Oxford ramps up its hypersonics research with the arrival of the T3 driver

A grant from EPSRC has allowed the Department of Engineering Science to invest in its hypersonic test facilities. Specifically the 13 tonne high enthalpy T3 free-piston driver has been delivered to the Osney Thermofluids Laboratory to allow Oxford to perform hypersonics research at speeds of up to 6km/s.

T3 free-piston driver
Figure 1: The 13 tonne T3 driver being unloaded at the Oxford University Osney Thermofluids Laboratory [Photo Courtesy of Paul Cox].
The grant is part of the UK’s national wind tunnel facility project (NWTF), the T3 driver being coupled with the Oxford gun tunnel to develop one of Europe’s highest speed wind tunnel facilities, the T6 reflected shock tunnel. The work is being led by Oxford’s Associate Professor Matthew McGilvray who is working closely with colleagues Professor Richard Morgan, Dr David Gildfind and Reader Peter Jacobs from the University of Queensland’s Centre for Hypersonics.

With the ability to produce gas speeds of up to 6 km/s (over 13,000 mph), this will make Oxford University a leading research centre in modelling the fluid phenomenon and heat transfer of atmospheric entry for modern space vehicles such as the Huygen’s probe sent to Saturn’s moon Titan or the upcoming ESA Exo-Mars mission to land on the surface of Mars.

The T6 wind tunnel is an impulse type facility, which creates the extreme flow conditions through a cascade of high energy processes. This requires a high temperature and pressure driver gas (up to 5000°C and 2500 atmospheres pressure) to shock heat the test gas, whose chemical mixture matches the planetary atmosphere of interest. The driver gas is provided by the T3 driver, which operates by rapidly compressing a light gas, such as Helium, with a free-piston compression over a stroke length of 6.5 metres. The shock heated test gas is expanded through a contoured nozzle over appropriately scaled models to investigate aerodynamics and heat transfer to the vehicle.

This work continues to reinforce the close collaboration between the research groups at Oxford and Queensland, which has existed since the 1960’s when luminaries such as Oxford’s Professor Donald Schultz worked in collaboration with Professor Ray Stalker from Queensland.