Aug 05 2006

UAH propulsion center has powerful boosters

The Huntsville Times

By Shelby Spires

A newly opened propulsion test facility at the University of Alabama in Huntsville may help attract and keep young engineers and professionals in North Alabama, local leaders said Friday.

The $500,000 test area is part of the UAH Propulsion Research Center and is designed to allow students hands-on experience in Defense Department and NASA research programs by experimenting with different rocket motors.

Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer said she hopes the UAH propulsion test stands will help keep smart young engineers in Huntsville "instead of leaving to go to other communities after they graduate," she said.

"We hope it not only attracts new students, but also, it lets us keep those young professionals here to work with" high-tech business, Spencer said.

U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, said during a dedication ceremony that the test area continues visionary work started by Dr. Wernher von Braun and his German rocket team, who came to Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal in 1950 as part of an Army rocket research effort.

"It's the partnership UAH has with not only Marshall Space Flight Center, but also other government agencies, that will produce the kinds of graduates companies will need as North Alabama grows," Cramer told a group of about 100 area aerospace businesspeople, students and propulsion engineers.

Cramer and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, worked in 2002 to get UAH $4.5 million in federal money to pay for the facility, buy equipment and set up propulsion education programs, said Dr. Clark Hawk, director of UAH's Propulsion Research Center.

"This has been 15 years in the making," Hawk said. "It has inched along a little bit at a time until we have what is here today."

The test area has two rocket motor stands that allow UAH students to perform research on solid rocket motors and so-called "air breathing" rocket motors that use oxygen to burn propellants.

Students will be able to research different propellants, rocket motor shapes and other propulsion techniques at the test center, Hawk said.

Dr. Charles Chitwood, deputy director at Marshall Space Flight Center, said new engineers are always better if they come on the job with experience.

"When we look to hire new engineers, there is always a concern if their learning is only from books and computers," Chitwood said. "We always want graduates with hands-on learning."