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TULLAHOMA — University of Tennessee researchers will work on a new kind of generator that could power lasers and other weapons on the U.S. Air Force-s next generation of super-fast aircraft.

UT Space Institute is part of a team led by San Diego-based General Atomics that will spend $22.9 million over the next five years to develop a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generator that could transform heat from an aircraft-s jet engines into short, high-energy bursts of electricity.

MHD technology involves the study of the way electrically conductive fluids interact with magnetic fields.

Dr. Dennis Keefer, the principal investigator on UTSI-s portion of the contract, said UTSI researchers will use computational modeling to design and build test facilities for a one-tenth scale experiment.

“The system would provide a short pulse of high-powered electrical output to fire a weapon like a laser, microwave or particle beam,” Keefer said. “It would be an on-board system for hypersonic vehicles the Air Force is developing.”

The generator developed under the project will be called a Hypersonic Vehicle Electric Power System.

Hypersonic vehicles are capable of flying at least five times the speed of sound, approximately 3,700 miles per hour. The Air Force seeks to develop aircraft that will fly about 11,000 mph, Keefer said.

The General Atomics contract builds on UTSI research on the U.S. Department of Energy-s Coal-Fired Flow Facility which was closed in the early 1990s.