WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is planning a new hypersonic research branch at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee as the service ratchets up its development of an alternative to rocket-powered launchers and high-speed vehicles, according to a July 3 press release from the service.

The branch, known as the High Speed Experimentation Branch, is expected to begin operations Oct. 1 at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s von Karman Gas Dynamics Facility. The new division will be directed by the AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate located at Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio.

The center will study propulsion, aeronautics and structural applications related to hypersonic flights, the release said.

The Air Force has long experimented with hypersonic technology. In May 2013, for example, the Air Force flew a Boeing-built experimental hypersonic vehicle for more than 6 minutes in what the service billed as the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight aircraft ever.

Glenn Liston, AFRL’s high speed systems science and technology adviser, will head the branch, which will include about 20 employees. 

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...