New Center for UAS Propulsion Center Kicks Off

A new research center named the Center for UAS Propulsion (CUP) has been launched and is headquartered in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The center will be led by Professor Tonghun Lee.

“The center will focus on discovery, innovation, and transition of Unmanned Aircraft System propulsion technologies,” Lee said. “The collective synergy of government, academia, and relevant industry is expected to result in novel technologies that can propel next generation UAVs for our nation.”

Lead Institution

The website for CUP has launched is located at

Primarily supported by the Army Research Laboratory as part of ARL-Central, the center will also benefit from the participation of several other DoD agencies (AFRL, AFOSR, ONR, and NRL) as well as academic institutions and industry. The list includes AMRDEC (ADD, AED), Argonne National Labs, PM UAS, PEO Aviation, GA-ASI, Northrop Grumman, GM, GE-GRC, Convergent Science Inc, UIUC, UW-Madison, ISU, OSU, Northwestern, UIC, NASA GRC, SNL, ANL, UNSW (Australia), KAIST (S. Korea), ADD (S. Korea), and TAMU. More partners will join in the future as new expertise is added.

The overall government lead will be Dr. Chol-Beom “Mike” Kweon, the Propulsion Division at the Vehicle Technologies Directorate at ARL.

CUP research will focus on new advances in multi-fuel capable hybrid electric propulsion system and other novel propulsion technologies, including:

  • Extreme Fuel-Ignition Characterization
  • Variable Energy Assisted Compression Ignition
  • Reliable High-Temp Coatings/Lightweight Materials
  • Tribological Materials for Extreme Low Viscosity
  • High-Pressure Compact Air Management
  • Hybrid Electric Optimization/Integration
  • Power Management
  • Electric Machines for Hybrid Power
  • High-Power Advanced Batteries

At the University of Illinois, two faculty members (Lee and Associate Professor Daniel Bodony from Aerospace Engineering) and a number of students and postdocs have been hired by ARL to help in the establishment of the center. The main support areas in addition to the coordination of the Center at Illinois includes fuel characterization, development of new energetically enhanced ignition systems, and multi-phase spray characterization at Argonne National Labs Advanced Photon Source.

Efforts by MechSE professors Sungwoo Nam and Gaurav Bahl are contributing to tangential technologies required in the engine development.