The University of Tennessee Space Institute

Schmisseur Goes Hypersonic at UTSI

John Schmisseur knows a thing or two about speed. The HH Arnold Chair and Goethert Professor at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI), Schmisseur is one of the world’s leading experts on hypersonic aviation.

After a lengthy and distinguished career working as a civilian employee of the US Air Force, Schmisseur, who recently became one of eight engineering alumni to be elected to the 2021 class of the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Academy of Distinguished Alumni at the University of Texas at Austin, joined UTSI in 2014 and founded the High-Speed Original Research and Innovation Zone (HORIZON).

HORIZON helps explore the forces at play at great speeds, including the use of a pair of Ludwieg tubes, one capable of Mach 4 and one that reaches Mach 7, allowing key insights into hypersonics. Through the Tennessee Aerothermodynamics Laboratory, Schmisseur and his team have access to one of the largest wind tunnels in academia.

“We’ve built a great network through our faculty connections, and it has put is in a position to succeed,” said Schmisseur. “We’ve got the support of several government agencies and departments, the state, and the University of Tennessee, all of whom recognize the importance of our mission. It’s a good time to be at UTSI.”

Hypersonic flight begins at speeds above 3,800 miles per hour at sea level, which would mean a flight from Austin to New York City would take 24 minutes, for perspective. Such speeds hold great promise for a number of areas, including national defense, but big questions remain before they can be achieved consistently, and at scale.

That’s where Schmisseur and his research comes into play.

Since coming to UTSI, Schmisseur has been responsible for bringing in more than $20 million in research, much of it related to Air Force initiatives. The institute is located next to Arnold Air Force Base, making the military branch a natural and convenient partner, and is located a less than 90 minutes from Huntsville and the various NASA, military, aviation, and advanced manufacturing entities located there.

He approaches hypersonic flight and solving its challenges and riddles from a variety of angles, including material selection consequences on performance, air flow and modelling, thermal interactions, guidance, and others.

“Thermal protection is a big one, because the faster the speed, the higher the temperature and pressure on the vehicle,” said Schmisseur. “It won’t make it to its destination if it can’t survive the heat, so you have to focus on things other than just going as fast as possible.”

He noted that one of the things that helps UTSI is its close connection to the University of Tennessee’s Tickle College of Engineering, which has a number of faculty members devoted to advanced materials and manufacturing who are well-respected around the world.

Along with recent upward growth in faculty, research opportunities, and partnerships, for Schmisseur, it makes UTSI the place to be.


The University of Tennessee Space Institute at Tullahoma (UTSI) has several paid research opportunities for undergraduate degree-seeking interns, masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral opportunity-seeking engineers, and STEM graduates.

Research groups and their areas of focus include:

HORIZON Hypersonics Research Group
Hypersonic flow, testing, and simulations;

Combustion and Propulsion for Aviation Research Center
Provide fundamental physical understanding to enable propulsion technology for clean aviation;

Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science
Biomedical engineering and medical devices, as well as ion batteries, carbon fiber materials, and high-temperature seals for hypersonic vehicles;

Laboratory of Advanced Mobility and Power
Reacting flows, alternative fuels, advanced powertrain systems, Li-ion battery safety, and thermal management;

Computer and Experimental Aerospace Research Laboratory
Advancing compressible and high-temperature fluid dynamics, plasma dynamics, and diagnostic techniques;

Nanodynamics and High-Efficiency Lab for Propulsion and Power
Hydrogen energy, PEM electrolyzer cells, and other electrochemical devices;

Abedi Research Group
Applied mathematics, computational mechanics, solid mechanics, fracture mechanics, interfacial mechanics, structural health monitoring and the mechanics of energy storage materials.

Additionally, UTSI offers an online MS in engineering management.

Next summer’s internship application will open in January, but you can contact admit@utsi.edu to be added to a list of interested students to be notified when new internships are announced. Learn more about the internship program at tiny.utk.edu/internship.


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