Purdue University has been awarded a nearly $6 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop the first quiet Mach 8 wind tunnel in the world.

The wind tunnel will support efforts in the field of hypersonic research, which the university says is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Success will enable reduced risk and increased performance in the development of multibillion-dollar missile programs that are increasingly critical for national defense,” said Steven Schneider, a professor in Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Schneider says the Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel will be the first facility of its kind capable of collecting data at speeds greater than Mach 6. Purdue owns one of only two Mach 6 quiet tunnels in the country.

Purdue says quiet wind tunnels more closely simulate flight and provide more accurate data than conventional hypersonic wind tunnels. Researchers say collecting data at higher Mach numbers is critical to extending the understanding of flow physics, especially heat transfer and flight control effectiveness, as DoD programs continue working to fly faster and farther.

“This award is one of a growing number of large-scale research programs enabled by Purdue’s ongoing commitment to national security research and the efforts of its Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation,” said Theresa Mayer, Purdue’s executive vice president for research and partnerships.

The university hopes to get the tunnel operational within the next five years.