5 months ago

UAH helps nation catch up in hypersonic research

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country’s “invulnerable” Avangard hypersonic nuclear missiles were ready to deploy, that focused attention at the United States Dept. of Defense on hypersonic development and testing.

That research will have a large impact on the future U.S. national security picture, and could also bring commercial benefits. Unlike the predictable parabolic flight of conventional or Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), hypersonic missiles fly at speeds greatly exceeding the speed of sound and can change trajectory to avoid detection or interception countermeasures.

“The Chinese and Russians are ahead of us in hypersonic R&D and testing,” says Dr. Steve Messervy, director of The University of Alabama in Huntsville Research Institute. “Just in the open literature, everybody knows they’re ahead of us.”

The Dept. of Defense has assigned Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, a former UAH eminent scholar and tenured professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, to put some thrust behind U.S. hypersonic research.

Under Dr. Griffin’s leadership, Dr. Messervy says funds have been allocated to the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the hypersonic field. Likewise, aerospace and defense companies are seeking answers.

UAH is well equipped to partner with commercial clients and the Dept. of Defense in hypersonic projectile testing and data acquisition to research what affects projectiles and aircraft flying at hypersonic speeds, Dr. Messervy says.

The university’s Aerophysics Research Center (ARC), operating from the Aerophysics Research Facility located on Redstone Arsenal, provides the government and commercial clients with a ready means of hypersonic scaled testing with its three, two-stage light gas gun systems that investigate the interactions of high-speed vehicles and their environments.

“I do a lot of work with the Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC),” Dr. Messervy says. “A lot of people are working on the technical issues of hypersonic flight, which generates high temperature and control issues at that speed.”

It’s a ballistics race right now, since the Russians have a boost glide hypersonic missile. The Chinese have built experimental versions.

“The idea is to make a missile change its parabolic flight pattern,” Dr. Messervy says. That can be done through aerodynamic design, control software, or both.

Areas of U.S. research interest include the thermodynamics of the bow wave created in front of a projectile at Mach 5 or higher speeds and the physics of the plasma field created by that wave. Both influence and affect projectile design, the materials used and the methods of flight control, Dr. Messervy says.

“The area that UAH works in most is helping establish some of the testing that will be required,” he says. The high costs of full-scale tests demand that prototypes first be researched by computer simulation and then in scaled testing, he says. Scaled testing is UAH’s forte.

One-eighth scale testing is where the so-called “big guns” at UAH’s ARC provide critical data that UAH scales up to represent a full-size flight. Sometimes ARC clients provide the projectiles, but typically, test projectiles are made to client specifications in the ARC machine shop.

UAH’s light gas guns simulate environments in which a projectile would actually fly, so it is possible to test it at various simulated altitudes at critical points along its flight path.

“We can invoke whatever environment we need to in the light gas gun,” Dr. Messervy says. “For example, we can make it look like flight at 70,000 feet, based on the air molecules contained inside the gun.” Software captures every aspect of the test flight and impact, generating needed data as the cameras record.

The ARC fills an essential function that cannot be supplanted in the testing chain, Dr. Messervy says.

“You can build all kinds of computer models, but how do you validate a computer model? You do some large-scale testing – but before you do that you do some scaled testing. The costs are just too prohibitive to do it any other way.”

UAH is also involved in a federal initiative to construct a center to perform hardware in the loop (HIL) simulation testing on the SMDC campus at Redstone. HIL testing is a dynamic systems technique that allows development and testing of real-time, complex systems in operation. Commercial defense firms will be partners in its development.

“UAH would like to help the government build this facility,” Dr. Messervy says. “What we are interested in, based on our testing, is that the hardware in the loop facility as it is built will be a long-term investment.”

When Dr. Messervy needs a physicist, he turns to Dr. Jason Cassibry, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, whose work is motivated by the lead our adversaries have.”We have a real scare here, a real threat,” Dr. Cassibry says. “Hypersonic missiles present a threat that no modern defense can stop, and we need to come up with solutions to that threat.”

A researcher for UAH’s Propulsion Research Center (PRC), Dr. Cassibry says the center is pursuing opportunities in hypersonic research in collaboration with those underway at the ARC.

