Department of Defense awards $100M University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics


Kelly Stephani
Kelly Stephani

MechSE Professor Kelly Stephani and other members of the UIUC-based CHESS Center will play pivotal roles in a $100M program awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Coordinated by the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office through OUSD(R&E), the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH) is a “first-of-its kind Consortium that will be critical to advancing hypersonics research and innovation, a key priority of the Department of Defense,” said Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “Importantly, through collaborative industry and academic partnerships, it will also accelerate technology transfer and strengthen workforce development to meet the nation’s future warfighting needs.”

Texas A&M University’s Rodney Bowersox will serve as director, and Stephani will serve as the deputy director. The consortium will be developed under the guidance of a governance board, with Aerospace Engineering Professors Marco Panesi and Greg Elliott serving in leadership roles, comprising the nation's foremost experts in hypersonics. Through CHESS engagement with UCAH led by Director Marco Panesi and leadership including Francesco Panerai, Daniel Bodony, and Tonghun Lee, UIUC is poised to play a major role in the consortium, with more than 20 CHESS faculty from across The Grainger College of Engineering named as contributing members of the consortium.

We are thrilled to embark on what is undoubtedly a new era for hypersonics,” Stephani said. “Establishing this university consortium under the OUSD(R&E) enterprise provides a first-of-its-kind platform for engaging academic, DOD, and industry partners. The program coordination led by Joint Hypersonics Transition Office Director Dr. Gillian Bussey will enable scientific advances and workforce development across multiple disciplines in lock-step, which is critical for the nation's hypersonics program.”

The award is for $20 million per year over a 5-year period. The UCAH, which is expected to begin operations this fall, will provide a new path for the Services, defense research agencies, and other government organizations, such as NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy, to collaborate with DoD, the nation’s colleges and universities, and industry to pursue promising basic and applied research and transition research into future systems. The Consortium will concentrate on developing hypersonic technologies, investigate efficiencies related to the industrial base, and strengthen partnerships with small and large companies to transition technology and reduce system development timelines.

“We often have difficulty transitioning Department-funded basic research from universities through industry to operational applications,” said Dr. Mark Lewis, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernization. “It is a particular challenge in hypersonics, where multiple disciplines must intersect precisely to move forward.  The Consortium will help us link a deeper understanding of our operational requirements to the exceptional research being conducted across the nation.”

In setting the foundation for the UCAH, the Department’s Joint Hypersonics Transition Office sought input from academic institutions across the nation.  “Today’s announcement reflects the feedback of almost 70 schools across 48 states,” said Bussey, director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office.  “This interest, leadership, and focus they provided will help ensure that the Consortium will be effective and that our nation’s best minds and researchers will be participating.”

The UCAH will be managed by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), with leadership from of one of the Nation’s foremost hypersonic researchers in Bowersox. Initial operations will begin under the guidance of an impressive board of national experts from Texas A&M, UIUC, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota, the University of Arizona, the University of Tennessee Space Institute, Morgan State University, the California Institute of Technology, Purdue, the University of California-Los Angeles, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Their approach incorporates teaming with industry, harnesses the strength of the nation’s University-Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) and Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), fosters closer and more meaningful engagement of our university experts with the government, and presents a plan for maximum inclusion of academic institutions prepared to contribute to the national needs in hypersonics.  

The approach also includes strong focus on modelling and test capabilities, which will facilitate earlier and more certain transition to developing systems. TEES has already identified more than 41 institutions from at least 23 states committed to participating in the UCAH, and the Department expects this number to increase in upcoming months to include additional institutions from across the country and from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

CHESS is a multidisciplinary team of researchers in The Grainger College of Engineering, with headquarters in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. CHESS draws from expertise in state-of-the-art experimental facilities and high-performance computing to support fundamental advances in hypersonics and entry system technologies. Through this research enterprise, CHESS is dedicated to enabling new advances in hypersonics and creating a pipeline of young talent through excellence in research, education, and mentorship.

CHESS hosted both Dr. Gillian Bussey and Dr. Mark Lewis for a OUSD(R&E)/university partnership meeting December 2019. In the time since then, the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office (JHTO) was stood up, Dr. Bussey was named Director of JHTO, and Dr. Mark Lewis was named Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Research and Engineering (Acting). CHESS also has grown significantly since that time, both in size (faculty/staff/students) and investment, with two new facilities coming online in 2021.

About OUSD(R&E) 
The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the Department of Defense.  OUSD(R&E) fosters technological dominance across the DoD ensuring the unquestioned superiority of the American joint force.  Learn more at or follow us on Twitter:  @DoDCTO.