Jump to page content

Propulsion Lab

Planned facility offers testing conditions for hypersonics, combustion.

Banner image: A rendering of the planned High-Speed Propulsion Laboratory in the Discovery Park District at Purdue

By Brian Huchel

Purdue University’s work in national security took another giant leap forward with university trustees’ approval of a state-of-the-art high-speed propulsion laboratory, putting the university’s hypersonic testing capabilities on scale with those of large industry partners.

Hypersonic defense abilities are considered game-changing technologies. With systems that can travel at speeds of Mach 5 or faster and are highly maneuverable, hypersonics are potentially very effective against heavily defended areas.

The High-Speed Propulsion Laboratory, approved in April 2022, will be located in the Discovery Park District at Purdue. The new lab will provide testing capabilities at the extreme pressure and temperature conditions experienced in actual hypersonic flight, significantly enhancing Purdue’s research and development capabilities.

The lab will feature new testing capabilities for innovative research in rocket combustion and gas turbine engines, continuing Purdue’s history of research and development in those areas.

Once the $73 million lab is complete, Purdue will be the only university in the nation with such a high level of propulsion capabilities, providing the capacity to perform propulsion testing reaching a scale only found in government or large defense contractor facilities. The High-Speed Propulsion Laboratory, unlike similarly equipped government or industry facilities, will be available to a very broad set of researchers interested in working with Purdue to test their equipment.

The lab will work in concert with Purdue’s rapidly advancing expansion in hypersonics. The lab proposal included a high-pressure air plant, which will upgrade existing equipment and support all of Purdue’s hypersonic and propulsion testing capabilities. Substantial completion of the lab is expected in November 2024.

The new lab will enable testing for the Hypersonics Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center (HAMTC), which was announced in February 2022. It will also complement testing that will take place within the Hypersonics and Applied Research Facility (HARF), which broke ground in late 2021 in the Discovery Park District at Purdue. HARF will house the first Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel in the world and the Hypersonic Pulse (HYPULSE) reflected shock/expansion tunnel. The Mach 8 tunnel simulates velocity but does not simulate the extreme heat conditions, while the HYPULSE tunnel simulates the extreme conditions of temperature and pressure for a few milliseconds.

In addition to increasing testing capabilities, the new high-speed laboratory will provide opportunities to engage the talents of more graduate students. As many as 80 additional graduate students will be needed to perform the work this new lab affords.