“We’re very enthusiastic about the opportunities that are coming up,” he says, “and even though this is defense work at this stage, it will trickle down to commercial applications, which will benefit society if we can solve these challenges.”

As an educator, Dr. Cassibry teaches a hypersonics course every two years to build capabilities in students to pursue the work.

“We have seen a noticeable increase in enrollment this past fall,” he says. “The interest has built because of the rapid increase in funding in hypersonics.”

As a researcher, Dr. Cassibry works in numerical modeling in simulations.

“I’m interested in better integration of simulations with experiments in order to better understand the physics of hypersonic vehicle systems,” he says.

Closing the information-gathering gaps between simulations and physical testing will better inform researchers as they progress to full-scale tests.

“You just don’t know what might happen in a real-world test because of the myriad of complexities involved,” Dr. Cassibry says. “Increased collaboration between experiment and simulation groups will help buy down the technical risks of flight tests.”

Bringing simulation and reality closer together opens new insights.

“In an experiment, you might have some really great flight data in the form of imaging, for example, or you might have some data about the temperature inside the shock wave or boundary layer, but you can’t get detailed information along the surface, so simulations that validate the available diagnostic information can help fill in the gaps.”

If the data sets agree, he says, then a more complete picture of the forces and flow fields around the test body emerges.

“I’ve been working with a graduate student and collaboratively with companies and with the ARC and PRC in going after funding,” Dr. Cassibry says. “We are working on some test cases now to try to position ourselves for opportunities as they come along.”

His work could dovetail with the proposed HIL facility at Redstone Arsenal. Filling the gaps between simulation and physical testing “allows you to get a lot closer to a flight test without having to commit to the funds and risk associated with a flight test,” he says. It could speed development times.

UAH’s TranSonic/SuperSonic/WindTunnel (or TS/SS/WT) is another PRC venture, and principal investigator Dr. Phillip Ligrani is working in collaboration with other researchers on a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would see the $2 million facility doing hypersonic research.

“We’re developing ideas for a proposal for the NSF, and also continuing to talk with people who are with NASA and the U.S. Air Force and others who are involved in hypersonic research,” says Dr. Ligrani, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the university’s eminent scholar in propulsion.

The basic research proposal “will involve using the wind tunnel and also using predictions” to investigate control of heat transfer and thermal transport control through shock wave control in supersonic and hypersonic boundary layers.

The wind tunnel’s compressors and four 16-ton, 14-foot-long air storage tanks are capable now of achieving Mach 4 hypersonic speeds, he says, but the current tunnel piping and test section are rated Mach 2.7.

“We have the infrastructure to easily achieve Mach numbers up to 4,” Dr. Ligrani says. “Producing flows at higher Mach numbers is a challenge, because, at hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6, the pressures can be higher compared to a Mach 2.7 supersonic flow by a factor as large as 68.”

The UAH proposal involves research on hypersonic wave drag, an intense aerodynamic heating and drag created by vastly increased flow friction.

“It’s because the velocities are so high,” Dr. Ligrani says. “Velocity variations and velocity gradients are also very high, so there’s a lot of velocity change in a very short distance. That generates very high friction and very high drag.”

Understanding hypersonic aerodynamic heating processes caused by drag could lead to better leading edge shapes and materials to deal with the heat and pressure. UAH is already involved in aerodynamic testing of engine intake shock wave phenomena at supersonic speeds.

“There is very much interest right now in scram jets at hypersonic speeds, and the associated propulsion systems,” Dr. Ligrani says. “There’s also much interest in aero-engine intakes and how they perform at supersonic and hypersonic speeds.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama in Hunstville)

7 mins ago

Ivey allots $26M to help stabilize farmers and cattle producers

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday allocated $26 million to help stabilize businesses in the state’s agriculture industry.

The funds will establish the Alabama Agriculture Stabilization Program, which will be administered by the Department of Agriculture and Industries under the leadership of Commissioner Rick Pate.

Ivey’s apportioning of the $26 million comes out of the $1.9 billion Alabama was given as part of the federal government’s CARES Act that was passed in March with the goal of helping the country get through the coronavirus pandemic.

