New hypersonic facility accelerates UTSA as a leader in aerospace projects | UTSA today | UTSA
The wind tunnel was one of Combs’ first priorities when he was recruited to develop an aerospace program at the university. He had to design the wind tunnel to fit into a specific long rectangular room. The highly polished stainless steel piping device occupies almost the entire 15-meter-long laboratory space.
“As the air flows through the pipe, it enters a nozzle that is contoured to give us a shape to expand as needed, up to Mach 7,” Combs said. “You have high pressure on one side, low pressure on the other. It is separated by a metal diaphragm which bursts at a specified pressure. All this air then flows into a very large vacuum vessel. “
When air passes through the test section, it is basically undetectable to the human eye. Combs records experiments with a very fast camera capable of capturing up to 2 million frames per second. Sometimes a laser detection device is added to help focus on the results. The facility is not limited to testing with air, as other gases can also be used to simulate alien conditions such as those found on Mars.
“We can measure just about anything you want. We can find a way to do it, ”Combs said. “We can do speed, temperature, pressure, density, concentration. There are ways to do all of these measurements in our lab and get any kind of key quantity. “
Combs and his team typically test hypersonic impact on aerospace-related items such as rockets, missiles, high-speed aircraft, high-speed engine inputs, propulsion systems, and more. Many scenarios measure the extreme conditions that certain sections of a spacecraft experience as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
“In our lab, we can measure the characteristics of the flow around a particular shape, the aerodynamics and its performance to better understand what’s going on,” Combs said. “The data we collect can help improve calculation models so that vehicle designers can potentially use predictive tools to streamline the design process.”
The Mach 7 wind tunnel is another great example of experiential learning that UTSA is proud to offer. Combs students are very involved in setting up and running the experiments. PhD student in mechanical engineering Eugene Hoffman came to UTSA in part because of the opportunity to help build and test with the new wind tunnel. The education he and his fellow students acquire in the lab gives them an edge when they graduate.
“We provide excellent opportunities for students to work in the field managing a hypersonic wind tunnel themselves, performing the measurements, designing the experiments and performing the diagnostics with the high-tech equipment we have available. Combs said. “There is currently a great void in the hypersonic workforce that the United States is trying to fill. There aren’t many people who have this expertise. We put these students in a position to be very competitive for the really interesting jobs that are out there right now. “
Combs said the $ 1.5 million investment in the Mach 7 facility makes UTSA increasingly competitive in securing projects from the Department of Defense, NASA and other government agencies. The lab is also efficiently designed to perform multiple tests per day with low overhead. This makes it an attractive place for aerospace-related companies to test and validate various models under extreme hypersonic test conditions.