Butte and Montana's wide open spaces are gorgeous, but they're also a perfect landscape to conduct some of the most cutting-edge research into aerospace technology.
Research is already being done at the Butte AeroTec Facility. And it's only going to grow, thanks to a partnership announced Saturday between the Montana Aerospace Development Association and scientists with the Muroran Institute of Technology in Japan.
"We have found a project on and I think we all believe this could be the first of many," Dave Micheletti, a researcher at MADA, said during a press conference in Butte.
Micheletti was joined by Ryojiro Minato and Daisuke Nakata, both of who hold doctorate degrees and conduct research at Japan's MIT. Also attending were Terry Spath and Chris Ossello, MADA researchers, and Hideaki Kume, a consultant for MADA based in Portland, Ore.
The agreement calls for MADA to design, build and test a small hybrid rocket motor at its Butte facility. Data will be sent to MIT for research.
Butte offers a host of advantages for such aerospace research, Minato said.
"Very wide open spaces are necessary for the testing," he said.
Nakata added that after touring the facility they are confident it offers everything needed to conduct their research.
"I'm very impressed by the potential of the test site - its safety and its user friendly equipment," he said.
Aerospace technology research is often conducted using wind tunnels. But Spath said that has certain disadvantages, because researchers have to account for the walls of the tunnel changing wind flows.
They can use modeling to account for those effects. But the best data comes from testing on a track where the equipment can be pushed through the open air. Japan's MIT has a "high speed test sled" that conducts such tests.
Down the road, MADA could explore building tracks for testing. Micheletti said they would explore two sets of tracks, including one that is over 1,000 feet long, which is optimal for certain types of tests.
In the short term, MADA will not be hiring additional researchers to conduct the project. But Micheletti said down the road that may be necessary.
Ossello said MADA and Japan's MIT are perfect fits for each other in how they conduct aerospace research.
"There's a lot of synergy between how MADA does testing and what (MIT) is already doing," he said.
And Kume noted that in a country like Japan, which is about the size of Montana but holds a third of the United States' population, it's a real challenge to find a facility to conduct high-tech aerospace tests. He said he was excited to see what the Butte AeroTec Facility offers.
"You can imagine how hard it is to find a place with a facility in Japan," he said.
Several of Butte's economic development leaders were on hand to greet and thank the Japanese researchers for bringing their project to MADA and Butte.
"Thanks for investing in our community," said Marko Lucich, director of the Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce.
Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org