Last year, UTA brought its new arc-heated, hypersonic wind tunnel online. The only one of its kind in the nation at a university, the tunnel is being used to develop advanced laser-based measurements of plasma flow for the study of heat shields for hypersonic vehicles. The tunnel was entirely designed at the UTA Aerodynamics Research Center by Professor Luca Maddalena and his team, which over the past four years has included postdoctoral researchers Stefano Gulli, Fabrizio Vergine, and Davide Viganò; doctoral students Vijay Gopal and Daniel Palmquist; alumnus David Campbell; undergraduate students Cooper Green, Ian Raybon, Rachel Weeresinghe, and Skyla Westphal; and lab manager David Carter.
Warm up: Up to 1.6 MW of electrical power is used to heat the test gas. Temperatures higher than the surface of the sun can be obtained (10,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
Input: The plasma (air or carbon dioxide to simulate atmospheric entry on Mars) is accelerated to hypersonic flow conditions, the equivalent of Mach 12.
Instruments: Advanced instrumentation spans from classic calorimeters to cutting-edge femto-second lasers that non-intrusively probe the reacting gas’ composition and velocity.
Testing: Test articles are inserted in the high-speed and high-temperature gas and exposed to conditions similar to planetary entry or re-entry.
Collection: The hot and supersonic gas is collected and aerodynamically slowed down to subsonic values. It is then cooled by powerful heat exchangers and processed by a deep-vacuum station.
Pressurized: Capable of reaching near vacuum pressures, the chamber allows researchers to test at conditions equivalent to high-altitude flight.
Control Room: State-of-the-art technology is used to remotely operate the facility from a blast-resistant room. Hundreds of sensors are constantly monitored by the integrated system, and operations are carried out on multiple touch screens.