Tube Test in Hyperloop Pod Competition

Elon Musk’s hyperloop dream began to take shape in reality last weekend as 27 teams, including six from outside the United States, participated in a competition to create the mass transit vehicle of the future.

The competition in Hawthorne, California, sponsored by SpaceX, which Musk founded, attracted teams made up mostly of students who created pods designed to run on hyperloop transportation systems.

In a hyperloop system, the vehicles, or pods, travel in a vacuum in tubes at speeds close to the speed of sound. To do that, the pods have to be suspended slightly off the ground, typically by riding on a magnetic field.

For its competition, SpaceX built a test chamber that was three-quarters of a mile long and six feet wide. The company capped the speed at which a pod could go at around 50 miles per hour.

In order to get to test its pod in the vacuum chamber, a team had to pass a rigorous 101-point review. Only three teams could do that: Delft University of Technology of The Netherlands; Technical University of Munich, Germany; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 

Kind of a Drag

Operating in a vacuum is important to hyperloop systems because it reduces friction. “Hyperloop is all about friction,” said Adonios Karpetis, a faculty advisor to the Texas A&M aerospace team, which competed at the event.

“You have to minimize the air friction in the tube,” he told TechNewsWorld.

By creating a vacuum or near-vacuum in the tube, the drag of the vehicle is nearly eliminated, which allows it to reach tremendous speeds, as high as 700 miles per hour. By contrast, a Boeing 747 has a cruising speed of 570 miles per hour.

“It’s like operating a ground-based vehicle at an altitude of 100,000 feet where the air is very thin,” said Rick Williams, an advisor to Auburn University’s hyperloop team.

A hyperloop vehicle has an advantage over an aircraft, though.

“Once the vehicle reaches its cruising speed, it will coast for a long ways because of the minimal drag,” Williams told TechNewsWorld.

“From an energy standpoint, it’s going to be significantly lower,” he said.