TECH SA: Southwest Research Institute engineers are on cutting edge of hypersonic research

Southwest Research Institute is testing objects flying fast than 10 times the speed of sound.

Hypersonic research is booming worldwide and catching the attention of the travel and defense industries.

Southwest Research Institute is testing objects flying faster than 10 times the speed of sound.

Inside the research facility is a large launcher that is being used to perform both flight and impact-related tests, which show how a bullet-like object crashes into targets.

The engineers are on the cutting edge of hypersonic research. Hypersonic speed is defined as faster than five times the speed of sound or higher. This means that a hypersonic weapon can travel about one mile per second.

"We control the pressure the atmosphere, the chemical composition in those tanks, so we can simulate as if we've launched this projectile at different altitudes in the atmosphere," said Nichola Mueschke, principal engineer at SwRI.

Hypersonic research is catching a lot of people's attention, including U.S. Army officials. This year, the Army announced contracts for works related to the production of hypersonic weapon systems. The company Lockheed Martin will help develop a prototype for ultrafast and maneuverable long-range missiles that can launch from mobile ground platforms.

Other countries have been using hypersonic technology, as well. Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that the Russian military said it conducted a successful test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. This is a concern because hypersonic missiles can strike globally anywhere with precision.

Hypersonic technology is not only for weapons.

"There are other applications for this technology that include commercial air travel, where potentially, we can look at flight times between Los Angeles and New York and at under an hour or the booming commercial spaceflight industry. A lot of those vehicles that get launched and return back to the Earth are all returning at hypersonic velocity. They have to deal with the same problems — in the same aerodynamic problems — the same intense heating that any other hypersonic vehicle has to deal with," Mueschke said.

Mueschke hopes the research being conducting will ultimately shed light on some of the issues of hypersonic flight, including how materials react in specific environments.

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