Military Embedded Systems

UNIVERSITY UPDATE: Defense-related research and innovation links Texas A&M and U.S. Department of Defense


August 04, 2021

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Image: NASA's Lewis Research Center.

The Texas A&M University – founded in 1876 in Brazos County, Texas, to concentrate on the teaching of agriculture and mechanical arts (the “A” and “M” in the university’s name) – continues its push for innovation with recent program launches in tandem with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The most recent announcement: The Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS Campus in Bryan, Texas, will team with telecom giant AT&T to open private 5G testbeds in fall 2021 to government/public sector and private organizations to invent and develop 5G-powered applications and technologies.

The RELLIS [Respect, Excellence, Leadership, Loyalty, Integrity, and selfless Service] campus of Texas A&M was opened in 2015 with the aim of becoming a collaborative environment for multidisciplinary teaching, research, and workforce development instruction committed to bringing together innovative research, industry expertise, and polytechnic educational resources.

Brad Hoover, chief information officer for the RELLIS Campus, says that the RELLIS 5G testbeds will be able to test 5G technologies at scale, for both on-road and off-road scenarios, through fast 5G mm-wave and slower Sub-6GHz 5G. “These testbeds are being set up to test new approaches to augmented and virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, or any number of use cases as well as those that have yet to be imagined.”

According to the Texas A&M System, several state agencies – namely the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) – will be the first to use the 5G testbeds.

The RELLIS Campus’s foray into 5G research means that it is able to host large-scale testing and evaluation sites for five of the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) 11 identified modernization priorities: hypersonic flight, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy, cybersecurity, and directed energy.

On the hypersonic front, the DoD tapped Texas A&M’s TEES in fall 2020 to lead a national consortium for modernizing hypersonic flight capabilities. TEES is managing a planned five-year, $20 million-per-year DoD initiative involving a number of the U.S.’s top research universities, all of which will work cooperatively and with other government and industry institutions. The University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH) is looking at everything from basic research to real-world capabilities in hypersonic flight systems.

The UCAH is charged with enabling researchers from all of the institutions to work in close coordination to accelerate innovation to address the nation’s hypersonic needs and nurture the next generation of researchers in defense and aerospace engineering and related fields. The UCAH will be managed by TEES under the leadership of hypersonic researcher Dr. Rodney Bowersox, professor of aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University.

Initial forays into hypersonic research are underway under the aegis of a board of national experts from Texas A&M, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 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. To date, more than 41 institutions from at least 23 states are committed to participating in the UCAH, with additional institutions expected to join from the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.

The DoD contract comes as the Texas A&M System is gearing up to build the biggest enclosed hypersonic testing range in the U.S. as part of the George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex on the RELLIS Campus. The Ballistic Aero-Optics and Materials (BAM) range – at 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) long and 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in diameter – will be the nation’s largest enclosed hypersonic test range and will complement the university’s other hypersonic facilities, the National Aerothermochemistry and Hypersonics Laboratory and the Aerospace Laboratory for Lasers, ElectroMagnetics, and Optics. Part of the groundwork laid for the new RELLIS range is a recently approved $13 million infrastructure package, which includes basic improvements (water, sewers, and electric) to the campus, plus fiber cabling to fully support 5G capabilities.

Michael Kratsios, who at the time of the DoD contract award was the acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering and is now the managing director of software company Scale AI, says of the UCAH: “This first-of-its-kind consortium will be critical to advancing hypersonics research and innovation, a key priority of the Department of Defense.

“Importantly,” he adds, “through collaborative industry and academic partnerships, it will also accelerate technology transfer and strengthen workforce development to meet the nation’s future warfighting needs.”

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