Purdue Strengthens National Security Focus with New Propulsion Lab

A solid fuel ramjet combustor is among the many multidisciplinary facets of propulsion innovation and research at Purdue’s Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories. (Purdue University photo/Carson Slabaugh)

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 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 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.

“Purdue’s plans for the High-Speed Propulsion Laboratory are a testament to our continued focus on national security,” said Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnerships. “Purdue researchers have deep expertise in this area of critical importance to our nation. By harnessing Purdue’s expertise, capabilities and capacity for advancing hypersonics R&D, we can help to give the U.S. a competitive advantage against our near peer adversaries.”

The Purdue Board of Trustees approved the proposal, presented by university administrative operations, at its meeting Friday (April 8), and it will now go through the state review process.

The High-Speed Propulsion Lab will work in concert with Purdue’s rapidly advancing expansion in hypersonics. The lab proposal to the trustees 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.

Purdue’s investments in hypersonics position the university as a compelling partner for national defense projects from industry and government. Hypersonics is a critical area of focus under Purdue’s Next Moves strategic initiatives that will advance the university’s competitive advantage.

The new lab facilities will enable testing for the Hypersonics Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center (HAMTC), which was announced in February. 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 only 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 simulates the extreme conditions of temperature and pressure for a few milliseconds.

The lab includes the substantial infrastructure required to create the conditions of hypersonic flight to meet the needs of researchers from industry, other universities and federal laboratories and agencies.