“Due to COVID-19, numerous farms and processing facilities have struggled to remain open and sell their products,” Ivey said in a statement on Wednesday.


“Establishing the Alabama Agriculture Stabilization Program is not only the right thing to do to protect our farmers, but it also key to stabilizing Alabama’s economy,” she continued.

The Stabilization Program will split the money among seven categories.

Those categories, per the governor’s office, as follows:

1. Direct Payment Business Stabilization Grants to Cattle Producers- $10.5 million
2. Meat Processing Plant Reimbursement Program- $1.5 million
3. Poultry Farmer Stabilization Grant Program- $4 million
4. Catfish Processor Reimbursement Program- $500,000
5. Fruit & Vegetable Processor Reimbursement Program- $500,000
6. State Supplemental CFAP Grant Program- $8 million
7. Nursery Grower Reimbursement Program- $1 million

“I want to thank Governor Ivey for her continued support of Alabama agriculture and for providing much needed assistance to farmers and processors adversely effected by COVID-19,” remarked Pate.

The specifics on how farmers may apply for the assistance are not yet available.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said on Wednesday that ALFA “will continue to work closely with Commissioner Pate and the Department of Revenue to provide details on how to apply for assistance as soon as they become available.”

“We appreciate Gov. Ivey and Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate working with our members and other stakeholders to assess losses resulting from market disruption and identify urgent needs for stabilizing Alabama’s agricultural economy,” added Parnell.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

34 mins ago

Documentary shows Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as model of excellence for rest of nation

A documentary film being released digitally this week focuses heavily on the State of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K Program as an example of sterling quality that other states should emulate.

The film, titled “Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America,” lasts about one hour, and over half of the running time is devoted to extolling the virtues of Alabama’s Pre-K program.

The film was funded by the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation and produced in partnership with FireStarter Interactive. It is designed to lay out the positive effects of investing in early childhood education.

“Alabama is one of the shining stars, not only in the southeast, but in the country,” says Joe Squires, Ph.D., of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) around the midpoint of the movie.


Starting at Zero features footage of Governor Kay Ivey and extended testimonials from former Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross, former Business Council of Alabama Chairman Jeff Coleman and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

Many other Alabamians affiliated with the First Class Pre-K program are also featured, including students, parents, teachers, and employees of the Department of Early Childhood Education.

Multiple individuals featured spoke to how investing in early childhood education is not just the morally right thing to do, but is also the best thing to help the economy.

“Children who have the benefit of quality pre-k education are better prepared for a future education,” remarks Canfield in the movie, adding that good pre-k puts children on a path to be capable members of Alabama’s workforce which is currently on track for a shortage of qualified workers.

First Class Pre-K has long been one of the Yellowhammer State’s most lauded policy accomplishments.

(Starting at Zero/Screenshot/Contributed)

“Alabama is a model for what other states can emulate,” Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) says near the end of the documentary.

Bullock details in the picture how he invited then-Secretary Ross to Montana to inform the key policymakers in his state how Alabama had built such an enviable program.

“Our children are our future, and what we do as a state today will determine who we are as a state tomorrow,” says Ivey in the documentary.

More information on the movie, including how to view it, can be found on the film’s website.


Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

49 mins ago

Jack’s offering free coffee to teachers August 17–21 — ‘A small way we hope to say thank you’

Jack’s Family Restaurants is celebrating teachers as they kick off the 2020 school year by offering free coffee at all of its locations from August 17–21.

According to a release, all teachers can receive their free coffee from Jack’s, in the drive-thru or in the restaurant, Monday through Friday until 9:00 a.m. with a valid school ID.

No purchase is necessary to redeem the offer, and teachers can choose between a hot or iced regular-sized coffee, limit one per guest.

“Being a good neighbor and supporting the communities we serve is part of the Jack’s DNA,” stated Jack’s CEO Todd Bartmess.


“Offering free coffee to our hardworking teachers as they kick off an unusual school year is a small way we hope to say ‘thank you’ for everything they do,” he added.

