Technologies) and integration in hypersonic environments (Innoveering), we anticipate a rapid transition of our technologies to flight vehicles,” Pourpoint said.

Sydor Technologies and Innoveering have partnered with NASA to demonstrate several of the technologies Purdue’s proposal is based on, Pourpoint said. Goyne, UVA’s lead on the project, has collaborated with the NASA X-43A team on model validation and worked with Innoveering’s Bakos to develop control approaches for scramjet tests at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Bakos also has supported multiple successful hypersonic ground and flight test experiments at Innoveering.

The team also has an advisory board that includes members from Boeing, CUBRC, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Sandia National Laboratories and Southwest Research Institute.

“The team’s expertise is really what I’m most impressed with,” Pourpoint said. “We had countless meetings preparing this proposal and really got to understand and define everyone’s role.”

The sensors will be ground tested in a diverse set of facilities at Purdue, UVA and CUBRC. The University of Virginia Supersonic Combustion Facility, part of the University of Virginia Hypersonic Research Complex, is an electrically heated supersonic wind tunnel capable of simulating sustained flight Mach numbers to 5.

At Purdue, experiments will be conducted in Goldenstein’s high-pressure shock tube and several existing hypersonic and diagnostic facilities at Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, one of the nation’s premier academic propulsion facilities. Lucht, the Ralph and Bettye Bailey Distinguished Professor of Combustion, is Zucrow’s director. The Purdue Experimental Turbine Aerothermal Lab, also at Zucrow, will offer support. Once available, Purdue also will use the Hypersonic Pulse shock tunnel, donated by Northrop Grumman.

“It is exciting to have the opportunity to partner with experts across three universities and work directly with industry members to rapidly develop, advance and test novel flight sensors,” said Dedic, an assistant professor in UVA’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “We are looking forward to contributing UVA’s expertise in propulsion, flight control, and advanced optical measurements to this strong team effort led by Dr. Pourpoint.”

An important objective for the ULI program is to include student populations that are underrepresented or have not applied their skills to aviation problems, the NASA release said. Each of the five teams selected to participate in the ULI include representation from Historically Black Colleges and Universities or minority-serving institutions.

Purdue’s research and development work will be complemented by an overarching educational initiative dedicated to engaging students from Hampton University, one of the country’s top-ranked HBCU, with the existing workforce in hypersonics and diagnostics. Hampton University’s School of Engineering and Technology currently has about 340 undergraduate students who are eager to put classroom education into practice.

“Hampton University looks forward to designing and developing filtering algorithms as well as developing at least one Machine/Deep Learning algorithm that will be used to optimize data for estimation and prediction,” said Walter-Williams, an assistant professor in Hampton’s Department of Computer Science. “We look forward to having our students being involved in this development while receiving real-world experience through the interaction with our university and industry partners.”

Though this is the first Purdue-led ULI, there have been two other teams since the inaugural ULI in 2017 that have included Purdue researchers. The UT-Austin-led selection for 2021 that will address Advanced Air Mobility also includes AAE faculty, and North Carolina AT&T’s multidisciplinary project in 2020 included Purdue faculty.


Publish date: January 14, 2021