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UC researcher to contribute to space vehicles

UC researcher to contribute to the next generation of space vehicle

A University of Canterbury engineer is working with American scientists on the next generation of space vehicle.

Associate Professor Susan Krumdieck, of UC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been named as an investigator to work on the next generation of hypersonic vehicle. The hypersonic vehicle, which will use scramjet engines and travel at Mach 10-15, is regarded as a much more efficient replacement for the space shuttle as it will be able to essentially fly to space.

The project is being carried out by the US National Hypersonic Science Center for Materials and Structures (NHSC) and is funded by the US Air Force and NASA. An industrial contractor, Teledyne Scientific, and seven US universities are involved in various aspects of research including materials, materials processing, mechanics, atomistics and structures. Professor Krumdieck will be working directly with David Marshall of Teledyne and Professor Rishi Raj of University of Colorado at Boulder.

“It is exciting to be working on the really challenging science problems again,” said Professor Krumdieck. “I don’t know how many years in the future this vehicle might be, or what the probability is that they will ever figure out how to really do it, but that doesn’t stop the Americans from trying virtually impossible things. That is how they keep challenging their researchers, and why they really do lead the world in science and advanced materials engineering.”

Professor Krumdieck will be the lead processing researcher in the NHSC team. The project will involve several PhD students at Canterbury and in the USA who will travel between the member groups to work together. Dr Vladimir Golovko, senior lecturer in UC’s Department of Chemistry, and Dr Mark Jermy and Dr Sid Becker from UC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering will also be involved in modeling the deposition and heat transfer processes.

“This is a long-term project to dig deep into the science of advanced, high temperature materials, and we will be working with some of the world leading experts in the field,” said Professor Krumdieck. “I hope to gain some support for this work in New Zealand. It is really a great opportunity for a small country to participate in spacecraft research and development.”

The whole hypersonic vehicle will be made of advanced materials composites with specialist coatings. The engine and leading edge of the wings and body reach temperatures in excess of 1500 oC. Professor Krumdieck will be working on developing a processing route for thin films of alumina (Al2O3) on the silicon-carbide composite structural material. Alumina is a high temperature material that acts as an oxidation barrier and has self-healing properties.

The novel pulsed-pressure metalorganic chemical vapor deposition (PP-MOCVD) process that Professor Krumdieck has developed is seen as a possible way to produce the alumina thin films on the woven composite material in a way that can coat complex macro-scale shapes as well as penetrate micro-scale features. She developed this process during her PhD research at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Professor Krumdieck’s appointment follows a trip she made to California in April during which she presented a seminar on her research on materials processing and was briefed on the hypersonic materials programme.

ENDS

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