Founded in 1960 in Homewood, Alabama, Jack’s Family Restaurants started as Jack’s Hamburgers in a walk-up hamburger stand that served burgers, fries, sodas and shakes.

The chain over the past 60 years has grown to almost 200 locations in four states across the South.

This is merely the latest in a long line of examples of Jack’s continuing to support its local communities as the chain grows.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Michael Jordan speaks to Univ. of Alabama football team — ‘Winning has a price’

Basketball legend Michael Jordan on Tuesday spoke via video conference to the University of Alabama football team.

The program, led by head coach Nick Saban, routinely has some of the most successful, well-known athletes and leaders from across the nation address the team each summer in preparation for the fall season.

Previous examples reported by Yellowhammer News include the late Kobe Bryant, as well as speakers from the business and political sectors such as world-famous entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk.

Alabama Athletics shared a one-minute video clip from Jordan’s virtual visit. Players seen in the video were socially distanced and wearing masks at the team facility.


“This guy — I have the most respect for, of anybody, as a competitor. This guy is a great competitor,” Saban said introducing Jordan to the team.

The Crimson Tide coach also praised Jordan in recent months during the premier of the popular 10-part documentary “The Last Dance.”

Jordan spoke to the team on Tuesday about what it takes to be a champion.

“Winning has a price,” the six-time NBA champion said. “You have to put forth the effort every single day.”

“Coaching can only give you the motivation — they can give you plays and they can give you all that — but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have self-determination. You have to want to be the best,” Jordan advised.

He added, “If you’re all on the same page and everybody wants to win, that’s the whole process. If you guys are sitting there putting on that Alabama uniform, your attitude is about winning. Winning is a part of me. I will do anything to win. Your energy should be towards winning.”


Alabama Football also shared this famous quote from Jordan in a tweet: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

The program, led by its players with support from the staff and administration, are currently trying to save the 2020 fall college football season.

RELATED: Alabama Senate majority leader to SEC: Let them play

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Alabama’s small business community needs Congress’ support

Affordable health care has long been a cause of concern for small business across our country with the cost of coverage has consistently ranked at the top of small business owners’ concerns. And now, amid a global health crisis, health coverage is more important than ever. As someone with years of experience working in the healthcare industry and alongside businesses, I have seen firsthand how the small business community faces unique challenges when it comes to employer-sponsored benefits.

There is no doubt that each employer wants to give employees the best benefits possible. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes small businesses competitive, attracting a more skilled workforce and helping to keep employees healthy. However, the large majority of small business owners run on extremely small margins, and as health care costs continue to rise, it is even more difficult to provide employees with quality health care coverage.


Alabama is known for our friendly small business community, inviting many small employers to plant their roots in the Yellowhammer State. This is why we’re proud to have over 380,000 small businesses that employ over 765,000 of our state’s residents. Small businesses are, and always have been, the backbone of our economy. Alabama laws historically promote competition and small business growth but despite this, we still need our federal lawmakers to support us, especially at a time when businesses are struggling.

Today, with the pandemic continuing to spread across our state, small business owners are struggling to stay in business, and they are bracing for the full financial impacts of COVID-19. It is a devastating situation to be in and our small business community cannot survive on its own.

Fortunately, we have very dedicated small business champions in Washington, D.C. who have been working tirelessly to ensure any federal COVID-19 relief includes small businesses.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Senator Doug Jones and Congresswoman Terri Sewell supported bipartisan legislation that in 2019 repealed an Obamacare tax known as the Health Insurance Tax (HIT). This erroneous tax increased the price of health insurance for small business owners. Now we need them to further continue that work and work to implement policies that will continue to lower the cost of health care for small business owners, their employees, and their families, especially at a time when having health care is so crucial. A healthy workforce that is ready, and able, to get back to work is vital to our state, and country’s economic recovery.

Small business owners want to continue to provide health care for their employees, but they need Congress’ help to do so. I ask that our elected officials continue to come together to support Alabama’s small business community, especially when it comes to lowering health care costs and making health care more affordable — both as we continue to overcome COVID-19 and long beyond.

Curtis Cannon is a Managing Partner at Axis Recovery and has over 15 years of experience working with health insurance companies, brokers and consulting firms.